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What is Adventure Racing?

Adventure racing may be the most addictive sport there is. Why? Lots of reasons. It involves mental and physical challenges. A variety of sports are involved. Teamwork creates stronger friendships. The elation of finding a flag in the middle of the woods is addictive. It has a laid-back vibe not common in many sports. Racing through beautiful forests and on scenic rivers and lakes is like no other sport. The list goes on and on.

Despite all the great things about adventure racing, not many people know the sport even exists. If they do, they may fear having to find their own way, especially using a compass which may be intimidating at first. We hope to make it easy for you to try out adventure racing and potentially make the jump from a shorter “sprint” race in a familiar place to possibly longer wilderness races. Or just do the shorter races with special challenges. That’s fine too!

Adventure racing is a sport that combines two or more endurance activities. Teams of two or more racers navigate with a map and compass, cross-country run, mountain bike and either canoe or kayak. Other adrenaline-fueled activities may be included depending on the region and its terrain, such as rock climbing and whitewater rafting.

The goal is to reach as many checkpoints as possible within a set timeframe, anywhere from four hours to ten days. Unlike most sports, adventure racing does not have a set course. It is up to each team to determine the most efficient way to get from one checkpoint to another, relying heavily on reading a map correctly and making hundreds of decisions about terrain, altitude, trails, safety, weather, food, water sources, pace, direction, and more! It may provide the best balance of brains and brawn of any sport in the world.

The roots of adventure racing are deep and people debate the origin of the modern adventure race. Racers similar to today’s adventure race format occurred as early as 1968. The off-road triathlon also helped fuel the sport of adventure racing with its multiple disciplines on wilderness courses. Most Americans first learned about the sport when the Eco-Challenge aired on television from 1995-2002. That race spawned a grassroots movement that continues to this day throughout the United States and in many countries around the world. The Eco-Challenge makes an exciting return in 2019!

In Michigan, adventure racing has had a roller coaster ride, experiencing a huge surge in popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The recession took its toll on the sport and many of the longer races have disappeared. Adventure racing may be experiencing a comeback as more and more people seek alternative adventures.

To grow the sport and make it more accessible, Michigan Adventure Racing began offering 4-hour urban races in 2011 with Amazing Race/Survivor-like challenges that appeal to people looking for something different. The Michigan Adventure Race has quickly become the largest adventure race series in the United States with over 9,000 participants since 2011 (through 2018).

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