5 Things Nobody Tells You Before Your First Adventure Race
Think you know everything about adventure racing? Think again.
So, you think you're fit enough to tackle an adventure race do you? You think you're ready to put your mind and body on the line? You think you're ready to take things to the extreme? Heck, maybe you've researched the UK's 10 best adventure races and revised the biggest adventure race fails; maybe you feel ready, deep in your gut. If that's how you feel well, by jove, we salute you. But, hang on, hold your horses. Don't do anything before you've read this. Don't even breathe.
Ok. You can breathe. We don't want you to die while reading an Mpora article. That'd be terrible for business. However, before you get in your lycra fitness gear and put on your multi-purpose high-tech trainers, head out into the great outdoors and tackle your first adventure race, take a look at this list of things that nobody tells you about adventure races. This is the stuff they don't mention on the official event websites but, without a doubt, it's the sort of stuff you should know about. You need all the details. You need to be prepared. You need to read this.
1) You'll Hit An Emotional/Physical Wall
Whether you're doing a Tough Mudder style obstacle course event or a multi-discipline, multi-day, adventure race, at some point or other you're going to hit some sort of wall. Sometimes this will be a physical feeling, like the ones experienced by marathon runners at around the 20 mile mark (on average). Sometimes, however, you'll be faced by something that's arguably harder to compensate for in training; a mental block in your own head. This mental block will make you want to throw in the towel, go home, and curl up in the foetal position.
Sarah Outen knows a fair few things about adventuring and the mental blocks that can occur along the way. In early November 2015, Outen completed a journey that had totally dominated her life for the past six years. Her London2London: via the World trip was an attempt to cycle, kayak, and row 25,000 miles around the northern hemisphere. Upon finishing, she wrote about her experiences for The Guardian. The insight into how she coped with the mental side of things is essential reading for anyone who loves adventure, and adventure racing.
"I always knew that my journey would be tough – pushing me to my limits and beyond. It turns out that the best lessons came from the failures and changes in plan. The hardest parts of the journey came from within...," writes Outen.
Proof, if proof was needed, that sometimes the most difficult thing about adventuring (and, consequently, adventure racing) is handling how our minds respond to the challenges ahead. On her adventure, Outen met a man called Gao. He was so inspired by what Outen was doing that he decided to tag along. His message was this: “If you want to do something, just do it. Don’t worry about anything, just do it."
As Outen puts it herself, this is a "...stirring message for everyone... reminding us not to be held back by demons or fears of change or challenge or unknowns." Of course, most adventure races don't involve a 25,000 mile circumnavigation of the northern hemisphere but the words of Outen and Gao, and how they dealt with the mental clouds they faced is easily transferable. Whether you're racing 10 miles or 10,000 miles, the message is always the same. Keep going, and don't let your destiny be controlled by fear or self-doubt.
Writer and TV presenter Danny Wallace probably put it better than any adventurer in his book 'Yes Man' when he said, "Probably some of the best things that have ever happened to you in life, happened because you said yes to something. Otherwise things just sort of stay the same." Whether it's Wallace's words that get you through, the inspirational and epic journey of Outen, or the memory of that awesome motiviational video from Shia LaBeouf (see below); don't let that mental block beat you. YOU CAN DO IT!
2) You'll Ache More Than You've Ever Ached Before
Remember that time you had a few too many drinks at the school reunion? Remember the aches, remember the pain, remember the lingering taste of sick inside your mouth? Of course you do, those memories are ingrained inside your brain forever. But, like most nightmarish reactions to alcohol, all that negative stuff hit you the following day. Are we right, or are we right?
No matter how terrible the pain is during the adventure race, it'll be nothing compared to the horrific feeling that hits you when the race is done and you've had a night to sleep on it. Imagine that hangover, the really really really bad one you had after the school reunion, multiply it by half a dozen, and that's about one/tenth of how much hurt you'll be feeling the day after your first adventure race. No pain. No gain.
3) Your Trainers Might Die!
If you're precious about your footwear, you might want to give obstacle course/adventure racing a well-timed swerve. Your shoes are going to be on the receiving end of some seriously extreme outdoor activity, so this definitely won't be the time and/or place to be sweating about your Colgate white running shoes. Sorry to tell you this but your precious trainers are going to get more than a little bit f*cked up. It's inevitable.
There will be mud (not to be mistaken for a Daniel Day Lewis film about oil), and there will be puddles (not to be mistaken for any DD Lewis film ever). Now, if you're sat there thinking "chill your beans Mpora, my shoes can handle a splash here...and a splash there," good for you. You might be totally blind to the chaos and destruction that's coming your shoes' way, but we admire your plucky spirit nevertheless. If you've just forked out seven million pounds on a new pair of Reeboks, maybe leave them at home and wear a pair that you don't mind putting through a sh*tstorm of doom. It will make focusing on the race a hell of a lot easier.
4) It's A Social Affair
If you think adventure racing and obstacle course events are a solo affair where it's ok to act like a selfish idiot throughout, think again. Whether you're taking on a muddy field with wall ramps and electric wires scattered across it, or racing across the width of England (like in the Coast To Coast Adventure Race), you're going to have to communicate with other people. The adventure racer who refuses to communicate with other adventure racers is no adventure racer at all.
The best adventure racing and obstacle course events have camaraderie and good-hearted collaboration at their heart. In Tough Mudder events, for example, people are encouraged to help out other participants and encourage each other with cheering and vocal support. If that doesn't sound like your idea of fun, you should look elsewhere for your kicks.
Speaking of fun, many adventure race events have some sort of after party. If you've lived to tell the tale, and are still able to stand after the gruelling challenges you've faced, this is a great opportunity to keep the fun-time-flame burning with a bunch of like-minded people.
5) It's Highly Addictive
When you're face down in a muddy patch of grass and feeling like every muscle in your body is burning with the hot fire of a thousand burning suns, you'll question how anyone in their right mind could ever get hooked on this. This isn't addictive. This is horrible. This should be outlawed by the United Nations. Surely, this activity can't be legal?!
But then something marvellous will happen. You'll finish the race. You'll hold your hands aloft, fall to your knees, and look up at passing cloud. You'll smile. You'll smile the widest smile you've ever smiled. You'll have done it. You'll have achieved something and it will feel like nothing else on earth (or so we're told). You'll wash off the mud, go back to the daily grind, and soon find yourself overwhelmed by the uncontrollable urge to head back outside and recapture that feeling that feels like nothing else on earth. You're an adventure racer now, and your life will never be the same again.