How to Survive an Adventure Race

Adventure racing calls for a variety of skills to deal with the tough conditions of the race, where it’s all about the survival of the fittest. This article discusses the importance of team selection, organisation and strategic decision making as well as the role of a team leader, navigator and individual members.


Every element of an adventure race requires meticulous planning which includes food, water and gear, your strategy for the competition, team responsibilities as well as preparation for the unknown. Much of the challenge is to get to the starting line as a team, with a successful racing formula. It takes a while to nail all the skills associated with adventure racing. However, team management is one of the most important aspects to learn. The locations may not always be exotic or the toughest of terrain, but racers are always driven to their physical and mental limits. Racing experts say a team is only as strong as its weakest link, and if that weak link happens to be a breakdown of survival techniques or teamwork, it would be tough to finish in top position.

Adventure racing is all about strategy and tactics with less emphasis on speed. It is one of the only sports where teammates do exactly the same thing, which is why it is important for each member to bond with the others. In order to win or even maintain pace, you need to survive the course. This is not possible without teamwork. A team that doesn’t make the effort to communicate and stick together through the competition won’t get too far. Adventure races are won by teams that make the right decisions over the course of the race and not by those with the best athletic abilities alone. Team dynamics and problem solving, makes adventure racing more exciting and unrestricted, when compared to many other competitive sporting events.


One of the most important strategic decisions is the choice of team members. It is crucial to put together a team that has time to get acquainted. This allows everyone to understand the strengths and weaknesses of one another and provide assistance in times of need, during the race. Your team will encounter stressful situations during preparation and right through the race, which can put team spirit to the test.

Each member plays an integral role in the group, so it is vital that everyone has similar physical abilities and levels of commitment. Individual pride and ego have no place in adventure racing. Your team must have the same goals and should be able to help each other in times of a crisis. Make sure everyone agrees on what is expected from them and get to know each other better. Communicate your expectations and everyone will begin to work as a team.

The Female Advantage

The misconception of women being the weakest link in a team is a confounded theory. Men in your team that fear women as a liability could hamper your chances of making it through the race. For the most part, everyone in the team proves to be a weak link at some point during the race. Keep an open mind, as every individual has strengths and weaknesses, irrespective of their gender.

Team Leader - the Motivator

Adventure races call for extreme leadership. As a team leader it is important to instil confidence in every member and keep them motivated at all times. The ability of the team leader to make instant decisions is crucial for success in an adventure race. As the head of the pack, you should excel in adversity management and ensure that every member is completely committed to their task. Mutual respect and a positive attitude are two essentials elements that can make or break a team. Leadership is more about building relationships, so you have to draw on a different set of skills rather than mere management principles, when it comes to adventure racing.

Every team member also takes over leadership at some point or the other in an adventure race. Good leadership keeps the group energized well into the race, which is one of the primary responsibilities of a leader. You need to inspire your team to live on the edge and push themselves both physically and mentally, further than what they thought they could.

Team Members

In high pressure situations during a race, multiple people may need to assume leadership roles, which is one of the main reasons why a team must have a cohesive spirit. Teamwork is the key to success, so leave any ego at the starting line. Training together in every discipline enables the team to determine their strongest performer, who can take over the lead role in their respective disciplines. Remember, adventure racing is not about individual success, but about a team win. Every decision taken should benefit the team and get you closer to the finish line.

Support Crew

The support crew in an adventure race is almost as important as the actual team. The crew must be aware of transition areas and understand the activity that will take place at each area. Crew members need to set up camp at transitions areas, to ensure an efficient transition of activity. Successful teams need to be in and out of transition areas with precision.

Your team may need to change out of wet clothes and get into appropriate gear for the next leg. Therefore, the support crew must ensure that gear, clothes, snacks, water and other replenishments are organised down to the very last detail. They can play a vital role in providing team members with information on where leading teams are headed and motivate them as well. Another important task is to confirm the schedule and estimated time of arrival at the next transition area, so the team does not suffer serious setbacks.

Mandatory Equipment Checklist

First aid and safety equipment are mandatory in adventure races and organisers will insist that you carry all the appropriate material. Prepare a checklist of gear, supplies and other mandatory equipment. Make sure your support crew is properly equipped with adequate supplies.

Navigation is Critical

No team member will be an expert in every discipline. Therefore, it is essential to train together to determine the strongest team member in each discipline. The first step is to choose the best navigator who can read a map and orienteer during the day and night. Without navigational skills, the fastest team could end up going around in circles instead of reaching the finish line.

Although, the navigator may be an expert in this field, it is important that every team member has basic knowledge of navigation. The first test of teamwork is at the very beginning when you receive a map. You’ll need to find the most efficient way to reach the maximum number of checkpoints possible. Given the choice of routes, your decision will be based on the capabilities of the team and your overall strategy.

Communication between members is vital when you need to break your route into small segments. Identify several landmarks or ‘waypoints’ along the route. These are specific points at which you may need to change direction during a discipline. Describe these waypoints to the team so they know what to look for, well in advance.

Making Strategic Decisions

During an adventure race, physical exhaustion can have an impact on the team’s morale. However, the team must hold together and make appropriate decisions to gain a tactical advantage. In some adventure races, one member may be allowed to skip a discipline. Your team needs to make the right decision based on the best interests of everyone. This requires a strategic plan where the team needs to choose who could sit out a leg and use their best athletes for that specific discipline. Several winning teams have used this technique to their advantage in adventure racing.

The temptation to follow the strategies of another team has often been the downfall of some teams. Being influenced by another team could prove counterproductive. The spirit of competition sometimes induces teams to mislead other teams and send them in the wrong direction. Therefore, your team must be aware of such tactics and trust yourself and your team, rather than spoil any opportunity to cross the finish line ahead of the rest.

Mental Toughness

The power of mind is an incredible thing. Only a positive mindset will see you through any situation in an adventure race. Just like you need to work as a team, so does your mind and body. To become mentally strong racers, your team must be prepared to take the good and the bad in their stride. Flat tyres, injuries, dehydration, ready for any kind of situation. When your mind is focused, your team will be able to handle any situation. Stay calm and motivated, so you can solve the problem efficiently and move forward. You may not be able to control every situation that may unfold on the course, but a positive mind will help you react to these situations in an effective way.

Adventure racing is definitely a challenge but success lies with a team that is physically, mentally and emotionally prepared to beat the odds. With adequate training and preparation, you could discover the potential to do things; you never thought you could before!

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Created: July 2011
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