Adventure racing is a sport that combines two or more endurance activities. Teams of two or more racers navigate with a map and compass, cross-country run, mountain bike and either canoe or kayak. Other adrenaline-fueled activities may be included depending on the region and its terrain, such as rock climbing and whitewater rafting.
The goal is to reach as many checkpoints as possible within a set timeframe, anywhere from four hours to ten days. Unlike most sports, adventure racing does not have a set course. It is up to each team to determine the most efficient way to get from one checkpoint to another, relying heavily on reading a map correctly and making hundreds of decisions about terrain, altitude, trails, safety, weather, food, water sources, pace, direction, and more! It may provide the best balance of brains and brawn of any sport in the world.
The roots of adventure racing are deep and people debate the origin of the modern adventure race. Racers similar to today’s adventure race format occurred as early as 1968. The off-road triathlon also helped fuel the sport of adventure racing with its multiple disciplines on wilderness courses. Most Americans first learned about the sport when the Eco Challenge aired on television from 1995-2002. That race spawned a grassroots movement that continues to this day throughout the United States and in many countries around the world.
In Michigan, adventure racing has had a roller coaster ride, experiencing a huge surge in popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The recession took its toll on the sport and many of the longer races have disappeared. Adventure racing may be experiencing a comeback just as Michigan’s economy rebounds.
To grow the sport and make it more accessible, Michigan Adventure Racing began offering 4-hour urban races in 2011 with Amazing Race/Survivor-like challenges that appeal to people looking for something different. This Grand Rapids Urban Adventure Race has quickly become one of the largest, if not the largest, single-city series in the United States with over 2,000 participants in its first season. Its Spring Edition race wraps up this first full season of four races that began last July in downtown Grand Rapids.