Up until this point, this Expedition Playbook series has focused largely on training and preparation. Today, we’re going to pivot to in-race considerations. The next several articles will tackle selected topics related to the actual experience, strategy, skills, and approaches that will come up after you and your team cross the start line.
First up: Sleep Strategy.
Multiple nights of continuous racing is, perhaps, the single biggest difference between shorter day-long events and expedition racing. The sleep deprivation piles up, and past three days, racing straight through really isn’t an option. Even in a 72-hour event, most teams will sleep a bit. Past three days, however, sleep strategy really becomes its own discipline. And it’s an important one.
How your team approaches sleep can radically impact your experience and race. Extreme sleep deprivation also adds risk to the event, so safety comes into play. Sleepy racers have a harder time navigating effectively. Exhaustion can breed a false sense of reality, and teams can throw away tens of hours of productive racing to inefficiency, wasted time, mistakes, and more. Tempers fray and sometimes break, and for some teams, bad sleep strategy can become an insurmountable obstacle, preventing individuals or teams from reaching the finish line.
At the same time, expedition races are massive undertakings, so there is a constant sense of pressure to GO, GO, GO! Many believe that stopping to sleep means they will run out of time. Those looking to compete against other teams – versus the course – worry that they will fall too far behind. While some of this may, at times, be true, there are a number of myths out there about sleeping…or not sleeping…in an expedition race that deserve your team’s attention prior to confronting sleepmonsters on a dark, rainy night. And with some exceptions, effective and well-timed sleep management will most likely lead to a more enjoyable and successful experience and often times a better finish.
Myth #1: Adventure racers don't sleep
We do actually, and many of us try to sleep very deliberately!
In races under 48 hours, most experienced racers try to go wire to wire without any shuteye; if you want to compete, you likely won’t be able to afford much if any sleep.
Past that 48-hour range, however, most teams start to work sleep into their race strategy. For a three-day race, that may just be a few hours on night two. In races of four days are more, most of the top teams in the world are sleeping two, three, even four hours almost every night once they hit night two.
This may not sound like a lot for a sport that runs continuously over several days, but compared to many teams who measure successful sleep in minutes vs. hours, that’s a full night sleep!
myth #2: sleeping on the trail is the only way to go
Years ago, in the midst of a five-day race (location and teammates shall remain anonymous), we were digging into night two. The team was exhausted, a cold rain was falling, and we were setting off on a leg that we knew would offer us no reprieve. It was the kind of situation that any experienced team knows can end in disaster.
In that unnamed five-day race, another teammate scoffed.
“We aren’t out here to sleep in a hotel,” they said.
We then “slept” on a cold concrete bus platform two blocks away, shivering for an hour or two…
We know adventure racers enter the woods to test themselves against the elements. We also know that a long, cold, dark bike stage will always be more enjoyable if it follows a couple hours of sleeping in a comfortable and warm spot.
Time and again, the more rested teams take advantage of the rest of the field’s fatigued states as multi-day races wear on. Where you sleep really can make a huge difference.
Some other considerations on this point:
myth #3: 15 minutes, when someone needs it, is enough
There are times when a quick nap IS enough, but anyone who has studied sleep or who has experienced sleep deprivation knows that fifteen minutes here and there might be enough to keep the train inching along, but it’s almost never enough to get that train cruising for a sustained period of time. It’s appropriate when you just need to get to the end of the leg and the wheels are coming off, but it should not replace more legitimate sleep.
Let’s take the legendary Kiwis from Avaya/Seagate as an example. They tend to race through night one, but they then settle into banking sleep most nights, if not every night, thereafter. Often a couple or even several hours of sleep at a time. Their race resume speaks for itself.
myth #4: ta's are the best place to sleep
Sometimes they are! But often they are not. True, you may have the luxury of better access to sleeping gear (tents and sleeping bags if you don’t have to carry them on course, inflatable sleeping pads, inflatable pillows, etc.) and you will be near your gear bins, so extra food and clothes will be available.
Sleeping out of TA comes with different challenges (mostly related to what gear you have with you to sleep comfortably and where you will decide to physically lie down), but most experienced teams avoid TAs if there are other options. For other options, review Myth 2!
Like anything with AR, there is no right way to approach sleep strategy. The reality is, your team will experience highs and lows with sleep, regardless of how well you plan it out ahead of time. One teammate will be asleep on their feet and the others will be wired. Two people will bank some good sleep on night two, but the rest of the team will toss and turn and “wake up” more tired than when they laid down. You will make a bad decision or be forced into an unplanned sleep that isn’t restorative or productive. You will need to be flexible and adapt, knowing that the best laid plans may be immediately ruined by a navigation error that delays you by several hours, disrupting your entire plan for multiple nights of sleep.
Still, planning and strategy can go a long way. Talk as a team and approach sleep as the fifth discipline of expedition racing after running, biking, paddling, and navigation. We’ll leave you with some final nuts and bolts to toss around as you plan for this added challenge:
pace. Take care of your teammates; if this means sleeping, whether it be a maintenance nap or a strategic big block of rest, do it.
You enter the woods for the love of the journey, in all its highs and lows. It’s much easier to enjoy that journey when you are in a good mood, sharper with your navigation, and moving efficiently. Without sleep, it’s much harder to really enjoy life. Race or not.
Expedition Playbook: Bike Boxes
For new expedition racers, bike boxes can freeze you in your tracks, especially if the race you're eyeing requires standard dimensions from the Adventure Racing World Series. Unfortunately, you can’t walk into a local bike shop and buy one, and this is one thing Amazon likely won’t stock…we don't think …actually, it looks like they sometimes do, but as of this writing, they aren't available...we digress...
Walk around a transition area or peek into the back of the RDs' U-Haul at most expedition races and you will find a real hodgepodge of bike boxes. Most notably, you will see that many, perhaps most, are, in fact, hand made. So, where does one begin?!
At one time, Crateworks fabricated a bike box that met ARWS dimensions. As of now, they seem to have stopped production on those boxes. Those boxes were not cheap, and they typically didn't seem to hold up as well as some of the better built DIY boxes -- not because the quality of the boxes was poor, but because their ability to break down meant that there were more moving parts, which caused more wear over time than with some firmer less flexible boxes.
Still, you didn’t have to put time and labor into building the box yourself, and they were designed to break down, fold flat, and store easily. If you don’t mind spending a bit more, then an option like this is an easy solution.
The team from Rogue Adventures in Australia offers a list, which they update periodically, of outfitters currently producing bike boxes. Keep in mind you likely will pay for the box and shipping.
The DIY Box
OK, so you are going to go it yourself. Here’s what you need to know:
DIMENSIONS. As noted above, plan to build your bike box to ARWS dimensions: 140cm X 80cm X 30cm. All ARWS events will use these standard dimensions. If you err on one side of the measurement, go small.
MATERIALS. You are looking for corrugated sheets of plastic. Some call this coroplast, others corflute. You can typically buy this in 5mm or 6mm sheets. We have used 6mm for our boxes, with good results. They are a bit sturdier, stand up better when traveling, protect your equipment to a higher degree, and have a long shelf life. We built ours eight years ago, and we haven’t had to do any repair work. Getting your hands on such sheets is the real trick as they can be hard to find. We have had luck at a local sign shop like this, which has stocked sheets of coroplast or has been able to order them, and we have ordered two 5x10-foot sheets per box.
You will also need a heavy-duty bonding agent that will work on plastic surfaces, and you will need something to secure sheets together. We have used rivets and washers, which have worked well for us. They don’t weigh as much as other hardware, and with proper washers, they have held up without needing to be replaced. That said, you will need to invest in a rivet gun. We know other racers have had success with their own fastening systems. Ask around.
You will need some basic tools: X-acto knife, a tool designed specifically for cutting coroplast (you can live without it, but it makes some of the cutting much easier and cleaner), a drill, a rivet gun (if using rivets), or other tools if using a different fastening system.
Finally: when cutting the plastic sheets, consider the surface you are cutting on. Make sure it is a surface that can be marred by the X-acto blade, or use some cardboard to protect the floor. You will also need some heavy weight to help allow the adhesive to set. Finally, make sure you have plenty of time. You will likely need a fair bit of it to complete the project, including multiple time blocks to apply the adhesive and let it dry. Don't wait until race week!
Before reinventing the wheel, the previously mentioned article by Rogue Adventure presents a great design with terrific instructions and is worth consideration.
Some racers have made clamshell style boxes. These boxes take more effort to design and build, but they open up nicely, and such boxes allow easier access to whatever is packed in the box. Ease of access can really make life seem so much easier on day four of an expedition race!
Our preferred model, however, is a simple variation of Rogue’s box. Check out the more detailed “blueprint” above for details. We prefer it for a few reasons:
None of this is to say these boxes are perfect or that you shouldn’t consider alternatives, but we like simple! As always, network: ask other racers what they use, what they have built, and why. What has worked well, what hasn't? Check out some different styles. Mix and match what works for you and what you like from various approaches.
In the end, you probably won’t save much in building it on your own, so consider whether it’s worth the time and effort. Just make sure you invest your money and/or time in something that seems durable. The worst is acquiring or building a flimsy bike box that either breaks down during the race or needs to be replaced or rebuilt a year or two later, and even worse than that is the weak box that doesn't do it's primary job: protecting your bike from damage during transportation.
The age-old adage of expedition racing is that the hardest part is getting to the start line. For many, the puzzle of packing gear, shipping or transporting it, and transporting yourself is the least enjoyable part of the experience, even if it’s not TRULY the hardest! But don’t let this logistical hurdle stop you; good planning and attention to detail goes a long way to helping minimize that stress. With almost no exceptions, you will fall into one of two categories: you will drive to the race, or you will have to fly.
On one level, drivers have it easy. No flights to contend with, no mathematical conundrums as you sort out weight and bag limits for bike boxes and gear bins, no questions of whether to fly with a gear bin or acquire one on site. And it’s a lot cheaper! On the other hand, for a race like the Endless Mountains that requires racers to use ARWS standard bike boxes, it can get tricky figuring out how to transport the bike box to the race.
For better and worse, there isn’t too much to say on this front. It’s really about the bike boxes, assuming the rest of your gear will fit in the car. Some have bike boxes that fold up and might be able to lay flat in the car. Easy. For those with rigid boxes, here are your options:
For those flying in from further afield, you have harder logistics. Notes about bike boxes above still apply: how are you going to get all your gear and bike boxes to the airport? How to deal with weight restrictions? How to pack everything without paying the airline a small fortune in extra fees? Here are some tips to consider when flying to you race:
2)Make sure you know what you are allowed to bring on the plane. How many checked bags are you allotted? Carry-ons? How much does each bag cost? Weight restrictions? Size limits? If you have disposable funds, this isn’t as stressful, but if you have a tighter budget, micromanaging each pound becomes important. Know what you are allotted.
1)What is your airline’s policy on bikes? Some airlines have started to allow for the free transportation of bikes, but make sure you know the associated costs, weight, and size restrictions you are dealing with. And read the fine print. Not all routes are treated the same.
2)Airport to race HQ: this often is the hardest puzzle to fit together. Flying and transporting gear is tedious, but you will either figure out what to leave at home for financial reasons or you will shell out for that extra bag. When you land, how do you – and your gear – get to race HQ? Start off by studying the race website. Some RDs include pre- and post-race transportation in the race fee. Others include it as an add-on. Some don’t offer any assistance at all. If the website isn’t clear, reach out to the RD. Some of the best races we have done offered no transportation perks, so don’t let that deter you. That said, make sure you are planning WELL ahead of time to avoid paying extra or ending up stuck without any apparent options to get to and from the race.
3)If your race does not include transportation assistance, consider the following:
Okay, you have sorted your logistics, you’ve done the training, you’ve spent your holiday money on new gear, and now you need to pack. On one level, this is straight forward: lay out your gear, organize it, check it two or three or seven times, and then throw it all in some bags and boxes and do it all over again when you get to your pre-race lodging.
If you can drive to the race, you are fortunate in that you don’t need to worry too much about overpacking. That said, we like to think of packing as the first stage of the race. This is your first chance to really start thinking about what you are going to need. How you are going to pack your actual race pack? How will your your team distribute mandatory gear? What goes in your bike box? A gear bin? What stays in your pack? How many pairs of shoes do you REALLY need, and is it worth using leftover weight for clothes, food, or something else?
Experienced teams show up to the race with a much better handle on their gear. Their food is often already organized into twelve-hour bags, or something that works for them individually. Clothes are packed and organized. Typically, you will receive some sort of race planner from the RD a week or so out, and the savvy racer will figure out how much food, clothing, and other gear will be required on each stage. They will organize that gear at home, label bags for each stage, and save themselves hours of time at the race site before the race starts. This translates to more sleep and less stress.
If you are flying, you will have to contend with weight restrictions unless you fork out for extra baggage. Assuming you don’t do that, consider the following tips for packing your gear to fly:
One final tip, from brent...
Who is the nicest, friendliest person on your team? I have a theory that if a team travels together and allows that person to lead the way in check in, your chances of saving some money with your bikes and bags go way up. For us, it’s Abby: granted, Abby and I always travel together when we’re both racing (and we are married), so it’s easier for one of us to check the other one in. But time and again, I shut my mouth and hang back. She talks to the desk agents about the race, the bikes, how exciting it is. And we often pay less than we expected. Sometimes they waive the bike fee. Sometimes they charge less for one of the bags or the bike. It doesn’t work every time, but usually we get a great deal!
expedition playbook: gear
Ask any experienced adventure racer, especially those who have experience in multi-day racing, and you will find that few people went into their first race with all the “best” gear. It’s just too much of an investment. Racers build their gear closet over time, investing in a new major item or two each year. Unless you have the disposable cash to buy every ideal piece of equipment at once, figure out what you really need and know that there are plenty of options to get by.
There is also a difference between the best piece of gear and the piece of gear that is best for adventure racing. That ultra-light $400 rain jacket? It will likely get shredded before you come out of the woods on your first monster overland trek.
Keep in mind that while online reviews are useful, most reviewers are not putting gear through the ringer the way expedition racers are. Your best bet is to do your research and pricing, and ask some experienced racers for their thoughts, too.
To begin, check out the article on gear in USARA’s “New to AR” Series. This piece explores the basics of a standard AR gear list. While it wasn’t written with expedition racing in mind, it is a good foundation for many of the basic gear requirements you will have for an expedition race.
Beyond that, here are some additional equipment considerations geared (see what we did there?) specifically toward expedition racing. Note that this post is a little bit more scattershot than some of our others. Gear is a big and unwieldy topic; we've organized it as best we can!
Come to the race prepared for anything. A five-day race means the potential for diverse weather. While the PA mountains are not the Rockies, you may still experience wild swings in temperatures at the Endless Mountains Adventure Race. Late June in Pennsylvania can mean anything from cold rain to sweltering heat and humidity – often within a 24-hour period! Weather forecasts will help, but it’s wise to have options as things can shift during race week.
You’ll want to figure out what clothes you’re starting in and then what you’ll need for each subsequent leg of the race, and then you will want to pack strategically, based on the course schematic you will likely receive in the week or two preceding the event. Most racers store dry clothes in as many resupply bags, bins, or boxes as they can.
It should go without saying, but leave the cotton at home. Synthetic will dry faster, keep you warmer, and keep you cooler. When planning for cold weather, consider investing in merino wool. It’s a game-changer in regard to performance, and by all accounts it resists the stink that comes from five days of racing like nothing else.
Changing shoes can also help reduce the chances of blisters…or at least blisters that threaten your race. You may not be able to stage a fresh pair of shoes for every section of the race (though some people try to), and you may need to jettison a pair or two to keep your box or bin at weight, but try to bring at least an extra pair or two if possible.
When you’re planning your clothing, take TAs into account, especially the ones where you may end up sleeping. At a minimum, most experienced racers pack lightweight TA shoes. Crocs are popular: they are easy-on, easy-off, and they are airy, allowing your feet to dry out and recover a bit. Likewise, some people like to have an extra fleece or jacket, just for transitions. The longer the race, the harder it will be for your body to regulate temperature.
Some racers invest hundreds and hundreds of dollars into an AR shell. Perhaps in a race with legitimate mountaineering or particularly cold temperatures it is worth it, but more often than not, a solid mid-range jacket will do. Keep in mind: an expedition race is relentless on gear. In an environment like you will encounter at the Endless Mountains, you will be off trail a fair bit - with underbrush poking, ripping, and grabbing at you and your gear. Consider how you will feel if that $500 jacket is damaged or lost during the event.
Regarding rain pants: these are, in some ways, one of your most important pieces of gear. Not only do they help keep you drier and warmer, but they add a nice layer of extra protection when bushwhacking. In woods like those in the PA Wilds, it’s not uncommon to become saturated quickly when you’re bushwhacking. Even if the sun is out, overnight dew and rain can leave woods dripping with condensation and rainwater for hours. If it happens to be cooler, before you know it you will be soaked through and freezing. Rain pants can make all the difference in the world. Here, too, you may not remain entirely dry, but you will stay warm enough to keep racing comfortably.
Finally, we recommend avoiding minimalist rain gear, especially for an event like the Endless Mountains. It may save you a few ounces, but it likely will cost you a fair bit of money, and it will almost definitely get shredded right out of the TA.
So, what gear should you strongly consider investing more money in? Here are some ideas, though remember, most people don’t drop their credit card on all these things at once. Consider what you want to prioritize and build your collection.
Lighting. The cheaper option here is to use lights that run on disposable batteries. These light systems tend to be less expensive, and you don’t have to invest in extra batteries or come up with creative ways to recharge. Most experienced racers invest in higher end set-ups, however. There are several great lighting companies including Lupine Lighting, Dinotte, Light in Motion, and more.
These systems produce more light output, and many, like Lupine can now be programmed to put out different lumens based on personal preference and comfort. Some racers race with one light throughout the race. Others have a different setup for bike sections. You want to consider battery run-time, weight, and lumens/light output when determining how to invest.
The Rootstock Race team has been supported by and races with Lupine Lighting, and we have been thrilled with the power, battery life, ease of use, and service options that come with the investment. We can't recommend them enough!
Paddles. Most seasoned racers are racing with two or four-piece carbon kayak paddles. Such a paddle can cost several hundred dollars, but they are much lighter and can break down for transport in your pack, which comes in handy if you have to carry paddles overland for a stretch. They are lightweight, which also means less wear and tear on your body. Multi-piece paddles also pack easier in paddle bags, and they take up less of your weight allotment.
Packs. Really, any pack will do, but you want something durable, functional, and comfortable. You will be wearing your pack(s) for several days, so make sure you have something that fits your body well, or be prepared for some serious chafing. Consider how you will pack your gear, what you want to access quickly, etc. Many racers love packs with endless side pockets for small items and food; others find these luxuries overkill. They can add weight to the pack, and what seems like a logical organizational system can quickly dissolve into a chaotic mess by day two or three, making it harder to keep things organized rather than helping. Increasingly, Hyperlite packs have become commonplace with experienced racers. They are costly, but they hold up better than any other pack when bushwhacking, and they are water resistant. They are minimalist in nature, so they require a different approach to organization, but some find that simplicity more efficient during the race.
Packrafts. Packrafts are becoming a commonplace discipline in adventure racing, even at the 24-hour level. At the 2023 Endless Mountains, all paddling will take place in packrafts. Few packrafts are “cheap,” but it’s worth knowing that this is one piece of gear for which investment really translates to performance. When considering this investment, it might seem like a good idea to save a couple of hundred bucks on a boat, but many racers end up selling entry-level boats and upgrading to a better one after their first race or two. If performance and durability are not important to you, and you don’t mind some added weight, there are various options for lower-end rafts. Just make sure you do thorough research on alternative rafting companies.
Mountain Bikes. Presumably, you are already the proud owner of a quality mountain bike. If you are considering upgrading or you are jumping into the deep end with an expedition race as one of your first events, here are some things to consider if you are in the market for a bike:
Bike Bags. Many experienced riders try to shift some of their weight onto their bike frames, especially during expedition races. This preserves your back and helps you conserve energy as you may be carrying large packs, larger quantities of food than in a shorter race, or a bit of extra gear to relieve a tired teammate. True, your uber-light bikes will no longer be featherweight, and your heavier bikes may become small tanks, but it really can make a massive difference to your performance and overall speed and endurance over the course of a multi-day event. We are partial toward the US-based company Dirtbags Bikepacking, who supports Rootstock Racing and is sponsoring the Endless Mountains, but there are other manufacturers out there. We like Dirtbags because they specifically design their products for long-haul bikepacking, which we find mimic multi-day adventure racing. Regardless of what company you go with, look at handlebar-mounted bags for easy access to food and small items and seatpost bags to store bigger gear. Some racers also like racing with a frame bag. Consider, too, how you will keep gear in those bags dry (some are waterproof, but many are not).
odds and ends
This list could balloon into a small encyclopedia, and the reality is there are a million different items that racers use in multi-day racing. You will find all sorts of brilliant tricks, and what you believe you need on the race course will likely differ from your teammates and other racers on the course. That said, here are some random items to consider packing in your pack, bike box, or gear bin.
Expedition Playbook: Team Roles
If you have competed in a 24-hour race, you have likely already identified some of the key roles you should consider when building or developing a team. There is no correct way to manage the question of roles. Some teams like to identify specific tasks that individual racers take responsibility for. Others have multiple people that all can and do serve in each role at any given time. Here are examples of some roles and responsibilities that can help you have a more successful first expedition race.
Many teams identify a team captain, and this role can be the hardest to define. Some teams believe a captain manages the overall strategy but shouldn’t navigate. Some believe the captain should play a primary role in keeping the team engaged, managing the team’s highs and lows. For some teams, the captain is purely a symbolic designation: they are the person who signs papers and goes to the pre-race briefings. Ultimately, captains are leaders, and there are so many ways to lead, especially in an expedition race. The key here is to clearly define as a team what this role should entail, and it is crucial to sort this out before race week. It can be difficult if the team “captain” is soft-spoken, easygoing, and relaxed for eight months leading up to the event but then turns into a drill sergeant in the woods.
There are two primary approaches to navigation in a multi-day race. Neither one is right. Again, clear expectations ahead of time are crucial.
Traditionally, you will hear many adventure racers talking about a team mule (or two). These racers tend to be physically stronger and are generally responsible for carrying extra gear, shouldering a pack when someone might benefit from a break, or towing a teammate who needs some extra power. Be aware that some “mules” tend to overdo it, and regardless of how strong they are, they will have a low moment or three over the course of a multi-day race. Sleep deprivation, elevation change, weather, and nutrition, not to mention injury, can all impact a mule’s ability to haul that extra gear.
You need to keep the big picture in mind and make sure that the team keeps day four in perspective on day one when the mule is thinking about carrying three packs and three bikes while towing the whole team and chopping away thick underbrush with a machete to make up ten minutes of time. Ideally, you are open to everyone on the team muling at some point. It’s a long race, and the best teams (not necessarily the winning teams, but the most experienced, the best racers) know that everyone will shoulder a heavy load at some point in a multi-day race.
Ideally, have someone who will take lead with bike mechanicals. Many teams have one or two people who naturally enjoy tinkering with bikes and can fill this role. If you don’t, think about having someone take some basic bike maintenance and trail repair classes at a local bike shop or REI. Odds are good that you will need to deal with a flat tire, a broken chain, or a malfunctioning brake. Whether it’s the bike mechanic or someone else, make sure you also have some added bike repair tools and parts so they can do their job.
We believe that safety is of the utmost importance at Rootstock Racing, and while many races don’t require any medical training, every racer should recognize that they are thinking about signing up for a race that will have them in wilderness settings for days on end, often with no easy access, and they will be sleep deprived. Things happen, and being able to respond to and stabilize a situation is crucial. While we are requiring a WFA (Wilderness First Aid) certification for at least one team member at the Endless Mountains, WFR (Wilderness First Responder) is even better. Anyone spending significant time in the outdoors should consider such a certification.
Who has an eye for detail? Who are the strongest organizers? Who likes to make spreadsheets with food and gear schedules for each stage of the race? It helps to identify one or two people who can work to assist the team in planning for the race and stay on task in TAs. Of course, sometimes your “logistics planner” is a zombie and can’t stay awake, but ideally someone should coordinate the team to manage TAs efficiently and make sure that the team is carrying the gear and nutrition needed for a given portion of the race.
You will struggle. Sometimes one person will be in a dark place. Sometimes the whole team may be. It helps to have some folks ready to lift the team in those moments - to get them going, keep them going, or boost morale. Songs, stories, riddles, games. This is a tough one as every team and every racer will respond to different efforts. Talk about individual preferences ahead of time. As with the captain's role above, it is useful for the motivator to know what helps each individual team member - or better yet, for everyone on the team to know what helps the other members brighten up!
We've never actually heard or used this term, but it sounds good. So, we will go with it. Expedition races tend to incorporate more challenging paddling. Often times it’s harder, simply due to the sheer length of the stages. But you may encounter more white water, nighttime paddling, or, in some races, ocean paddling. Ideally, you will have one or two teammates more comfortable handling boats, team members who can handle the stern or pick lines through a river. Make sure you read the race website carefully and confirm what paddling skills will be useful for the event.
If you don’t have those skills, make sure at least a couple of teammates invest the time into training and learning proper paddling skills and safety standards for the conditions. And recognize that taking and passing a skills certification is not the same as consistent practice on the water. You can know the theory behind open-water paddling, but being out in five foot swells and dealing with a capsized boat offshore on day three is very different than practicing in calm conditions with an instructor. Make sure at least a couple of people know what they are doing.
There are more nuanced and specific questions you might consider -- whose job is it to pick lines on a technical trail? Who brings up the rear? Who is best at route finding through a dense bushwhack? Who watches the clock to facilitate consistent eating and drinking? Who carries the passport or electronic dipper? But what we've outlined above tend to be the eight primary roles distributed across a team of, at most, four people.
What does that mean?
This is what so many of us adore about AR: it’s a team sport. You have to work together. You don’t necessarily have to do ALL of these things individually, but you need to be able to do multiple things well enough to benefit the team, and you need to be ready to step in and adopt someone else’s role when they no longer can handle it. Chances are good, in a multi-day race, that you will have a turn.
Expedition Playbook: Training
For most new expedition race participants, some of the biggest questions - and perhaps fears - arises when contemplating preparation. What does it take to prepare for FIVE days of non-stop racing?!
In this article, we are not going to provide a training plan because such plans are so individualized. Instead, we want to share some thoughts and ideas on how to get started. Once you have processed some of these insights and tips, we urge you to talk to other racers who have experience in training for multi-day events. Feel free to reach out with questions and keep an eye out for follow-up discussions regarding this topic and others in our “New To Expedition Racing” series, to be hosted on Facebook Live!
First, a few things to keep in mind before filling in the training calendar that might help relieve some of the stress. Remember, we have all been where you are before: new to multi-day races, wide eyed over the momentous, unimaginable race you have signed up for, and wondering where to start. One of the most incredible things about AR is that it teaches us that we are capable of so much more than we can imagine, and much of the challenge is mental. This begins with our training.
As for the actual training, there are a few primary ways to approach this. There is no right way to prepare for a multi-day race, and much of it will come down to your personal preference, your other commitments, and of course how much you want to invest in your preparation.
Option One: Active-Lifestyle Training
This first approach might be referred to as “active lifestyle training.” Such athletes tend to have busy lives and either have a hard time completing structured training or don’t enjoy it. As long as you are truly active, this might work for you. Such athletes regularly do some of if not all the following and find it’s enough to get through an event like this:
Keep in mind that you will likely be at a disadvantage to racers targeting training more unless you are naturally blessed with incredible endurance - but then again, you might be more mentally fresh when you get to the start line. This approach can work, particularly for those looking to simply experience the event. You will likely suffer more physically without more targeted training, but if your goal is simply to have an amazing adventure with your friends, completing a major event like this may still be attainable, albeit almost assuredly a short-course version of it.
That said, you should be comfortable and competent with the skills required for the event and potentially ready for more mental challenges as your body won’t be as prepared for the physical strain of the journey. Teams that can persevere with less targeted physical training tend to have strong skills and a considerable amount of experience out in the wilderness and elements. They are strong navigators who are efficient with route choice, they are technically sound bikers, they are skilled paddlers, and they have strong, cohesive team dynamics that allow them to work through the event efficiently, sometimes even more effectively than some top teams. Without a strong base in the skills, the lack of physical preparation may be too much to overcome.
Option Two: Structured Training
Many expedition racers try to get in at least one long ride and one long run per week as they prepare for a multi-day race. Defining what constitutes “long” is difficult, and new racers should be aware that too much too soon can impede your training, lead to overuse injuries, and potentially end your race before you even hit the start line. Build slowly and recognize that you don’t need to ride a century or run a marathon every weekend to be prepared. As noted above, a long weekend hike with a twenty-pound pack might be just as valuable, and maybe more so, than a three-hour run pounding pavement. A three hour mountain bike ride might only net you thirty miles, but it might help build more strength and help you develop your bike skills better than a road ride on a bike you won’t be using in the event anyway.
Anything counts, but many racers find a balance between long hours and shorter ones with more intensity. Sometimes less is more. Overall, mix it up. It’s one of the joys of the sport and training for it. One week, you might run 3-4 times with a couple of other sessions on the bike and in a boat. The next week, you might focus on biking. Again, whatever fits your schedule, but if you can shoot for ten hours a week - give or take - maybe not right away but by the late spring, you will be more fully preparing your body for the challenges it will face over five days of racing.
Option Three: The Coached Athlete
Most racers don’t work with a coach, but there are major benefits from doing so. Yes, it costs more money, but professional coaching will almost assuredly prepare you better for the event, it will translate to better performance and subsequently less physical and mental struggle, and it will increase your chances to reach the finish line. It’s not a magic pill, and the race will still be very challenging, but almost everyone who works with a coach reports being better prepared and able to enjoy the race more thanks to that preparation.
Additionally, coaches remove some of the mental strain for racers who may have trouble conceiving of a training plan. It can take a considerable amount of time and energy to plan effectively training week in and week out, and many new racers just don’t know where to start. A coach removes this worry and does that work for you, providing you added accountability. You are also working with an expert who understands nuance in training and preparation most of us never fully learn.
For the Endless Mountains, we are excited to offer a special coaching opportunity. Experienced adventure racer and longtime endurance coach Jen Segger is offering a team package to teams competing in Pennsylvania in June. It’s a great way to start your journey and more affordable as she will offer a training program to the whole team.
In no particular order, consider the following suggestions and try to work them into your training plan:
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!
Bend Racing in Oregon, Rootstock Racing in Pennsylvania, and Hoodoo Adventures in British Columbia announce a new partnership to grow the sport of multi-day expedition racing in the United States and Canada: The North American Expedition Race Series.
The series brings together premier race organizations in the US and Canada for a two-year cycle of expedition-length adventure races across the continent. With several decades of collective experience as both racers and race directors, Chelsey and Jason Magness of Bend Racing, Abby Perkiss and Brent Freedland of Rootstock Racing, and Nathalie Long of Hoodoo Adventures look to combine their diverse experiences to highlight the unique terrain, wildlife, history, and culture that reaches across the great expanse of North America.
"It is very exciting to be a part of a series of expedition races that will not only showcase the amazing and diverse terrain we have in North America, but that will combine the decades of race experience we all have." says Long, Race Director for Hoodoo Adventures and Expedition Canada. "We believe that by bringing that experience together with the inspirational and challenging landscapes each region can offer, we can provide confidence and consistency for racers and in turn assist with the growth of the sport."
multi-sport athletes to test their physical and mental limits, and they will create the space for newer adventurers to make the jump to multi-day racing in a supportive and accessible way Each race will have a robust media presence and be broadcast through live event tracking, social media, and professional photo and video - allowing the public to watch incredible stories unfold over several days of racing.
In addition to live tracking and robust media coverage, each event in the series will:
In its inaugural season, the series brings together Expedition Oregon and Expedition Canada as fully-sanctioned ARWS events and the Endless Mountains Adventure Race as an ARWS demonstration race. The top North American team from each of these events will receive free entry to a series race in 2023.
In 2023 and beyond, Expedition North America will include events hosted by longstanding and emerging race directors from the US and Canada, all with substantial international and multi-day experience as racers as well.
“Expedition Racing demands incredible commitment from the teams of athletes, and our vision is to collectively create race experiences that are 100% worthy of that investment,” says Jason Magness of Bend Racing. “Races that both prepare continental teams to take part in some of the biggest events scattered across the world, and also races grand enough to draw adventure athletes from Europe, Asia, South America, Africa, and Australasia.”
Chesley Magness adds, “It’s about damn time!”
Welcome to the Endless Mountains!
Welcome to the Endless Mountains Adventure Race. Whether you intend to compete, are thinking about volunteering, or just want to explore and spectate from afar, we are happy you are here.
As residents of Pennsylvania we may be biased, but we think the millions of acres of mountains, forests, rivers, wildlife, history, and local communities of the PA Wilds are the perfect playground for adventure racers of all levels looking for a professional and personal multi-day expedition racing experience.
At Rootstock Racing, we have decades of combined experience, domestically and internationally, to draw upon as we launch the inaugural Endless Mountains AR, what we're calling the "Elk Country" edition. We invite you to join us for this exciting new chapter of our journey as Rootstock. Follow along here and on facebook for news and updates as we have them.
We will see you in the woods!
Abby and Brent