Monday, 12 June 2006

Distance ain't daunting

At our AR Club committee meeting last week were were shooting the breeze and discussing participation numbers in the various AR event distance categories. This topic came up when I reported that numbers on the mailing list were finally growing - after a 2-year slump - and that in May stats on logged an all-time high. In this month the site greeted thirteen-thousand visitors! This is reflected in the sprint events where most races attract 150 - 350 entrants.
Participation numbers in the short distance events are doing well, but in longer racers we infrequently see teams traveling distances to away-from-home races and thus entry numbers in events over 150km remain unsubstantial. Honestly, 10 or 14 teams is not a race.

Back in the "old days" there were only 3 events a year: a 180km, a 250km and a 500km. The situation was like this for 2-years before the introduction of the Dirty Weekend and Game Sprint series'. What I liked about there being only 3 events is that all existing teams made an effort to get to each event and we were so excited to see friends made at previous races again. We also had 3-4 months between events to sort out team-mates and organise financing.

And when it came to distance... nothing was too daunting. Yes, it was sometimes like looking a big scary monster in the face, 'cos there was no to tell you what to pack, how to choose team-mates and what to do in the transition; we had to figure this our for ourselves. But because these were the only races, we entered them, improvised and somehow got to the finish line. I stand to be corrected but I'm certain that finishing rates were higher than they are currently. Is this because those participating were better athletes? Not at all. I too was a palookah - a provincial underwater hockey player and regular road runner. I'd never paddled or mountain biked (I got my butt in the saddle on a bike borrowed from Linden Cycles a month before my first race, a 250km).

Although sprint and short distance races have made adventure racing more accessible, it has also diluted the purity of pur sport and - dare I say - has offered an easier alternative; psychologically and physically and with respect to time, money, resources and effort.

Also, I think that the shorter events "scare" racers off from distance events because they feel that if they battled through a 65km they'll crack on a 200km. Not so! Remember that the pace in a 200km is slower (for most) and if you're going to make the effort of recruiting a team, support crew and gathering gear, you may as well make a weekend of it.

AND... regular participation in short distance races has financial implications. Granted, it is pricey to enter a 2-3 day race but you don't do it every month, only 2-3 times a year. But, if you're blowing your disposable income regularly on frequent sprints, it takes away dosh that could be spent on one whopper.

Solution? I conceed that sprints and short course races do have their place. But, true growth and evolution in adventure racing lies in support of and participation in multiday races. There's little reason why South Africa should not become a respected nation, like our small Southern Hemisphere neighbour New Zealand, in the global arena. But, this will only happen when we have a more competitive environment here at home at our multiday races.«

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