If you're looking for a weekend away from the norm, there are few better ways to sign up for an adventure race. While there is no exact definition for what an adventure race involves, you can be fairly sure that it physically pushes you to its limits and takes you to exciting and beautiful places that are far removed from your everyday life.
I signed up with a friend for Rat Race's Coast To Coast Adventure Race to race, cycle and kayak through Scotland. The event includes two trail runs – a 22-kilometer run between Fort William and Glencoe – a 70-kilometer road circuit and a 50-kilometer bike ride on various terrains, including some test forest trails. And the cherry on top is a 1
As an avid runner, poor cyclist and non-kayaker who is not a big fan of camping, I had expected to be pushed out of my comfort zone, but the event still surprised me in many cases. If you are racing for the first time this is what I wanted in advance.
. 1 Expect the Weather to Make a Difference
If you're traveling through Scotland, you'll need to be prepared for changing weather conditions, of course, but it's easy to underestimate how much it will affect your race. At Coast To Coast, most Challenger runners were rerouted during the final run because after heavy rain, a river flowed too far to cross it, which meant they could not try the kayak final. Although we were fast enough not to be affected by the change, our kayak section was hit by strong winds. Expect canceled sections and route changes in inclement weather, but remember this is all part of the adventure.
. 2 Train for every part of the race
Do you know what's really hard? Kayaking after two days of running and cycling. I assumed that the last leg of the race would be fine and ignored it during my practice. Instead, I focused on cycling, which I knew was my weak point. When we arrived at the hole to find windy conditions with waves that soaked our kayak, I arrived in front of my back for about ten minutes, which was already in pain because I was driving further than ever, and it took us to the finish be helped. Take a close look at the entire route of the race and consider how much fatigue from the first few sections will affect you later. If you can do a few workouts that allow you to cycle without stopping to cycle (or vice versa), you can get used to the transition more easily.
. 3 Logistics, Logistics, Logistics
At every race you need to plan ahead, especially when you have to return from the finish to the start to go home. Two-day events with different sports and camping, however, require more preparation than you can imagine until you make one.
In addition to the preparation of the bike and all the necessary equipment for the race for cycling, running and camping You must also consider your travel plans after the race. Rat Race took buses back to the start area, but only on late Sunday. So if you have to get back to work on Monday, the logistics will be seriously unwieldy. We spent the day before the race in Scotland to leave a car at the finish and then took a rental car to bring our bikes to the first transition zone before returning the rental car and taking the train into town which was the start.
If you do not have a supporter willing to attend the event and end up looking after you, you probably need a few cars and a day off before the race to get everything ready.
. 4 It's about accomplishment, not competition
Adventure racing is about going in many different ways, but fighting for a better goal is not one of them. The first-day experts might have been more competitive, but as a challenger to Coast To Coast on two days, it was all about camaraderie and enjoying the event with our competitors.
. 5 Sign in with someone you can race with for the whole race.
Two days of hard activity plus camping are much more fun with a friend. So find someone whose company you like, and make a weekend out of it. It is also important to find someone that you can stay with in the various stages of the race. It does not have to be someone who is on the same level as you in all respects. If not, it may even be better. I rode with an excellent cyclist, who was a less experienced runner than me, and we helped each other in those sections where we were stronger. This meant that there was always a happy soul that raised the mood in each leg, rather than pushing two people to their limits at the same time.
. 6 Get the right equipment
You need a lot of gear to complete a multi-sport adventure and camping adventure, and it must be the right kind of equipment. Do not ride a road bike when half of your bike is off-road, and make sure your running shoes have the grip you need for the surfaces you're traveling. Below are the five parts of the kit that I found to be absolutely crucial.
Rat Race Coast to Coast Race Guide
Stage 1 – 11 km Trail Run
The first stage of the race is the easiest. It is 85 m to the 11 km long path that leads from the coast at Nairn to Cawdor Castle. The run is mostly on single lanes. If you want to set a fast tempo, go forward at the beginning.
Stage 2 – 70 km Road Bike Path
How hard this stage is depends on how much headwind there is. We had it relatively easy with a sunny, fairly calm day, and the 70 km stretch along Loch Ness was great fun. During the journey, it goes almost 700 m uphill, mostly uphill to 63 km, with a particularly steep section from 59 km to 63 km. Then it goes downhill to Fort Augustus, where the Challenger participants camp overnight.
Stage 3 – 500m Kayak
This is optional for challengers and includes a small paddle on Loch Ness. We skipped this to go to the Bar tent instead, which was probably not wise given that we could have had some practice before the 6th stage.
Stage 4 – 50 km mixed off-road bike
The first 33 km of this section are off-road tours starting with relatively easy bike rides along a canal before you experience real action on gravel roads in the woods. There are steep climbs and descents to tackle, but it's never too technical and it's fun even in the rain. After leaving the forest, drive on a beautiful route to Fort William. Altogether you climb over 50 km a bit over 350 m.
Stage 5 – 22 km of track
The hardest stage of the race. You spend the first 6.5 km climbing Fort William into the Highlands and the next 10 km running over hilly terrain, before plunging into tricky terrain almost 500m back to sea level at 1.6km depth. Take the start very carefully, otherwise the first climb will ruin the rest of the run for you and you'll have to be careful on the final descent – you'll have to go slowly to come down safely when it's wet. Altogether one climbs in the 22 km almost 800 m high, which is a lot.
Kayaking Stage 6 – 1.6 km
Again, the weather is bad or bad again. On a calm day this would probably be a pleasant paddle to the finish line, but when the wind blows, you need to know what you are doing in a kayak and have enough energy in the tank to counteract the breeze and stay on course.
Adventure Race Essential Kit List
Each Adventure Race comes with a compulsory kit. For example, a waterproof jacket and pants, a survival bag, and a whistle if you're lost in the great outdoors. Most of it is self-explanatory, but the following kit contains choices that are easily wrong to make, as I and many others have sometimes done with Coast To Coast.
An Adventure Bike
If you go on -road and off-road during the event you need a bike that is fast but can handle the latter. Coast To Coast's mountain bikers had to cope with the 70-km road on day one, while riders on sleek racing bikes were in constant danger on forest trails in second-day terrain. I've used the Specialized Diverge Comp Carbon, a lightweight adventure wheel with disc brakes and chunky tires to cope with almost any surface you throw on it. It was perfect for the race and it was just fun to ride in general.
Pedals and Cleats
I'm not a big cyclist and I usually do not use clip-in pedals, but it's been well worth doing the race because it makes cycling so much easier over the long haul. Mountain bike clip-ins are easy to use, even if they get muddy. This made me feel much safer on off-road sections and faster on the road. I used the Shimano XC7 carbon shoes and the Deore XT PD-M8000 pedals.
Trail Running Shoes
Not trail running shoes, but trail running shoes that have been developed for a variety of surfaces because you can handle all kinds of terrain in an adventure race. This means that the tunnels are not so long that they slip on roads or hard roads, but are long enough to reach in the mud or to run downhill on wet grass. The Hoka One One Torrent shoes I used were excellent from coast to coast, especially on the steep and very muddy descent at the end of the last run. I saw a runner trying that downhill run, and well, it was not nice.
Large Saddle Bag
Even if an adventure race involves dropping a sack to take your camping gear with you, you will need to carry all the clothes and equipment you need for the different sections of each day. If you add all the mandatory equipment like water seals and a first aid kit, you will need to take a lot with you. A large saddlebag that you can stow away for the ride was therefore invaluable. We've used a 13-liter Lomo bag that can hold both pairs of our running shoes along with bike tools and other important items.
Trail Running Bag
You will probably be cycling all day long, so it must be comfortable and have water bottles in the straps that you can access quickly. It also needs to be spacious enough to carry a fair amount of equipment, but not so big that it is an obstacle, especially when running. We saw people with 15 to 20-liter sacks on their backs following the 22-kilometer trail run that did not look funny at all. I used the Osprey Duro 6 bag and my racing partner Montane Via Fang 5 – both are great.