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Discussion: Geographic analysis of AR in North America

in: Adventure Racing; General

Oct 31, 2016 2:39 PM # 
Before we get to caught up with watching the dots move across the map in Australia, I thought the community here would enjoy this geographic analysis I did of ARs across North America. I used all the ARs logged in AdventureRaceHub to build a heat map and measure the quantity of ARs by state/province.
Oct 31, 2016 3:19 PM # 
Looks great thank you for all you do. I was a little concerned with the data but after a deeper look it looks pretty accurate form the spot check I did. The Graph that threw me was races per year on the map. It looks like 2015 is plotted over 2016.
Nov 3, 2016 9:08 PM # 
Carbon's Offset:
Interesting, thanks for pulling this together. The absence of races in the Canadian Rocky Mountains and interior British Columbia is both true and saddening. Such great terrain for races, there have been some great ones but not anymore.
Nov 3, 2016 9:13 PM # 
Carbon's Offset:
Montana doesn't have a race? Again, more great terrain...
Jan 3, 2017 7:42 PM # 
AR Hub has posted a "productivity analysis" of adventure races held in North America in 2016. Interesting stuff although Cy admits there are weaknesses in an analysis of this type. Congrats to our own Abiperk and Broots on Rootstock Racing winning the Most Improved Award by going from 0 to 6 races in one year!
Jan 3, 2017 9:24 PM # 
Thanks, Bash! And Cy, thanks for what you've done here. We really appreciate the analysis, as both racers and race directors.
Jan 4, 2017 3:36 AM # 
my pleasure! Thanks for your hardwork!
Jan 7, 2017 12:55 AM # 
Seems like more adventure races than you'd expect in 2015, 16. What is their criteria for "adventure race"? Multisport race involving navigation? or orienteering? How many of these are rogaine/hit CPs in any order style? How many are point to point mandatory CP order? Under 12hr, 24hr, and >24hr? That would be interesting. Number of events is less interesting than events with >20 teams, 40 teams, 100 teams, etc., then compare to NZ, France, Sweden or Brazil. In the meantime, it's useful to look at the outliers: FL and MI. People talk of the "glory days" of AR, but back in the mid-late 90s there were not many 24hr+ races outside Odyssey series, Canadian series, Fogdog, etc. Most of the participant action was HiTech/Balance bar where 100-300 TEAMS was common. Now-adays the same demographic does CrossFit, and/or Spartan. Obstacle Racing a few years ago was already bigger than Marathon running racing in the USA. Pulling obstacle racers into AR is still the greatest opportunity/market segment for race directors.
1% of obstacle racers is greater than 100%, maybe close to 1000% of XTERRA racers in the USA for example.
Jan 7, 2017 4:53 AM # 
I think this is all terrific discussion, I truly do! The reality is so complicated as various comments on this site and facebook have suggested. As a race director myself, and one for one of the highlighted organizations in the article in question, I agree that having more detailed data is useful.

I will be the first to admit, that I think the article was extremely broad in its scope. At Rootstock, for example, no, we did not offer seven races that were all traditional adventure races in that we didn't offer races with foot, bike, paddle, and nav. That said, we didn't market them as adventure races.

We DID market our races and company mission as intending to help grow the sport of adventure racing by offering more accessible events that were more time, gear, and logistical friendly.

For further study and consideration, I think it would be wise to consider how best to examine races being promoted. I think it would be wise to define "adventure race" which I agree should be the full four core disciplines (foot, bike, paddle, navigation). But I also have come to feel that the actual growth of the sport is most successful with organizations like Michigan Adventure Racing or Krank Events. These RDs are acknowledging that the future and growth of the sport hinges on more accessible, less expensive and intensive events that get new blood into the sport. While I wish someone was directing traditional ARs drawing 400 racers on a regular basis, the reality is, no one is. The races doing so are these out-of-the-box events that make AR more accessible even if they are not necessarily ARs by the book.

I therefore would argue that future articles differentiate between events that are traditional adventure races but also those that are geared toward getting people into the sport, including both such races since I think both are integral to the health and future of the sport.

This argument has been waged many times: I'm the first to admit that a race without, for example, paddling is not a traditional adventure race. BUT I have come to appreciate that paddling is a barrier to many when it comes to bringing in more novice racers. I think the same can be said for biking from some of our interactions with potential racers at some of our races. And I think navigation is a turn-off to many others.

Now, of course, dumbing down all events to cater to people who don't value the full scope of AR is a poor decision in regards to the heart and soul of the sport, but I also think refusing to acknowledge that we need to adapt as a community to foster the growth of the sport is a folly.

So, ultimately I think we should break down future studies into traditional ARs but also ventures from organizations like Michigan or Krank that clearly are succeeding at getting people through the door where traditional ARs are often not succeeding.

Finally, I think the #1 question is this: what works for the racers? I don't think it's about duration or location. I think it's about course design and how racers feel when they walk away and reflect back on the experience. A carefully designed poll of racers asking for feedback on satisfaction would be interesting to see. I think to make this sort of endeavor worthwhile however, it would have to be closely controlled: most racers only attend events from one or two organizations, and feedback would not be as insightful as from people who have experienced multiple RDs.

I think the ultimate goal of these sorts of studies must be holistic in nature. It is very hard to measure what works and doesn't in this sport, especially when comparing different organizations, RDs, venues, etc. As an RD whose company was highlighted in this article, I am both humbled but also uncomfortable withthe findings: the reality is, most of our races were not traditional ARs, but I also know that we worked very hard to provide the best events we could with the goal of fostering the sport of AR, trying to think outside the box a bit along the way.

A successful study or series of studies on the sport of adventure race, in my opinion, will best service the AR community by taking all of the various comments and questions posed into consideration.

I do not say any of this to criticize the author of the focal piece. I think it was a unique effort and attempt to inspire questions and future consideration, and I am thrilled that someone took the effort to walk down this path. I believe there is significant potential to continue this endeavor, and I am excited to see if arhub or anyone else can take this further. Figuring out how to balance these questions (traditional ARs vs. non-traditional but relevant races; racer satisfaction; duration of events; race value, etc.) is nearly impossible in my mind considering the fact that our sport prides itself on the fact that every event is truly unique with no standardization.

Still, I think the effort worthwhile, and I tip my cap to arhub for starting this discussion.
Jan 9, 2017 7:56 PM # 
great notes, thanks, broots. A few responses and follow up questions

1) For my site, I define an adventure race as anything that's multisport and involves navigation. You can check my FAQ for greater details. I let a few races onto the calendar that aren't ARs, but I have a flag in all of the events that distinguish ARs from non-ARs. I tend to let a few AR-ish events onto the calendar because they're usually run by AR organizations, and figure it just provides additional broadcasting of events ran by folks who are helping AR. Bottom line, it's easy to distinguish what on my calendar is an adventure race and what isn't

2) Not sure what's meant by a "traditional" AR. I feel like this could open a can of worms, though, as there's no definition I'm aware of. I'm 100% in favor of collecting additional data points, so I'm all ears if you think there's a way to easily classify what traditional ARs must have in order to qualify.

3) You rightly identify the challenges to making these insights more useful - data. It's theoretically possible that will all the existing data out there that we could know who the specific individual who does the most adventure racing in a year is, or how much an average adventure racer spends in registration fees, or what length ARs get the least number of participants. All these answers are there for the taking, it's just a matter of collecting and analyzing. Before collection and analysis can be conducted, though, we need more buy-in. We need a centralized repository for all of these, and it needs to be pretty painless, otherwise folks are going to do it. RDs need to easily enter their race data and email in their race results and that's it, the rest is handled. Which means we need a governing body. Or I need to quit my job and do this full-time....

In the short term, I'm launching a new program through my site that will allow RDs to submit their races instead of me having to go look through 100+ websites for them. I think the calendar has proven a success and provided a value to the community, and with help from RDs, I'll have more time to work on doing other activities to help the sport, like the analysis we're discussing.

If nothing else, I hope these articles I produce encourage the community that there's a TON of low-hanging fruit that can be picked if we join forces and support each other.
Jan 9, 2017 8:09 PM # 
Fully on board, Cy. Let me know how I can help.
Jan 9, 2017 9:23 PM # 
arhub, thanks for the further info and Rootstock, for one, will support your endeavors however we can!

To quickly address the question raised in points one/two:
My feeling about defining AR: I would say that AR traditionally is defined as including the three key elements of: foot, bike, paddle PLUS navigation. Teams, of course, as well.

I know on facebook some have pointed out that races you cited aren't "ARs", and I suspect they are going by the same standards. As I noted, on one level, I do agree. I think a lot of promoters are offering more accessible events that might include two of the three core disciplines. Sometimes this is related to cost, sometimes it's to make the event more friendly. Those of us offering shorter events, say in the 2-3 hour range might also choose to ditch a discipline (probably paddling first) to get people in the door and to keep costs low since boat rentals often force RDs to charge more money or arrange more logistics that might be counterproductive for a very short event.

I would bet anything that purists would stand by the three+nav definition of an AR. Hell, many such folks can't tolerate the idea of ARs having optional CPs, and some don't want to call anything an AR if it's not 48 hours or longer.

This said, one anecdote: we offered a bike event this year. We actually never called it an AR, but we had some new racers come who absolutely said it was. We even tried to quietly explain that this was AR inspired but not a true AR. Didn't matter, they loved it and were super excited about more events. We had the same with a group of 25 Westpoint grads at a foot only event. Again, we never called this event an AR, but in fostering the sport in non-traditional ways, I'm sure we hooked some people in that would not have otherwise come out.

I don't think you will ever get all to agree (again, just search these threads for the debates on rogaine style vs. linear; impossible to please all), hence I think it's up to you to clearly define what you are calling an AR in your studies. I personally would probably vote for clarifying between traditional ARs (events that offer all the core disciplines) and then AR-related events that aim to foster the sport.

It sounds like you have done this, but I can't say I saw this myself, and hence I was feeling a bit sheepish for Rootstock's sake. We offered all sorts of adventurous races in 2016 with the specific aim to help interest in the sport, but none really fit the traditional definition!

Regardless, keep up the great work!
Jan 10, 2017 3:34 AM # 
you know what I think we really need? A census. An open-source, anonymous census that we promote all year long at every race that will include in their registration, website, email newsletter, etc. And if we can get some donations to raffle off as part of the effort to incentivize people to fill it out, all the better. To actually go from anecdotal evidence to actual normalized industry-wide knowledge. Then we could put all this tradition/non-tradition and the 100 other arguments that we all get into behind us because we'd have indisputable evidence of what the entire AR community is actually DOING with their money and time.
Jan 10, 2017 4:10 AM # 
a lot of promoters are offering more accessible events that might include two of the three core disciplines. Sometimes this is related to cost, sometimes it's to make the event more friendly.

"Traditional" AR can be defined in so many ways that there isn't even a single way to be a purist! Does it count if teams do all three "core" disciplines but the race includes all-male and all-female teams?

Regarding Broots' quote above, some purists say an AR has to be like a true expedition - point-to-point. If so, a "traditional" AR might not include all three of those disciplines because it would be contrived to include a particular activity on that journey. Maybe there's no water worth paddling and the best way to move forward is bike + trek. Or maybe there are no trails so trekking and paddling are the only activities that make sense. Is that so bad? It opens up different areas for racing and provides a legitimate adventure.

One could also argue that Ropes were a core discipline in traditional AR but they too often involved a contrived "climb to the top and rappel down after waiting in line" section, and many of us are glad to do them less often now. So why should every AR have to include the other three disciplines? What about winter AR?

There are race formats I don't like but I try to remember that the key word is "adventure". While I feel strongly about safety, fairness and compliance with rules regardless of race format, I accept that adventure takes many forms and we should celebrate variety.
Jan 11, 2017 2:09 PM # 
+1000 Bash. "adventure takes many forms and we should celebrate variety" is I think one of the least appreciated but greatest strengths of our community. Very little is the same and RDs actively attempt to alter courses every year to keep things fresh. The risk of attempting to standardize our sport is we loose that kind of color and variety. You may enjoy this article with Kyle Bondo, where we talked about this subject (amongst others):

This discussion thread is closed.