Learn to Race


Adventure racing may be the most addictive sport there is. Why? Lots of reasons. It involves mental and physical challenges. A variety of sports are involved. Teamwork creates stronger friendships. The elation of finding a flag in the middle of the woods is addictive. It has a laid-back vibe not common in many sports. Competing in our beautiful forests and on scenic rivers and lakes is wonderful. The list goes on and on.

Despite all the great things about adventure racing, it’s relatively unknown and fear of the unknown is common. We hope to make it easy for you to try out adventure racing and make the jump from an urban “sprint” race to a “wilderness” sprint race to possibly longer races. Or just do the short, urban races. That’s fine too!

A good start is to attend a clinic or click on the presentation or outline below. Original content developed by Michael Boks of GRAAR. Five key navigation strategies and other content added by Michigan Adventure Racing. Don’t hesitate to e-mail me if you have any questions.

Navigation 101 Clinic Presentation 

  • How to read a topographic map
  • How to use a compass and common mistakes
  • The 5 key navigation strategies
  • Find a Bearing practice worksheet

Search for “adventure racing” on the web for additional information. Check out Checkpoint 16 for perhaps the most comprehensive site on adventure racing.


You can’t get to where you want to go if you don’t know where you are. No other skill is more important in adventure racing as navigation. You may blow by other teams in your canoe or on your bike, but lose all of your advantage with just one misread of the map. In fact, a navigation error is often two or three times more costly than a slow leg in one of the other disciplines. And the most important rule in navigation and orienteering (navigation on a “micro” level with a compass and map) is to always know your current position on the map. If you are the navigator for the team, rely on your teammate(s) to scan for the control marker (flag). You should be matching up terrain all around you to topographic features on the map.

Strengthen your mind muscles. The longer an adventure race, the more important mental fortitude becomes. When you’ve been lost in the woods for an hour or more in the middle of the night in a heavy rain, it’s easy to throw in the towel. But once you get through an experience like this, your confidence and pain threshold increases and each race gets easier to handle. You start to relish the pain and your ability to overcome it.

You can improve mental toughness without having to get a lot of races under your belt. One way is to periodically train at a high intensity. Not only will this strengthen you physically, but it will also improve your confidence and help you learn to “push through the pain” as athletes often say. Another method is to develop a mantra – a saying you can repeat over and over, such as “I got this” or “I love hills.” Convince yourself that you DO love hills – for the challenge they give, for the fun descent on the other side, for the way they will separate you from the pack if you climb them faster. Some athletes also incorporate visualization techniques to improve mental – as well as overall – performance.

 Training Tips (PDF: 127KB)

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