Glossary of Adventure Racing Terms/Jargon

One of the main reasons adventure racing can be scary to the beginner is the befuddling array of unfamiliar slang that gets thrown around. A bystander to a race who doesn't know any better might hear phrases like "I bonked on the bikewhack from the TA to CP4." or "We DNF'ed because we lost our passport during the triad." and wonder if they are speaking the same language as everyone else. But never fear, just check through this page to get yourself up to speed on the lingo and soon you'll be throwing out AR terms like a pro. Comment below if you can think of a term I missed!

  • Bike Drop - A place where you take your bike prior to the race start with the assumption that at some point in the race you will end up at that location and retrieve it. Saves the race organization money and trouble because they don't have to transport the bikes for you, but some race directors don't like to do it because it gives away part of the course before the race starts.
  • Bike-O - An orienteering section on mountain bikes. Often involves bikewhacking.
  • Bikewhacking - That ever-enjoyable activity of carrying, pushing, or pulling your bike off-trail through thick brush. Often results in flat tires, broken derailleurs, cursing, and spectacular falls resulting in puncture wounds. Often used by teams to take a "shortcut" in a mountain bike section but occasionally designed into the course by particularly sadistic race directors who haven't gotten laid in a while.
  • Bonking - Also known as "hitting the wall," this is the AR term for what happens when you push your body too hard without providing enough fuel. Usually you will end up in a pathetic state where you are unable to even move and pretty sure you are going to die. See this article on bonking for much more info. Also a slang term for sex common in some countries. If you're going to do any sort of bonking during an adventure race, better for it to be that kind.
  • Bushwhacking - Blazing your own path off-trail. Any real adventure race has plenty of bushwhacking to get to the more remote checkpoints. Often results in pain, both immediate (thorns) and delayed onset (poison ivy). Also often results in racers getting to see beautiful places that are visited by very few people.
  • Checkpoint - The primary method of keeping score in an adventure race, checkpoints are basically what you are looking for the entire race. Often abbreviated CP and followed by a number (CP2, CP34, etc.). Usually marked by a flag. There's way more information on this page.
  • Clue Sheet/Instruction Sheet - A sheet of paper you carry around with you the entire race which tells you helpful information like which checkpoints to go to, how to get there, and what to look for when you get there.
  • Clue-based Checkpoint - A checkpoint where the race director decided not to use a punch, often because it's in a public area where someone who is attracted to shiny objects might be liable to walk off with the flag. Instead of a punch, you will be asked to note some specific information at the location like the address of a house or the number of posts in a parking lot. Then you'll have to write the info on your passport to prove you were there.
  • Cut-Off - Usually a specified time by which you have to get to a certain checkpoint. If you don't make it you are usually short-coursed. Usually has to do with the race director not wanting teams to do a certain section in the dark, or needing to send teams back toward the start so they will make the race finish.
  • Dark Zone - A certain section of the race that you will not be allowed to complete in the dark because of inordinate danger and low likelihood of rescue, like a whitewater paddling or swimming section.
  • DFL - Usually what happens when you make such a bad navigational mistake that you can't understand the accent of the locals you are asking for directions any more. Stands for Dead-Fuckin'-Last.
  • DNF - Stands for "Did Not Finish." This is what you get when you lose your passport or are disqualified for a rules violation, or have to drop out for any other reason. Often used as a verb like this, "Aw crap we're probably going to DNF now that Mark bonked and can't walk."
  • E-Punch - A high-tech alternative to the old-school hole punch at checkpoints, these consist of a chip that you attach to your finger. When you find a checkpoint, there will be a docking station there where you will insert the chip, which will electronically record your presence at that checkpoint.
  • Endo - The momentary act of flight when you soar over the handlebars of your mountain bike after the front wheel comes to an abrupt stop for various reasons. Usually unintentional but spectacular.
  • Expedition Style - A type of adventure race where there is no resupplying, thus you must carry everything you will need for the entire race. Often race directors will at least transport paddles and PFDs for you, but occasionally they will make you carry those around too if they woke up on the wrong side of the bed that day.
  • Flag - Used to mark a checkpoint, when you find one of these you know you are in the right place (unless you are at the wrong checkpoint of course). They usually have a number attached to them so you can check your clue sheet to make sure you are at the right checkpoint before punching your passport.
  • Gear Check - This is when a race official stops you at any point in the race and randomly decides on a piece of mandatory gear that you must show them to make sure you are in compliance with the rules. If you don't have it then you will be penalized usually a checkpoint or two, or you might have to sit a 15 or 20 minute penalty before moving on again. Truly draconian race directors might even disqualify you.
  • Hamburger Foot - Not nearly as delicious as it sounds, this is what happens when you race for too long with poor foot management. Often preceded by hiking or running for miles with wet feet caused by stream crossings, rain, falling out of the boat, or any number of other reasons. Can often be prevented by carrying (and using) a spare pair of dry socks.
  • Mandatory Gear - The list of gear the race director forces all racers to bring to the race so that they are (often over-) prepared. Even if it's a bluebird day and 95 degrees in July for your sprint race, you'd better damn well have that waterproof jacket with you! Especially if a race volunteer does a gear check. Also a somewhat derogatory term for the woman on a co-ed team.
  • Manned Checkpoint - A checkpoint where you will find race staff waiting for you. Often instead of a punch, they will just initial your passport. Usually a manned checkpoint indicates that there will be some kind of special challenge or ropes course waiting for you there, otherwise there'd be no reason for race staff to hang out.
  • Navigator - That brave soul who is leading the rest of the team into the unknown (sometimes even to the navigator) using the arcane art of orienteering. Often alternates between hero and villain, sometimes in the same hour. Can often benefit from good apologizing skills, so married men are recommended. Usually only one per team as good navigators are hard to come by.
  • O-Meet - Orienteering clubs put on these events which are essentially casual competitions to practice map and compass navigation. Not really adventure racing because they're usually just on foot but these are great practice for adventure races.
  • O-Section - An orienteering section in an adventure race where racers usually just have to find as many checkpoints as possible in a certain area before moving on to the next section of the race. Navigational difficulty is usually higher in an O-Section than in the rest of the race. Often Score-O style.
  • Orienteering - The sport of navigating using a topographic map and compass. In an adventure race, there are no course markings and teams are orienteering the entire time to find their way between checkpoints.
  • Paddle-O - An orienteering event where most of the checkpoints are paddled to, usually on a lake.
  • Passport - A sheet of paper you carry around with you at all times that you punch at each checkpoint to prove you visited it. Banter often heard between teammates: "You have the passport right?!", "Is that our passport floating down the river?", "Oh #@$% I think I dropped the passport". Loss of passport equals a DNF. Every adventure racer has at least one heartbreaking lost passport story. True racers always go on anyway as an Unofficial Team if they lose their passport.
  • Portage - Any time you are carrying or dragging a boat over land when you really just want to be paddling it in good old fashioned water. Usually just a short stretch until you get to more water, but sometimes long brutal portages are used by cruel race directors as a way to make teams suffer a little more.
  • Premier Division - This is the race division that the race director cares about the most and gives out the most prizes to. Usually in adventure racing the premier division is a 3 person co-ed team or a 4 person co-ed team. Often all other teams will get lumped into a single division with regards to prizes.
  • Punch - A unique hole punch you use to punch your passport at a checkpoint. Most checkpoints are unmanned so punches are used as proof that you found it. Alternatively in high-tech races you might use an E-Punch.
  • Punch Card - See passport. Punch Card is the orienteering specific term which means the exact same thing. Don't call a punch card a passport if you're at an O-Meet!
  • Puppy Pile - Spooning with your teammates to keep warm during a long race where you need to take a nap. Also the reason your wife doesn't want you racing with hot girls.
  • Race Director - The god-like figure who is the mastermind behind the race. A truly good race director can put on a race every year for your whole life and you will never guess what he has in mind for the course. Never ever piss off the race director by asking if a ziplock bag qualifies as a waterproof dry bag or showing up at the ropes course with the tags still on your harness or asking whether a GPS is allowed, etc.
  • Race Volunteer - The army generous people who help the race director put on the race by manning checkpoints, race check-in, special challenges, boat put-ins, etc. without much if any compensation. Treat the volunteers nice, no matter how crappy you are feeling! Without them many adventure races would not happen. Plus volunteers have been known to do impromptu gear checks if you piss them off.
  • Rogaine - A long orienteering competition, usually at least 12 hours, where teams are mandatory and checkpoints can be gotten in any order and are worth different point values. Similar to a Score-O but longer and usually not allowing individual competitors. The terms "Rogaine style" and "Score-O style" are interchangeable in an adventure race and usually just mean that the checkpoints can be gotten in any order.
  • Score-O - An orienteering event where checkpoints can be gotten in any order rather than sequentially. Involves more strategy to determine in which order to get the points. Some points may be worth more than others depending on how far they are from the start area or how hard they are to find. Often orienteering sections in an AR will be Score-O style.
  • Short-Coursed - When you don't get to do the entire course because you failed to make a race cut-off. Not a big deal, as in some races all but a few elite teams are short-coursed.
  • Sleep Monsters - The little creatures that show up after the 24 hour mark in a race to soothe you and accumulate in increasing numbers on your eyelids.
  • Special Challenge - Any event in the race that is used more for fun and changing up the pace than as an athletic test, special challenges are sometimes one of the most beloved parts of an adventure race. Often thought of as more of a sprint adventure race category, sometimes longer races can have good special challenges as well. Many special challenges are mental challenges like using a 5 gallon and a 3 gallon container to measure out 4 gallons worth of water (obviously this is a physical challenge as well - much more so than doing it on paper). Or sometimes they are fun or unusual sports or activities that most people wouldn't have ever done like stand up paddleboarding or shooting a muzzle loading rifle or slingshot at a target (all special challenges that I've done in various races). Or sometimes they're just plain fun like having a slip n slide in the middle of a race after a long hot biking leg. Check out THIS PAGE -LINK- for a more exhaustive discussion of the glory of special challenges.
  • Support Crew - The non-racing but still just as essential part of your team, the support crew stays up all night so they can coddle you, feed you, organize your gear, and fix your bike all so you can just take off again in 5 minutes and leave them wondering when you might be done with the next section. Often composed of spouses who are earning major brownie points. Some races allow them, some require them, some disallow them (usually anything 12 hours or under does not involve a support crew), so check with your race director.
  • Transition Area (TA) - An area in the race where you go in between disciplines. Often the same place as the start/finish area except in longer races. A common format is to have the race take the form of multiple loops, each taking you back to the TA where you have a chance to resupply or switch around gear.
  • Triad - A strange event contained in some adventure races where a three person team must travel together while one member is running, one is biking, and one is roller skating (or scootering). Team members can switch off during the event, so it creates a lot of interesting strategic options.
  • Unofficial Team - A team that has been disqualified from the official standings for any of various reasons. Most commonly an unofficial team has lost their passport and decided to continue on and finish the race for fun and personal challenge. Another common reason to be unofficial is that one of your team members had to drop out of the race but the rest of the team decided to continue on and finish the race.
  • Women - See mandatory gear.