While getting the kit together for a six-day Eco Challenge can be as tough as the race itself, one- and two-day races are perfect for the weekend warrior who dimly remembers owning a bike to go to school on. While international-level teams will be turning up with carbon-fibre kayak paddles and bikes that cost more than their cars, almost all you really need is a compass, running shoes, a mountain bike of some description, and a bike helmet.
Got that? Then youre an adventure racer. There are a couple of other bits and bobs that might be on the compulsory list, and some cunning buys to make your race experience smoother were going to give you a sneak insight into all of them.
The tow system
Dont laugh a tow system helps to equalise the effort that you and your team (or partner) put in. Take a length of 5mm bungee cord, loop it round the seatpost, thread it though a length of thin electrical tubing or hose, and zip-tie the tubing to your saddle and seatpost. Make a loop in the other end for the towed rider to hold in their fingers (on the handlebar!) or to loop on and off a bracket on the bar. (NB Experiment before the race!)
Theyre not essential, but padded bike mitts make biking a lot more comfortable. You could wear them throughout the race to save time. We like Specialized BG Pro Mitts (£20), which have a strategically-placed anti-numbness pad.
Do short races in a single pair of shorts, if you can. And believe us, its more comfortable to run in bike shorts (such as the Concurve Lycra Cycling Shorts, £38) than bike in running shorts. If bike-short padding is too cumbersome for you, consider more lightly padded triathlon bike shorts.
The shoes and socks
Go for wool and nylon socks (eg Hilly Mono-Skin Off-Road and Running Bear Bare Feet Socks), because they stay warm when wet, and pick shoes that you can run in and have no doubts about. Except in the longest races, most racers go for trail shoes or fell shoes, rather than heavier 'adventure' models.
Compulsory at all races. Simple.
You can ride faster when youre not blinded by mud. Clear lenses dont look as cool as dark ones, but they let you ride through shady woods more confidently. Oakley Pro M-Frames (£95-£119) are the benchmark, but whichever brand you choose, get lenses that almost touch your cheeks. This will stop mud getting under them.
A long-sleeved zip-necked wicking top is a good adventure staple dry and warm in cool weather; dry and cool in warm weather. For example, the El Cap Shirt from The North Face (£45); its durable and great for all but the hottest days.
The bike computer
Very handy for bike navigation, as estimating distance is a nightmare on wheels. Pick one thats easy to reset on the move, for when you need to measure the 400 metres to the next turn.
The map board
Home-made from plywood or estate-agents boards, or bought from a company such as Polaris (their neat MapTrap is £15), a map board means you dont have to keep fishing your map from a pocket. That will save a ton of time, believe us.
Whether you use clipless pedals or straps depends on your shoe strategy! If youre riding in trainers, PowerGrips (£20) are great. Theyre better than normal toe straps, and if youre in a race where you want to use bike shoes and trainers on the bike in different stages, take a tip from Britainss top team and use dual-sided pedals clipless pedals on one side, Powergrips on the other.
Good times can be had by all on mountain bikes that cost anywhere from £200 to £2200. The average price at short races is £600-£800. In 2002, we've been racing with a particularly sweet Specialized Stumpjumper Comp (£1299), which would make you about as competitive as youd ever need to be.
Youll be racing anywhere from four hours non-stop to 14 or more over two days, so neglect fuel at your peril. Your body can process about 60-70g of carbohydrate an hour, so use that as a rule of thumb. Thats about three gels or a litre of sports drink at six per cent solution. Mid-race treats are great, but avoid too much fat its hard to digest.
Consider a carbo/protein recovery drink at transitions in long races; itll help your muscles survive. Theyre a bit heavy to drink before a run, but fine before a bike or kayak leg. In two-day races with a sleep break in the middle (eg ACE Race two-dayers), dont forget to have a big, carbo-rich supper to refuel.
How you carry your drinks depends on how long the stages are and what other kit you need to take. A small rucksack such as the Lowe Alpine Moab (£40) is a good all-rounder for short races, especially as it comes with a drinks bladder. Otherwise, a bumbag with drinks-bottle pockets works fine. One tip: mix your drinks in advance, and leave them in the transition area in either five-litre mineral water bottles, or drinks bladders and/or water bottles.
Most races have a compulsory kit list. These demand anything from a compass, a whistle and a spare energy bar to a full set of waterproofs, an emergency blanket, a team medical kit and bike tools.
Take an overhead projector pen or a chinagraph pencil to mark up your map, and a waterproof map case or some self-adhesive laminate if youre not given a laminated map. Take a few tough elastic bands to loop your control card to your wrist or to strap your control description sheet to your forearm.
You may also need lights. If theyre a compulsory item but youre unlikely to use them much, go lightweight with something like the tiny LED Petzl Zipka (£30). (A halogen Petzl Duo (£40) is a good next step.) For biking, a serious system like the Lumicycle NIMH 2000 system (£150) makes a huge difference to your confidence (and you could feasibly run with it, carrying the battery in a pack). But dont worry: you can get round with a normal, half-decent bike light, too.