Adventure races: when racing meets kayaking, cycling and orienteering | Functioning
I I kayak around Sugar Loaf Rock on the Isle of Man, watch guillemots nesting, and explore the Magical Bird Cave and Fairy Hall. Reaching the Sound, a spectacular promontory with a view of the little man’s calf, I stop for a delicious picnic at the Patchwork Cafe. Then it’s time for a fun bike ride, a gentle jog and a dip in a waterfall, before dinner at 14 North in Douglas (Manx Queenies and Loaghtan Lamb, if you’re wondering).
As the races went on, it’s safe to say that this one wasn’t too taxing. But again, it wasn’t really a race: it was an easy taste before the real thing. On Saturday, around 50 Isle of Man Adventure Race competitors will tackle a similar course, but at full speed – with no stops to sightsee or snack. And I may have minimized the difficulty: the race itself, including kayaking (6 km), mountain biking (22 km), hill running (12 km) and two “mystery challenges”, such as swimming in cascade, lasts between four and six hours.
This event, now in its fifth year, is one of a growing number of grueling multi-discipline races. If 2013 was the year of the obstacle course in the style of an obstacle course, 2014 is that of the adventure race. The main differences are the number of disciplines (at least two, usually running, cycling, kayaking and/or swimming) and the orienteering element: you have to navigate from checkpoint to checkpoint. control, by recording points. The winner is the one with the most points in the fastest time.
The Isle of Man has to be one of the most scenic settings for such a race, with stunning stretches of coastline, mountain bike tracks through verdant plantations and rolling hills around beautiful glens, but there are many more routes to choose from. For example, Questars runs several races a year across the UK; Open Adventure offers a series of five events in the UK; Tri-Adventure organizes events mainly in the Chilterns; and Burn Series has an annual race in Cardiff.
I found my introduction to adventure running quite daunting, despite the relaxed pace. Boating and biking were great, but I had nothing left to run uphill (which isn’t really my forte anyway). But that’s the beauty of these events: you can team up with a friend and take on two disciplines each, failing your weakest event. Some events also allow teams. Of course, elite runners compete solo.
So, have you been tempted by an adventure race, and if so, which ones would you recommend? Does the idea of sailing appeal to you or do you prefer clearly marked routes and marshals? And do mystery challenges add to the fun or get in the way of serious racing?