A race that pushes participants to their limits, lasts for nine days and stretches over more than 700 km, is being presented for the first time in South Africa – something that will probably never happen again.
Nearly 600 fitness fanatics from all over the world will descend on the Kouga local municipality in the Eastern Cape in October in the hope of winning the Adventure Racing world championship.
The best of the best are likely to complete this grueling race in 105 hours, or four or five days, sleeping only six to eight hours in total in the process.
“This race continues without stopping. If you can, you don’t need to sleep and just push on,” says Heidi Muller, CEO of the Adventure Racing World Series.
Muller is the co-owner of Expedition Africa, which is hosting this year’s world championship in South Africa.
The race requires participants to, among other things, ride a mountain bike for kilometers and climb mountains before reaching the finish line.
The only catch is that participants do not know what the route looks like or exactly which disciplines they will have to master in order to complete the race until a week in advance.
The world championship is presented every year in a different country, with different terrains and climates, and this determines what the route looks like.
“The country’s organizers plan the route, whether it stretches over mountains, sea or Karoo, or all these terrains, and what must be done in each leg of the race,” says Muller.
How it works
The three main disciplines that always appear in world championships are mountain biking, walking/running and rowing. Depending on the terrain of the country in question, other disciplines can be added, such as snorkeling, sailing and abseiling.
“The week before the race starts, the participants find out what they are going to do and how many times they are going to cycle or run, for example. However, they still don’t know when in the race the disciplines will be done,” says Muller.
The teams may not receive any external help from anyone, which means that a soft drink cannot even be accepted by a supporter.
“If the teams do drive past a small town and buy something for themselves, it’s totally on the hook,” says Muller.
Moreover, they can only orient themselves during the race with the help of a map. They may not use any technology to follow the route. Each individual is equipped with a tracking device to ensure that they are traceable at all times.
The teams, which consist of four amateurs, must continuously move as a team and tackle each discipline together. No man or woman may be left behind. The teams must have at least one person of the opposite gender in their team.
However, should the teams break basic rules during the race, such as not following the route as it was designed, or driving more than 50 m from each other, they will be penalized.
“For example, if teams leave their tracking devices behind, a minimum two-hour penalty is imposed,” says Muller.
“These kinds of penalties can be catastrophic for the top teams who count on every minute. In addition, the teams have to serve the punishment at the last leg of the race and see how one after the other teams pass them.”
Difficult, but not impossible
Heidi and her husband, Stephan, who is the director of the race, planned and completed the route themselves.
“Every step that the participants will take was done by us ourselves,” she says.
“There were moments when we thought it was going to be the end of us. We were soaking wet at one stage, the sun was setting, but we pushed through. All we could say was ‘thank you Lord’.”
Heidi says she and her husband later realized if they had pressed the emergency button on their tracking system, it wouldn’t have even worked.
“No one would have come to help us, because there was no signal on that part of the route,” she says.
“But that was part of the test. With the race, we now know where the dead ends are and how to ensure people’s safety.”
St. Francis is the host town of this year’s world championship and the Cape St. Francis resort will act as the host resort where all the participants will gather before the race.
However, Heidi did not want to reveal what challenges she and her husband had planned in the route.
“All I can say is that I’m almost 50 years old, and if I can do it, anyone can.”
The route stretches over 72 farmers’ private land to ensure that the participants are continuously in a controlled and safe environment.
“Safety is very important in world championships because the race lasts day and night. Teams can sleep under a bush if they are exhausted, provided it is safe enough to do so. So we searched for a long time for a part of the country where it is safe,” says Heidi.
“Due to the importance of safety, this world championship will probably be the first and last for South Africa.
“The route is indeed planned in such a way as to showcase the most beautiful of the country.”
- Read more about the upcoming Adventure Racing World Championship.