Is there anything the average hill user can learn from adventure racing or is it just a load of old lycra?
As I've become fond of saying, adventure racing is unimaginably
hard. That's not entirely true, if you actually watch an event, as I
did last weekend, it's all too easy to imagine just how hard it is;
in fact the main point seems to be a game of 'how dead can you get'
played out over the battlefield of the outdoors.
But does adventure racing have any relevance to the average
outdoor person? The climber, walker or mountain biker who just wants
to go out and have an adventure rather than a race? That was the
question I was asking myself and others all the way through the
Salomon X-Adventure World Cup round in Snowdonia last week.
Lesson 1: Be Prepared
All adventure racers have a list of compulsory equipment which is
checked before the event begins. It's based on what they need to
survive the event and it's not a bad principle for any trip into the
outdoors. Think through what you're going to need and check it off,
maybe against a list. Of course the reason racers are checked is
because left to their own devices they'd start the race with two Mars
Bars and a plastic bin liner...
In the pre-race briefing and check there was so much adrenaline
lying around I nearly tripped over the bloody stuff. Nuff said.
Lesson 2: Get An Early Start
The start of the Salomon took place in near darkness under a
giant inflatable Stonehenge thing which looked like it'd come from
the set of Spinal Tap, or was it bad news. Of course it punctured,
but not as badly as semi-pros from Spain, Team Buff. They turned up
late and in the frenzied effort to make up for lost time, one member
slipped and smacked his knee on a rock big time. They never managed
to make up the disadvantage and while the rest of the teams were
yomping along the first leg, a fell run up the Devil's Kitchen path
and along the Glyders, they were busy collecting penalty points.
Getting an early start at the
Lesson 3: Read The Map
The Salomon links a number of check points - you can choose any
way to link them, and the obvious one isn't always quickest. A
slightly longer bike ride turned out to have an easier climb than the
more obvious short route and most of the teams spotted it straight
away. Look at the contours, not just the lines.
Lesson 4: Always Wear Yellow
Yellow, an ideal outdoors
Yellow clothing is lighter than, say, black. If you wear as much
yellow as possible, it'll all add up, er, maybe.
Lesson 5: Work As A Team
Adventure racers take this to extremes - they have strange fishing
lines on the rear of their mountain bikes to be able to tow weaker
team members and bungees coming out of their packs, but there is a
lesson there. To succeed they have to be aware of relative strengths
and weaknesses. Each team is of mixed sex and often the woman just
isn't physically as strong as the men, but as Liz Cowell, of
third-placed team Salomon Pilgrims pointed out, different people
bring different strengths to the group, so use them. And remember,
there's no point in going faster than the slowest member.
Lesson 6: Stay Hydrated
Most racers use hydration systems. That might seem over the top
for a walk, but little and often is the ideal way to keep hydrated
and sucking it through a tube is far easier than having to stop and
take out a water bottle every ten minutes. Try a bladder in your
existing rucksack, you won't look back, honest.
Lesson 7: Don't Abseil Down Waterfalls (unless you absolutely
One element of the event was an abseil down a waterfall for which
there was no rational reason - they could have walked round it.
Watching people getting soaked and tired as they landed in the plunge
pool at the bottom brought home the importance of staying dry, but
even more of keeping determined and upbeat in a crisis.
Don't go there unless you really
Lesson 8: Go Light On Kit
The lighter your kit, the easier it is to carry and the fresher
you'll feel at the end of the day. Lightweight fleece and waterproofs
are generally available and worth buying. The racers use
purpose-built packs from Lowe, Salomon and Karrimor. They're light
and comfortable as long as you don't try to carry too much and the
elasticated compression systems make them great for general biking,
walking or running, though the back systems may be warm in hot
Lesson 9: Go Light On Your Feet
Racers tend to wear trainer-type race shoes or fell running shoes
throughout the race. In the case of the Salomon, this meant mountain
running across the Glyders as well as cycling, canoeing and
abseiling. No-one's suggesting you should wear trainers for walking,
but modern lightweight boots can cope with a lot if you give them the
chance and the weight saved means less fatigue at the end of a day in
Lesson 10: Don't Give Up...
Okay, adventure racing's about being cold and tired, but one
thing it can teach you is determination and the importance of
boosting morale especially when things look bad. In a race which
covers 140 miles like this one, a lot of the difference between the
top teams is down to sheer bloody mindedness. In a crisis situation
on the hills being similarly determined could save your bacon.
Moving as a team, not a bad
Lesson 11: ...But Use Your Head
Tactical thinking's crucial too. The teams have to make decisions
on the hoof about when to stop and rest, when to carry on and, in the
case of the Salomon, which team members do each leg. The same's true
when things go wrong in the mountains. Ten minutes of thinking things
through and deciding on the best course of action could save your
life - frequently victims of mountain exposure are actually carrying
all they need to surive, they've just never taken the decision to
stop and get it out of the pack.
Lesson 12: Buy A Huge Renault Scenic Off Roader
Actually I just put that in to keep Renault happy, but they do
seem quite good at hauling loads of kit around.
Lesson 12.5: Read The Terrain
One of the toughest legs of the Saloman race was a stage running
across a relatively level section of open moorland. Only problem was
that the 'ground' was a mix of gorse, heather and unforgiving bog. It
was the first time big gaps really opened up, but on the map it
looked innocuous. The lesson? Never assume ground that looks easy
actually will be easy.
Lesson 13: You Don't Need To Go Racing To Have An
Pretty obvious really. Racers are like cats with balls of wool
(no, not literally) but they're driven by competition - you don't
have to be that way. Just getting out into the hills at your own
level is a brilliant way to spend a day or two. If you want to try
racing, great, but as the finishers slumped across the line to the
accompaniment of a DJ and sound system on Barmouth beach, it felt an
awfuly long away from the hills. Which I suppose it was.
An adventure, race or
The Salomon X-Adventure World Cup
The easiest way to get a feel for the
Welsh round of the Salomon X-Adventure World Cup is to throw
a few statistics around: over 140 miles in two days; more
than 4000 metres of ascent; 50 teams; swimming, fell
running, orienteering, abseiling, canoeing, mountain biking,
the er, flying fox (a death wire).
Four people per team including at least
one woman, or one bloke if you're a women's team. Only three
of the four compete in any single leg, which take place
between pre-determined points. Tactics and planning are as
important as fitness - deciding when to rest and how long
for, or who does which leg is vital as is nutrition and
determination. Dynamics within the team make a real
difference. Some use bungees to tow weaker members on
running and biking sections, but weaker members may be
stronger at say, swimming or navigation.
Make no mistake, it's a big undertaking
and to compete seriously calls for a huge level of fitness,
training and dedication.