Still on the fence? Wondering whether you have what it takes to tackle everything that a multi-day race entails? Let’s take a look at what you can expect from an expedition race.
Like all adventure races, different race directors bring their own distinct flavors to expedition racing, so do some homework first. Study the event’s website. Read race reports. Most importantly, ask people who have participated in events directed by the race directors about their experiences. Public record isn’t always the full story, so this final step is important. If you are going to invest heavily in an expedition race, it’s worth knowing what the race director’s reputation is and whether their style suits your team. There is a race out there for everyone, and with a race as substantial as an expedition, it’s worth taking your time to learn about the RDs first.
Despite the differences you’ll find across events, there are some basic components that you will likely encounter at any multi-day race. Below we lay out these common considerations, as well as some general notes about what you can expect at the Endless Mountains
Linear. Unlike many shorter events, expedition races are traditional linear in nature. In their “purest” form, this means that racers must complete the entire course as designed, visiting every checkpoint, to officially finish the race. Traditionally, RDs designing such events plan to leave the course open for much longer than the time it takes the winning team to cross the line to allow less experienced and slower teams a fair to chance to finish the course. These races tend to balloon and may last for seven to ten days, even if the winners finish in four or five. In linear events, since teams must complete the entire course, rankings are simply based on time.
Linear + Short Course. Increasingly, RDs offer races that are shorter in duration, even as the courses remain similar in distance. They know that fewer teams will have the time to complete the entire route, so they design short courses that allow slower or less experienced teams an option to complete a modified course and still finish the race officially. These courses are still designed so that teams must visit checkpoints in a prescribed order. In such events, time cutoffs are used to funnel teams onto shorter stages or alternate stages of the course as necessary. Typically, these races are ranked in tiers and by time: teams completing the full course, and then teams based on which cutoffs they miss.
Rogaine and Modified Rogaine. In expedition racing, courses are generally linear in nature, but some RDs incorporate a rogaine approach rather than short coursing teams. A rogaine is a type of long-form orienteering event. In a rogaine, teams are allowed to visit checkpoints in whatever order they choose. This allows racers to pick and choose what they do rather than following a more prescribed course. While less common in expedition races, some events allow teams more flexibility to “choose their own adventure.” These events tend to be better for many less experienced teams as linear courses can be too much and short course options are often less enjoyable. Rogaines allow teams to strategize more to maximize their experience and play to their strength. In such events, teams are ranked first by the number of checkpoints they visit and then by time.
Endless Mountains 2023: We will be using a combination of both approaches. The race will be designed in a linear format with one or two time cutoffs. However, certain sections will also incorporate a rogaine or modified-rogaine approach, offering less experienced teams more opportunity to pick and choose what they do.
Expect big miles in expedition races. While plenty of races have incredible trail riding, biking is often a means to connect the course together and cover distance. You can expect some pavement, though most RDs tend to seek out more interesting routes using a combination of trails, dirt and gravel roads, jeep tracks, and other routes. While you may encounter technical sections, usually most of the riding in expedition racing is relatively easy in terms of technicality.
That said, depending on the region in which the race takes place, you can typically expect substantial elevation in most expedition races, if for no other reason than you will cover significant mileage and it will compound over the duration of the event. Additionally, whether because of the grade, surface, or the onset of fatigue, expect to do some hike-a-biking. Some RDs believe bike sections can include hours of hike-a-biking. Some consider bikewhacking its own discipline. In Expedition Alaska, we started a long, 24-hour bike leg… without our bikes. It took several hours of bushwhacking and trekking over a 4,000-foot range to find our bike boxes.
Typically, you will encounter multiple bike stages in an expedition race. Sometimes the stages are divided relatively evenly, but it is not unusual to see one bigger stage, sometimes in the 75-100 miles range or bigger.
Endless Mountains 2023: The riding in the 2023 course is diverse. Teams will find themselves on plenty of forest road and jeep track; some fun single track; and a bit of hike-a-biking and bikewhacking for good measure. Expect to encounter some route choice and trail navigation on the bike.
You can generally expect two to three substantial treks in an expedition race. As with biking, it’s not uncommon to have one bigger trek and then a few smaller ones, but sometimes you may be up against several 20-30-mile treks. Trekking in expedition racing varies widely; some RDs will keep racers largely on trails while others are quicker to send them overland. Sometimes this is RD style, sometimes it reflects permitting restrictions and land availability. Some races incorporate significant stretches on pavement, and others won’t touch it. Whatever the RD has in store for you, you can expect substantial time on your feet over the course of the event.
Endless Mountains 2023: Trekking tends to be a featured discipline in Rootstock events, and the Endless Mountains is no different. You will see a mix of surfaces including some urban running, remote trails, and plenty of bushwhacking. Most of the foot sections will include more challenging navigation, though there will be options in places for less experienced teams to make strategic decisions if they are not comfortable with more advanced mapwork. You will two longer trekking sections in this year's race and a few additional shorter stages.
Paddling tends to run the gamut: sea kayaking, whitewater rafting, packrafting, stillwater and whitewater canoeing, stand up paddleboarding… You name it, you will find it in the right expedition race. Mentally, paddling sectons can be more challenging than other stages after fatigue sets in, as they have a tendency to lull tired racers to sleep. They also tend to be, or feel, long. Most race directors are clear about what sort of boating you can expect. Make sure you have the skills required for such paddling.
While expedition races are difficult races, they actually tend to be a bit easier than many shorter events when it comes to navigation. Route choice can be challenging, but typically checkpoints are on major features, and the challenge is in choosing the best route and then staying on it once fatigue sets in. Balancing maps with varying scales is an important skill, and expect maps with a bigger scale than normal, especially on biking and paddling stages when you might be covering large distances with relatively few checkpoints.
Endless Mountains 2023: Parts of the Endless Mountains will fall in line with the norms of expedition racing. There will be fewer points than at a typical Rootstock event, they will be spread out, and on most sections the challenge will be in route planning and execution rather than micro-navigation. That said, we love navigation and strategy at Rootstock Racing. Some stages will involve more challenging mapwork, especially while on foot, and you may encounter a bit more strategy than some expedition races allow for.
Many expedition races include unique “extra” challenges: swimming, rollerblading, caving, ropes work (rappelling, ascending, traversing, even lead climbing), mountaineering, coasteering, horseback riding, and more.
Endless Mountains 2023: The 2023 Endless Mountains course will include a climbing section! Teams will encounter four routes ranging from 5.5 to 5.9. They should be proficient in both top-roping and belaying. Climbing shoes are not mandatory gear but will be helpful. Teams who are not able to successfully complete the climbing stage will be assessed a time penalty, to be served later on the course.
coming up next...
From Endless Mountains Co-Director Brent Freedland:
So, you’re considering signing up for your first expedition-length adventure race! One day, you feel excited, adrenaline already pulsating even though you are three seasons (or more) away from race day, the next you are nauseous, waking up in cold sweats, wondering what broke to make you think this would be a good idea.
The good news: what you are feeling is totally normal! True, a few hardened - or totally carefree? - adventurers sign up for their first multi-day race without a care in the world, but for most adventure racers, signing up for an expedition race for the first time marks a monumental leap of faith. There are the expenses, the training time, and the time away (especially for those of us with little adventurers at home). For most of us, though, those cold sweats arise from questions about the distance to travel, finding the right teammates, wondering what the race directors have in store, and uncertainty about whether we’ll able to make it through.
To be honest, even as a seasoned and successful adventure racer, I still get the nerves every time I click that “Register” button. I think of how my entry fee could be accruing money in my kids’ college savings account or earmarked for some long-delayed home improvement project. I worry about my ability to train and prepare, about who I might line up with at the start line, and whether the race director will deliver an event worthy of the time I am committing to prepare and the vacation time I’m agreeing to sacrifice.
spots likely few people ever have seen or will see. I will experience several cycles of sunsets and sunrises. I will be at the whim in Mother Nature and whatever she chooses to throw at you.
dozens - sometimes hundreds - of races into our adventure racing career. You are in good company, some of the best, in fact, and we hope you will join the community. In the weeks and months ahead, we will publish a series of articles aimed at racers new to expedition racing. Whether you are signed up for the Endless Mountains, pondering signing up for it, or considering a different multi-day race, keep an eye on our blog for more advice for your first expedition race!