Nationally syndicated columnist Stephen Regenold, better known by his pseudonym The Gear Junkie, wrote an interesting piece today entitled An Open Letter To: Adventure Race Directors, in which he offers up some advice to the organizers of the sport. The article is filled with a number of suggestions on how to improve adventure racing and make it more accessible to both athletes and the general public, something the sport has struggled with for some time.
Stephen has quite of bit of experience both covering and competing in adventurer races, and he begins the article sharing some insights that he has garnered while at those events. He notes that he loves the sport immensely, but also sees flaws in what he describes as “a sport that has the potential to be the greatest endurance game in the world!” So, with that in mind, he offers up 15 suggestions for race directors who want to improve the adventure racing as a whole.
Amongst his suggestions is a move away from calling it “adventure racing” and simply going with the acronym “AR” instead. He feels it conveys the same meaning, without the “horrible and dorky name” that he seems embarrassed to tell people about. Which of course begs the question, what would you tell people when they ask “What does ‘AR’ stand for?”
The next suggestion is to allow the use of a GPS device, something that is typically a no-no in the sport that puts so much value on good navigation. Stephen dismisses that rule with a casual “who cares?” but clearly he wasn’t on the receiving end of the outraged e-mails that came my way when Primal Quest announced that a GPS would be mandatory gear for the race in Montana back in 2008. That event was held in June, but late snows covered many of the trails and passes, so we made the decision to require each team to carry a GPS for emergency purposes. Within minutes of sending an e-mail alerting the teams of the rules change we were inundated with responses urging us to reconsider, or condemning us to eternal damnation for even suggesting the use of a GPS. The point is, a lot of hardcore adventure racers do indeed care about this topic.
Other recommendations include making the sport simpler (something that it has long struggled with), doing away with UTM point mapping, and including true whitewater sections to make the paddling easier. That one came up in Montana as well, as all of that snow that set of the GPS controversy actually ended up melting, causing Class III rapids to swell to Class V+ in just a few days time. A lot of the teams were quickly overwhelmed, and at one point, our SAR teams were conducting no less than five water rescues at one time. Balancing safety and challenge is a tough issue for race directors to deal with.
All in all, I think this open letter makes some good suggestions, but some of those ideas will be tough to implement. In this economic climate, adventure racing is suffering mightily as the sport is having a challenging time picking up sponsors, which has caused a number of races, including PQ, to take some time off. Perhaps this is as good a time as any to implement these ideas and make the sport easier to understand and to get into. AR is still an amazingly fun and dramatic sport to compete in and follow, but it is still continuing to evolve as well.