By Jenny Ruff
adventure racing (ad*ven*ture rac*ing), n. 1. A nonstop, multiday, multisport, team event of strategy where competitors must travel without outside assistance in areas of remote wilderness. 2. An equal-opportunity event for leeches, bacteria-ridden water, foot-rot and other nuisances to attack the human body 3. The original reason behind the question, “Why would someone ever want to do that to themselves?”
During the running craze of the ’70s, marathon reigned supreme: a 26.2-mile ultimate endurance test. By the time the ’80s rolled around, marathons held about as much appeal as the previous decade’s velour jogging suits, and triathlon gained widespread recognition as the ultimate in athletic challenges.
With the ’90s, a whole new era of competition was ushered in with the dawn of adventure racing.
“I think people like the challenge of [adventure racing],” says John O’Connor, creator of Chicago’s Wild Onion, a 24-hour urban adventure race that combines stair climbing, kayaking, running, cycling, orienteering, canoeing, rappelling and in-line skating. “It’s the idea of pushing yourself beyond what is a normal athletic adventure, like a running race or a triathlon. It’s a deeper challenge.”
In the 2000s, adventure racing has emerged as the latest pinnacle in both physical strength and mental stamina, and each year lures more accomplished athletes into its grasp. Lately, however, the sport has been opening to amateur athletes.
Marathoners train for Boston, triathletes compete with Kona in mind, and now adventure racers flock to local events in preparation for major races such as Beast of the East, Eco-Challenge and Raid Gauloises.
“Adventure races are a lot more accessible now,” O’Connor says. “People see races like the Eco-Challenge on TV, and they want to do it.”
Normally the mere mention of sleep deprivation, leeches, foot-rot and dehydration would send people running in the opposite direction, but adventure racers eagerly tramp through jungles, bodysurf rapids and mountain bike over extremely dangerous terrain. And they keep coming back for more.
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