An Open Letter To: Adventure Race Directors

An Open Letter To: Adventure Race Directors

Filed under: Adventure Racing 

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10. Mandatory Gear. Make your race’s mandatory gear list simple but complete for the task. It should be no more or less than a racer needs. And don’t nitpick with the list. Does our first-aid kit really need butterfly Band-Aids? Does the gauze pad have to measure 4.5 × 6 inches? Really, does it matter?

11. Inform the Volunteers. Volunteers should know the time cut-offs during the course and other basic rules. Often racers have simple questions while out on the course. Informed volunteers can be godsends.

Photo © T.C. Worley

12. The Coed Rule. AR was founded as a coed team sport, I understand that. All the elite races — and the elite classes within most events — still require a coed mix. This most often boils to three guys and one girl. I am of the mind that, well it is cool and I have raced with some amazing women (many who have kicked my butt on the course!), the coed rule has really limited participation in the sport. I know many teams who have failed to find women to commit to a season of racing or a big event. One idea: Eliminate the divisions. Maybe a race should be a race, all divisions against each other, be it solo, two guys, three women, or some kind of co-ed team. Some flexibility would open AR up to more people pretty quick.

13. Ropes. If the rappel in a race is only for the photographic effect, it’s not worth the hassle. Silly climbs and out of the way rappels get old after you’ve done a few races. I am a climber and I love all thing ropes — if the ropes are really required. Otherwise, so often ropes sections in an AR are just a distraction from the race.

14. Lower Entry Fees. When possible, make the sport more affordable. Sticker shock keeps many people away.

15. Elevator Pitch. Craft a one- or two-sentence “elevator speech” on what AR is. “It’s a map-based wilderness endurance sport with biking, trekking and boating.” Or, “Adventure racing is like a treasure hunt where you bike, run, and paddle to find checkpoints.” Or, “Have you ever seen the show ‘Amazing Race’? — it’s kind of like that.”

There you have it, one man’s opinion. Take or leave my thoughts. But now, go forth AR enthusiasts! Spread the word. Rally some new troops. Let’s make this sport grow!

UPDATE, 10/26/10: Some great feedback in the comments section below! After digesting everything, I want to add a few more of my own thoughts to the list. So stick with me one more time. I need to opine a smidge more on the state of adventure racing, an activity that has become one of my favorite activities in the outdoors.

16. Distinct Navigational Features. Adventure race directors: Please, please place your checkpoints on known geographic points and discernable features. Hilltops, ravines, lake shores, spurs, saddles, trail bends, etc. — all these are great. What is not good is placing checkpoints in the middle of a flat woods, on vast hillsides, in an open field, or in other places that have vague topographical prominence. Borrow from the sport of orienteering and place CPs only on features that show up on a map.

17. Don’t Hide the Flags. Hang the checkpoint flags chest-high. Make them visible once a racers is close. Don’t hide the checkpoint flag behind a stump or low in the bush. The challenge during navigation should be route choice and getting most efficiently from point A to point B over a distance in the backcountry. Navigation should not entail hunting for a flag in a thicket once you’re nearby.

18. Inflatable Boats. Have you ever paddled flat water in a squishy inflatable kayak for hours on end? Maybe you’ve snagged a branch in a swamp and popped your boat, frantically paddling through muck as it sank. I’ve done both. I’ve spent countless hours slogging in inflatable vessels, and I can say I am not a fan. Inflatables are fun in rapids and current — that’s what they’re made for. They are excruciating on long, open flat water. Please race directors, give us appropriate boats!

19. No Support Crews. Support crews are for the most part a thing of the past. Let’s keep it that way. On big, expedition-length races, it’s difficult enough to field a solid roster of racers. When each team is also required to bring a support crew to shuttle gear and food, the likelihood of participation decreases that much more.

20. Mystery Challenges. Also becoming a thing of the past, so-called mystery challenges are often lame diversions to the event. Maybe these puzzles and word games and other mental challenges are fine for sprints and beginner races. They can be fun, to be sure. But an experienced racer will often just sigh in slight disappointment coming into a mystery challenge area. Well, I do, at least.

21. Standing in Line. The scenario: You race to a rappel or a “mystery challenge.” Once there, you get in line for your team’s turn, and then . . . the clock ticks as teams in front of you pursue the task. Other teams arrived earlier and have gone. Slower teams behind you may arrive when there is no line. The solution? Stop the clock. Give teams time credit if they are forced to stand in line.

22. Changing the Rules. Don’t change the rules during a race. Don’t move cut-off times around or eliminate CPs unless utterly necessary. These kind of moves wreck race strategy. A low point in my racing career was during Primal Quest 2006. The race directors “moved up” a time cut-off without telling anyone. My team went to sleep for a couple hours one night, and when we awoke and paddled to a transition area, the volunteers told us we’d missed the “new” cut-off time (and thus we were “short-coursed” on the entire event and made to skip two substantial legs). We’d done nothing wrong. We’d minded the passport book and made the previous race time cut-offs with much to spare. We were set to make the cut-off easily the day after we slept. But the race director decided to dabble with the rules as we dozed in the desert unaware we were missing a cut-off we could have easily met.

—Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of www.gearjunkie.com. A version of this article appeared originally in Regenold’s blog on VentureThere.com.

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