Adventure Racing evolved out of single sport enthusiasts who became bored with just one event like Running, or Mountain Biking and wanted to push the limits of Multisport training and competing. What’s different about Adventure Racing versus other Multisport events like Triathlons is that generally the events are off road. This adds an element to the event that becomes the essence of Adventure Racing – the ability of the participant to alter their route, and even game plan to adjust to the course. There can be many events linked together in the Adventure Race. For example; a course could have a hiking/trekking portion connected to a mountain bike section, connected to a paddling section, and even a rope/rappel section. On top of those events there are Orienteering challenges to navigate over the course. To ensure the Orienteering section is completed a series of checkpoints are set up and racers are required to collect a written confirmation they have made each of the checkpoints. Other events can be included as well. Recently, scooters, inline skating, rock climbing, traverses, and challenge events like balancing on makeshift floats, or carrying water to a checkpoint have been included in some races. In longer races the primary events can be repeated, or reenacted in a different terrain, and the course is done “straight though” without difference to day or night. One event that might be relatively easy in daylight, becomes very difficult at night. An example of a repeated event in a longer race might be to have one section on paddling in flat water like a lake, then a mountain bike section, a trekking section, and then another paddling section in white water or ocean water.
Adventure Racing can be viewed by the different lengths of their races. A race of 2 hours to 12 hours is generally considered a “Sprint” style race. A race of 12 hours to 24 hours is an “Adventure” style race. A 24 hour to 10 day race is considered an “Expedition” style race. The second critical element of Adventure racing is that all competitive teams are entered in mixed Teams of four, which must include both men and women, and all teammates must complete every event and finish together for one team time. This element introduces team dynamics and creativity to the team it’s self. The strongest teams understand which racer is strongest and weakest in each event and makes adjustments to compensate for this racer. For example, a female racer may not be the strongest mountain biker up hills. A fellow teammate could hook up a cord between his bike and hers to help her up the mountain. Likewise, the female racer might be the best paddler and navigator, and be placed in a boat to take advantage of this.
Recently, the sport has added solo racers, two, and three person teams in the regional races to increase the participation in the sport.
Nationally, and internationally, Adventure Racing took off in the early 1990’s. By 1995, a little known promoter, Mark Burnett, caught the Adventure Racing bug and decided to put on the Eco-Challenge in Moab, Utah and hired MTV to do the footage. This race was an Expedition style race covering approximately 350 miles and 8 days. Five person “mixed” Teams were used with two support personnel. Mixed refers to having both men and women on the team. By 1997 Teams were reduced down to four person mixed teams with two support people. At that time little was known and understood about transition points in a race. It was assumed that racers prepare for two or three days between transition points and to carry all the necessary gear and food between the transitions. Today, very rarely does an Expedition race go past 6 hours between transitions. Mark’s style of personal comments on the Racers and setting up film crews side by side with the racers evoked strong reactions from the TV audience. The audience became fascinated with the racers and quickly became hooked on their perils and misfortunes. By 1997 Mark was using the backdrop of the Eco Challenge to film his Survival Series. He repeated this same backdrop process in 2000 for the Sabah Eco Challenge. Today, this style of filming is the basis of the modern day reality shows. He followed that race with Eco-Challenges in:
British Columbia 1996
Sabah, Borneo 2000
New Zealand 2001
During these years many different Adventure Races sprung up throughout the United States and the world, as other promoters introduced their own races for participants to compete with the Eco-Challenge. Many of these races took on a regional format, pulling racers from a state or multi-state region. Estimates are in the United States alone in 2003 there were over 350 Adventure Races.
New Mexico Adventure Racing interest and participation parallels the United States. From the beginning, in New Mexico there were a few brave souls who traveled to races outside the state, since there weren’t any in New Mexico. The first Adventure Racing Team in New Mexico was called “Team New Mexico” and consisted of Carl Gable, Jan Fiala, Hugh Driscoll(captain), Ann Chernoff, Lowell Tacker, and two support people. All team members lived in New Mexico. They competed in Eco-Challenge 1995 and managed to place 21st out of 55 teams even though they DNF (did not finish). In 1996 Team New Mexico reloaded with Larry Busby, Barb Dutrow, Jimmy La Forme, Carl Gable(captain), Pat Gallegher from Seattle, and Don McClurg, who supported, entered the Eco-Challenge in British Columbia. They managed to place 14th out of 73 teams and finish the race.
In 1997 New Mexico tasted it’s first participation in an Adventure Race when the 4 Winds Adventure Race, which started in Durango, finished at the Fechin Inn in Taos. Still no Adventure Races were started and finished in New Mexico.
In 2000, a Team from Kirkland AFB entered the Borneo Eco-Challenge. They failed to finish and did not get a placing.
In 2001, Team New Mexico was remade into Team Santa Fe and they entered the Eco-Challenge in New Zealand. That team consisted of Ries Robinson, Jan Bear, Kim Bear, and Dan Moden from Phoenix. They placed 29th. At the same time Carl Gable moved from Team New Mexico to join Team REI, which included Barry Siff, Liz Caldwell, and Todd Holmes, all from Colorado. They place 31st. This race proved to be a difficult one for Carl as his feet kept bothering him throughout the race. The Team finished and his teammates all wondered how Carl got through it.
In 2002, Team Santa Fe entered the last Eco-Challenge in Fiji with Jan Bear, Kim Bear, Eric Jacobson, and Jay Shotwell. They DNF’d.
Today, Team Santa Fe continues to enter races and has a group of racers that at any given race are drafted to compete. Jan & Kim Bear, Carl Gable, and Ries Robinson continue to be very active in the sport and promotion of Adventure Racing.
Around the mid 1980’s, the City of Grants decided to host a Multisport race to commemorate the loss of a Medical Student who died while training. The Mount Taylor Quadrathalon was born and continues to this day. Even though the Quad isn’t an Adventure Race in the purist definition, it is truly a multisport race covering snowshoeing, biking, cross country skiing, and biking again. This race has some of the elements of Adventure Race, being off road, and multisport.
New Mexico benefited from an athletic Governor Gary Johnson who brought visibility to the State by competing in Triathlons as Governor and welcoming outdoor sports. Governor Johnson had a signed deal to bring the 2002 Adventure Racing World Championships to NM in 2002 but the event organizers cancelled when their sponsors pulled out.
In 2004, Deb McFarland, who in the last year, had moved to New Mexico from the Chicago area was interested in looking to join a group of beginner Adventure Racing people together for training and socializing. She didn’t find any Club or group that existed for that purpose. Having found none, she decided to form her own group. In her recruiting efforts she met Steve Prickett, who wanted to begin Adventure Racing and knew about forming Clubs. Together, Deb and Steve formed the New Mexico Adventure Racing Club in May 2018.
-by Steve Prickett