Adventure racing in Bend


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Adventure racing in Bend

A haven for endurance enthusiasts

Imagine mountain biking on miles of sweeping trails, paddling along the Deschutes River, and hiking through high desert landscapes, all while honing your navigation skills alongside a team of fellow explorers. Welcome to adventure racing in Bend!

Adventure racing, a dynamic multisport discipline blending off-road exploration with navigation challenges, demands diverse skills. It’s like a scavenger hunt with a timer. The course remains undisclosed until race time, and participants must then navigate to numerous checkpoints scattered across the terrain within a set time limit.

Trekking during an adventure race in Bend, OR
Photos courtesy of Bend Racing

Bend is renowned for its fantastic natural training grounds and unmarked wilderness courses. It’s a gateway to activities like whitewater and flatwater paddling, climbing, trail running, mountaineering, mountain biking, and skiing. 

Are you curious about this niche sport and want to participate? Bend Racing, a local organization, brings a range of adventure races and events to Central Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. They host races, annual camps, trainings, and skill-building clinics designed to welcome newcomers. In 2018, they launched a seven-day event, Expedition Oregon: America’s Toughest Race, as part of the Adventure Racing World Series. 2024 will be the 5th edition of the event. They host several shorter events, from 2 to 30 hours, in the US national and world regional circuits. These events are accessible to beginners new to the sport.

So grab your map, compass, and adventurous spirit, and let’s embark on a journey of wilderness exploration!

Pro Tip

Practice Leave No Trace principles during your race. Minimize waste, stay on designated routes, respect wildlife, and carry out all trash. Choose biodegradable products and avoid altering the terrain. By doing this, you’ll help keep the terrain intact for future racers and support ongoing sustainability for everyone’s enjoyment.

What is adventure racing?

The unique sport of adventure racing offers a raw immersion into the outdoors and the challenges it presents. It requires the endurance and grit of ultramarathons and the multi-discipline skill of triathlons. It combines the intensity of obstacle racing and the problem-solving of wilderness survival.

All adventure races require teams to navigate with a map and compass and stick together, working as a team. In fact, GPS is not allowed. In the smaller scale races, teams can consist of 1 to 4 people. On the world stage, organizers require four-person co-ed teams. And this is no relay race! Teammates stay together the whole time. They do whatever it takes (literally pushing and pulling each other sometimes) to cross the finish line.

The concept is the same no matter the distance — teams find checkpoints along their route. Unlike running races or triathlons, the route isn’t marked out. Only the checkpoints are set, and teams can make their way between them any way they want.

Typically, adventure races are divided into several legs. Between each, teams enter a transition area where they can change clothes, refill food and water, and drop gear. 

Kayaking in an adventure race near Bend, OR

What are the expedition lengths?

Adventure races come in various lengths, the shortest being around 2 hours (10 – 15 total miles), and extending to durations of 6, 8, 12, 24, 30, and up to 48 hours. If the race is  longer than 48 hours, it’s considered an Expedition Race. These multi-day events can last from 72 hours to 10 days. The U.S. hosts a 30-hour National Championship race annually, rotating between states each year.

Mileage varies across races. Beginner teams may skip certain checkpoints, while experienced racers can collect “Pro” Points. 

Who can participate in an adventure race?

While the average participant is 36 and male, anyone over the age of 18 can find success and fulfillment in adventure racing because success requires far more than physical fitness; it demands mental strength, endurance, adaptability, and effective communication.

Peak performance often comes after age 45, underlining the sport’s emphasis on experience and strategic thinking. Basic physical recommendations include running 3 miles, biking 12 miles, and swimming or paddling 500 meters. Also, navigating with a compass and map under stress is essential.

However, there are also many beginner-level races as well as family races out there. These just require you to show up ready for learning and adventure! 

Cycling at night as part of an adventure race near Bend, OR

How do I train for an adventure race? 

Training for an adventure race is the fun part! Unlike the rigorous training programs for triathlons and ultrarunning, adventure racing requires a less intense regimen. It does, however, help to have a good “base” under your belt. If you are coming from the couch, start getting out every day to hike, bike, run, paddle, or ski – if you can.  

Next, go out on longer hikes and bike rides with your friends to see where your breaking point is, both mentally and physically. For example, knowing when your feet start to hurt and when you get “hangry” is good to know in advance to see how you react to these very common breakdowns. 

However, there is also the method of “jumping in and figuring it out along the way.” If you already have a good fitness base, a great way to start is to sign up for a race, show up on the start line, and see what happens. You’ll undoubtedly make mistakes, but you’ll learn a lot, have loads of fun, and be ready for more next year.

Navigating across public land during an adventure race in Bend, OR

How do I build a team? 

Building a team takes time. It took Team Bend Racing ten years to get a solid foundation of athletes. Now, they have a roster of 13-14 athletes, many living right here in Bend! Find people who like to go out on adventures, put together a team, and sign up for a race; or attend a training camp or orienting event where you will meet folks who are also interested in adventure racing. 

The adventure racing community is close and tight-knit but remains welcoming and dynamic. This means team members may occasionally race with other teams.

With adventure racing growing at a fast pace, there are more and more teammate-finder groups on social media. Athletes can also contact the race directors and ask if any teams need a 3rd or 4th. People get injured, and life commitments come up, so there is always a high percentage of teams looking to find someone.

What are the different roles?

There are numerous roles within a team. The navigator leads the team to different checkpoints (CPs) using maps. In many four-person teams, there are two navigators who alternate to stay fresh. The Team Captain oversees the whole race and course; they also make the final decisions when there is a choice in the route.

Some teams include a “caretaker” role, the person ensuring the rest of the team eats, drinks, and is well-cared for. Some teams also have a “stoker” and a “mule”. The stoker is in charge of the team’s pace and is constantly checking in and seeing if they can go a bit faster. The mule is the one who can carry additional weight. These roles are fluid and can change throughout longer races, especially Expedition Races.

Beginner adventure race near Bend, OR

How can I get involved?

Besides racing, there are several ways to get involved. Volunteering gives people a great vantage point about what goes into the sport from the back to the front end. People can assist with tasks like checking teams at transition areas, handling gear, and overseeing rope and paddling sections. They also help set up the start and finish lines in stunning remote locations.

Volunteering also gives you a great opportunity to watch and learn how other teams race. In adventure racing, there’s always a job to do! Research local races and contact the director; chances are, they’ll have a fun job for you.

Bend’s unique landscape and vibrant community make it a fantastic place for training and participating in adventure racing. Catering to both veterans and beginners, the area boasts diverse terrains and ample resources for solid training and competition. Inspired by Team Bend Racing’s success and abundant training opportunities, Bend is a fantastic place for those looking to push their limits, learn from the best, or simply enjoy the great outdoors.