Once you are starting to enter the longer races, your training will have gone up a level and you will also be encountering more rope work. Here are a few key purchases that will definitely help improve your performance.
Whether you choose to go for a full-suspension or hardtail, you should buy the most expensive bike you can afford - you will notice the difference. If your team can afford to purchase the same bike then that will also help when it comes to spare parts and emergency repairs within the race. Team eVENT Endure, for instance, all use Trek Fuel 98s – a great lightweight cross country bike that performs well in most adventure racing scenarios. Click here to find out about some of the mountain bikes available from planetFear.
Note: You need to think about bike transfers within races and buying bikes and bike bits that are not easily damaged. For that reason, carbon frames are a little bit scary and hydraulic brakes arguably not a good option. Simple is often best.
eVENT Endure Team Bikes, Ukatak 2004: Photo Anna McCormack
Change flat pedals to spd’s (or one-sided spds with powerstraps on the other side). Buy a decent pair of mountain bike shoes that you would also be comfortable walking in for sections in which you end up carrying your bike, such as Shimano's M121 (click here to find out more).
Make sure you set the SPDs so that you can release your feet easily and practise using them every day for a month before racing in them. If you buy one-sided SPDs you have the option of staying with running shoes when transition time is limited.
A good pair of glasses with interchangeable clear and yellow lenses will mean you have good eye protection come rain or shine. We recommend the Oakley Half Jacket, the M-Vision D-arcs Triple and the M-Vision Wishbones in this category of eyewear. Interchangable lenses are particularly important when riding in formation or when being pulled on a tow rope, since grit is often kicked backwards into your face.
Even if you own a climbing harness, you will probably want to buy a lighter-weight, less comfortable harness for racing in. You may end up spending more time running and biking in it (to save time taking it off) than you will actually sitting in it on a rope! You don’t need padding or more than 2 gear loops so look at the simplest harnesses available. A lot of people go for size adjustable harnesses since your leg size can vary a great deal more in AR than in climbing if you consider that in some races you will simply be wearing lycra and in others you may be abseiling in -30C.
We recommend the following ultralight harnesses for Adventure Racing:
Ask the shop to weigh karabiner options and go for the lightest that are practical (you will encounter a wide variety of rope widths and use them for a multitude of purposes). We recommend the DMM phantom ultralight karabiners for AR).
Get sling lengths in different colours so that you can easily tell what each is for (click here for slings available from planetFear).
Most importantly of all, practise with your kit! Imagine the scene; 2am, cold, wet, windy, you haven’t slept in the last 36 hours, you are the 15th team heading down the abseil, the rope is heavy, and you have to tie yourself in, step over the edge and abseil into darkness.
Fiona Patterson Exiting a Canyoneering Section: Terra Incognita Croatia 2004
Your own set of wing paddles are a great investment although spending time in a boat will make more difference to your paddling. Try looking on the ‘For Sale’ section of Sleepmonsters.com since these tend to be an expensive bit of kit. You want split shafts (for easier transport within the races) with a high proportion of carbon and relatively small blades. Bracca 4 paddles or Epic blades are a good starting point.
Wing Blades require excellent technique. Photo by Phil Brown
These are an essential bit of kit in a well organised team. If the stronger runners / bikers say there is no point in towing, you are probably not racing in the right team. If people are not willing to give help, they are often not willing to take help and that can be disastrous since the only sure thing about racing is that everyone will need to be helped at some point. On foot, you need to take a simple bungy cord and two mini carabiners. One end will hook through the rucksack waistbelt of the person being towed and the other through the back of the pack of the person towing. Experiment with methods of distributing the load and check out what the top teams do. For the biking sections you need to make your own system using e.g. bungy cord and a piece of tubing / a fishing rod. Sleepmonsters forum has a whole section looking at bike tow options in detail.
2004 BBC ‘The Challenge’ Novice Kath Joy being towed by Pasi Ikonen, Ukatak 2004
Food and Drink
Get used to drinking while running, biking and paddling – good hydration is vital. Ease of access means that athletes tend to drink more when using bladders than when using bottles but the latter are easier to fill so drinking tactics need to be well thought through. If, for instance, you are racing somewhere with plentiful streams, you might want to consider just taking either a cup or water bottle and simply filling when necessary since this will save weight.
Jelly babies are good for a quick fix, but you will also need gels, electrolytic drink powders and salty foods when racing. The longer the race, the more important it is to have foods that tempt you to eat, so sandwiches, cheese pasties, burritos etc are all worth preparing beforehand and keeping in transition boxes if you can’t face the thought of gels for two days. A key issue will be food preparation to ensure that you have enough calories and variety for each stage of the race. We tend to pre-pack food for a certain amount of time into zip-lock bags (such as the Exped Fold Dry Bag) so that we don’t need to think about what we will need to take with us when we enter transitions.
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