The specific origins of Adventure Racing are hotly debated, however it is widely accepted that the world’s first formal adventure race was the Coast to Coast held in New Zealand in 1980. Being a relatively young sport which encompasses a number of different activities, it is hard to define exactly what an Adventure Race is. The activities involved can include (although are not restricted to) running, cycling, paddling, swimming, navigation and climbing. The one factor which people can happily agree on is that it will always entail a sense of adventure!
Banzai caught up with two of Australia’s most accomplished Adventure Racers – Jarad Kohlar and Grant Suckling – to ask them why they chose Adventure Racing and to get some pointers on how newcomers can get started.
Banzai: So what made you get into Adventure Racing in the first place? Did you have a background in triathlon or any other kind of multisport?
Grant: No triathlon, not at all. I actually prefer Adventure Racing – it’s just a hell of a lot of fun. It’s a terrific environment to be playing in and I really like the challenge. I started out like everyone else. I was one of those mid-pack guys coming through a little later on in the race and I just took it on as a personal challenge to be a bit faster and get better at it. But really it all stems from just enjoying being out in the elements. Paddling in the ocean is terrific - it’s everything that you want to spend your weekends doing. And mountain biking is the same - it’s great to be out in the bush. And running over rocks is just so much more fun that pounding the pavement. It’s just a whole lot of fun, really.
Jarad: As a junior I used to do a lot of athletics and a lot of track running. I went overseas with the Australian team and realised that running around an athletics track was quite boring and that there’s a lot more out there to do. So when I got back I took up kayaking and got to the national levels in sprint and marathon. Then I went to uni and decided I was going to do an Ironman as the ultimate challenge. When I finished I thought it was quite easy, so I did a 24 hour Adventure Race. I really enjoyed the navigation and the challenge of being out there for 24 hours. I ended up going over to NZ to do the Southern Traverse racing with Richard Anderson. He’s a New Zealand event organiser and racer and his father started the Southern Traverse. It was the first ever official expedition Adventure Race. That was a four and a half day race and it was an amazing experience. We only slept for six hours over that time. You’re in a team of four and you carry all of your food and water. I was looking for the ultimate challenge and when I did that race I think the amount of endurance required knocked me around – it took me three or four months to get over it! And now I just enjoy doing the one day races so you can sleep at night and eat the right food, take your partner or family along and be a bit social. It’s really just snowballed from there.
Banzai: You are both at the top of your game, professionally. Is this what you do fulltime – both training and competing?
Grant: First and foremost, I’m a parent. I ran a business for a number of years but stepped away from it to spend more quality time with the family. That means I can also train while the kids are at school. This isn’t a sport you can do fulltime and make a living from it unless you’re actively coaching people. There’s no sponsorship and the prize money isn’t sufficient from that perspective. When you add in the equipment, the overheads are quite large.
Jarad: I run my own business, Peak Adventure, and do a lot of coaching and training in Melbourne. I’ve noticed tremendous growth in the sport in the last five years. In other countries such as South Africa and New Zealand , there are fulltime Adventure Racing athletes so with a lot of hard work, sacrifice and commitment it is possible to make ends meet. However you can’t afford to get injured and you have to win every race that you enter and treat yourself like a business.
Banzai: What kind of training do you need to do to complete a race?
Jarad:I’d suggest that you speak to a professional Adventure Racing coach and have an initial meeting to sit down and plan out how many hours of training you can do in a week. Most people train 10 to 25 hours a week even with a fulltime job. Basically you should set yourself minor goals in the lead up to the race, working on your weaknesses and maintaining your strengths. If you have a structured program you could do as little as five or six hours of training a week. If Tony Abbot can do an Ironman and have arguably one of the busiest jobs in Australia, then anyone can do an Adventure Race. You just need to do the right sort of sessions and programmes and the only way to figure that out is to be assessed by a qualified coach.
Grant: There’s definitely a lot of benefit to having a structured approach to your training to get the best out of your body. I think it’s also important in this sport to not lose track of its fun and exciting aspects. In kayaking for example, the difference between two people of equal fitness can be half an hour on the day if someone’s more technically skilled than the other person, with better experience in rough water. The same goes for MTB, you can be 20 minutes faster than someone else if you’ve honed your technical skills, even if they have the same fitness level as you. If you compete to eke out the most from your body, you might as well be doing triathlon because Adventure Racing is as much about skill and getting out there as it is about fitness and testing your body.
Banzai: Do you have any advice for newcomers?
Grant: If you haven’t done one, you absolutely should. It’s one of those amazing, life changing experiences and if you’re inclined to want to challenge yourself then give the multiday stuff a go. I’ve never had such incredible experiences as being in the middle of nowhere in an unknown country at 2am turning off a barely marked track with nothing but a compass and a map and no GPS. It’s pitch black and you’re heading off down a ridgeline or a valley that no one’s walked on for years and years. It’s those sorts of experiences that are just golden.
Jared and Grant will be competing together in the Anaconda Adventure Race in Augusta, WA on November 7th.