Adventure Racing Tips

Let’s start with the bike

From the top, you must have a map board that can rotate so the track you are on is lined up with the map. Our event sponsor Adventureracegear has a good selection of these.

I recommend a clip on map board compass so when the track you are on is lined up with the map the compass is pointed down the North lines. These are cheap – about $30. If it isn’t, don’t keep going and hoping, stop and work out where you are.

There are a few ways to keep your place on the map:

  • The easiest ways are to use blue tack which you can keep moving to where you are on the map.
  • Another way is to place a thin tin plate the size of your map board under your map and then use two magnets on top of the map board, one where you left from and one where you are.
    I don’t like this method as metal effects compass direction.
  • The method I use is to use a feature on the map to keep my location on the map.
    It might be a name or feature. For example I glance at my map and I know my position is on the trail just left of the dam.

If you are having trouble finding your location on the map on numerous occasions you need to hand the navigation duties over to another team member if you have the luxury of having another navigator on the team. It usually means you are fatiguing and are having trouble concentrating. If you don’t have another navigator, you have to slow down and refocus.

It is more important to go slow in the right direction than being the fastest team in the race going in the wrong direction.

One more thing on Nav: always look for a feature; don’t rely on just looking for a track. For example: I am looking for a track to the right after a creek crossing. Also use your speedometer. If the track you want is in 1.3k on the right after a creek, all tracks in the first 1km you don’t need to look at. Tracks are fleeting; features are forever. Remember this! We are trained to read roads and tracks; you need to train yourself to read contour lines.

Your spares bag and what’s in it can be the difference between riding a bike and running a bike. For a 2 person team I carry 3 x spare tubes, 2 x quick links and chain breaker, 2 x 16oz gas canisters and inflater nozzle, 1 x pump, a derailleur hanger each, small bottle of lube and a multi tool. A couple of zip ties are also handy.

I find that the above will get you out of most situations.

Put your tubes in a soft cloth sack, like a sunglasses case. Take off the silver screw ring but leave the cap on to prevent a hole wearing through your tube before you get to use it.

Make sure your quick link is suitable for your chain. There are different ones for different speed bikes as the more gears you have the skinnier the chain. If your team mate has a 9 speed and you a 10 speed I would carry 2 quick links for each. If you haven’t used a quick link before practice at home: It’s easy when you know how. We can complete a broken chain repair in 2 minutes.

If you break your derailleur and not just the hanger you can take it off by breaking your chain and then reattach your chain so your bike is a single speed. Choose a gear that is in line with your middle chain ring. Most derailleur hangers are designed to break before the derailleur.

If you are running tubeless tyres make sure you can move the valve lock ring before the race or carry a small pair of pliers, if you can’t get your tubeless valve out when you get a puncture you won’t be able to change your flat. Tubeless tyres need a latex top up every 3-4 months. Quite often if you get a thorn in a tubeless tyre you can keep riding and the latex will block the hole but you may need to put more air in.

I recommend and love tubeless as it eliminates the snakebite puncture. Before each race I check my spare tubes, check the o-ring in my inflater, check my gas canisters and refill my mini lube bottle. Before a big race like GeoQuest I get new tyres, chain and cluster. If you change your chain regularly you only need to change your cluster every 18 months. I ride my MTB 3hrs a week over rough terrain and I change my Chain every 4 months.

Couple more things that may help:
If you tear a sidewall in your tyre or get a hole in it that the tube pokes out you will need to put something on the inside of the tyre over the hole before inflating. I have used many things from tree bark to a velcro tab I cut off my jacket.

Another good bit of kit is a triathlon box, which velcro’s onto your top tube. I find it much easier to get food out of this while riding than my pack.

Night riding can be a challenge and good light is the key. It needs to be helmet mounted so you can see around corners. You can double up with a light on your bike, More Light More Speed. For me it’s a fine balance between weight, battery burn time a strength of light. I go for the AY-UP light with a 6hr battery on half power to get through a whole night. I go high power on downhills and looking for CP’s. There are a lot of lights out there; try to find something that will suit the races you have coming up or to best suit your training rides.

Towing systems are a great benefit if you have various levels of riding ability in your team. The most popular is to get a retractable dog leash and take out the cord and replace it with a 3mm bungy cord. 2 metre’s is enough. You can attach it to your seat post via strong zip ties. Another method we have used is to take the top half of a fishing rod and zip tie it to your seat rails and then thread the 2 metres of 3mm bungy through the runners and tie it to your seat post, the rod keeps the bungy out of your cluster. In both methods we tie a loop in the end big enough to hold in your hand so if the person on tow gets in trouble they can just let go. Remember, what will define you as a good team is how you manage each situation as it arises. There is always a solution. Stay calm, work together, don’t blame anyone and do what it takes to get your team to the finish line. As a team we have found the best way is to keep making jokes and laughing.

The last thing to cover on the MTB is your team dynamic.
It is important that everyone is involved. In a team of two it is a no brainer: you have your navigator and your ferret. Ferret is a term we use to describe the person with the punch card or timing stick that has to go into the bush to ferret out the control. As a navigator I always try to let my team mates know what is coming up or what we are looking for, I also will have someone else on the bike speedo who will zero the computer at every turn or leaving a CP and I will tell them how far the next turn or creek or CP or whatever we are looking for is away.

A team of four is a little more challenging to split the jobs up.
Have someone on control descriptions, someone on the bike computer and you can have someone who will tow anyone who is struggling. Watch your order of travel, your weakest rider at the time should be in second or on tow in third. The hardest position to ride is last, whoever is in this spot needs to focus on staying right on the wheel in front and have different team mates at the back through the race. If it is always the same person they can begin to feel as they are just making up the numbers and this is a bad head space to be in and can be destructive for your team. Always remember everyone in your team is out there for a good race experience it is up to everyone to make sure everyone is having fun even if it is on a sadistic death march of a leg (usually dreamed up by Craig Bycroft from Geocentric). Stay calm, have a laugh and finish the race better friends than when you started.

Grass seeds

I never thought the simple grass seed and burr could crack me mentally. Well it happened on the weekend at an 8hr rogaine out near Wivenhoe dam, totally did my head in. Lesson learned for me was to wear long pants which grass seeds can’t penetrate. I have seen other rogainers wear them but always thought they would be too hot to run in but after the weekend anything would have been better than the grass seeds. I was ready to trade the grass seeds for Lantana and had to fight my mind every step of the way just to keep going.

A small tip for all on pack which I learnt the hard way:
I noticed Trevor (a fellow adventure racer) at the start line with the zips on his pack at the top of his pack. In this position they work their way down and you will lose gear. Always have your zips at the lowest part of your pack.


Is it important and how often should you do it?

Its funny, I was chatting to Trevor Mullens after Geoquest and was saying that if you wanted to improve your navigation you should go orienteering every week. His reply was he didn’t want to sacrifice a good training session for an orienteering event.

It got me to thinking that apart from Paul Elby (Team Explore), Steve Blount (Team Blowfish/Thortz) and Brett Stevens I never see any of the navigators from the other teams at any of these events honing their skills.

When I first started as Team Mountain Designs in 2001, we were super quick but usually going the wrong way and I felt it was my responsibility as the team navigator to improve my navigation. So, for 5 years I religiously went orienteering every Thursday and Sunday, I also attended every Rogaine event. After 5 years we started to get consistent results up in the top three.

I have continued my Nav training by going orienteering once a week and competing at every rogaine that doesn’t clash with an adventure race.

You can train your nuts off to save that extra couple of minutes in speed (you usually lose twice as much by going fast the wrong way), have quick transitions to shave off seconds but get the nav right and you can gain hours.

Try Nav days were you get a group and a local orienteering map. All head out and set some check points each, then meet back, add everyone’s check points to your map and got get ‘em .

Navigation is key!

The point I am making is if you only ran or rode once a week or only when you raced, you wouldn’t expect to do real well. Treat a navigation session like normal training, you got to do it regularly to improve. If you go onto the QLD orienteering web site you can purchase maps off them and see their event calendar. It’s best to go to an event. They are on every week, cost about $10 and you will probably find someone there who is willing to give you some instructions. Tri Adventure on the Sunny Coast also hold Nav training regularly.


A basic of rule of thumb for me so I know what to wear is by temperature.

This will be different for everyone and will depend on what pace you are travelling. The harder you work the more heat you generate. Remember the cold is not something you can acclimatise for, it’s a head game and be hard on yourself. Visit isle 6 at Bunnings and get some concrete if you are not hard enough.

Okay I could go on all day about being too soft, but I am trying to encourage and help.

My temperature guide is:

  • everything over 12 is shorts and shirt
  • between 6 and 12 is a polypro or merino under a short sleeve shirt and compression tights
  • under 6 and the fun starts:
    • My Top Half
      Start with a good base layer, I like polypro as even when its wet and as long as you wear another layer over it, it will still keep you warm.

      Merino you might be screaming! Well it’s great and you stink less wearing it, but if you get it wet you will freeze, so I prefer to stink and take no chances.

      Over the poly pro I wear my bike top (I like extra back pockets) and if still cold I break out my Neo Light GTX Gortex rain Jacket by Mountain Designs. This jacket is awesome. It is only 300 grams, fits in a sandwich bag and breathes great. In Tassie XPD I wore mine every night seven nights in a row. Gortex is expensive and you can pay up to $300 but the performance and weight is worth it. Mine has been very durable. I have one of the earlier models that I still wear and its 6 years old.

    • My Lower Half
      My legs don’t generally get cold but when trekking in the High Country of any of our states I carry a cheap pair of seam sealed over-pants. This keeps the wind off and with a pair of tights underneath is ample. Also when trekking I carry a pair of polypro gloves.

      Paddling I wear all of the above and if you flick your gortex jacket hood on you will keep the water from dribbling down your neck. In winter on the Gold Coast when it is under 5 paddling I wear a poly pro top and bottom with a wetshirt over the top. Waterproof pants over the poly pro pants, poly pro socks and booties and POGIES for my hands. Look them up; they are awesome for keeping your fingers toastie.

      Most of the above mentioned gear is mandatory per person to carry in most of the big races.

      Adventure racing can take you to your mental breaking point with the physicality and decision making, so wear the right gear and you won’t crack because you can’t stop shaking. With Team MD, Kim is our coldest. She is always first to feel the effects and you need to pay heed and be sympathetic. Don’t keep pushing. Stop; get the cold one into warm gear, then go back to racing. If you let one person get too cold your whole team will be out of the race.

      Keeping feet warm on the bike:
      You can get toe or full shoe covers. Wear wind stopper socks or simply put a plastic bag over your socks before slipping your cycling shoe on.

To be clear on keeping warm: It’s all about layers!

The more you create and the tighter the fit the warmer you will be. Don’t be lazy with your poly pro. If you have to stop to put it on make sure it’s the first layer. It must be against your skin. It won’t work as well over the top of your bike top.

An example: I discovered how good poly pro works occurred while racing Godzone 2012. We were on the bike; it was -2; I had ice forming on the map board. I was wearing a light pair of fleece gloves with a repel waterproof shell over the top. My hands were so cold it was making me nauseous. I took off my gloves, put on my wet poly pro gloves from out of my pack, put my light fleece gloves over the top and within 10 minutes my hands were warm and stayed warm. Two girls I have raced with who got very cold would also wear a 100 weight fleece over their poly pro and then a Gortex jacket.

Your mind can trick you into being cold. It happened to me in the 90’s when I was training for triathlon. I was swimming with a squad in an outdoor heated pool. I would get out early, wear my wetsuit and continually complain it was too cold. A mate suggested it was in my head, which I thought was stupid as I was cold. But it made me stop and look around. Here were 20 or more swimmers in their speedos following that black line up and down the pool and not one of them was shivering. Time to harden up! I went home that night telling myself I wouldn’t be cold anymore. I had faith and conviction in my belief. Surprise, surprise I was never cold at swim training again.

Foot care during big races:
Feet can be a big problem in long races if you don’t take care of them.

Don’t skimp on socks. I find coolmax socks the best for me and I will change regularly. Hopefully up to 2 times a day.

Another good tip is every time you are stopping for a break, or a sleep, take off your shoes and socks to let them get some air. Every time you feel a hotspot developing stop before it develops into a blister and treat the spot.

Another thing you can do is cover your whole foot in a body lube. I use nappy-rash cream, it works and you can rub it on open sores.

The only other thing you can do is just be mentally tough and put up with any pain. You must want to finish more than any amount of pain your body can deliver to try and make you stop. This is an attitude you and your team should have adopted before the start.

Gary S