A runner’s guide to adventure racing

Complement your running with adventure raining

Running is at the heart of every adventure race, so if you have a background in running training and racing then you’re already one step ahead of competitors who have no running experience. If you’re a runner who’s attracted by the growing number of adventure races available but are unsure whether it’s for you, then read on for the low-down on getting into this exciting sport – from a runner’s perspective.

As a runner you will have a head start in your adventure racing preparation because your CV system is good – and also because you’ll be used to traversing distances while supporting your own bodyweight, unlike in several of the other disciplines. The challenge for you is to blend some different sports into your training programme and learn some new skills and techniques to complement your running.

This guide looks at some of the sports and skills that you may need for your adventure race, including:

  • Strength training
  • Biking
  • Swimming
  • Kayaking, canoeing and sailing
  • Navigation and map reading
  • Climbing, abseiling and rope work
  • Nutrition and hydration
  • Teamwork

Strength training

  • Why?
    If you are a typical runner, you will have a good CV system but your upper body strength may be lacking. Many of the disciplines in adventure racing require upper body strength – and you’ll probably be carrying a rucksack and / or equipment during each race as well – so it is important to focus on this area in your training if you wish to become a good all-round athlete and successful adventure racer.  
  • How?
    Build a regime of upper body exercises into your training programme
    so that you improve your strength for racing sections such as kayaking, swimming and rope work. Focus on the entire upper body – not just the arms – and build up to two resistance training sessions each week.


  • Why?
    Biking features heavily in adventure races and is usually off-road. With your good CV system, biking will be fairly straightforward – you will just need to learn the technical skills.
  • How?
    Substitute one of your weekly runs for a quality off-road bike session. Pick routes that build your technical skills for climbing and descending on uneven terrain, together with route-finding while on two wheels. By maintaining the intensity you will also get a good quality CV workout – which will help to maintain your running-specific fitness


  • Why?
    Your race may involve traversing a river or collecting objects suspended above streams, so water confidence is extremely important. You should remember that you may be carrying clothing or equipment – which will mean having to adapt your usual style.
  • How?
    If you aren’t a strong swimmer, now is the time to learn. If your swimming is okay then refining your skills will help. Seek out opportunities to practise occasional open water swimming, because the technique you’ll need to use will be quite different to doing lengths of a swimming pool.

Kayaking, canoeing and sailing

  • Why?
    A water-based discipline in an adventure race is very common, and will frequently involve kayaking, canoeing or even sailing. Handling a canoe or boat is a specialist skill and requires specialist training – so if your chosen event involves water-based sports, you will need to learn the skills.
  • How?
    Seek out professional advice for learning water-based sports. The best way to learn is to get involved with a club. With all your other training you are unlikely to become a thrice-weekly member, but a few sessions will arm you with correct technique, which you can then practise as necessary to keep your skills fresh.

Navigation and map reading

  • Why?
    Every adventure race will involve getting from A to B (and probably C, D, E, F and G as well!). You will have to navigate cross-country with only a map and compass for guidance – so confident map reading skills will be a boon for you and your team, and will save you a lot of time.
  • How?
    Getting out into the countryside and practising is a good start, and you can also try orienteering events which will improve your compass skills while giving you a good CV workout as well. If you want to take things a stage further, there are adventure centres that run one- or two-day courses – which can equip you extremely well for any navigational challenge that you will encounter in your race.

Climbing, abseiling and rope work

  • Why?
    Finding navigation clues at the bottom of a gorge, traversing a fast-running stream, ascending steep crags; anything is possible in an adventure race – after all, it is an adventure. Anything involving rope work and climbing will involve using specialist skills – so expert instruction beforehand is essential, not least for safety considerations.  
  • How?
    Specialist adventure courses are available – or alternatively you could link up with a climbing friend or learn and practise rope-based skills at a sports centre or indoor climbing facility.

Nutrition and hydration

  • Why?
    Adventure races are usually extended affairs, frequently run over a weekend or even longer. Your requirements for food and drink will therefore be very different to those of a stand-alone running event that is over in a few hours.

  • How?
    Practise drinking and eating ‘on the go’ during your training, so that you get used to exercising with food in your stomach. Also, experiment with different foods so that you find out what suits you best for digestion and palatability. There is a huge range of specialist sports drinks and energy bars available, so there are bound to be products that you like and keep your energy levels topped up.


  • Why?
    Running is essentially a solo sport where you just rely on yourself. Adventure racing is very different, as you will be part of a team – all of whom will have different skills and strengths. It is therefore important to integrate and balance those skills and strengths in order to function well as a unit and get the most out of your team.
  • How?
    A good team spirit is essential to help you through the challenges of your race, so it is vital that some of your training is done as a group. You won’t all be of the same ability at the various disciplines, so by training together you can learn about each other’s strengths, help each other and knit together effectively as a team. Also, you should have a team event that is nothing to do with training or the race – such as a night out – so that you can bond together.

Running away with it
With your sound cardiovascular running base, you are well primed to have a great adventure racing experience – and you will be even better prepared once you have factored in some of the above additional skills. Many of these skills are ‘one-offs’ that you need only learn once and will remain with you forever.

Having a go at an adventure race will broaden your horizons and bring a new dimension to your fitness as a runner – so go out and enjoy it!


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