The sun just crested the horizon. I fastened my bike helmet, double knotted my running shoes and filled my water bottle. My racing partner and I had 20 minutes to hover over our laminated map, plotting our course to hit all required checkpoints in the next four hours. What we’d encounter at those checkpoints was unknown, but that was the allure and a large part of the reason I traveled three time zones to participate in the Urban Adventure Games.
Ranging from a few hours to a few weeks, athletic competitions are one of many reasons to pack a bag and hit the road. If navigating unknown territory, breaking into a sweat and undertaking physically demanding activities is your idea of a good vacation, get your race on at one of these competitions.
Urban Adventure Games – South Bend, Indiana
Jump into adventure travel at this one-day Urban Adventure Games event that takes place on the streets of South Bend and across the campus of Notre Dame. Two-person teams find out the morning of the race where they must go and what they must do to complete the race within the allotted four-hour race period.
Some challenges—such as counting seats in an auditorium and finishing a memory puzzle—are mind games while others—such as stand-up paddle boarding across a river and carrying weights across a parking lot—require physical prowess. There are four competition levels—family/junior, open and elite—each of which has more checkpoints (often more challenging) than the bracket below it. Even though it’s only four hours long, don’t be deceived into thinking that completing this race is simple.
Mongol Rally – England to Mongolia
Created by The Adventurists, the Mongol Rally is a road race—which spans two continents—and is not for the faint of heart. Teams of varying sizes must purchase a car and drive from England to Mongolia, but how they get there is entirely up to them. They drive nearly 10,000 miles, crossing three deserts and five mountain ranges along the way, but this is no simple road trip.
Due to its complexity, teams must start planning months and even years in advance to secure visas, study maps and plan a strategy to reach the end of the road. Flat tires, river crossings, language barriers, uncharted territory and sleepless nights are among the many challenges racers face, though those who make it to the end say there is no adventure quite like the Mongol Rally. It’s worth noting that one of the pivotal points of the race is to leave an altruistic footprint. Every team must raise £500 for their own chosen charity and £500 for the race’s official charity.
Read about things to do in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Patagonian Expedition Race – Chile
The Patagonian Expedition Race is a ten-day endurance competition that attracts only about 20 coed four-person teams each year, and fewer than half finish the race. Teams must traverse unforgiving terrain as they sea kayak, mountain bike, trek and orienteer using maps and compasses through Chilean Patagonia.
It’s every team for itself as they push through challenging tasks while supporting themselves in extreme conditions. It is entirely possible not to see anyone else for several days at a time, and getting lost or hurt is very possible. Nonetheless this adventure race is one of bragging rights, and those who finish it successfully are able to say they’ve intimately explored a truly wild corner of the globe.
Rickshaw Run – India
Another brainchild of The Adventurists, the Rickshaw Run is a quirky 3,500-kilometer challenge through India that must be completed in a seven-horsepower rickshaw, which is a small three-wheeled vehicle found on every street corner in the country. However, what works in the city does not necessarily run well in the countryside, as teams discover in this two-week race.
There is no set route and every team is on its own to complete the uncharted course, but the fun is in the challenge… and knowing that all that roughing it goes toward a good cause. Every team is asked to help raise money for charity, and the Rickshaw Run has brought in nearly £1 million over the course of its lifetime.
Tough Mudder – Various locations
Now coming to a destination near you, the Tough Mudder is a one-day challenge with competitions popping up all over the world. From North America to various locations in Europe, South Africa and Australia, the Tough Mudder has bred a band of competitive racers across the globe. It was designed by British Special Forces, and the tasks on the course are reminiscent of what one might see in basic training.
Ranging from ten to twelve miles, these courses require racers to endure swims through icy water, cliff jumps, high wall climbs, mud crawls, greased monkey bars and fields of live electrical wires. Though it is a hardcore, individual challenge, Tough Mudder makes it very clear that teamwork and camaraderie are necessary for its success. As such, everyone must acknowledge that this is not a race but a challenge, and they are expected to help others complete the course.
Race2Adventure – Central America
Held in a different Central American country each year, Race2Adventure is an adventure race combined with a desire to travel. Every morning of this eight-day competition begins with a run ranging from five to ten kilometers, but every afternoon accounts for downtime and a need to enjoy the natural surroundings.
Some days racers may be cliff jumping, zip lining or river rafting. On other days they might indulge in a bit of sightseeing. Either way, everyone involved gets a good workout while also exploring the area surrounding them. The 2013 Race2Adventure, being held in Panama, is in its final year, but registration is still open for those who would like to participate.
- JoAnna Haugen