Guide to Your First Sprint Race

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by Ron Eaglin

A sprint race lasts only for a few hours but that time can fly by quick. Here is a guide written by Ron Eaglin to prepare you for your first time out.



This is a companion to my guide to 24-36 hour races available here.

So you are ready for your first Sprint Race. Great - here are some things that will help you get started. We will work through some items like the team, gear, training, and the race day. The most important thing to remember about adventure racing for the new racer is that it is a team sport. Every team will be made up of individuals with their own strengths and weaknesses. It really does not matter how you perform, what matters is how the team performs, so here are some hints and help.

Picking your team-mates - As a rule of thumb you should have team mates that are both physically and mentally compatible. Physically compatible means you are have about the same physical capabilities. If you are a strong runner and a weak biker - then you will want team-mates that are similar. The results of picking team-mates that don't match your abilities is frustration, when you want to run and your team-mate must walk. There are ways to overcome this, towing is common and there are chances to rest your team-mates, like when you are paddling. Mental compatibility is also important, if a person drives you crazy when you are not racing, they are only going to be worse when you are racing - it is never a good idea to push this issue and have them find out how you feel when you are in the stress of a race. That said - there are usually lots of chances to find races that work well with you.

Training - There is a huge misconception that you have to be a top level highly fit athlete to adventure race. This is simply not true. The folks you see on the podium race after race do train to be fit, but they also train for technique and teamwork. My rule of thumb for a Sprint race (about 3 hours) is you should be able to comfortably be able to run about 5 miles at your own pace, be able to bike between 10 and 20 miles, and have some experience paddling a canoe. If you can do this - you will be fine physically to complete a 3 hour race. As you move to longer distances, you will do longer workouts - but save that for when you start moving towards elite class.

The most important part of training is improving your skills. If you have a chance to paddle canoes or learn to improve your paddling form - take it. Paddling a boat is very much about technique and form and less about muscling a boat through water. As for biking, practice off-road mountain biking (single or double track) every chance you get. Road cycling will build muscle and endurance - but I've seen plenty of roadies slow to a crawl when they hit single track. The most important skill is navigation - AR is all about the map and compass. Go orienteering with your local club (Florida Orienteering in Florida) and practice map reading every chance you get (Get rid of your GPS and use a map).

Gear - There are 2 types of gear, mandatory and luxury. You must have the mandatory gear - usually a backpack, hydration system, compass, and first aid. Of course the mountain bike is another piece of gear. In the race I recommend only carrying what you need, which is typically the mandatory gear. You can carry some food (maybe 1-2 gels for a 3 hour race) - but you really will not need a lot of food. On hot summer days you WILL need plenty of hydration. I use Gatorade for my hydration - but as a rule drink what you like to drink, nearly all sport drinks work great and as long as they don't upset your stomach are fine.

Day of Race - Don't get nervous about race day. Keep a list of what you plan to bring, and simply have it in a bin ready to go. If you are missing something don't sweat it - you can usually find someone with a spare at the race or in most cases you really don't need it anyway. When you get to the race site you will register your team, setup your transition area, go to the pre-race, and then start the race. As long as you have all your "stuff" together in a bin this is all pretty easy to handle. You'll also likely have a cooler with fluid and some food (food mostly for after the race). During the race (for my team) - all food and fluids are TEAM property - if someone needs something the team supplies it.

If it is your first AR - go out and have a good time. Adventure Racers are a very friendly bunch. We compete - but in the end we are all friends and you will immediately feel the sense of camaraderie at an adventure race. If you need or are missing some critical piece of gear - chances are another team will spot you the spare equipment. That is just the way we are - so go out and have a great time.


Ron Eaglin is published in many navigation, outdoor, and adventure magazines and keeps up his own site about adventure racing experiences at

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