Welcome to the best sport in the world! Adventure Racing can be a pretty complex sport, and it can be quite daunting. We've been racing for a long time, and have been giving advice to many teams. When we were first starting, the most common piece of advice we heard was "go fast, take chances". It took us a decade or so, but we finally figured out that both of those are pretty bad advice on their own, and they're even worse taken together. Here's our list of do's and don'ts that we think will help folks get started.
Do: Just go race your first race. Don't over-think it, just find a race close by, take the mandatory gear and some friends who are keen, and try it out. It's usually required gear, but even if it's not, make sure you have a phone (or watch) with local maps saved so you can make it back to the finish line in case you get extremely lost and run out of time. On your first race, focus on having fun with your team and getting a feel for it.
Don't: Get to the finish line after the hard cutoff. Race directors care about you! If you aren't there by the cut-off, it's easy to assume something bad has happened. Do not stress them out, and set a time before cutoff where you open up your phone and just get back and get a high-five and a thanks-for-not-making-me-go-get-you. You can also call the RD and let them know you're having an epic!
Do: Embrace failure. In every way. Some adventure racer (quite possibly me) has likely failed worse than you, with worse consequences - ask around! If not, you now have a very special story, which will get retold with awe until someone else takes your "worst screw-up" spot. Even if you make the same mistake over and over again, as long as you keep trying long enough to make it to the other side, all of those mistakes were worth it. I nearly quit AR after ~10 years of making the same mistake over and over, and I'm so grateful I didn't (more on this later). By celebrating and reframing failure as a learning opportunity, it's much easier to stay motivated and loving the sport. Learning is such a huge part of good decision-making, and therefore, a huge part of AR.
Don't: Give up. The one exception to the "failure is great" attitude is dropping out of a race. Make the race director pull you off the course. If it's physically possible to continue, do so, especially early in your racing career. Unless there's a serious medical or mechanical, just keep marching until the bitter end with as many teammates as can. At the top of the pack, you never know who might drop out or make a bad decision - it ain't over 'till it's over. At the back of the pack, you want to build the habit of overcoming obstacles. There's only one way to get experience making decisions when things are falling apart. This is the most powerful time of growth, do not waste the opportunity to learn by saying "well, I should have trained more, I'll do that next time". No. You may need more training to accomplish your eventual goal, but your current goal is to cross the line under your own power, skipping as many checkpoints as you have to!
Do: Slow is smooth, smooth is fast. Making good decisions is much more important than traveling fast - walking in the right direction is so much faster than running in the wrong one. Until you're confidently making great decisions at a slow pace, do not speed up. We spent years running fast and hoping to get a lucky break in terms of decision making. Bad race after bad race, only occasionally getting really lucky and stringing together a great race, and then using that lucky draw to rationalize the whole thing. This is not the way. I nearly quit racing because I couldn't learn this lesson. Slow down, make great calls, and quit blaming bad luck.
Don't: Blame your teammates. Blame has no place during a race. Even if someone did actually screw up badly, blaming them isn't going to fix it. You're strung out, sleep deprived, and near your limits - if you're feeling blamey, you're not going to nail a hard conversation about accountability. Now's a great time to name your feelings to yourself (e.g. "I'm feeling angry right now") and remind yourself what you can do to help more in the future ("I can be more proactive with keeping the team on the nutrition plan"). With practice, you can have hard conversations during a race, but blame is never productive.
Do: Understand input goals and output goals. Output goals are things you want to happen, and input goals are how you're going to achieve them. You usually have less control over output goals, and more control over input goals. This distinction is super important for races because most people enter races with clear output goals, and vague input goals. A common example is "our goal is to podium", and input goals of "we're going to go fast!". This can work sometimes, but it'll probably be more accidental than purposeful. Take control as a team, and set clear input goals. Depending on where you're at, these can be wildly different, but "keep heart rate below 145, look at the compass every time we look at the map, drink every 15 minutes, and eat every 30 minutes" are vastly more useful than "let's go fast".
Don't: Be afraid to ask for help! Both on your own team, and in between teams. Adventure racing is one of the most friendly, welcoming sports on the planet. Before, during and after the race, adventure racers are some the most helpful folks I've ever met. Bonking? Ask your team for help. Missing gear? Ask the team next door in your hotel. Need advice? Ask on AR Discussion Group. Fucked up your bike on course? Ask the transition staff if they can help. If you ask for help, you'll probably get it. Oh, and if someone asks for help - try to help them!