Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Are sprint events killing "pure" AR races?

An announcement was made today (I started writing this blog a week ago) that both Durban Urban (120km) and BBC (400km and 170km) events have been cancelled. Having observed the decent turnouts at sprint (2-4hr) races, I question whether these events - initiated to draw people into the sport of adventure racing - are instead killing it?

The months of this year have flown past in a flurry of events; AR, multi-sport and single discipline i.e. road running, orienteering, mtb, canoe. This mass of events demand your attention, time and money. They are fun and they make for active weekends but they also devour your disposable income, energy and enthusiasm. So, come July/August, you're ready for a weekend on the couch reading a good book.

Sprint races greet good turnouts: Spur Joburg welcomed around 300 competitiors in the 30km event; Ugene's Quantum Adventures always see over 110 team entries; Mudman is immensely popular in KZN (Jeep Msinsi Series 2007 is about to start) and Uge Events in Joburg greet 60-80 teams at each event.

Multiday events? Numbers are down, down, down - at Swazi Xtreme too, which saw 60 team entries in the PRO and SPORT events last year and just over half this number this year.

I think back to the "old days" of AR in South Africa (1999 & 2000); it started out with 3 events a year - Zirk's Hi-Tec Adventure Racing Series. Teams from all over the country would be at each event; there was such spirit and comraderie and it was always so exciting to see your AR friends from other Provinces at each event. Team numbers? My memory is foggy but I recall numbers of between 20-30 four-person teams. I would get so excited; I'd finish one race an immediately begin saving, training and planning for the next event some 3-months later.

This tells us is that sprint racers are not crossing over to distance events. Sprint events are leisure activities. Distance adventure races are more serious sporting events; serious in terms of training, time, financing and physical effort. Fred made an astute observation: "The frantic helter skelter pace [of sprints] also gives new people the wrong impression. They are left thinking that the same pace has to be maintained for long races as well".

Fred is right. Sprint events are not adventure races and they have little in common with true non-stop multiday events.

Looking ahead there's the SingleTrack Mania 200km in late-September and Eden Challenge 200km in late-October (Mondi Shanduka Newsprint Challenge 120km is scheduled for mid-October). Prognosis? Looking at the current trend, none of these can expect to see floods of entries. And this does not bode well for our sport.

I started writing this blog on Wednesday last week, before going away for the weekend. Subsequently there have been a number of postings to the AR email group on this theme - and all make pertinent observations.

Multiday AR barriers also include disposable income, leave from work and family committments in addition to the plethora of alternative events that don't take as much time and money.

Assembling a 4-person team is also an intensive exercise; but it is made much easier if a) you've been in the sport for a while and; b) you're involved in an adventure racing club (very few of you are). There is also the paired team category at most events. This is a dynamic format but is only recommended to those with some experience under their belts.

Navigation too stands out as a barrier; yet this is the element that makes this sport what it is andit can be practised at orienteering events. Multisport is just that; an event that incorporates multiple sporting disciplines whether on-road or off-road. Adventure racing, on the other hand, involves strategic navigation from one location to the next; over mountains, across lakes. Your time, your pace. Day and night. A sport of liberation, competence, and endurance with only your team-mates for physical and mental support. It's not a cushioned sport that suits everyone.

What's the solution? Participants - in general - do not filter into adventure racing from sprint events (sprints should actually be classified as multisport and not adventure racing events). Those wanting to "build-up" can use multisport events, colour-coded orienteering, Rogaine and single discipline endurance events to prepare for classic adventure races.

Our South African market cannot support more than two >200km events a year; and this includes reducing the number of middle distance events too. Ideally we want all potential teams (2's and 4's) to attend these two >200km events. Effort, publicity, resources and planning poured into these events will give our sport (and the teams) focus.

That said, it could be dull having the same two event organisers planning events year after year as each organiser (and there are a number of them) brings a different design to their races. I would like to propose that the calendar is substantially reduced in 2008 and that we only see 2 distance events on offer. 2009 is another year and of little concern for now.

Adventure racing, PURE adventure racing, will never be a high attendance sport; that's the nature of this monster. But, I would expect to see around 60 four-person teams at a 60-70hr non-stop adventure race; not the current trickle of 5-10. The problem is also not specifically that sprints draw the crowds from multiday events but that overall we have many, many events to chose from across the board and only so much time and money.


Anonymous said...

All very good observations, but may I look at it from another angle? Why did the sport grow innitially when there was just as much out there to do and still the same money and family pressure? I first heard about AR from a pamphlet at an Iron Man event, entered Zirk's 500km event in Magoebaskloof and only lasted 1 day but carried on and eventually finished one, but only 2 years later. Maybe the organisers are stuck advertising AR events to "AR Groups" rather than canoeists, MTB clubs etc where the original marketing was successfull. Brian of the great T Shirt debate of 2002.

adventurelisa said...

Hi Brian,

Very good points. In many ways, we should have so many more people because of the explosion of mountain biking, which wasn't as big 10-years ago.
Yes, excellent comment. Perhaps there is too much reliance on and the website's presence in multisport magazines and the AR calendar in Runner's World and other publications? They should be handing out flyers at running, mountain biking and canoeing events. I used to hammer this years ago to organisers but I gave up and seem to have forgotten about it... Thank you for the reminder. Lisa