Seven steps to the big time
Lisa de Speville
The multi-day adventure racing scene in South Africa has slowed to a stumble over the last two years; yet sprint races, which strictly speaking are not adventure races, have flourished. I’ve always believed that if you give people an easier option they’ll take it.
‘Uge Events director, and adventure racer, Eugene Botha nailed it when he recently commented, “The problem is that most people new to the sport make adventure sprint events their goal”.
“Oh dear,” I replied. “Adventure sprints races are hardly a major goal: they’re completed by nine-year old children on oversized mountain bikes!”
When out-of-shape adults take up running for its fitness and weight loss benefits, they often focus on Comrades Marathon as their goal. Water-inclined choose Midmar Mile; cyclists look to Argus or 94.7 Cycle Challenge and multi-discipliners up the stakes with Ironman. Why then do these same people consider a 25km marked-route adventure sprint as a goal?
Adventure sprint races were first introduced in 2001 to entice participants into the sport. It was hoped that these bite-sized events would give participants a taste of the sport, without much commitment in the way of training, proficiency, time, equipment and money. What we didn’t consider is that the all-out pace of these short 2-4 hour events would be extrapolated to multi-day races; it’s little wonder that adventure sprinters think: “I could never keep this up for three days!”.
And so these fast and fun races flourished, while numbers at multi-day races have diminished considerably over the last two years. The ninth edition of Swazi Xtreme, Southern Africa’s longest running multi-day adventure race, has just been and gone. Like other multi-day events, entries were down, but the adventure was not. After three days of cruising the wilds of Swaziland, 63 of the 64 competitors completed either the SPORT (three-day staged) or PRO (60 hour non-stop) courses (the 64th competitor started the race ill). That’s the highest finishing ratio in the history of the event.
My challenge to you
Although there are other excellent, established multi-day races in South Africa, like the ‘Uge Events Adventure Challenge (end-Jan), Singletrack Mania and Nguni Challenge (mid-June) and Eden Challenge (October), Swazi Xtreme remains a prominent annual event. With almost a full calendar year from now until the tenth edition of Swazi Xtreme in April 2010, I challenge you to make this your sporting objective for the year. You’ve got 10-months to save disposable income and to get ready, using other distance events on the adventure racing calendar in preparation.
Follow these 7 steps
1 Tell the World. Verbalising objectives cements your commitment. Tell your friends and family that you’re going to do Swazi Xtreme, a multi-day adventure race, in 2010.
2 Phone a friend. Recruit friends to join you on this adventure. Adventure racing is a team sport and although pairs are allowed, novices are less likely to finish if they enter the pairs category. Go for the full four-person team experience and you’ll have a better finishing prognosis. And if you can’t find a female team member to make up a mixed-gender team, enter an all-male team. Rather be there than miss out.
3 Become proficient. Familiarise yourself with the sport’s primary disciplines: running/trekking, mountain biking, paddling, navigation and rope skills. You do not need to be an expert, just proficient and comfortable. On a multi-day race it is important to hike better than you run. Teams rarely run (with the exception of the front teams).
Feel comfortable riding your mountain bike for a good six hours (or more). Get to the point where you’re stable in a double kayak on a dam. Since you are not required to be river graded, if you do end up on a river with rapids, you’ll be in stable, inflatable two-man rafts.
Navigation skills are acquired with a little practise (see #7). Alternatively, ensure one of your recruited teammates can read a map. Rope skills are easy to learn and you are supervised at races. Visit a climbing gym and learn to go down, up and across ropes.
Participation in single discipline events will build your confidence.
4 Train… a bit Some people run Comrades in six hours; others cross the finish line in 11. They both finish. How fit is ‘fit enough’? Just enter the damn race. But if you spend the next 10 months on the couch, you will have very sore feet and legs and bum and back and…
5 Acquire equipment. Borrow from friends, hire where you can and purchase personal equipment as you go along, like adding one item a month to your race crate over the next 10 months. You can manage quite adequately with basics; I still do.
6 Reading is required. No question is a stupid question… unless it has already been answered in one of the many informative articles on South Africa’s adventure racing website, www.AR.co.za.
7 Attend a workshop
AR portal www.AR.co.za will present one-day adventure racing workshops over the next year to coach you in navigation, equipment, race nutrition, support crews and other adventure racing essentials. Visit the website for details.
In the nine years of Swazi Xtreme, I’ve raced four, assisted at four and missed one. I’ll definitely be racing the tenth. Will you?
Lisa de Speville Adventure racing author, cell biologist, athlete and www.ar.co.za founder
Originally published in Go Multi issue 13.2 (May/June 2009)