Adventure Racing

As I write this post on my daily commute into “the big smoke” – Melbourne CBD – heading into work after a long weekend, I glance at the time and realise that the best man at my wedding Michael Kolody, is taking starting position with his 3 team mates Kerryn Rim, Paul Gruber and Brendon Hills in what some would call masochistic, organised mayhem – an Adventure Race. They represent the revival of the adventure racing team Mike & I founded back in 2005: Tali Karng Trackers.

Not just any adventure race either, but the grand daddy of Adventure Races in Australia – XPD. Held every 2 years in different, beautiful parts of this fare country of ours, it is a journey of exploration, self belief and ultimately achievement. Set across 10 days, it traverses 700+ kilometers of terrain by no means other than walking, mountain biking, kayaks, the occasional abseil/climb. It eschews modern navigational aids such as GPS and mobile phones communications (or Google Maps!) in favour of more classical methods – old fashioned magnetic pole compass and high quality cartographer maps.

By grand daddy of races, XPD is so highly regarded, this years event in its 6th year, is the final leg of the Adventure Racing World Series for 2011 and is also the “Championship” event.

The Adventure Racing World Series this year comprises of 7 events:

  • Adidas TERREX, United Kingdom, Aug 2010
  • APEX – Alpine Expedition, Switzerland, May 2011
  • Costa Rica Adventure Race, Costa Rica, Jun 2011
  • Raid The North Extreme, Canada, Jul 2011
  • Raid in France, France, Aug 2011
  • Gold Rush Mother Lode, United States of America, Sept 2011
  • XPD ARWS World Championship, Australia, Nov 2011

80 teams from all around the world – 23 countries to be precise – have registered to be part of this race. Sporting teams representing the elite of the elite have trekked here in what is nothing less than an awesome field. An example of the calibre includes:

  •     Team Adidas Terrax from the United Kingdom (#1 UK Team)
  •     Team Black Heart, Australia (#1 Australian Team)
  •     Wilderness from Canada (#1 Raid The North Extreme)
  •     Team Wild Rose from Canada (#2 Raid The North Extreme)
  •     Seagate from New Zealand (2nd in the 2010 Adventure Racing World Championship)
  •     Team Silva (from Switzerland 1st APEX Switzerland)

So, what is Adventure Racing?

I liken it to this: If you think about anyone you know that does triathlon events, they have their race divided up into the swim then the bicycle ride and rounded off by the run. This is set out on a pre-determined course and the objective is to finish the course in as short as time as possible. With notable exceptions, the course is usually in an urban environment, near the beach and the course is known days, if not weeks in advance, so that competitors can go “train” there and plan out their attack. By this, if the course is slightly hilly, competitors can plan how they tackle the hills, according to their style of competition – attack the hills and conserve on the descent or take the hills conservatively and move quickly down the slope. Everyone’s different.

Adventure racing is totally different. For one, there isn’t a set course. You are given check points that are mandatory to pass through and you can only get there by old fashioned navigation with a map and compass.

For the XPD event, I spoke to Mick on Monday evening and expectations were high as at 9am on Tuesday morning, they were going to be receiving the maps to the entire course area, covering 700km of terrain. The course is across some 80km by 160km, which equates to 11,000km square of terrain. Wow. Rather than having the course marked out for them though, like in a triathlon event, they were only given particular destinations they had to pass through with their team. Mick expected that the whole of Tuesday up until midnight would be devoted to mapping out exactly where the teams would travel.


Each checkpoint carries a points value, with points assigned to the difficulty of the location. An example is that a checkpoint on the summit of a mountain carries maybe 100 points, but the next 100 point checkpoint is at the bottom of a valley in heavily wooded forest. To make matters more interesting, checkpoints carry different points values according to locale and with the underlying strategy of winning being accruing enough points, it suddenly becomes a tactical game of choosing which course will track the most amount of points in a given time period.

Each checkpoint is governed by GPS locators on each team, both for marshaling purposes as well as a safety precaution. It isn’t unusual to see an event with 200+ checkpoints ranging from a modest 10 points each to difficult, far flung points with 150 points attached to them.

It is for this reason that adventure racing is a team sport. Across the 700km+  XPD’s absolute elite teams are expected to cover this in some 5 to 6 days. With no sleep. And just walking, cycling, kayaking or (as has just been revealed this morning) caving.

Picture this: You’re alone with your 3 team mates, navigating by compass and maps. You have a backpack full of food and water, the mandatory safety provisions like flares, thermal blankets, first aid kit and spare parts for your bike. It’s 3am in the morning and you’re moving by torchlight. It’s raining. And you’re running.

I’ve done a few adventure races, but its been limited to 12 hour and 24 hour events. I’ve done a lot of rogaining – which is the spiritual sister to orienteering, relying on gaining as many points as possible in a set time limit. I used to work on 150 points per hour, because if you did that, you were a shot of taking a podium finish. Team mates, more fit and more talented than I, ranked a number of times over the years.

I’m not downplaying the fitness aspect of my team mates and the team that is on the trail at XPD. Back in 2005/2006 when I first founded TKT with Mike, I was relatively fit. I was able to comfortably run 10km in 38 minutes and on Wednesday evenings, we would walk/run 22 kms on single track with race packs in the Darabin park lands along side the Yarra River in around 2 hours 15 minutes. By relative, by way of example Chris Steven’s of PNG Trekking Adventures who is one of the TKT crew used to ride on his mountain bike before our weekly run 30km from Ringwood to my house in Heidelberg, run the 22km single track, than ride back home again. Then he’d be up at 4:30am the next day and do a 10km kayak. So in context, my fitness level back than, which by any standard is rated as high, pales in comparison to the team that’s out in the field this week.

Mick is a competitive bugger at the best of times. However chatting to him earlier this week, even he conceded the aura of “extreme” that the world championships has bought out in the 80 teams hes had teh opportunity to meet from Canada, UK, France, New Zeland, Costa Rica and the United States. He said he’d be happy just to finish the race.

I will watch with envy and satisfaction Mike, Kerryn, Brendon and Paul’s endeavour over the next few days.

Good luck guys, be safe, be well: Stay Strong, Stay on Target.

XPD Live on
Tali Karng Trackers
PNG Trekking Adventures