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Mad for Adventure


Brad Harrison's take on adventure racing and why he does it.

adventure racingIt’s one of those social rituals that, when seeing a friend or colleague on a Monday morning, one of the first questions asked is “so what did you get up to on the weekend?” My response is often met with strange stares and expressions like “seriously?” and “that doesn’t sound like fun”, and all because I’m telling them about the training I did.

Take last weekend for example; five of us drive 1.5hrs up into the hinterland behind Gympie to do some training for an upcoming race. A friend had gone out the weekend prior and set some checkpoints which were then marked up on 13 different maps that he emailed to us during the week. Our task was to use the maps to navigate to each checkpoint and eventually back to where we started. This was to be a journey of around 140km undertaken on Mountain Bike and foot.

Commencing at 3pm, we travelled an easy 20km on the bike, managing to easily navigate to all checkpoints. At around 5.30pm we stashed the bikes in the bush, put on our running shoes and head torches, downed some food and headed off on a 35km trail run which took us up and down mountains over five hours, collecting more checkpoints.

We almost stood on two snakes, bashed our way through dense lantana up a mountainside and finished with 12km of continual uphill. Arriving back at the bikes at 10.30pm, one of our group started to feel ill and so I elected to ride the 20km back to the cars with him whilst the rest of the crew went through the night doing another 80km on the bikes. It’s one of unspoken rules of what we do – never leave a team mate in the field alone.
By 3.30am I was back at home tucked up in bed after what amounted to a 10 hour day/night training session. I’m often asked just what this madness is all about and why I subject myself to such punishment – it’s called Adventure Racing!

There's a great article on the history of Australian Adventure Racing here, but essentially it involves kayaking, mountain biking and trekking, however longer races will often have surprise disciplines thrown in. Competitors attend a race meeting often just hours before the race where the course is explained and maps are handed out. The next few hours involve teams plotting a route to reach ‘checkpoints’ which are each worth a certain number of points.

Racing in teams of two to four people, the aim is to complete the course in the fastest possible time with the most number of points. Races can go from 3 hours up to 7 days in duration with 24hr and 48 hr races being a real test of endurance and there will be multiple legs of each discipline.
Due to the length of races, keeping the body fuelled with enough water, electrolytes and energy is critical so having an understanding of nutrition is vitally important.

In a typical 24 hour race, I can consume 6-10 litres of water and another 5 litres of water mixed with electrolytes plus up to 8000 calories in food. It is important that the food is easily digestible, packed full of nutrients and energy and can be easily carried in a pack.

I started using At One bars about six months ago and will generally smash down 4-5 bars in a race. The fact that they are all natural, are moist and therefore easy to chew and swallow, not to mention they taste great, are just some of the reasons I choose to use them. Unfortunately I can’t survive on bars alone so they make up part of my typical race food kit which will also include fresh fruit, nuts and dried fruit, chocolate, meat and salad wraps plus some other bars for variety.

Endurance races are funny things as one of the biggest things to contend with is your mind. Whether it be hallucinations due to extreme tiredness or that persistent question of why the hell am I doing this when your legs are screaming in pain and you can feel every nuance from the multiple blisters on your feet.

However when you finally cross that finish line and know that you have accomplished something truly remarkable and pushed your body to its limits, all of that is quickly forgotten as the elation takes over and you start to think about the next race.

Madness? Maybe, but it sure beats sitting on the couch all day and growing old wondering what you could have accomplished.

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