One summer a few years ago, on a run in the Ocala National Forest, I chanced upon a group of people running in the opposite direction down the Florida Trail. The group – two men and two women – looked to be extremely fit and in an incredible hurry.
A few minutes later, another group appeared. "Dude, we're heading the wrong way," one of them said. Bewildered, I continued down the trail. I made a few phone calls when I got home that night, and discovered those runners were participating in the 2002 Coast to Coast Adventure Race, organized by Adventurous Concepts.
Looking at the course I was awestruck there were groups of people running, biking and kayaking or canoeing their way across the state -- starting somewhere around the Cross Florida Barge Canal near Inglis on the Gulf of Mexico, and ending up at Ormond Beach on the east coast! I was amazed and thought, "What an adventure!"
Most people -- whether they admit it or not -- need adventure. The urge to embark on an unpredictable journey or rigorous physical challenge maybe tucked away deep inside, just waiting for the right moment. Some may only need an unplanned weekend trip to a theme park to quench their desire for a rewarding experience – but others – well, they need something more.
Adventure racing – or AR for short – perfectly balances the need for a personal challenge, while combining multiple outdoor sports in a fast-paced, exciting setting that will leave you both satisfied and exhausted. Once considered a fringe sport for extreme professional athletes, the advent of shorter sprint-style events helped to increase its appeal to a wider audience.
Today's adventure race scene is a diverse mixture of weekend warriors from a variety of backgrounds. Don't be surprised if your dentist-by-day neighbor is secretly a compass-wielding, backcountry-trekking adventurer while you're not looking.
Mark Schweder, a Dunnellon resident and EMT, told me how he discovered the sport. "A cousin of mine from Maryland came down one summer," he said. "She had competed in the Florida Coast to Coast Adventure Race the year before and convinced me to try adventure racing. She put together a team for the first Swamp Stomp Adventure Race in 2004 and I was hooked."
Gear Up, Get Ready
You don't have to be Lance Armstrong to participate in adventure racing, but you should be in reasonably good condition. If you can run a 5k race, your level of conditioning should be more than adequate to get started. Remember, adventure racing is mentally demanding as well, so be prepared to encounter obstacles and problem-solving situations that will test your ability to think under pressure.
If you are the outdoorsy type, chances are you may own most of the equipment you need to participate in an adventure race. Typically, adventure races blend basic navigational skills, mountain biking, kayaking or canoeing and trail running into a short sprint-style event.
These races can take two to six hours; just long enough to be a challenge, but not so long that first timers question their judgment. Longer races incorporate more advanced navigation and orienteering, lengthier running, biking, paddling and a few extra surprises.
Leave the GPS at home; adventure racing is all about map and compass navigation, so you may want to brush up on those skills before you set out on the course.
If you don't own the necessary equipment, make sure you spend a little extra money and purchase quality items. It will save you a lot of headaches down the road and will be more reliable while you are racing. Also, leave the cotton shirts and similar clothing items at home – you'll need lightweight apparel that fits properly and dries quickly.
Choose Your Adventure
At least once a month, somewhere in Florida you'll find an adventure race. Races range from quick sprint-style races to multi-day expeditions, and there are usually categories for both solo entrants and teams.
It's no secret. Florida is somewhat topographically-challenged, meaning there isn't much in the way of elevation throughout the state. Don't let Florida's lack of hilly terrain fool you – individuals and teams travel to the Sunshine State from around the United States to participate in some of the most challenging races found anywhere. Level trails and outstanding weather make Florida the perfect year-round racing and training location.
While you can participate in an adventure race by yourself or with a team, you'll find the sport is more about the experience rather than who's winning. The competition is good-natured, and many only participate for the personal challenge adventure racing offers. Get out there, get fit and get racing!
Ready to race? Check out the following for more information, locations and what you need to make your adventure race a success.
CFAR (Central Florida Adventure Racers)