The term “adventure racing” is used for a variety of races and sports, all bound by the common element of adventure. It’s even thrown around in motor sport circles, where cross country rallies take place. But don’t expect any forms of motorised help in any Adventure 1 Race. We have a collection of races that sit at the tough end of “human powered” adventure racing, which is why you often hear the phrase “toughest of human endurance sports”.
At its heart, adventure racing is a multi-disciplinary team sport using the core transport modes of trekking, mountain biking and kayaking to navigate via map and compass an unmarked course across wilderness areas in a race to the finish line. This creates the feeling of being a modern day explorer as teams rely on just a series of check points to negotiate an unmarked route via a path of their own choice, with navigation playing a key role in a teams success.
Adventure races can range from a two hour sprint format to over a week in duration and the clock never stops. The longer race formats (often referred to as expedition length races) also introduce elements such as pack rafting, roping (both ascending and descending), caving, white water rafting, skating, kick-biking, sailing, horse riding and hike-a-bike (yes pushing or carrying your bike through mud, rivers and vertical ascents).
Add in the need for team’s to manage when and where they sleep as the clock never stops, strategic decisions on route choice, competency in the use of a wide range of equipment, complicated logistics around access to that gear, along with the physical ability to traverse several hundreds of kilometres of unmarked terrain non-stop while navigating with little or no sleep whilst managing dynamics between team members when everyone is running on empty and you have a recipe for the ultimate team sport. What the *#%%^
Don’t worry, these elements are not there to deter and scare you, but present an opportunity for you to be inspired to go achieve what you thought impossible. To follow thousands of other everyday active people, who have used their spirit of adventure and the sport of adventure racing to achieve greatness within themselves. You don’t need to be an “elite” athlete to compete in adventure racing… the spirit of adventure is more important.
What’s this got to do with “What is Adventure Racing” you ask…. Well too often the tangible facts of adventure racing are explained without mentioning the intangible benefits.
At Adventure 1 we believe adventure racing should not be defined just by what you do but also by what you become.
Ok enough warm and fuzzy stuff…back to the tangible…
If you look at adventure racing globally, there are various races that have defined adventure racing in their own unique way. These include iconic expedition length races like GODZone, Primal Quest or Patagonian Expedition Race as well as others such as New Zealand’s Coast to Coast and China’s stage races.
Adventure 1 has created the ultimate national series and world cup evemts that offers you the chance to compete across multiple length races to both develop and challenge you.
2 - 6 hour events
These generally range from two to six-hour events (but some races extend to 12 hours) and are a great introduction to the sport. Navigation and map reading is a little less challenging than the longer format races and equipment like kayaks are often provided.
There is also a sport called multisport (think off-road triathlon) where a course is laid out so no navigation is required. Generally, you race as an individual and not in a team. These are also great races to introduce you to multi-discipline off-road sports and have been the breeding ground for many of the elite expedition racing teams. These are short, fun, great for skills and speed training and you get to go home to a warm bed at night!
24 hour races
These races start to test your endurance levels. Navigation will be a little more challenging and teamwork starts to play a bigger role in your ability to reach the finish line. The elite-level teams keep a heart-stopping pace in these races and the newbies to the sport overcome the inaccurate perception that your body can’t possibly race all day and all night without sleep.
48 hour races
For the most part, these are extended versions of the 24-hour format but really test whether you have the x-factor to take on expedition length racing. What’s unique is these races unfold to become two races in one. The elite teams pack light and reach the finish line in under 30 hours, requiring them to run the marathon distance trekking legs. The slower teams face being out in the elements for up to 48 hours, needing to carry more supplies and heavier packs, resulting in completely different race strategies including sleep strategies.
Some teams push on without sleep, fighting off the sleep monsters and rely heavily on teamwork for survival. Others may drop for a quick 90min nap, but at the risk of being short-coursed (short-course is a term used to describe when race directors force you to take a short cut, with penalties, so you can reach the finish line before cut-off)
You will be introduced to the importance of transition areas (TA’s) where you are reconnected with your pre-packed box of equipment and food that required meticulous planning on your behalf. You only have yourself to blame for not packing that spare pair of socks or energy bar! That said, some race directors offer support crews who will be waiting for you at transition with a big smile and some fresh made food.
Team work, sleep strategies and route selection make and break dreams in these races.
Expedition length races
48 hr to several days
Covering 100's of km's over several days, this format of adventure racing provides an opportunity for race directors to create once-in-a-lifetime adventures through vast areas of unmarked terrain, rarely if ever visited by humans. You completely immerse yourself in nature and test every limit of your mind, body and spirit. Be prepared for anything and know that teamwork is critical and conflict management becomes a new discipline you need to sharpen up on.
Teams still race non-stop (unlike multi-day stage races) and sleep where they drop, anywhere from 90min a day for elite teams to four hours a day for those teams whose goal is to survive and make it to the finish line.
Adventure racing is teamwork like you’ve never experienced…. Agreeing your teams race goals and expectations before you start will go a long way to avoiding a 3am race meltdown and instead pave the way for creating life long friendships.
Generally, each team has a captain who will set the pace and make key strategic decisions, a lead navigator, a packhorse (someone strong who can shoulder the extra weight of team member’s equipment in the event of fatigue and injury) and the mother hen (or father hen) who looks after team welfare. It’s all too easy to forget to eat and drink or change into the right clothing which can lead to an early exit from the race. Dehydration and hypothermia are real risks in adventure racing and must be managed closely.
So let’s remove the myth that you can’t try adventure racing because you can’t navigate. It’s a team sport and you can learn under the guidance of your lead navigator. You will no doubt enjoy the experience of navigating and end up joining your local orienteering or rogaine association. Check out www.rogaine.asn.au.
The premier division in adventure racing is called the “Mixed” category, requiring at least one male and one female in a four person team.
Adventure racing is many things… It’s a sport, way of life, bush therapy, an opportunity to escape and redefine who you are and what you are capable of. Adventure racing embraces the spirit of adventure, but demands resilience, toughness and a relentless drive to keep going despite all odds. Words and videos go some of the way to explaining what adventure racing is, but when you throw yourself out there into the elements and conquer a race you will truly understand what adventure racing is.
Approximately 200,000 years ago 2 cavemen sat on a rock, gazed at a distant peak and without a grunt, looked at each other with a grin and raced off because… well because they could. That primal urge of adventure and competition kicked in and so adventure racing was born. 200,000 years later that same distant peak still ignites that primal urge in us all… we just like to grab some clothes, a backpack, compass and mum’s homemade energy cookies before we take off….
We can’t validate this fact, maybe it was 155,300 years ago …. but more importantly, neither can anyone else, so that’s the story Adventure 1 is sticking with.
There are of course events in recent history that have shaped adventure racing to what it is today, so here is a snapshot of the history of adventure racing.
1921 Sea to Summit Adventure Race (Seattle, USA)
1968 Karrimor International Mountain Marathon, OMM (UK)
1980 Alpine Ironman (NZL)
1982 – 2004 Wildtrek Spring, Summer and Winter Classic series (AUS)
1982 – current Alaska Mountain Wilderness Challenge (USA)
1983 – current: Coast to Coast and TV show (NZL)
1989 – 2008 Raid World Championships / Raid Gauloises (Worldwide)
1995 – 1997 first medal events at International Multisport Games: ESPN X-Games (USA)
1995 – 2002, 2019: Eco-Challenge World Championships (Worldwide)
1997 – 2000 HiTech Sprint US national series (USA)
1997 – 2004 Outdoor Quest Multisport World Championships
2000 – 2004 Balance Bar Sprint US national series (USA)
2000 – 2010 Muddy Buddy / OCR US national series (USA)
2000 Discovery Channel Adventure Race (NZL)
2001 Discovery Channel World Championship Adventure Race (SUI)
2001 – 2004 X-Adventure Raid World Series
2002 – current: Primal Quest World Championships, North America
2004 – 2010 Adventure Racing World Championships produced by Southern Traverse Ltd*
2011 – current: AR World Championships produced by Geocentric Pty Ltd*
2012 – current GODZone, New Zealand
2015 – current Geocentric AR World Series**
2016 – current Adventure 1 worldwide***
2021 – current Adventure 1 World Cup
* Southern Traverse Ltd received backing from the Discovery Channel in 2000 when Eco-Challenge changed broadcaster companies to USA Network. They renamed the event the Discovery Channel Adventure Race and again in 2001 to the Discovery Channel World Championships Adventure Race. The event was taken over by Australian event management company Geocentric Pty Ltd in 2011 adding to their portfolio of commercial races.
** AR World Series is a commercial property of Geocentric Pty Ltd.
*** A1 Series, A1 World Cup and A1 World Cup Final includes Exploration length races of 24 hours and up. The organization is structured and functions like a not-for-profit and does not charge participating events fees or dues.
For a full detailed history of Adventure Racing check out the sports governing body's website World Obstacle.
Australian adventure racing has been right in the thick of it over the past 40 years, with its own iconic races as well as fielding many athletes at the front of the pack on the international scene.
Below is the start of a little project Adventure 1 is embarking on to capture the history of Australian adventure racing. This is to acknowledge and respect those who have paved the way through their dedication and passion, to ensure the sport of adventure racing continues for us all to enjoy today.
Thanks to information provided by a couple of well-known Aussie adventure racing veterans we are off to a good start; namely Liam St Pierre representing the recent era having competed since 2006 and Kev Piercy who’s been competing since the 80’s. You can check out their A1 profiles in the A1 Club portal.
It is 40 years of history, so there are many missing pieces which Adventure 1 is looking forward to filling in over time, so please send us your recollection of years gone by. Also, anything Kev provided is caveated by his potential memory loss…
The story so far…
Adventure racing in the format we are now familiar with, first hit Australian shores in 1997 with the Cairns edition of Eco Challenge. Prior to the arrival of Eco Challenge, Eric Ward arguably deserves credit for starting “adventure racing” in Australia with his Winter Classic in Victoria which ran from 1983 to 2002 as a two-day stage adventure race. Other notable races that paved the way include the Gloucester Mountain Man (which has been running since 1991) and the JLL Challenge, a Victorian multisport race that ran from 1998 to 2002.
Right around the time the first world championships were being held in Switzerland (2001) and the first edition of Primal Quest landed in Telluride, USA (2002), Australia was introduced to GeoQuest, the 48hr race held by Geocentric Adventure.
Coinciding with the launch of GeoQuest were a series of shorter sprint adventure races hosted by events company Max Adventure. Eventually spreading to locations across the east coast of Australia, the series was originally branded as the Kathmandu Adventure Race before a sponsor change in 2014 resulted in a name change to the Paddy Pallin Adventure Race.
Following on from the early growth of the Geocentric and Max Adventure races were a collection of other races which have come and gone from the Australian adventure racing scene. These include the International Arrow races which were held in both NZ and Australia and wound up in 2006, the 36 hour Red Yeti race which finished up in South Australia in 2007, the North Queensland Quoll Adventuergaine between 2003 and 2009 incorporating a multiday rogaine format (this event ran under the name of Cairns Eco Adventure in the early years) and the AROC Adventure Racing series.
After Eco Challenge in 1997, Australia had to wait until 2004 before hosting another expedition race called XPD, which explored the Broken Hill region and attracted 20 teams.
Australia has seen several other multiday races come and go. Aside from the previously mentioned 36 hour Red Yeti and 48 hour Quoll races, a 36 hour race called the X-Raid ran for three years in WA from 2004 to 2006. Furthermore, Rapid Ascent held the Keen Adventure Race for three years between 2007 and 2009 and the Great Southern/Denmark AR in WA from 2008 to 2010. The Keen race incorporated a multiday stage race format over a five day period. The Mark Webber Challenge also adopted this format, and was held 7 times over an 11 year period, with the last race in 2013.
In 2014 a new exciting expedition race emerged, the Wildside Expedition race by Fully Rad Adventures, who now run a 24 hour race and the expedition race on alternating years. X-Marathon also entered the scene thanks to Adventure junkie. Initially a 24 hour format race, X-Marathon is now known for being one of the toughest 48 hour races around and forms part of the Adventure 1 Series.
In terms of 24 hour races, several have come and gone including the Arrow and Max24 races, the AROC 24 hour race (which ran for four years and with the final race pushing to a 50 hour race in 2008), the Espresso race which ran for six years in Western Australia, and the Europa 24 hour race which ran once in 2011 in the Northern Territory.
The Aussie athletes who paved the way…
The late 80’s and early 90’s saw Australian and New Zealand athletes competing regularly at the top of the pack in events held between the two countries. Legends like Steve Gurney came from New Zealand to take out a couple of Eric’s Winter Classic races, whilst Aussie legend, John Jacoby won and graced the podium regularly in New Zealand’s iconic Coast to Coast race.
In the famous inaugural Southern Traverse race in 1991, the Aussie team of Rod Hislop, Rob Russell, Claire Parkes and Kev Piercy (along with a last-minute replacement in the form of Kiwi Steve Gurney) came second.
John Jacoby would go on and race with other legends of Australian adventure racing, notably Novak Thompson and the crew from AROC, Tom Landon Smith and Alina McMaster. This group of athletes dominated the Australian adventure racing scene during the 90’s through to the mid 2000’s, regularly standing on Australian podiums and you’ll still find them competing occasionally between running their own successful outdoor sporting events.
Internationally during the early 2000’s team AROC raced as Tom Landon Smith, Alina McMaster, Matt Dalziel and Nigel Aylott. They notably come second in the 2003 Subaru Primal Quest in California, then won the Chicago Wild Onion Urban 24 hour Adventure Race 7 days later. In 2004 they returned to the Subaru Primal Quest this time in Washington State. However, during an orienteering leg in a treacherous mountain area, Nigel was killed by a dislodged boulder as AROC were leading on the third day of the race. Nigel was a world class athlete with achievements that included being a former Rogaine World Champion.
The new era of athletes…
In the last decade, Adventure 1’s Ambassador Rob Preston has been our most successful adventure racer, competing with a wide number of teams and top tier athletes in races across six continents.
An example of other notable achievements of Aussies abroad in recent years include Jarad Kohler from Adventure 1 Series team “Peak Adventure”, who won the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge in 2008 with team Desert Islands and our own Aussie team Thunderbolt AR (Hugh Stodart, Bernadette Dornom, Josh Street, Leo Theoharis) who came in a very close second at the 2017 Geocentric AR World Series qualifier race, Expedition Africa. The exciting part is you can watch these teams do battle in our own Adventure 1 Series and check out their profiles in our “Teams” page.
Let’s refrain from predicting 200,000 years from now, other than the fact Kev Piercy may well still be racing.
Regardless, Adventure 1 is excited about the future as we focus on joining the pieces of adventure racing together, to create a new chapter in adventure racing with a new wave of athletes and fans.
Come join the adventure…