What is Adventure Racing?
AR is the sport of navigating with a map and compass through a course to locate checkpoints via trekking, mountain biking, and paddling. There may also be other disciplines that highlight special features of the venue, like caving, rappelling, climbing, coasteering, sailing, packrafting, and other special team challenges. Some events allow solo racers in addition to teams, ranging in number from 2 to 5. The format is flexible and will vary a lot from one organizer and venue to the next. You will always be provided with written instructions (or a "passport") that outline the rules of travel, and a method for recording your successful location of each checkpoint along the way to the finish line.
What is a checkpoint?
Checkpoints are locations marked on your map that your team must find by reading the map and using a compass. In the field, the CPs are marked by a bright orange and white flag or other highly visible marker used by the organizer. There will be a punch with a specific pin pattern with the flag, which you use to punch the CP box on your punchcard, proving you were at the right location. Some organizers will use an electronic timing chip instead, as in orienteering. You may also be required to plot the CPs on your map, using UTM coordinates. For the Unbridled Women AR, your maps will be plotted already and you will not be required to do any UTM plotting, although there will be 3 bonus CPs for which UTM coordinates will be given. There will be loaner plotting tools and even instructions for how to plot UTMs available for reference as you plot the three bonus CPs.
Do I need to know how to navigate?
You need to have at least one person on your team who is comfortable reading a map and using a compass. Depending on the difficulty level of the race, CPs may be located on or off trail, on obvious features in the terrain, or on more subtle features. It is typical to be given a topographic map, which allows you to read the land by way of contour lines. Often, you'll also receive supplemental maps, like a park map, mountain bike trail map, or the like. For the Unbridled Women AR, you will receive a park map that depicts all of the hiking and biking trails and other park infrastructure, as well as a customized topographic map. There will also be 3 other bonus CPs for which a compass bearing and distance will be given, and so you should practice following a bearing if you want to tackle these bonus CPs.
How can I learn to navigate?
There are orienteering clubs around the country that are a great resource for learning to navigate. Kentucky is fortunate to have three clubs that offer events around the state: Orienteering Cincinnati (www.ocin.org), Orienteering Louisville (www.olou.org) and Bluegrass Orienteering Club (www.oblueky.org). Unbridled Women will also be offering navigation clinics throughout the year, so join our mailing list if you want to receive information about those opportunities. You can also find navigation workshops through your local outdoor retail store. There are all kinds of instructional videos on the internet, as well. Here are some good basic ones to get you started.
What should I wear for the race?
Since it's likely to be pretty hot during a race in Kentucky in June, you'll want to wear a short-sleeved wicking shirt (not cotton) and sports bra. Use an anti-chafing cream under any elastic seams and wherever else you're susceptible to chafing. Diaper rash cream, Run Goo, SportsGlide, or your favorite chamois butter all work fine. While it's tempting to wear shorts, we always recommend long pants for adventure races, since you'll be going off-trail and may encounter poison ivy, brambles, stinging nettle, and other plants that can leave you scratching or scratched up. There are plenty of brands that offer lightweight hiking pants in breathable fabrics. You'll also want some wicking socks that reduce the chances of blistering. Swiftwick are a great choice for hot weather, but go with what works best for you in training. It's always a bad idea to try out new gear in a race. We recommend socks that are tall enough that you can tuck in the bottoms of your pants, to help avoid tick and chigger bites. A permethrin-based bug spray that is designed for clothing and not skin is most effective on socks and pants. As for shoes, a sturdy pair of trail runners with knobby soles are great for traction. Salomon Speedcross are a favorite among adventure racers but, again, whatever you would wear for a trail run or a short hike will work fine. Bear in mind you're likely to get your feet submerged, so you want something that will drain well, and probably want to avoid heavy hiking boots. Bring a hat for trekking and paddling legs and remember your sunscreen. We also recommend bike gloves for not only the biking legs, but trekking and paddling legs, too.
What other gear will I need?
First, be sure to check out the Gear List. There may be "gear checks" during the race, where you have to show a volunteer one or more pieces of your mandatory individual or team gear, to ensure compliance. At Flying Squirrel Adventures, we try to keep the Gear List pretty minimal, and limited primarily to safety-related gear. It does not include all the gear we think you'll want or need on the course. For example, we don't have a waterproof map case, backpack or hydration bladder or bottles on the Gear List, even though we would not recommend you do the race without these items.
Look for a backpack that fits your body type and torso length. Be sure to try out your pack in training, to be sure it isn't rubbing you the wrong way. Try to avoid getting a pack any larger than you need, in order to reduce both weight and bouncing (which will cause rubbing). Look for a pack with pockets on the front and sides that you can reach easily, to allow you to access food and other essentials without having to stop and take off your pack. Or put your food in your teammate's pack and vice versa! OutThere! is a popular AR-specific pack, and Osprey makes some nice packs designed specifically for women.
Your navigator will want to keep the maps and passport dry, so find a good waterproof map case. We find Ziploc-style and Velcro closures to be worky and wear out quickly. That isn't to say a large Ziploc bag won't work okay. It will, and for a lot less money than a map case. A good map case is more durable, though, and has a lanyard and other nice features that will come in handy. We like this style. It has a zippered closure, which is not waterproof, but designed to be used in conjunction with a second, waterproof case inside. The zipper is easy to open and close and doesn't break down like the Ziploc-style and Velcro closures. You can then have your maps and instructions in multiple sealed cases inside (Ziploc bags work great for this purpose). This allows you to flip quickly between maps and instructions without having to unseal them (so you don't get everything wet as with opening a single pouch with all your maps and instructions in it). This style happened to be designed by legendary adventure racer Ian Adamson. There you go.
What should I drink, and how much?
This will vary a lot according to your sweat rate, body weight, clothing, air temperature, and other variables. Again, this is something you'll do best to figure out during training prior to race day. Be sure you don't start your race dehydrated! A general rule of thumb is 20 ounces per hour. You'll need to replenish your electrolytes over the course of an 8-hour race, so a mix of water and a sports drink with electrolytes is ideal. There are loads of performance drinks on the market now. Experiment to see what works best for you. We love Nuun tablets, which offer good flavor, a bit of fizz and electrolytes, and come in a compact tube that fits nicely in a front pocket. The main thing is to bring something that tastes good to you, so you want to drink. Staying on top of your hydration will be really important for this summertime race. You and your teammates can set an alarm or have some other plan to remind each other to drink every 15 minutes and eat every 30 minutes, or whatever interval you need to keep hydrated and energized. You'll want to have a hydration bladder in your pack, to ensure you have quick and easy access to fluid. If you can find a PFD with an integrated hydration bladder, those are awesome. If you're crafty, you can also fashion your own sleeve on the back of a PFD to hold a hydration bladder, making it easier to drink and paddle.
What should I eat, and how much?
For an 8-hour race, you're going to want something more substantial than energy bars and gels. A good mix of carbs, proteins and fats is called for here. You also want to be sure you have a good mix of sweet and salty. Salted nuts, pretzels, jerky, and other savory foods will go down nicely when you can't stand the thought of another sweet bar. You'll need something with some substance to it, as well. Packable sandwiches, burritos, buttered and salted potatoes or pasta. . . mmmm. A general rule of thumb is 500 calories per hour. Once again, the key is to stay on top of your food intake. If you don't make eating and drinking part of your race strategy, it's easy to get behind the curve on your intake and start bonking. Be sure you have a good variety of food, so you have something that will still be appealing when you don't feel like eating.
How can I meet racing and training partners?
Look for AR or multi-sport clubs in your area. If there isn't one, get your adventurous friends together and start one! Join or set up group rides, hikes, and paddling events, and then start putting them together. Join our Women of AR group on Facebook, where you'll find experienced racers from all over the country who are happy to share knowledge, gear, and other resources. We'll be setting up workshops and training events throughout the year, so get on our mailing list to keep informed about those. Another great way to learn more about the sport and meet other racers is to volunteer! Reach out to your nearest race organization and volunteer for an event. Let them know you're interested in racing and ask them to introduce you around at the race.
Can I do the race solo?
No. At this time, we do not plan to allow soloists. We opened the race up to soloists and teams of 2 for 2020 because of the pandemic, and we'll do that again if necessary in 2021, but current plans are to go with the original race format of 3-woman teams. Because life is more fun when you're celebrating and suffering together!
Can I get a refund if I change my mind?
We'll refund 100% of your entry fee at any time up to the registration deadline of June 5, 2021, so there's no reason not to go ahead and commit! After June 5, 2021, we'll refund 50% of your entry fee up to June 19, 2021. We will not refund any portion of your entry fee for cancellations received after June 19, 2021. Your entry is entirely transferable, at no cost. Just e-mail us!
Where can I learn more?
Here's a collection of some of our favorite instructional videos. Below this video player, you'll find a form where you can submit your own questions, or share with us your favorite AR-related instructional or motivational video.