Sprint Adventure Race
Sprint races last anywhere from 2 to 6 hours, though most are right around 6 hours. These are by far the most popular type of adventure race and the most beginner oriented. Because the races are shorter, teams are closer together and there is a lot of camaraderie and interaction with other racers during the race. I would recommend that anyone who has never done an adventure race start with a sprint race to get a feel for the sport.
Typical sprint races will involve running/trekking, mountain biking, and paddling. Many will include a rope event like a rappel or a zip-line, or maybe a climbing wall. The navigation is usually easier than in longer races so you will still be able to compete relatively well without orienteering experience. Much of the navigation will be on trails and roads. Most adventure races have some mountain biking on trails but in sprint races it is usually not very technical, and there are even some races where the biking is all on roads, though this is not really in the spirit of adventure racing. Typical distances for a sprint adventure race might be between 4-8 miles on foot, 15-25 miles biking, and 2-4 miles paddling.
No one should be scared to try a sprint race. You will see racers with all body types and experience levels there, but the one thing they all have in common is they're there to have some fun in this great sport! Even if you have no experience with mountain biking, none with orienteering, and none with paddling, I say go out and give it a try. We all learn through trial and error anyway, and as long as you don't take it too seriously you will have a blast.
In a sprint race you are going to work hard because each leg is shorter. Often each discipline will be repeated more than once in a race, except for paddling - there is usually only enough time for one paddling leg in a sprint race. But as an example, a race might start out with a quick orienteering course that takes about 45 minutes, then an hour long biking section to get to a river put-in, then an hour long paddling leg, then maybe a 2 hour long trekking section to get back to your bikes. Maybe at some point in the middle of this section you will have to do a rappel and/or a special challenge, then another hour long biking section to get to the finish. There are basically infinite possibilities only limited by the creativity of the race director. No two races will be the same.
If even a sprint race seems like it would be too much to bite off for you for your first race or if you have small children who might like to race with you, then a growing trend in adventure racing might be for you - the mini-sprint race. Often taking as little as 2 hours to run, these are races that are truly meant for pure fun (and usually geared toward kids) rather than being an endurance competition.
To be sure, you will get some exercise, but not too much of it at once. All disciplines will be non-technical and broken up by plentiful amounts of special challenges. Mini-sprints are a great way to whet your appetite for a true sprint race or get your kids involved! Check out our Adventure Race Map to see if there's one near you.
Though 4-6 hours may seem like a lot of time to be constantly moving, you'll notice that the distances aren't incredibly long. In fact a good athlete could cover the distances I listed above in less than 3 hours if it were a marked course. This is why adventure racing is actually physically easier than it might seem on the surface. Even though your pace will be somewhat frenetic at times, there will still be pauses and time to rest. You'll be navigating the whole time with a map and all but the very best navigators will have to stop moving from time to time in order to make sure they are not getting lost or to find their way back if they are already lost. When you get close to checkpoints, often you will have to search a little at a slower pace before you locate the markers.
You'll have to transition between disciplines several times which will give you a breather. There will usually be special challenges and rope events which will allow you to slow down and catch your breath as well. And sometimes you will need to strategize and talk things over with your teammates as there are many decisions to be made during an adventure race, for example about route choice or whether or not to go for an optional checkpoint. Also the very fact that you will be racing as a team will mean that you will never be able to travel at exactly the pace you normally would travel at for an entire race. In some disciplines you might be slower than a teammate, which will enable him or her to back off a little and in others you might be faster which will enable you to lower your heart rate. Of course that doesn't take into account towing but that's a subject for another page.
Once you've tried a sprint race and want to do something a little longer, try a 12 hour race.