Leadership Retreats Resources

What is adventure racing? — WinShape Teams

What is Adventure Racing?

February 3, 2020
Team's Toolkit
Jessie Morales

Welcome to the sport of Adventure Racing, an international phenomenon designed to test your endurance, outdoorsmanship, and teamsmanship skills!

Here’s what you need to know about Adventure Racing:


Past, Present, and Future of Adventure Racing

Adventure Racing has been around since 1989 and was invented to be reminiscent of the world exploration era.

Since then, Adventure Racing has evolved to become one of the toughest endurance sports in the world. It is notoriously addictive in nature for athletes who enjoy team competition, diversity, and adventure.

As more and more athletes are drawn to the sport, Adventure Racing will continue to grow in popularity in the coming years.


What is Adventure Racing, Exactly?


Adventure Racing is a unique multi-disciplinary team sport, which may include a combination of running, biking, hiking, kayaking, rafting, climbing, etc. across varying wilderness terrain.

Racers must traverse through diverse environments, cultures, and weather climates as they overcome physical, mental, and relational challenges.

Adventure Racing courses vary in design and are unmarked, requiring teams to navigate their own way from checkpoint to checkpoint.

Each race also varies in distance and length, with some races covering 40 miles in 24 hours or 100 miles in 2 days.

Other races may be much longer, such as the 2018 Adventure Racing World Championships, which took place on Réunion Island and stretched over 250 miles, taking some teams 7-8 days to finish. Learn more about the Adventure Racing World Series → 

While though competitors may choose if and when to rest, teams often race continuously, day and night, forcing participants to persevere through fatigue with little-to-no sleep.

Adventure Racers Walking By A Mountain
Adventure Racers Biking on a Road
Adventure Racers Kayaking Down a River

The Teamsmanship Mentality


At its core, Adventure Racing emphasizes team achievement over individual achievement. In fact, the rules of engagement make it impossible to separate yourself from the pack, quite literally.

Teams must race together and finish together as a unit. The rules require teammates to remain in close proximity with each other throughout the entirety of the race; otherwise, a team could be disqualified if one team member drifts too far from the rest or if they drop out.

To be a successful Adventure Racing team, you must prioritize teamwork above all else.

New Zealand’s most successful Adventure Racing Team, captained by Nathan Fa’avae, has won the World Championships six (6) times within the last 7 years. They exemplify what a winning teamsmanship mentality looks like.


Aerial view of the coast

Curious About What A Team-First Approach Looks Like?

In our documentary, For The Team, we reveal how Team Avaya’s teamsmanship led to winning success.

Adventure Racing Team Structure & Roles


Adventure Racing teams are made up of four (4) people with at least one male and one female racer.

Each racer is given a unique role to help the team succeed. Roles may vary, though teams almost always designate a lead Navigator and a Captain.

A Navigator determines the route. Navigators are proficient in reading maps, using a compass, and leading their team through unmarked terrains to reach destination checkpoints without technological assistance (i.e. GPS instruments).

A Captain leads the team’s racing strategy. Captains help make decisions, set the racing pace, determine where and when to rest, leverage the strengths and weaknesses of their team, etc.

Other roles may include a Secondary Navigator, or a Packhorse; someone who is physically stronger than the rest, capable of carrying additional backpacks, and willing to pull teammates on a tow rope.


The Purpose of Adventure Racing


Believe it or not, the purpose of Adventure Racing is not always to be the first to cross the finish line.

Rusty Chadwick, Teaming Expert and Assistant Director of WinShape Teams, refers to Adventure Racing as, “A small group of people who work together in a difficult environment to pursue a common goal.”

However, that common goal looks different for every team. For Fa’avae and his accomplished team, winning is always on the table; however, simply doing their best is the common goal.


Obviously, if you win the race, the celebrations are more than if you don’t win. But what we really want to do is cross the finish line and know that we have raced to the best of our ability.
If we can do that, we’ll be happy.

Nathan Fa’avae, Team Captain of New Zealand’s Adventure Racing Team


Novice teams can often compete on the same course as professional teams because the desired goal is not to win, but rather to challenge themselves and finish together.

This fact alone differentiates Adventure Racing from most other sports.

Adventure Racers Boat on a River

Want to Learn More About Adventure Racing?

Get an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look into the underlying mechanics of teamsmanship from the 6x World Championship Adventure Racing Team.