Ready to Run, Paddle & Bike?
Shall we hike around this steep slope to the other side of the hill, or try to scramble over it? Do you want to push me on a bike around these barrels stuck in the sand, or would you rather I push you? These are just two of the offbeat types of decisions you and your partner may have to make during a fast-paced adventure race. Growing in popularity, adventure races are designed to get people off couches and out into the wilderness. The key to winning is coordinating with your teammate(s) to get through the event—hopefully in first place. Sort of like a local version of the Amazing Race.
Although there are usually three parts to the Terra Firma Promotions adventure races, don’t expect them to be like ordinary triathlons. During these races you’ll run along a trail instead of on a street, paddle a canoe instead of swim, and ride a mountain bike, perhaps on singletrack. These adventure races have teams of two, three, or four people, depending on the type and length of the adventure race.
Terra Firma Promotions is run by a Dallas-based couple, both winning adventure races—one a former pro mountain bike racer and the other an elite athlete. Most of their events are held in areas in and around Dallas, Austin, and Houston. Their sprint series is the right choice if you want to start adventure racing, because you don’t need a top athlete’s skill and conditioning. These events generally last 2 to 3 hours and include a three-mile trail run, paddling a canoe for about 30 minutes, then mountain biking 8 to 12 miles. Teamwork is the key, because both you and your buddy must finish. The teams that work together, whether it is learning to paddle in unison or hooking a long bungee cord between the two people while running or biking, so the slower person goes a bit faster to keep up, are the teams that do the best.
If the shorter races hook you, build up to the 12-hour races, then progress to the 24-hour events. If you’ve become an adventure racing devotee, collect a team of three or four people to run one of the 7- to 10-day races. The longer races are more complex. During the Sprint races competitors run along clearly marked trails. In the longer races, teams are given coordinates and must use a compass (no GPS allowed), a map, and a UTM corner ruler so they can plot where they have to go in the wilderness. For example, they may have to decide to follow a riverbank through a forest or run down a ravine, rather than taking a road that is farther away and longer but flatter.
Mystery events often are tossed into the mix. For example, a cargo net may be staked to the ground. Smart racers think to take off their helmets and backpacks before slithering under the net. Others try to slide under quickly, still wearing their gear, and getting caught, slowing them down. While most of Terra Firma’s 12 events are held in outdoor and wilderness areas, when an event is held in an urban setting competitors may have to rappel down a building or roller blade along streets.
Though most adventure races attract athletic types, there are no restrictions on who can enter. These races emphasize teamwork above all else. And as long as you’re having fun, learning a little something about getting along, and getting your adrenaline pumping, then you’re doing it right. —LF
When to Go: Races run from Feb–Oct, but the major race series is in May, June, and July.