Thursday, 11 October 2007

Multiday adventure races are for everyone

If you've got the current GoMulti magazine issue you can read my most recent column in which I try to quell your fears about multiday race pace. And when Hano came through to AR Club on Tuesday night to talk about Bull of Africa he spoke about the many novice teams lined up at the start of XPD Austrialia and his first race, the Cederberg 500km held in 1999. My fingers started itching to type this blog.

Back in the "old days" of adventure racing's birth in South Africa, there were only 3 events a year. The Hi-Tec Adventure Racing Series offered only 180km, 250km and 500km races in 1999 and 2000. There were no sprints, no 65km events and no 100km events. There were no adventure racing clubs and had not yet been conceived. Yet we saw 16-25 four-person teams lined up at the start. Trim this figure by half (or more) and you'll get our current distance racing status.

I'll give you a few possible reasons for this.

Events rely too much on and few have their own websites with comprehensive event information published months in advance of the event.

Multiday adventure races need to be promoted to the wider sporting community through colourful handouts at road run races, trail runs, mountain biking events and paddling events. Expedition events capture the public's imagination. Using the birdshot principle where a large number of projecticles guarantees that - at close range - a pellet will hit a target, if you send out loads of flyers and promotions to an extensive number of people you're bound to get some takers. The general public (those who do not visit nor read GoMulti, Runner's World and other related magazine) just do not know that these events are happening.

The path of least resistance
I've realised that if you offer people an easier option it will be taken; whether less money, less hassle, less time, less distance or all of the above. Sprint races are cheap, accessible, undemanding and short.

The ladder effect
Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to start at the bottom and work your way to the top. In other words, you do not have to start with a sprint, progressing to a 16-hr event to a 2-day race and then to a multiday expedition race. Tighten your belt, take a swig from your hip flask and take the plunge. My first race was a 250km followed by a 500km a few months later. Hano's first race was a 500km. Many others had the same initiation. In adventure racing you can go from zero to hero.

(Nonetheless it is a pretty good idea to enter one or two of the 2-day races in the early months of 2008, like Swazi Xtreme, to bond with your team, practise efficient transitions, refine your navigation and get motivated by the whole racing buzz)

Pace panic
Sprint participants seem to think that (to paraphrase Fred) "the helter-skelter pace of sprints has to be maintained for long races as well". No, no, no. Not even Haile Gebrselassie could maintain his World Record marathon pace (2:57 min/km pace) over a greater distance (the fastest 100km road running pace is 3:44 min/km, that's 100km in 6h13). Take these boys off-road, add a backpack, nagivation, team-mates, multiple disciplines, another 400km, 4-days and little sleep and I bet (with confidence) that their pace would drop substantially.

Strapped for cash
It does cost a fair penny to participate in an expedition race. There's the race entry fee (probably around R2,500 per person), transport, pre- and post-race accommodation (not always included in entry fees), race food, additional equipment/clothing and miscellaneous bits and bobs. It would be fair to say that you need to budget around R6,000-R7,000 per person to compete in a local expedition race, which is definitely cheaper than an event abroad.

But let's put this into perspective. I took part in an out-of-town ultra run a few months ago. The entry fee was an inexpensive R150. Include transport, meals and accommodation and it cost me R1,270 to run for 15-hours. I ran another out-of-town ultra in just under 7-hours (entry fee around R250) and that trip cost me R1,160.

At an expedition race you'll get the most bang for your buck if you take the full 8 race days to complete the course (around R750 per day). hahaha

Team-mates (an addition to my original blog)
Finding suitable teammates is no easy task and going into a 500km with incompatible personalities sets you up for a bumpy ride. Then again, a 500km races can bring out traits in your best beloved friend that you never knew existed so you may as well just go for it - recruit eager, like-minded people willing to give a 2-5 days race a go and deal with issues as they arise. There is certainly no better way to learn about what you want from a team.

Our National AR email group is probably the best "find-a-friend" resource available. People subscribe to the email group because they are interested in AR and in 95% of their subscription notes they say "hoping to hook up with like-minded people to take part in events". So, what are you waiting for?

Send an email to the group stating where you live, what races you're interested in doing and whether you're looking for 1 or 3 team-mates. Get the people from your neighbourhood who respond together for a cup of coffee at your local haunt and take it from there. You can't sit back expecting other people to find friends for you. Take action! They're out there, you've just got to coax them from their hobbit-holes.

Lack of belief in your abilities
Do you not believe that you can complete a 500km race? 500km is not overwhelming when you break it into bite-sized chunks; 35km plus 80km plus 40km etc. I've done one (and a half). Others have too. And you can also experience the adventure. Think about it... on an expedition race you've probably got 7 or 8 days to get to the finish. That really is a lot of time and if you just keep moving steadily you'll get there.

What's the worst that can happen? You may not complete the full course. This is no great tragedy; not lining up at the start is.

Rookies give it horns
At the 750km XPD Australia last month many rookie (novice) teams lined up at the start, (something like 50%, or more, of the field). Only 2 teams that started the race withdrew. Some teams kept going although they were unranked. As Hano explained, "They have a different mindset and novices are not scared to start and tackle a 750km event. South African teams seem more conservative and hesitant. Start thinking differently... be there for the journey."

The Bull of Africa is back in August 2008. This is the only SA-based expedition distance race next year so consider committing your disposable income and training to this objective now.

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