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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Adventure Racing is Dead.

Got ya with the headline, didn’t I. But the thing is, am I so wrong? It seems like everyone is saying it behind closed doors and no one’s being public about it. But you have to. If you love it, this conversation needs to be had.

This last year, our sprint races had half the participants as last year. It was the first year in the nine years of our May race that we lost significant money on it. The 12-hour race had a big field, and we’re grateful for that, but more and more race directors are reporting dwindling numbers.

Things people are trying to do: teach people how to adventure race by holding clinics and forming clubs; creating points series to encourage participation at more events; simply having more races on a smaller budget to make up for the lack of participation (but this also limits the possibilities of the experience). But none of it is really working.

The Outdoor Retailer market report said that AR had grown by 20% in the last year, but you know what AR they’re talking about? Mud runs.

To Adventure Race purists, this is nothing. In fact, while we have the highest attended race series on the west coast, it’s our Mud Run that we had last year that paid the bills and enabled us to sustain another event season. We put it together in two months and it was the highest attended event we’ve ever had.

People like mud. And they like running. But we just can’t seem to get them to love real AR.

Why do you suppose? I have my theories:

1. Multisport is scary. There are some multisport athletes, but not like there are single-sport ones. When people write in for advice on how to train, we’re speechless. Just be able to ride a bike, hike, and the paddling, well, no one is good at that anyway.

But having put on enough races and been on course, I am coming to the conclusion that most people really can’t ride a bike. And if you can’t ride and we put you on amazing singletrack, you aren’t having fun.

2. People that are attracted to AR don’t race. As someone who does multisport (climbing, biking, hiking, running, kayaking, etc), I’m also not the type to race. I just do stuff because it sounds good. If I’m on vacation and I have my bike, I’ll use it to get to cool stuff. There’s no motivation to beat someone else at something I know I can do and not pay for.

3. Too much commitment. Tough Mudder – it’s running, in a small area, no navigation, nothing awful. You get tired, you give up. No one has to rescue you. Mud Runs – cool obstacles, short time period.

4. Lack of festival atmosphere. We tried, but when you’ve spent the morning running around in the fog, you kind of just want to go home, not party with a beer.

Am I wrong? Is AR dead because we’re not easy enough? If you were us, what would you do? Change up the traditional approach to go with the trends, or hold on to the purity and just suck it up and wait for people to get tired of mud runs? What do you think?


  1. Man I wish you were wrong. To bad your not.

  2. Considering no one has even commented on this in 2 years.....really sad.

  3. It died out because big races like the EcoChallenge, Primal Quest and raid Gauloises stopped and no one stepped up to the plate to continue the tradition.

    Also, those (like myself) who use to participate in those races have grown to old to compete anymore. We have moved on to having families, careers, etc.

    Sad...I miss it.

  4. It's going to make a comeback: