Team endurance racing. The name alone explains the nature of the sport.
Racing under intense emotional, mental, and physical strain, these athletes
possess incredible teamwork skills, tons of endurance and a passion to push
Team endurance racing, also called adventure racing, is one of the newest
"extreme" sports around. Races run anywhere from three hours (called sprints)
to many days. Some races run around the clock. Others stop at night and start
again in the morning.
At this point, the sport lacks definition. Nancy Crumb is a team endurance
racer. "It's such a new sport that there's...not a lot of standards in place.
There's a lot of movement within the U.S. and a little bit in Canada, trying
to get a bit more [organized]."
On the other hand, notes Crumb, some athletes thrive on the variety and
the freedom of a sport without boundaries.
Perhaps the most renowned multi-day race is the Raid Gauloises, fondly
known as the Raid. One Raid, for example, covered 250 miles of wild river,
bamboo forest and mountain peaks in Argentina. Teams kayaked, climbed, rode
horses, and canoed the distance in no less than seven days.
Crumb is preparing for a 350-mile race in Alaska called the Beast. And
beastly it is. In addition to floating through a third of the course in one-person
rafts, the team has to cross 90 miles of sheer ice.
"I think we'll be faced with climate challenges because we're going to
be spending a fair bit of time on the glacier and that's something that our
team doesn't do every day!" she says.
Each race is different. Some are stage races. Others are relay races. What
they generally have in common is this: each race travels through rugged wilderness.
The teams must cover the distance using non-motorized methods, such as:
- mountain biking
- kayaking, canoeing or whitewater rafting
- rock climbing
- riding horseback or camelback
- trekking or hiking, day and night
- skydiving, rappelling or hang-gliding
The teams do not follow trails. Instead, they must find their own way through
an unmarked wilderness course. This takes flawless navigation skills, such
as those developed in orienteering.
Teamwork is crucial. You have to trust and care about each team member
in order to help each other through the rough sections. Jeff Hobbs, captain
of Team Noelle2K, believes the best teams are made up of close friends.
"There are some teams made up of people who just know each other. But I
think for the team to work, you've got to be able to get along. You've got
to know [each others'] weaknesses and strengths and know how to be patient
because at some point, everybody runs into trouble," he says.
This is a sport favoured by people who want an extreme challenge of their
athleticism, stamina and mental strength.
In 1999, Crumb placed second in a race. "Not too bad after breaking my
leg and having surgery 10 weeks prior," she says. "See? You really don't have
to be all that fit!"
But let's not kid ourselves. These courses are designed to push your limits.
Teams have to cross the finish line just to qualify. If even one member is
left behind, the entire team is disqualified. For instance, in the first Raid
Gauloises, only 16 of 26 teams officially finished.
"The first goal should not be to win or to place. It should be to finish,"
You'll also have to decide how decisions will be made on the course. Will
it be by a democratic vote? Will a leader be chosen for the entire race? Or
will different leaders be chosen for each section?
Many teams have stalled on a course and sacrificed victory because the
members couldn't agree on which direction to hike.
Experience with a wide range of sports is essential as well. For example,
the team endurance race held at one Xtreme Games in California included mountaineering,
horseback riding, swimming, mountain biking, hiking and kayaking.
Another challenging aspect of team racing lies in finding your way. Remember
the Blair Witch Project? It takes serious patience and cooperation to lead
a lost group.
There are no signs on these courses. Many teams have been lost. Many have
missed checkpoints entirely, or lost valuable time by taking a wrong turn.
Teams find the right path through orienteering, a technique that involves
using maps, compasses and landmarks to keep them going in the right direction.
Sandra Rondzik-Popik, captain of Team Swift Traders, is still trying to
get over a recent navigational error that prevented her team from finishing
"We basically slid from having two teams ahead of us to not finishing the
race. That's very tough emotionally, after you put in so much hard work into
it and you push through the night," she says.
Lost or injured teams are equipped to handle the situation. First aid kits
are required luggage for all levels of racing. As well, most races supply
teams with radio communication.
This sport requires a huge investment of time and some expensive equipment.
Most teams get sponsors before they begin serious training. Mountain bikes,
climbing gear, lightweight backpacks and hiking clothes are all required.
So are specially packaged foods and plenty of good footwear.
There is a chance to recoup some of the expenses, however. Some races offer
considerable cash and equipment prizes.
Team endurance racing has exploded in popularity. Some informal long-distance
hiking races date back a couple decades. Yet one of the original formal endurance
races, Raid Gauloises, only held its inaugural race in 1998.
Those who really like this activity may be able to find related work. For
instance, an adventure travel guide would require many of the skills held
by these competitors.
Meanwhile, experience in the outdoors may lead to work testing a company's
products in real-world conditions. Finally, those interested in adventures
in the outdoors may find an audience for stories in adventure magazines and
This is no entry-level sport. Nor is it one of the safest sports around.
It will take years of physical and mental training to develop the skills needed
to compete. It will also take considerable maturity to manage the costs and
Hobbs says start small. "A lot of times, there's small companies putting
on local races. You don't want to start with a multi-day," he says.
Getting started can take as little as finding a patch of woods, getting
comfortable in the wilderness and working on your outdoor athletics. Some
outdoor shops, recreation programs and intense summer camps offer multi-day
trips to test and improve your outdoorsy abilities.
Push your limits. Take extra long hikes with little or no breaks, as fast
as you can. Practice swimming while pushing a full backpack ahead of you in
Whatever you do to prepare, take food and plenty of water. Pushing mental
and physical boundaries does not mean flirting with death. Dehydration is
a serious issue. As Hobbs puts it, scrapes and bruises are standard issue,
but the real problems begin when racers don't get enough fluids.
"We carry water at all times and we hydrate three days before. [We] drink
up to a gallon of water a day. That's really important," says Hobbs.
Pick your team carefully. The strongest people don't always make winning
team members. Choose people who can deal handle both mental and physical strain
and come out smiling. A positive attitude will carry the team a long way.
Some teams go through a variety of athletes before the mix is just right.
Hobbs says his team has had four members withdraw. "The commitment was too
much. It just conflicted with work [and] the training regimen was too intense,"
Here are just a couple of schools that offer related programs:
Outdoor Action Team Building Course
Idaho State University
P.O. Box 8128
Adventure Racing Association
P.O. Box 270862
Florida Adventure Racing Association
4166 Northwest 65th Ave.
Graduate Schools in the United States offering Outdoor Programs
The Raid World Championship
The official website of one of the original -- and most intensely
followed -- team adventure races
EXPN Extreme Sports
Read all about extreme sports at this news site