2016 Adventure Racing Analysis

As a part deux to my previous post about the geographic distribution of adventure races, I decided to do a study of the “productivity” of the organizations that put on adventure races in North America for 2016. It’s my hope that this analysis helps us spot what’s working and what isn’t, spuring conversations and decisions that help grow the sport. I figure if we aren’t measuring our efforts, there’s really no way we’ll ever get better. Now let me throw out a big ol’ disclaimer before I insult anyone accidentally.

  1. All data is compiled from the events on my Adventure Race Calendar. Inevitably, I miss a race (or two or eight). That obviously decreases the accuracy of these reports.
  2. Races often change right before, during, and afterward their date. A race that’s advertised as an 8 hour may end up switching to a 6 hour the day before because of course changes. Or maybe a race advertised 24 and 12-hour courses, but only folks signed up for the 12-hour so that’s all that ran. Because I only know what I can find on the race websites, I don’t have the full picture. More inaccuracy.
  3. There’s no definition for “good productivity” vs. “bad productivity”. A race organization may put on 5 races across one calendar year, all of them 12 hours or longer. By my models, that makes them very “productive”. But I have no idea if those races were executed safely, if people had a ton of fun, or if anyone even showed up to the start line.

The analysis I’m providing is solely off of my website, which is just the aggregation of a lot of other websites, which are only as accurate as all the people in charge of maintaining those websites make them. It’s like when you make a copy of a copy of a copy – not really the best picture quality for the final product. Nevertheless, I’m charging ahead, because I like this kind of analysis and I think it’s beneficial to the sport I love to help shed a little more light on how things are going. Let’s dig in!


Race Organization Analysis

In 2016, there were 152 adventure races in North America. The US hosted 137 of the 152 (90.1%) while Canada hosted the remain 15 (9.9%). There was a total of 71 race organizations that put on a race, giving us the average number of 2.11 races conducted by an organization in a year. However, the median number of races was just 1, as 39 race organizations (54%) hosted only one race in 2016.

The distribution of races is heavily skewed towards a few organizations that put on a bunch, followed by a long “tail” of organizations that host just one or two. Only 13 organizations host 3 or more races within a year, representing 48.7% (74 out of 152 races). If you’re reading this article, then you’re probably familiar with the names of these 13 organizations: REV3, FLX, Michigan Adventure, Krank Events, 361, Angry Cow, Bend Racing, etc. What’s impressive to see among this small cohort of leaders is that most of them are run by folks for whom AR is just a side business/passion. This by no means that the organizations that put on fewer races are any less busy. You just have to read about the Mind Over Mountain adventure race to see an example of a team of folks that pours their heart and soul into executing a kickass, once-in-a-lifetime experience that takes most of the year to build. But it does really emphasize that the sport of adventure racing relies heavily upon the leader cohort to keep us going. With just 18% of the race organizations in North America (13 out of 72) putting on almost half of all the races, that’s a significant amount of the sports’ livelihood on the shoulders of just a few wonderful, dedicated people. My recommendation: If you can make it to a race put on by one of the leader organizations, do it! They’re carrying the flag for AR and deserve our support.

Let’s take a closer look at the leaders. Here’s a bar graph of the 13 organizations

It should surprise no one that Rev3 leads the pack. The company that’s bringing next year’s adventure racing world championship to the US for the first time clearly knows what they’re doing when it comes to hosting adventure racing. Credit to Mark Harris and the Rev3 crew for helping drive AR forward. Rev3 has mastered the art of “race clustering”, putting on multiple races in the same venue in the same weekend. They’ve created their own difficulty classes: Epic, Strong, and Tenderfoot, allowing racers from expert to newbie to attend a race while simultaneously benefiting from the overlap of resources that comes from hosting multiple races at the same place and time. Note to self: Interview Mark to find out he does it all so well. Ron Eaglin and the FLX crew are right behind Rev3, with 10 races in 2016. Thanks to FLX, Florida is one of the most AR-friendly states in the US. Following Ron is 361 Adventures, Angry Cow, and Michigan AR (great job, Mark!), and Root Stock Racing, all of whom hosted 6 races in 2016.

Is adventure racing shrinking?

When we look at the year over year number of races (2015 vs 2016), the trend isn’t good. 2015 had 181 adventure races, 29 more than 2016, meaning the sport shrank by 16%. The noticeable trend in this shrinking is that specific organizations just aren’t putting on adventure races anymore. Odyssey Adventure Racing looks to have stopped hosting ARs and now focus on other trail events. GRR adventures, Oklahoma Adventure Racing, Terra Firma Racing, Trail Blazers, Flying Squirrel, and Infiterra Sports all appear to be out of the AR business. Now, thankfully, there are some examples of races changing ownership, like Bonk Hard Racing transferring the Berryman Adventure Race to Rolla Multisport. Sadly, most race organizations that shrank in 2016 went from 1 or 2 races to 0. While we will hopefully see some of them return in 2017, it shows that the organizations that only put on a small number of races are the most vulnerable to folding. I also bear some responsibility in this, as I’ve gotten better at tracking and recording races. In 2015, some races that weren’t really adventure races sneaked onto my calendar. I’ve gotten stricter since then, but that alone doesn’t account for the -29 races. We’re still consolidating.

But let’s look on the bright side. Root Stock Racing wins the award for “most improved“, as they launched their race organization in 2016 with 6 races! It obviously helps to be experienced race directors so going from 0 to 6 isn’t quite as challenging, but it is nevertheless extremely impressive. Right behind them is Happy Mutant, with new races in 2016. Here’s a table of the races that grew in 2016 vs. 2015.

 

Race Organization Productivity:

While this data is useful to see who is spending a lot of their weekends out setting courses, it’s lacking qualification. I already addressed in the disclaimer above that there’s no way to determine if a race is “good”, because as long as folks are having fun, who cares if the race is 2 hours or 24 hours long? But in order to provide greater insight, I’ve created a “productivity” model which measures every race organization by the total number of hours they conduct races for. So even though Happy Mutant and Krank Events are tied with 5 races in 2016, there’s a massive difference between the 5 expedition-level races Happy Mutant does and the weeknight races Krank does. This model tries to display that.

Example: 361 Adventures’ The Breakdown adventure race had a 24 and 12-hour course. So cumulatively, they conducted 36 hours for that single race. I’d love to hear feedback from RDs who agree or disagree with this model. Should races get only the number of hours for their longest course, i.e. 24 hours, because so many resources necessary to host a 24-hour race are the same for any shorter course (permits, volunteers, manned TAs, etc.)?

With this simple math, I’ve modeled out the most productive, aka busiest, race organizations for 2016.

Whoa. The ultimate road warrior, Toby Evans, and his Happy Mutant adventure race series dominates as the leader and most productive of race organizations. Well done Toby!! You deserve a ton of credit for the enormous amount of work you’ve done to launch a nation-wide adventure race series. I’m guessing you’re a big fan of coffee and energy drinks, given the number of sleepless nights you’ve done in 2016. Rest up buddy.

Behind Happy Mutant, we see many of the same organizations as we saw when we measured the number of races conduct. Make sense, as the more races you’re conducting, the more hours you’re accruing. So FLX, Rev3, 361 Adventures, Root Stock Racing, and others are still helping lead the pack. Overall, there were 2,584 collective hours of adventure racing in 2016.

Here’s the same data but with fancy colors

Random additional data points:

Average AR length: 12.54 hours

Median AR length: 8 hours

Mode AR length (aka, most popular length): 12 Hours

The frequency of race length:

Race Length (Hours) # of Races
12 29
4 28
8 27
6 27
24 15
30 6
72 6
36 2

 

 

7 comments

  1. I appreciate this kind of analysis. It is interesting and helpful to me as I consider our races (DINO – Mission AR and Central Indiana Adventure).

    I do agree with your praise of organizers who are focusing primarily on AR. ARs are a part of our business plan, but it would be really hard to make a go of just ARs.

    Personally I think your model of “productivity” should not be based only on number hours of racing, many races have “clustered” or “nested” races like our 18&4 or 12&4 hour formats on same day or same weekend. It would be MUCH harder to have two separate dates / courses for the two different lengths. Perhaps you could factor in participant numbers?

    I am also interested in pricing structure. I don’t want to gouge people, I want it to be as affordable as possible for participants. However, we do need to make it worth our (large) investment of time and energy.

    Thanks!

    • Cy says:

      Thanks Brian. So if I’m understanding correctly, you would want the model to positively impact a race organization’s productivity if the races are clustered? I agree on cost and participant numbers being important metrics, the only challenge is actually collecting that data. To fix this, I’m launching a program that allows race directors to input their races onto ARHub directly instead of going through me. This should reduce the bottleneck (aka, me) for collecting additional information. It just requires that RDs adopt this and keep it up to date before and after a race.

  2. Jim Craig says:

    Thanks for the info.
    Looks like Toby at Happy Mutant,Rev3 and Florida Extreme are busting it with longer races.
    They are in some areas that have a better climate to go year round which helps.
    I have had a winter race in February in Nebraska for 10 years now and it always gets good numbers. Crazy people.
    As I look across all the other RD’s it seems that the longer races are falling on the shoulders of the top 3 and everyone else is catering to the 12 hour or less crowd.
    I think with the age group of racers being in the 35-55 group in my area it’s tough to do anything longer since they are chasing kids all around with their activities.
    AS long as we keep them enthused about AR’s and it works in their schedules then we adjust our courses as such.
    I continue to do 3-4 AR’s along with my other events and it seems to mix and match well to help me get newbies each year.
    Let’s keep this alive and continue to increase numbers. Thanks a lot. Jim. Angry Cow Adventures

  3. Anne Gibbons says:

    Thanks for taking the time to put this together. I think it is helpful for folks to see where the sport is currently in the US. Years ago when we started GOALS ARA there were many more AR organizations out there, and many more 24+ hour races available as well. Sponsor money was more plentiful as the public rode on the coat tails of the Eco-Challenge days. That kind of TV publicity was monumental in gaining participation in events and validity with sponsors. That being said, the current status of the sport in the US remains a grass roots effort on the part of the race organizations, most of whom balance full time work and family while putting on great AR events.

    I think your review is off to a great start. If you are planning to continue with it again my suggestion would be to put out a survey to the RD’s so you can get solid numbers for a more thorough analysis. If you are using the # of races and hours there would need to be some adjustments as many race organizations are doing a few races on the same day. Just using GOALS as an example we are listed as conducting 4 events in 2016, when we actually conducted 7 adventure races. (we hold a 3 and 6 hour race during our sprints). This would also change the “hours” amount.

    A helpful measurement would also be to have RD’s report the number of participants they had in their events. While it is difficult to measure how good a course was, etc., measuring participation is easy to track. Having consistent and growing numbers is a true sign of growth for the sport, whether the organization conducts one race a year (and throws all their energies into promoting that event) or several small events throughout the year.

    I’d also ask you to double check the race organizations, as not all the races listed in your data would be classified as adventure races.

    Anyway, there’s my 2 cents. Let’s all do our best to keep the sport growing, spread the word and keep adventuring!

  4. Stephanie Ross says:

    Cy – in 2015/16, Flying Squirrel Adventures turned over its Unbridled AR Series (including the Fig) to 361 Adventures and turned over the Sheltowee Extreme to Steve Hagan (operating as SXT Adventures). I’ve been really pleased to see all of those races continue in Kentucky under their leadership.

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