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Adventure Racing is an elite sport: stop apologizing about it and embrace it!

 


******WARNING ANNOUNCEMENT********

This article is provoking a lot of great discussion with strong emotions among the AR community. Before adding your voice to these conversations, I ask just a few things:

  1. Please read this article in its entireity. It’s over 3500 words, so I understand it’s not the quickest read, but I think it’s worth your time. Please digest the full concept of this post and the message we’re trying to convey
  2. Ask yourself what your own definition of elite is. Many people are equating elite to equal snobbish or exclusive. Others think elite means only elite fitness and people who finish on the podium. This article is a direct attack on those definitions, as I’m arguing that elite is a rare state of mind that adventure racers exhibit and it needs to be celebrated far more than it currently is. Agree or disagree, I ask you question yourself on what your own definition is.
  3. Finally, after points 1 and 2, join the conversation! There’s a lot of great points being made on this Adventure Race discussion group post. Get off the sidelines and into the fight! Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong. Tell me and tell everyone else what you think! We need passionate, engaged racers in order for this sport to growth, not people on the sidelines.

Thanks, and without further ado, enjoy!

Cy


this one is going to stir the pot a bit…

There’s a number of tensions that exist within the AR community, a natural by-product of a sport that is both proudly and intentionally ill-defined. On most major AR-related debates, passionate racers split themselves over what looks like to outsiders like pointless minutiae, but to us who live and breath AR, are extremely important points.

So while it may seem a bit hyperbolic to say it, there’s an active battle being fought over the sport.

Not between two distinct camps like some kind of civil war, but rather a nebulous shifting back and forth between general concepts of what the sport should be, how it should be run, and who should be in it. It’s to this last point I wish to address.

Regardless of how you may feel about kayaks vs. pack rafts, pre-plotted maps vs. self-plotting, rogaine vs. sequential, if you’re reading this article, you probably like AR and thus want it to grow. Growth, which could be measured by a number of variables like # of races, # of race organizations, increase in races year over year, or profit of those race organizations, is ultimately best measured by race attendance. It’s the Key Performance Indicator (KPI) of a race organization’s health. If people aren’t showing up at the race, the sport doesn’t grow, end of the story, back your bags.

So while you may not think a race is a “real AR” unless it has a water leg, you probably still want people going to ARs that don’t have a boat section because if that race does well, that race organization will do well and their racers might come to your races!

That’s a critical portion of ARHub’s virtuous cycle and the fundamental reason we’ve published articles focusing on AR growth strategies like building great Facebook ads, targeting niche audiences, and putting out as much data about the sport as we can collect.

Within these articles, and out amongst the general AR community, there’s a near-universal maxim that “adventure racing is for everyone”. That no matter how old, how fit, how experienced, anyone can get a bike and some friends and show up to a race (or at least a beginner-friendly race), have a great time, and become hooked on the sport. This belief is repeated time and time again, from TA1 podcast interviews to Sleepmonster articles, to Attackpoint forum discussions.

Hell, it’s practically AR’s version of the American Dream – any man or women, regardless of position in life, can go on to become a great adventure racer.

It’s not just that we believe this to be true. For those of us fiscally invested into AR, we NEED this to be true. Because AR is a shadow of its former self, and with many of our best racers and race directors have come from the “Golden Age of AR”, they remember what the sport once was in the eye of the public and how big those winner’s prizes were. If the sport is to get back to some semblance of its former position, we need more racers and lots of ’em.

Which means that AR has to be accessible, it has to be an obtainable event for every Tom, Dick, and Sally, because if it isn’t, then just how the hell will we get enough race attendance to ever matter again? The thought that AR is for everyone isn’t just a feel-good inspirational concept, it’s a business necessity.

Hopefully not me… Credit FineDictionary.com

And you know what? I say it’s wrong.

I know, I know, get the tar and feathers ready, we’re having ourselves some old-fashioned mob justice. But hear me out on this, because I believe a fundamental re-alignment of how AR positions itself to the general public is overdue. And this re-alignment will, in fact, be healthy for the sport.

Here’s my proposal: Stop saying AR is for everyone. AR is not for everyone, not by a long shot. AR is for a select few who meet a large number of qualifications. Our sport is a niche one, with a lot of requirements to enter it, let alone succeed at it. We have high barriers to entry, and that greatly restricts the pool of candidates to be good at AR (let alone interested in trying it out).

Adventure racing is an elite sport for elite athletes, and I believe we’re wasting time and money not admitting as much.

Reasons Adventure Racing is elite:

  1. The gear: AR takes a lot of stuff. Even for those racers who stay in the intermediate and beginner level races, you’re still coming to races with a big tub full of gear. While we make claims that you can show up with a mountain bike, a camelback, and some running shoes, that only holds true for races that are 2-3 hours
    so…much…stuff!!!! Credit ExploreCompeteLive

    in length and stay in safe and controlled environments. Good mountain bikes are pricey, their maintenance and upgrades are just as expensive, there’s a never-ending list of mandatory gear dependant on the specific race (example: I’m currently trying to save up to buy a pack raft), stuff always gets destroyed or needs replacing, and somebody always has some cool new thing that makes you want one for yourself. Carbon fiber paddles from Epic. Alpacka rafts. Moxie shin guards. Black Diamond collapsible trekking poles. To truly enter the sport of AR, you’re definitely putting a chunk of your disposable income to building an ever-increasing garage version of REI. Take the perspective of a newcomer to the sport. They see the veteran racers pull up in their spinner van, offloading bags and boxes of gear. It’s an intimidating sight to see other racers with a bunch of stuff you didn’t even know existed, let alone needed for the race you’re about to do! And we haven’t even addressed the necessity of being comfortable with all this gear so you can effectively use it in a race environment where you’ll be out in remote parts of the wilderness. Which brings us to..

  2. The environment: It’s an appalling fact that most people who enjoy fitness actually don’t like the outdoors all the much. There’s far greater attendance to competitions that are in safe, contained, well-defined environments, like road races, triathlons, and CrossFit gyms. Even obstacle course racing, despite occasional mystery challenges, have become “known” events, with the exact mileage and most of the individual obstacles well defined. People like knowing what they’re getting themselves into (more on this in the next point) and events that are clearly defined and measurable lends a sense of comfort to (most) people. So when an adventure race purposely doesn’t say anything about how far or how long it will take besides a rough estimate of “12 hours”, and you only know where the start and finish point is and nothing in-between, that gives a lot of people who fit the initial bill for AR’s target audience some serious anxiety. Then you start to throw in uncommon skills like navigation, rappelling, and bushwacking on top of not even knowing where they’ll be going and you can start to see why someone might not think AR sounds all the fun. And let’s not forget bathroom availability and the effect it has on whether or not someone will attend an event! The uniqueness of the AR environment cuts out a lot of otherwise fit and gear-equipped individuals.
  3. The mindset: This one is the granddaddy of all other reasons AR is elite. In an informal poll I ran on Facebook a little while back, the “adventurous mindset” was the clear winner of what the one distinguishable feature above all others that made someone love adventure racing. And, at the risk of expanding my grand-standing beyond the scope of this article to critique society at large, the adventurous mindset is an increasingly rare thing to find. That makes people who have it the most valuable to AR. We can get you the necessary gear and to enjoy a multisport outdoor environment. But being comfortable with going deep into the woods, not knowing what physical requirements you may have to do next but embracing whatever you happen upon, and keeping focused and determined when the food and sleep run out are all extremely rare traits in most people. The rise of obstacle course racing has revitalized a lot of chatter about how people who ride a desk all day are looking for opportunities to get a little more primal enjoyment back in their lives. But OCR has nothing on AR in terms of pushing yourself way out on the ledge of adversity and adventure. And just like a real ledge, there are only a few brave folks who are actually willing to walk up to the very edge. Most are content with getting somewhat close and snapping an Instagram photo.

Any one of these three attributes is enough to disqualify a large chunk of the population from being candidates for AR. The fact that our sport necessitates having all three of them makes us elite, no question about it. You simply can’t expect these many qualifications to be met by an individual and NOT call them elite.

Okay, we’re “elite”. So what’s that actually mean?

Elite doesn’t necessarily mean world class, but it does mean that it takes a lot to be a part of. If you’ve got all the gear, all the skills, the love the unique environment, and of course, the adventurous mindset, then hell yeah, you’re elite!

Amelia Boone, elite endurance athlete. She definitely fits the common definition of “elite”. But don’t confuse her type of elite with AR’s version of elite. Credit Spartan Races Inc.

Elite is a good word. I understand how it often has a connotation with unachievable or highly exclusive, and odds are most adventure racers aren’t swaggering around thinking about how elite they are because they don’t view themselves as such. But if you isolate out all the factors that make us so unique as a sport, I think it’s pretty clear-cut that elite is the right word of choice.

Now, before we get too enamored with the idea of ranks of super-fit outdoorsmen who go on 6-hour rides every day as the standard for the elite athletes who make up adventure racing, let’s not lose sight that adventure racers come in all shapes and sizes.

Nowhere in the previous description of why AR is an elite sport did I mention abs of steel or a monster cardiovascular system. You need gear, a love of the outdoors, and adventurous mindset. You can find these qualities in a mom of four or a teenager. And so while the mom or the teenager may adamantly refuse the label “elite” because it’s more commonly connotated with the type of people on the cover of Outside magazine or like the picture to the right, it’s still true.

We just need a shift in our collective mindsets about how to use the word. Don’t forget that many elite athletes from other sports have tried their hand at AR, only to say “oh hell no, these people are crazy” after one race!

Recently, I raced at a 8 hour AR where a father/daughter team also participated. This raced included ~4000 ft elevation gain and you had to twice ford a river that was over my height (6 ft) with your mountain bike. And the daughter, 10 or 11 years old, did the whole race and finished just a few minutes behind my team! How can we possibly not call her elite? Think of the impressive combination of skills, talent, and most of all, an adventurous mindset that she has at such a young age. Elite, no question in my mind.

Important caveat – Adventure racers are NOT elitist, making an exclusive “cool kids only” club, giving a newcomer the stink eye because we don’t know who they are. This is a fine line to walk and I’ll be the first to admit I’ve felt like an outsider at races when I see the majority of racers all laughing and joking with each other because they’ve been racing with each other for years, and then, after a few races, been on the inside of this group, unintentionally ignoring newcomers. It takes deliberate intentions to avoid letting the elite nature of our sport slide downhill into becoming elitist.

We MUST be a community with open arms, cheering on the newcomers and solo racers. That’s what brings them back, not a coupon to the next race. 

Exhibit A for “borderline bat-shit crazy”. Credit Legendary Randy.

Prior to starting ARHub, I was in the active duty US Army and a member of a Special Forces unit. Normally, I don’t speak about this, but I mention it because I want to help contrast just how elite adventure racers are. I was in a unit that was by definition, an elite one. The qualifications required to become a member was a roughly 2-year long course with an extremely high rate of dropout and failure. The men I served with were all physical specimens, the cream of the Army’s crop. They ran faster and longer, could out-navigate everyone else, were perfectly comfortable with periods of extreme sleep and food deprivation and were adrenaline junkies. Sounds like a damn good recruiting ground for adventure racing, right? Turns out, not so much.

Despite looking like perfect candidates on paper, I could never get a coworker to come to a race. The thought of doing something like an adventure race was repellant to all of them because “why on earth would you pay someone to do that?” They couldn’t fathom actually voluntarily doing an AR. Even amongst the Army’s elite, the adventurous mindset had its limits to doing just what was strictly necessary to succeed at work.

Trust me folks, adventure racers are elite, even when compared other populations of athletes who are considered elite. We’re double elite; Meta-elite. Granted, our version of elite is borderline batshit crazy, but that’s just part of what makes us such a fun group o’ folks.

So what’s a race director to do?

Hopefully, I’m not depressing anyone too much. My intention isn’t to tear down anyone’s beliefs that adventure racing should be as accessible as possible. Far from it, I’m 100% in favor of increased accessibility and helping newcomers join the ranks of AR. Instead, I’m trying to formulate a strong justification for a re-framing in the marketing and advertisement of what adventure racing is to the greater population so that we are getting a higher return on our efforts. If AR were to re-position itself to take an approach of “this sport is not for anyone, but for a select brave few” then I believe we’ll be on much stronger ground for the future.

Why? Because it’s a losing strategy to try to be something for everyone. It’s a house built upon the sand.

Instead, I want a house built on the rock. And the rock is having a dedicated group of racers who always prioritize adventure racing over other sports because their relationship with the sport is so strong there’s no question what they’ll do on their weekends.

I want a future with adventure racers wearing their team jersey to the office, stickers on car bumpers proclaiming their finishing at the sport’s best races, and sponsors fighting to get their brand and gear into the hands of the best teams. We won’t get to this future if we keep puttering around, trying to make everyone happy. A small but highly mobilized group can accomplish far more than a large but disorganized community. And one of the necessary steps to making this future a reality is improving how we define ourselves so we’re attracting the right people.

A favorite article of mine that’s about how to build a business or a product that appeals to just a few folks, but connects deeply with those few, is Kevin Kelly’s 1000 true fans. It is an excellent manifesto for owners of a business that serves a niche audience, AR being a perfect example. In the article, Kevin explains how trying to build a project that’s for everyone is a fool’s errand, as trying to please lots of different types of audiences will result in a product that is mediocre, ill-defined, and sure to fail. A successful business is one that has a laser-focus on it’s most passionate and dedicated audience and goes to extreme lengths to make that core audience happy by consistently over-delivering on value. It’s those 1000 “true fans” of the business who propel it to greatness because the business has earned the loyalty and dedication of its fans.

As a marketer for an AR organization, I know the frustration of appealing to target audiences but still not seeing the boost in attendance I expected. But as I reflect on my own efforts and the efforts of other RD’s efforts I see, there’s a lot of waste. Money and time are thrown away trying to convince audiences that aren’t actually interested in doing an AR to come out and try it because they look at the skin surface to be the right type of people. As a passionate racer who just wishes to spread the joy I feel from AR to others who I’m sure will love it as much as I do, it hurts to see my own biases thrown back at me because I don’t see how truly intimidating AR is.

I loved this shirt, but many did not. A good example of how our individual biases affect our marketing efforts.

What’s more effective for running a business? Trying to coax people to come out to your race because they fit the general bill of what an adventure racer should be, or having a group of people who will register the first day you’ll allow it because the words “adventure race” gets them salivating? A consistent base of dedicated racers is what provides a race director the fiscal stability to improve their races, invest in more equipment and programs, thus improving their race quality. And you don’t get that running around to every 5K fun run or boot camp fitness class, trying to convince people who aren’t attracted to the idea of an elite sport to come out to your race.

Better to zero in on a select few athletes who are “ripe for the picking” because they’re looking to level up, like this guy, Super Mark.

So the question we must ask ourselves is “how do we attract the right people?” What kind of marketing content and advertisements resonate best with the type of people who are adventure racers (but may not know it yet)? Different messages resonate with different people.

Remember the Checkpoint Tracker shirt with the warning that adventure racing is dangerous and it might kill you? I bought that shirt IMMEDIATELY because it resonated with me. Yet so many others didn’t like it all. The kind of messages the works on me won’t work for that previously mentioned mom of four or the teenager. So we need transcendent messages that are universal to the right kind of people.

I think there are 2 significant actions we as a community can take to get the right people to the sport.

  1. Branding and marketing the sport with a focus on the adventurous mindset. From my seat, that’s the difference maker and the biggest obstacle. We need images, catchphrases, content, and copywriting that capture the adventurous mindset. That’s the lynchpin to attract the elite people who yearn for something “more” but don’t know what that is yet.
  2. Direct person-to-person recruitment. Nothing tops direct interaction with people who might be interested in AR. Giving a flyer to someone after a trail run or XC race and when they ask “what’s this” and then you spend the next 10 minutes in a rapturous discussion about the wonders of AR is a proven conversion tool. Nothing spreads excitement and passion like an interaction where the other person can see just how enthusiastic you are about AR. How do you do this at scale? Well, that’s another article, but the short version is:
    1. Hire people, either with money or referral bonuses or free races. If you’re an RD and you have don’t have someone doing your marketing, get one. Get ambassadors who race at a discount in exchange for passing out your marketing material at other races. Start a referral program so people get lower racing costs for every new racer they bring in.
    2. Attend races with your target population. Set up a booth if you can, if it’s too much money, then go guerrilla style, passing out flyers at the end of the race (just be sure to do the race to make sure you’re advertisement is authentic!)
    3. Have AR-like races with a super low barrier to entry. Plenty of races series have easy, 2-4 hour races in or near major cities where the navigation is incredibly easy, there are fun challenges/obstacles, and the gear/equipment is low. Think about creative ways to capture people looking to engage their adventurous mindset but at minimal cost in terms of gear and environment. If you can isolate the most important component of being elite and grow that seed in people, you’re effectively developing your own sales funnel system and a set of future adventure races.

Thoughts on my proposal on re-branding? Are we actually elite or is that the wrong word choice? Suggestions? How have you or your local race organization managed to capture the adventurous mindset? Leave your comments below, and let’s see some creative advertisements and images!

 

Adventure Racing Census Results

Howdy folks

As you may or may not know, in February of 2017, ARHub launched the first ever “adventure racing census”. Or at least the first one we know about. The census was a questionnaire with 15 questions designed to record the basic demographics, participation level, disciplines, and shared interests of adventure racers. The census is still slowly collecting results, so if you haven’t taken it, please do so here

Since we’ve now obtained 430+ racers’ answers, we’re publishing the initial results, as we believe that a “critical mass” has been obtained, with enough data points to make the analysis of the census worthwhile, with distinguishable trends worth extracting.

Census Callout – “AR is the BEST sport ever! But I think we need to try to appeal to younger ages to grow the sport.”

Why an Adventure Racing Census?

Fair question. We launched the AR census because, at its core, our sport really doesn’t know how to measure itself. Are we growing? Shrinking? What’s going right? What’s going wrong? All these questions keep getting asked across forums, between race buddies, and on podcasts. But it’s all anecdotal, no matter the quality of the insights gleaned. One person’s positive attitude that the sport is growing clashes with another person’s pessimism. And we can’t settle these debates because there are no definitive measurements that can at least provide a cardinal direction as to where the sport is headed. And oh Lord am I sick and tired of seeing the same points repeated over and over. It was high time that we shift from talking about what we think is happening to actually KNOWING what is happening. The census helps play a role in this.

Census callout – “To help grow the sport, I think organizations should create a “veteran/novice” program. This program would have more seasoned racers take out rookies and/or “middle of the pack” racers on 12hr/24hr races and help build their skills.  This would help those “middle of the packers” get to the next level, while also feeling more confident to bring first timers out racing with them to grow the sport. This would also hopefully create more podium finishes for other racers than the usual teams/individuals you usually see in the 12hr/24hr circuit.

Since AR doesn’t have a governing body, there isn’t a quick or accurate method to measure the health of the sport. One key metric is the number of races that occur, something I’ve tried to tackle in my article here. But the races are just part of the equation. We also don’t know much about the racers (at the aggregate level). Any race director worth their salt can tell you all about how their local market looks, but likely won’t know much at all about the sport as a whole. Our sport’s lack of governance and the subsequent regionalism that most races fall into prevents us from measuring the sport across the entire continent of North America. And that hurts everybody, even if most races organizations don’t realize it. The teenager who does adventure racing in Pennsylvania may end up moving to Colorado some day. Or they may enjoy themselves enough that they start traveling to big races. Given the niche nature of AR, an avid adventure racer is a hot commodity. As you’ll see in the analysis below, they aren’t afraid to spend money and travel long distances if the race is right. Which means that the healthiness of ARs in California impacts the ARs in Florida. We’re all in this together, friends…

Finally, the census will help move the sport forward. We hope. In an effort to move past the anecdotal to the quantified, we hope the data in the census will provide good directions to the members of the sport in terms of what racers like, don’t like, need more of, or would rather never see again. This way, the quality of the races can be improved, which will drive more race turnout, bigger smiles, etc.

First, a warning.

This census suffers from a high degree of selection bias. Essentially, the people who’ve taken this census are, by-and-large, hardcore adventure racers. Because the census was distributed across social channels, it was naturally broadcasted to those who were already interested in adventure racing and are, to one degree or another, active in the AR community. Therefore, the data reflects the opinions of people who are already “bought in” to adventure racing. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but we should caution ourselves from drawing too big of conclusions.

Census callout – “Allow GPS to attract new racers”

On the positive side, by recording the opinions of those who are most passionate about AR, we’re getting a good handle on what the sport currently looks like. It also helps us tailor our actions to serve our “best customers”, as the census takers are the people who are spending the most money on the sport. Obviously, a race organization that cares to stay in business for more than a year needs to identify their best customers and provide additional value to them. This census is a good poll of what these top customers want to see in their races.

On the downside, the voices of the newcomers aren’t well represented. I had to convince my wife, who has done an adventure race, to take the census, as she didn’t believe she qualified as an “adventure racer”. It’s this perception that if you aren’t a “member of the club” that you shouldn’t voice your opinion that keeps people from filling out the census. On top of that, our distribution of the census required that in some way you were already interested in staying up to date on AR  in order to even see the census was taking place. This cuts out of a LOT of folks. If AR wants to grow, it has to cultivate new racers and convert beginners into experts. The census fails to capture these peoples’ thoughts, and as a result only gives us insight into a part of the community, not the whole.

Be wary of making large assumptions from this data. This is a good measurement of the current AR community, but not the AR community of the future. Remember, we must support both current racers and the racers yet to come in order to grow the sport.

Let’s dive in!

Census Callout – “If AR wants to get more people involved, we have to lower the barrier to entry. More rental equipment, shorter & easier races, maybe some urban races, kids races, a way to make orienteering more friendly. The orienteering races are populated by seriously unfriendly people. I’m constantly amazed by how unwelcoming the other racers are during orienteering races. What a great way to kill enthusiasm for your sport. If you want to keep it a niche sport, you are doing it the right way by making newbies feel unwelcome. AR has to get people and their families involved and make them feel welcome. I would do more AR if AR races made my families feel welcome and if there was a spectator engagement. Short urban or close in AR events for newbies would be great.”

Section 1: Demographics

To the surprise of no one, Adventure Racing is popular amongst middle aged men. 75% of census takers identified as male, making the 3-male, 1-female make up of 4-person teams right on the money.

A little more surprising is the age distribution of adventure racers. 42% of census takers identified as being between 40 and 50 years old. The second largest contingent was the 30-40-year-old range, with 33%, and the third largest was the 50-60-year-old range with 14%.

I have a few thoughts on this (and I’m sure others have much more than I do).

  1. Many of the sport’s most dedicated belong to the “Eco Challenge Generation”. Introduced to the sport thanks to Mark Burnett and crew, they saw the sport at its best. Some are still suffering from the “Eco Challenge Hangover“. Nevertheless, Eco Challenge, Raid G, and Balance Bar all helped swell the ranks of the sport, and many of our current racers and race organizers are folks from that time that are still carrying the torch today.
  2. The 40-50 age range is usually around the peak time for disposable income. AR is a pricey sport, so having been in the workforce for 20-30 years helps people afford all the gear, travel, and entrance fees. A good thing to think about when you’re marketing your races!
  3. It’s cool to see that people can keep doing this sport for decades. And from an RD perspective, it’s great to know the lifetime value of an adventure racer spans decades! If you can build a base of racers who are in their 20s and 30s, as long as you keep producing quality races, you can effectively expect those people to keep coming back for years if not decades.
  4. We’re definitely in danger of losing a lot of talent and skill in the next few years. Look at the drop off from the 40-50 age range to the 50-60. Yikes. This means we’re looking at the potential mass exodus from the sport as the Eco-Challenge generation retires from racing and putting on races. The time to start recruiting and grooming the new set of racers and race directors is NOW. If we wait for the 20-30-year-old range athletes to find adventure racing, instead of bringing them onboard ourselves, we might run out of time. Now. Right meow.

Section 2: Race Participation Levels

Here we see the selection bias really coming into effect, as people who are already inclined to fill out an AR census are going to be the type of folks who do more ARs than the average bear.

44% of census takers reported doing 3-5 races a year. Another 31% said they only do 1-2. 20% said they do 6 or more. What’s interesting in this point is that even amongst the serious AR folks, nearly a third only do 1-2 races a year. Could it be they only do 1-2 big races? Or maybe their local AR scene doesn’t have enough and they aren’t willing to travel to do more?

Census callout – “Is there anywhere one could go to get instruction on how to host a race? I’d be glad to host a race but I’m intimidated by the permitting/permission needs and liability.”

To answer that, the following question asked how far they were willing to travel for a race. 34% said they’ll go about 100-200 miles for a race (a day’s drive, more or less). 32% said if the race was right, they’ll go however far it will take (I suspect a lot of these folks are the same people who race 6+ times a year…). 22% said an overnight trip is cool for a race (so more than 200 miles), and 7% said they stay local (100 miles or less).

Section 3: Race Types and Disciplines

Now, we hear folks talk all the time about what the “best” length of races are, or which disciplines should be in a race. The census helps provide us some cold hard facts about what the AR community really wants to see.

31% said they like 24+ races the most, followed closely by 29% who said 13-24 hour long races, then 25% who said 7-12 hour long races, and finally just 9.5% saying 2-7 hour long races. I doubt any RD is likely to take this data and shut down all their beginner races! But this data point, coupled with the others about how far racers will travel and how many races they’ll do in a season provide good insight that if an RD is on the fence about putting together a 12+ or 24+ adventure race, there’s a dedicated population of racers who’ll gladly sign up. The trick is just getting them aware of the race and then getting them to sign up! Good thing we’ve got a handy guide to advertising your races, huh 🙂

We also asked census takers what disciplines they liked to have in their races. Obviously, the “big 3” of trail running, mountain biking, and paddling were all above 90%.

In 4th place was rappelling/climbing, which was surprising, given some folks fear of heights and others’ dislike of the pause in race intensity caused by the safety requirements in rappelling. But I guess the cool factor overrides those issues for more folks than not.

46% said they like ropes course and/or obstacles. However, there was a lot of passionate callouts from racers when they answered the follow-up question of what they like and don’t like in terms of disciplines. Many said they hate standing in line at ropes course or dislike OCR-like obstacles. This particular discipline has definitely got the AR community divided into camps!

37% said they like whitewater rafting. 33% said they enjoy puzzles/mental challenges. Like ropes/obstacles, some folks really do NOT like puzzles, and others really DO. Go figure.

26% said they like swimming (so people can’t swim, so no surprise they aren’t a fan of this discipline), and only 7% said they like sailing, which truth be told, you almost never see in races anyway.

The follow-up question asked which discipline they didn’t like. As mentioned above, ropes/obstacles (waiting around, don’t think it’s proper AR), climbing/rappeling (heights, waiting around), swimming (can’t swim), SUPing, and roller blading (WTH? Is this 1992??) were prominently mentioned.

Census callout – “Races that have mandatory cut off times vs everyone finishes whenever they finish are much better –you feel like you’re in the thick of it no matter what place you’re in and that’s what makes them feel fun and inclusive. AR is great because all levels of racers can compete together.”

Section 4: SWAG

Surprisingly, even amongst the hardcore AR crowd, people still want their swag and parties, even if it costs a little bit more. 50% said “yes”, to being willing to pay more for a race if it got them race swag, post-race parties/bbq, etc. 35% said “no thanks, keep your stuff and keep it cheap”, and 14% said Other.

Census callout – “Would like a rating system for each race. Think about the simple, 5 star Uber approach or the more complex Trip Advisor (maybe call it Race Advisor). Give them a chance to give feedback. Will force RDs to do it right or else people won’t race.”

Section 5: Race Design

I asked the question “do you prefer complex designed courses or simple ones?” but I now realize that was kind of a throw-away question due to the selection bias. Of course adventure racers like a complex course. 80% said complex, 9.5% said keep it simple.

Frustratingly, 52% of racers said they want courses that have a mix of “choose your own adventure” style CP selection and “predetermined, sequential order” CPs. 32% said races should just be “choose your own adventure”, and just 13.5% said “predetermined, sequential”. Makes sense – adventure racers like adventure, including route selection. One of the key attributes that help distinguish us from other endurance athletes is our love for “racing outside the lines”.  So I guess RDs need to sprinkle in a bit of both or work on designing races that can accommodate both types of courses.

Census callout – “There is a vacuum on the internet for a centralized team mate finding service. I also look forward to where there is a standardized platform for online tracking, with tracking updates as frequent as every few seconds (eg the recent X-marathon race in Australia).”

Section 6: Growing the Sport

The final section of the census holds the most valuable insights for our race directors, as we asked the census takers what they needed in order to race even more.

First, we asked what was holding people back from doing the race even more.

51% said other commitments in life holding them back (stupid kids and their need for food, water, and shelter. Ugh, get a job and move out already!)

36.5% said races are too far away (RDs – maybe think about moving races every few years to new parks?)

31% said the cost of races (RDs – are you pushing early bird discounts? Season passes? Referral discounts?)

27% said there weren’t enough races

22% said they couldn’t get race partners. This is a problem I think we can leverage technology to solve. I know there’s a FB group for finding race partners, but I’m going to brainstorm on how else we can generate a way to linking racers together and helping build teams using the internet as a mechanism. Thoughts?)

And then there were a couple more reasons all around 10% (other sports, not ready for more racing, cost of gear, etc.) Again, remember the selection bias!

Census callout – “Provide better access to a pool of racers to race with. Whether that be a dedicated area/community board with racer bios, think a “LinkedIn” for AR community or similar. Also, local organizations providing better access to their racer pool or facilitating more opportunities for racers to sync up”

We left an open-ended question, asking what could be done to get racers to race more. Answers reflected many of the results above, with a strong trend of wanting child care at races!

Next, we asked what sports besides AR the census takers did. The reason being we wanted to 1) help identify target audiences that would be worth spending advertising $ towards and 2) see what linkages we could identify.

77.7% said trail running, which makes sense as it’s relatively cheap and probably the most important discipline in AR, making it an important training effort

64% said orienteering (duh), 57% said mountain biking, 48.5% said paddling (surprisingly high, I thought. I guess I’m just one of the guys who doesn’t paddle until race day!)

38% said road running (boo! lame!), 22% said “other”, 21% mountain climbing, and on down.

What really caught me off guard was the low percentage of people who do OCR (10%) and off-road triathlons (aka Xterra, 11%). I’ve always thought these 2 sports to be the best “feeder” sports for AR, and as we know from Kristin’s great article about targeting your niche audience, there’s a proven track record for using them to attract new racers. Is it a case of OCR and Xterra athletes become adventure racers and then never go back? But some AR organizations help put on Xterra and OCR events. By the logic of this census, we should be focusing all our efforts at trail runners. Yet all my experience has taught me trail runners are long ways away from AR, as most don’t have the gear, desire to navigate, etc. A lot of food for thought with this one. I’d love to know what others think!

Conclusion

That about wraps up the major insights I was able to distil from the census. If other folks spot additional linkages between data that I haven’t, please chime in the comments below!

To me, here are the biggest takeaways:

  1. We (the collective AR community) need to become systemic and disciplined in mentoring and grooming the next set of racers. It’s not enough to say you race with some 30-year old every now and then. If we don’t start pulling younger folks in right now, we are looking at a significant drop in participation levels in a few years which may threaten the existence of the sport. I’m challenging everyone who reads this article to do something about this. Start grooming your replacement.
  2. For good races, there are a committed group of racers who’ll spend just about anything and go just about anywhere. But these races have really got to “bring it” in terms of race quality and be 24+ hours long.
  3. You’ll never please everyone. One racer’s favorite discipline is the next racer’s most hated. So double down on what your races can do better than anyone else and ignore the complainers. Use the data collected from the census to gauge the value of adding specific disciplines or race lengths.
  4. There’s still some gaps in the community that can be filled by websites like ARHub, FB, Attackpoint, etc. We need a good solution for “find a teammate”.

So what are your insights? And more importantly, how are you going to use this data to help grow the sport?

 

Want to review all the raw data? Here’s a spreadsheet with all the responses. I encourage anyone who really wants to examine the data in order to inform their team or race organization’s efforts to pay special attention to the open-ended questions that let racers type in their personal thoughts. There are some real gold nuggets in there!

 

Who’s the Best Adventure Racer in the World?

***UPDATE as of Sunday, March 26*** Some sharp-eyed racers have helped me spot some errors in the data. Scroll down to the Best Racer section to see the new “World’s Best Adventure Racer”

Okay, first off, I acknowledge that the title of this article is click bait. But you’re reading this, right? And that means you’re probably interested to find out if there’s an answer to the question “who is the best adventure racer in the world?”  I bet you’ve all got opinions already: Ian! Rebecca! Cy! Ok, not that last one.

We’ve all played the game of “who’s your dream team?” or “who would you want to race with if you could pick your team?”, so I’m pretty sure there’s an underlying curiosity about which racers are the best. While we can debate what “best” means from now until eternity, we’ll get nowhere unless there’s a definitive method to measure it. And I think there is, in fact, a way to measure who’s the best (or at least one version of “best”). It’s not magic, I assure you.

The AR World Series recently published their “Athlete Vault” which has the race results for all ARWS races in the past 2 years by team. This lets them build a ranking for who the best teams are in the ARWS, which is super cool. However, if you’ve read any of my other articles that analyze the AR sport, you know the sight of an excel file with race data makes me salivate. I know, it’s weird, but stick with me, there are some pretty great things to uncover.

There’s a hidden diamond in the rankings – they have every racer who has raced on those teams. This gives us the ability to do something I’ve been hoping to do for quite some time – analysis of individual adventure racer performance. And since the ARWS rankings tell us who the best teams are in the world, we can, in turn, find out who the best individual racers are.

However, there is one critical omission that prevents us from having a truly accurate measurement of individual performance. The data from the ARWS vault, as it currently stands, doesn’t tell us who on the team’s roster raced per unique race. So if someone were to race on a top-tier team like Seagate at a race like Godzone in 2015 and then on a different team at the 2016 Godzone, they’d get Seagate’s points for Godzone 2016 allotted to them as well. No bueno.

As you can imagine, the more teams you’re on (and the better those teams tend to be), the more points you’ll end up getting. This causes some inaccuracy at the top of the listings, as the very best racers will be on multiple teams over the years and sometimes those teams will be at the same races.

To bridge this gap in the data, I reached out to ARWS and all the race directors involved in hosting an ARWS event. Thankfully, I was able to get about 90% of the team rosters for the races. After a considerable amount of “data cleaning”, I was able to know precisely who raced on which team at what race and how many ARWS points that team earned at said race.

Directionally, the model is accurate. But as with any model, it’s only as accurate as the data lets it be. If somebody registers themselves under different names at different races, it’s hard to track them. If you spot errors, please let me know!

The Basics

There are 327 teams ranked by ARWS, meaning they’ve scored at least 1 point. That’s everybody from two-time world champions Seagate with a total of 700 points to “Impossible Dream”, a team with one point (might be an aptly named team…). Including all the non-ranked teams (teams that raced at an ARWS race but DIDN’T score points), there are 399, meaning 72 teams either raced in a non-scored category or failed to complete a course.

Most teams are “one and done” – a group of racers who assemble for a single race and don’t come together again (or at least not under the same name).

There are only 9 teams that have raced at 4 ARWS races in the past two years. These 9 teams also happen to the top 9 teams in the rankings. You know, teams like Seagate, AMK, Yogaslackers, Columbia Vidaraid, Biovouac Inov8, etc. They make up 2.8% of the 327 scored teams.

The next group is 15 teams that have raced at 3 races (4.6% of total), followed by 75 teams that have raced twice (23% of total).

The remaining 227 teams (69.8%) are the “one and done” teams, groups of friends trying something crazy or a hodgepodge of racers who band together to do something awesome. This makes sense to me, as the vast majority of teams at an ARWS event are locals that will never hop on a plane to another continent when there are others good races in the same time zone. Most teams that are reoccurring (2 races) are teams that compete in the same race 2 years in a row.

Across those 327 teams, there are 1,543 racers. Most teams have the standard 4 individuals, but some teams that are more frequent in their appearance at ARWS events have deeper rosters. The team with the largest roster is ARHub’s friends the Yogaslackers, with 12 participants racing in their black and yellow jerseys across the 4 races they’ve gone to. There must be something in the water in Bend, Oregon that lets them build such a deep pool of talent.

 

Vagabonding

One of the more interesting facts is identifying the racers who are the “vagabonds”, hopping from team to team. These folks are typically die-hard adventure racers who live for the thrill of the sport and are often on the hodgepodge teams. A great example is JD Eskelson, who has raced with 4050 Adventure, SORB,  and Owwwp Merica. The man loves adventure racing, no doubt about it.

Erik Sanders, one of the brightest lightest in the next generation of adventure racers, has raced with Yogaslackers, Adventure Medical Kits, and Monarx. That guy is seriously benefiting from racing alongside the best in the sport. I can only imagine the level of “on the job” training and education he gets from being beside Jason Magness and Kyle Peter during expedition races.

But the award for “biggest vagabond” is a tie with 3 racers who have been on 4 different teams: Urtzi Iglesias (Columbia Vidaraid, Fairis, San Juan Aventura I, Walhalla Expedicion Guarani), Kevin Stephens (Afterwork Athlete, Endurancelife, Endurancelife Tiger Adventure, Godzone Adventure OOM), and Natali Andrea Rosas Orellana (Chile AR, Sportotal, Sport HG – Head, Raid Gallaecia Fridama).

Racing Addicts

Similar to vagabonding, racing addicts are the people who just can’t get enough expedition adventure racing. While mere mortals would be content with doing one ARWS event in a year, these folks go a different direction… Leading the pack of addicts are Kyle Peter and Mari Chandler of Adventure Medical Kits, Stuart Lynch of Seagate, and our vagabonding friend Urtzi Iglesias in a 4-way tie of 7 races a piece. That’s 7 expedition level adventure races in 2 years. What the hell. How? Seriously, how??

So if anybody has an open slot on their team and needs somebody, I’m pretty sure Urtzi, Kevin, Stuart, Natali, Kyle, or Mari are interested…

I like to imagine all these folks as retired millionaires who have tons of free time on their hands and lots of frequent flier miles.

That’s a TON of dedication to the sport and willingness to suffer. Y’all are straight gangsta, I hope to never see you on the opposing team.

Enough chit chat. Who’s the best?? 

Now, for the main events. Who’s the best adventure racer in the world? To get this answer, I analyzed each individual racer against the total number of points their team(s) had accumulated in ARWS’ scoring system. Only teams that were awarded points in ARWS’ ranking system counted, so even if a racer has gone to every single ARWS race, but failed to finish or not raced in the 4-person mixed category, they earn 0 points. Essentially, the more you race, and the better the teams you race on are, the higher your score. Drum roll, please…

 

****UPDATE**** 

The best adventure racer in the world is… Stuart Lynch.  Stuart (or Stu) is a long-time member of ARWS Champions, Seagate. He’s scored at 6 ARWS races while racing with 3 teams, Seagate, Tecnu, and Swordfox (badass team name). Every time Stu races with Seagate, they win (4 races, 1st place every time). With Swordfox, he’s come in 2nd place, and with Tecnu, another 2nd place. I’m told Stu is exceedingly humble and a fantastic teammate, so Stu, if you ever read this, I apologize for any spotlighting I’ve done, but honestly, your work is incredibly admirable. I hope to toe the start line against you someday.

 

hey Stu, whatcha up to? Oh nothing, just winning everything. Credit Kaoriphoto.com

In second place is Chris Forne, Stuart’s teammate on Seagate. Chris is an unstoppable adventure racing beast, racking up a total of 800 points on the ARWS circuit. The man simply doesn’t lose. Seriously. Every single race Chris has participated in the previous two years, he’s won. Back to back world championships with Seagate. Back to back Godzone champions with Seagate and Yealands, and a Raid In France championship to boot. Every race is a first place, five times out of five. Unbelievable and terrifying.

Not exactly the face of a stone-cold adventure racing machine like I expected. Seems like a decent bloke.

In third place is Stu and Chris’ teammate and captain of Seagate, the one and only Nathan Faavae, with 700 points. Like Chris, Nathan simply doesn’t lose, scoring only first place finishes. Unlike Chris, Nathan only raced in 4 ARWS events, whereas Chris has knocked out 5.  These New Zealand fellows sure know how to race, huh?

So if you’re keeping track, that means the podium is entirely made of Kiwis who race primarily with Seagate. So for the sake of trying to highlight at least one non-Seagater, let’s look at 4th place.

In fourth place is the most popular man in this article, Urtzi Iglesias, a regular member of Columbia Vidaraid with 616 points. Urtzi, as mentioned above, has raced with 4 different teams, making him co-champion of the Vagabond award. On top of all of that, he is tied for the record for the number of ARWS races that a racer has participated in and scored points, with 6 (ARWC Championship 2016, ARWC Championship 2016, Expedition Africa 2016, Godzone 2015, Huairasinch i, and Tierra Viva 2016). His seventh race was Expedition Alaska, where Columbia Vidaraid had to withdraw due to injuries. Had they completed that course, Urtzi may very well have been in 2nd place over Nathan. That is a LOT of expedition racing. Urtzi, what on earth is your day job?? Can you hire me?

Going down the list, there are a lot of familiar names from the world’s best teams, with AMK, Seagate, Columbia Vidaraid, and other dominate teams all supplying the best racers.

Obviously, my model favors high amount of participation and rightfully so. If you’re flying around the world to do expedition-length adventure races in the most extreme environments, you’re damn right doing it more often then others gets you more points. But it raises the question, who’s the “most effective” racer? Who is able to generate the most points per ARWS race?

Dividing the total number of points scored by the number of races participated gives us the answer, what I call the “power ranking”. It’s a two-way tie for first place, with Nathan Faavae and Sophie Hart tied with 175. Both just happen to be members of team Seagate. What a surprise… basically, when someone from Seagate decides to race, everyone better watch out because here come’s the pain train. And as Chris shows, even when a Seagate team member is racing with some other team, they are still a force to be feared. The country of New Zealand has adventure racing locked down. 

Conclusion

So what does everyone think? Total BS? Or valuable insight? I’ll be the first to admit the model is inadequate. There are 19 races in the data set, and with the most frequent racer attending just 6 of them, it’s tough to spot trends or insights. The ARWS scoring system is a great place to start, but what about races that are expedition level but not associated with ARWS? Right now we exclude them because we don’t have a way to score those races. And don’t even get me started on trying to scale this out to all adventure races. I wish! I’d just need every single race result and team roster….

But just because the model in inaccurate doesn’t mean it isn’t useful. It starts discussions. It gets people fired up and engaged. And hopefully, it helps push the sport forward.

Adventure racing is a team sport. Any of the aforementioned racers will likely protest that they only earned the points they did because they were on great teams with great teammates. Rightly so. We have no idea what happened during each of these racers and to what degree these top ranked racers had to rely on their teammates to get them across the finish line.  Stu, Chris, Nathan, and Urtzi’s teams crossed the finish line ahead of most other teams more often than not, so they didn’t earn their points by themselves. So what’s the point of measuring individual performance?

And since 99% of us won’t compete at this level, shouldn’t we just focus on enjoying the races and not worry about who’s best?

Let me take a stab at offering a few reasons why some kind of ranking like this is useful despite the inherent contradiction of measuring individual performance in a team sport.

Firstly, at the elite level, there’s sponsorships and money on the line. Racers can use analysis like this to help support their future endeavors because they can provide data-driven quantification to companies that they are worthy of sponsorship and funding. These folks go out there and sweat and bleed to win and produce results and companies love backing winners. We’re a long ways past the good ol’ days of monster cash purses for the winners of expedition races that bring out every elite endurance racer in the world. But if evidence-backed analysis like this supports some of the best current racers getting support, that helps everyone, because it gets more companies interested in the sport and more racers vying for that sponsorship.

Secondly, quantification and measurement is a mark of professionalism. It allows us to provide to outsiders the kind of measurements they are accustomed to in other sports that we compete against, like Xterra, OCR, triathlons, etc.

Thirdly, for newcomers to the sport, this kind of data helps them more readily digest the sport. Instead of seeing or hearing folks talk about which teams “look strong”, they can have an accessible measurement so they can quickly learn who in the sport are the best. Typically, it wasn’t until an adventure racer attended a couple ARWS events that they learned who was who and could really participate in conversations about top performers. Now, some mediocre schlub of a racer such as myself can better size up a team and know what the competitive field of an ARWS race looks like.

PlaceTeam MemberTotal Points# of RacesPower Ranking
{{Place}}{{Team Member}}{{Total Points}}{{# of Races}}{{Power Ranking}}

Takeaways for all races

From a macro perspective, I hope this article examining who the best adventure racer in the world gets everyone more interested in measuring and analyzing adventure racing in order to discover valuable insights for themselves and their own local adventure racing community. Every adventure race organization and racer can benefit from this sort of analysis.

Imagine you put on 2 or 3 adventure races each year, as is the average amount for an AR organization in North America. You probably know who your most frequent racers are. But have you ever taken the time to actually calculate their attendance?  Because that way you can find the tipping point for someone going from casual racer to hardcore adventure racer.

Have you engaged those racers as your race ambassadors?

Can you get them to help you advertise?

Can you sell season passes to them for your races at the start of the season in order to secure capital so you can pay for additional race expenses in order to improve your races and improve free cash flow?

Can you find out what the demographics of your racers are in order to maximize targeting the correct population for your facebook ads? Is it an 80/20 split between men and women? Or a 40/60? Does it vary dependant on the time of year of the race or the distance?

All these things are possible if you start to record and analyze your race results and start to generate basic business intelligence. It’s not just about seeing who’s at the top of the sport (though it’s super cool and I’m going to keep doing it if everyone likes it). It’s about helping professionalize the sport in order to grow. And even if you don’t agree with all the other stuff in this article, I’m pretty sure you agree with that.

Parting thoughts:

Want to see how you or your friends ranked? Here’s a shareable spreadsheet with all my work. Feel free to spread it around!

Be sure to signup for AdventureRaceHub’s newsletter at the top of the website and like our Facebook page in order to get more content like this!

I look forward to the next “dot watching” party that happens on AttackPoint. I’m hoping this data helps shape predictions of which teams will be the best.

I hope some day, we can build a scoring system like this, regardless of race affiliation, for all of North America.

 

See you out on the trails!

What is Adventure Race Hub?

A question I’ve got asked quite a few times since I started this site is “just what IS adventureracehub.com?” It’s a valid question, as the site is a constant work in progress and as such, doesn’t really have a solid answer. The closest I’ve gotten is it’s a site for the adventure racing community writ large. Racers, race directors, fans, amateurs, professionals, volunteers, you name it. Just about every website out there that is AR-related is tied to an event or series. From major sites like USARA, ARWS, and NAARS focus on promoting the events that occur within their series and providing updated rankings. Social sites like Attackpoint.org and the various AR groups on Facebook make for useful forums where a free exchange of ideas can happen. These are our meeting halls, best for telling stories and swapping advice, not for organizing efforts. There are a few new-focused sites like Explore!Compete!Live! and Sleepmonsters, but those are more for alerting people to what’s interesting. All these sites are great and provide useful inputs to the sport. ARHub is a little different. We’re a site dedicated to making AR better however we can. To use a little Silicon Valley vernacular, ARHub is a “growth accelerator” for our sport, with the intention of touching as many points along the spectrum of adventure racing that we can in order to help pour a little fuel on the fire. If we can help, we plan to do it. Obviously, as a website, we’re a bit constrained to the realm of the digital. There’s no intention of an ARHub race or ARHub racing team. I’ll leave that to the veterans. Instead, I’m trying to leverage my own skills and use the vantage point that I have, one of a relatively unknown amateur with no strong ties to the “golden age of AR”, to help spot the omissions in our industry and add whatever support I can. And because we’re all visual learners, here’s a pretty picture to make sense of all of that! I call it “ARHub’s Virtuous Cycle“, modeled shamelessly off the famous Amazon Virtuous Cycle.

Let me break it down a bit. As I see it, there are 4 major points along the cycle of growing the sport of adventure racing:

  1. Adventure racers, both serious and amateur, want to find races. These races need to be easy to find, accurate, and painless for the racer to access
  2. Racers who easily find races that interest them are keener to attend those races, thus increasing attendance
  3. Increased attendance at races lets race directors make more money, helping relieve the financial burden of conducting races, and hopefully, incentivizes the race directors to invest in the sport, adding more races to their calendar and improving the quality of existing races.
  4. The increased quality and quantity of races encourage adventure racers to stay in the sport and recruit others to share in their great experience. The racers are naturally going to be on the look out for their next race, bringing us back to #1.

Undoubtedly, there’s a lot more to it than just this. This is the ideal state, ignoring the 101 problems that can arise to defeat this virtuous cycle. But that doesn’t stop us from striving for the ideal state. And to help meet that ideal state, here’s what ARHub tries to do:

  1. In order to help adventure races find their next race, we maintain the most comprehensive and accurate database of adventure races in North America. Never again should an adventure racer have to sort through the 6th page of google results, trying to find out if the race that happened 4 years ago in their nearby city is going to happen again. We’ve got a one-stop shop to find any adventure race.
  2. To help the race directors who are trying to attract racers, we put out a series of articles called “Growth Strategies“, where some of the most successful race directors offer up their tips and tactics to help raise awareness of their races. This helps spread best practices and eliminate “silos of excellence” so every race director isn’t getting pulled in 100 directions, trying to learn the minutiae of marketing, sales, etc.
  3. To help inspire and continue to spread best practices, interviews with race directors who are doing something special worth broadcasting are conducted. Hopefully reading about someone from across the nation who many of us will likely never met will help light a fire of imagination across the sport to help grow it.
  4. To help all members of our community better understand how the sport is doing and spot trends that can be capitalized on, an industry-wide analysis is conducted using data collected from our site. In a sport that’s 80% amateur and without a governing body, this analysis helps inform everyone what adventure racing looks like.
  5. Finally, to the individual racer, a way to make themselves better. Speaking from my own personal experience, I’m tired of just completing races, I want to compete at them. I want on the top of the podium. And why other readers may not share that same level of desire, the fact is, that if the sport is to grow, poor racers need to become good racers and good racers need to become great ones. The Better Adventure Racing series of posts is about my own struggles to become better, while also laying out a template and path for anyone to become better through diligent and intelligent training. The better a racer is, the more likely they stick in the sport and recruit others, so it’s an everyone’s interest to help coach and train racers, ARHub included.

That’s the model, for today at least. I fully expect it to morph, change, and evolve as our community does.

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
1229
428
827
627
2415
306
726
362

 

 

Targeting Your Niche Audience

In Adventure Race Hub’s first post in our newly minted “Growth Strategies” category, Mark VanTongerren, Adventure Racing’s Chief Marketing Officer (or at least that’s what I call him, he’s far more humble) taught us about the critical importance of actively advertising our races after so much “sweat equity” has been poured into them. We identified the “field of dreams” fallacy that many race directors fall into, expecting lots of racers to show up just because they’ve spent countless hours in the woods building a kickass course, but then no one does because all they’ve done is post 2-3 times on their Facebook page that has 213 “likes”. Mark then gave a terrific example of how to harness the power of Facebook ads to build highly targeted advertisements that put your races right in the face of the folks most likely to be interested, aka your “target audience”.

Which raises the question “who is my target audience?” This topic of conversation comes up time and time again in the AR community. Triathletes! Obstacle Course Racers! Ultra Runners! All valid suggestions. The short answer is we just don’t know. AR is a complex sport with a high barrier to entry. You need to be confident in your physical abilities across multiple sports, have the right gear, money to spare, and most of all, capable of orienteering (or have somebody on your team who is). This makes a healthy list of challenges that weeds out a lot of folks who may like the sports listed above. Basically, you need somebody who likes tough challenges, ambiguity, and is kind of a gear nut. There aren’t too many folks who fit this mold, and frankly, many of them don’t even know it themselves. So we’ve got to get the word out. We need to cast a wide net to catch enough fish since the fish we want are a rare species.

Thankfully, we have our next entry in the Growth Strategies series courtesy of Kristin Tara Horowitz, who literally wrote the book on race marketing. Kristin discusses in detail how to engage a target audience.

Take it away Kristin!

 

You’ve got the nuts and bolts of how to do Facebook marketing, thanks to Mark’s Facebook Marketing for Adventure Races, but now you find yourself wondering “just who exactly am I marketing to?”

First, you’re going to have to eliminate the idea you might be holding that marketing is a bad thing. “I have a good race, a good community, it really shouldn’t be on me to have to yell about it all the time, right?”

Sorry, friend – even if your product is the very best, you still have to reach the right people. I’m here to tell you how to do that.

Who are you telling your story to?

Before you begin any campaign, you really need to drill down the audience that you want to pursue. This is the number one indicator of your success.  It’s one thing to have a great event – but if you’re talking to the wrong people about it, you’ll get nowhere.

Who already knows?

If you’ve been putting on races for a while, you’ve got yourself a database of users. Right? RIGHT??? At the very least, you know some people. Take some notes as you recall who they are – their ages, sexes, professions, where they live, and even how they finished. What gets measured gets managed. Don’t settle for anecdotal evidence, i.e. “I think most of my racers like tough single track because I asked one team what they thought and they liked the last course…” Conduct a post-race survey when you email out the results. Get the facts!

just-the-facts

When I started taking over marketing for our events almost a decade ago, our race director had been catering to elite men with his message because that’s who he identified. Once I realized that at least 25% of the field was women (thanks to the traditional team format) and only 10% of the field was finishing, we started changing the message and even the format of the race.  You want to keep these people that have come already – they will come back again and again if you do your job well and they will tell your friends.

The demographics of the group should be broken down by event – they’ll shift dramatically by distance/difficulty of the race and even what season it’s in. If you notice the changes are dramatic but unexpected, talk to the people that race and find out why.

The more you know about the people who love your events, the more you can do to help them love you more and more and bring their friends. These people are your champions. Don’t just talk to the winners – ask the last finisher and every DNF’er how they felt at the end of the race and use this to your advantage. People can have a marvelous time when all they have to go is up.

Who doesn’t know?

Adventure racing is a niche sport – it was big back in the day thanks to TV and heavy sponsorship, but those days are long gone now. It’s an uphill battle when you come to bringing new people in. It takes a lot of equipment, time, and a certain mindset to subject yourself to something like this over and over. That means every new adventure racer is a precious commodity. If you’ve been asking your champions about themselves, you’ll start to get a good idea of who else to target. Crazy endurance athletes tend to attract other crazy endurance athletes. We’re magnetic, in our own odd way.

Get Specific

It’s really easy to say, “Well, we want top athletes looking for something new.” Or, “men with mountain bikes.” Here’s the thing, though – you can scattershot this and get no return, or you can niche market and pick a few winners. Niche marketing involves you not just looking simplistically at things, but really drilling it down. The formula is this:  Target Audience =  X + Y + Z (most people only pick 2 variables, your job is to pick 3 or more, but 3 is the sweet spot)

Looking at my race champions over the past 10 years – the ones that come over and over again and put in work for us, I see very specific patterns:

  • Adventurous (x) women (y) with children (z), don’t have time to necessarily train but happened to stumble into it (an extra variable)
  • Professional teams (x) with budgets to support returning (y) who are tempted by our cash purse (z)
  • Adventurous (x) friends (y) who happen to mountain bike once in a while (z) but also climb or distance run (an extra variable)
  • Obstacle course racing enthusiasts (x) who have mountain bikes (y) and are looking for a broader challenge. (z)

As you see above, two of these have four variables. This is really hard to target. It’s a big story and a very tight niche. One of these has three variables but is a very limited audience that we’ve mostly captured already. One, however, is right in the sweet spot of three variables AND has a rather large demographic right now.

some OCR athletes who might not be interested in doing an AR. credit Dirty Dog Mud Run

 

It also didn’t hurt that we’ve been putting on obstacle course races since before they really became a thing here in the US so we knew who that audience was and how to reach them.

The three variables, however, is key for this reason – adventure racing isn’t for all OCR enthusiasts. It’s for a very small group of them. And of this group, you’ll only capture a few of them. So choosing how to target is important.

 

Targeting your niche audience

The first step is to figure out where they are and how to speak their language. I can’t stress this enough. We put on a triathlon for a few years but weren’t nearly as successful with it until we hired an actual triathlete to market and direct the race because she knew exactly what her compatriots wanted to hear (editor’s note: this is a two-edged sword. My ideal race description includes the words “blood”, “pain”, and “misery”).

You have to do your research. There are a number of groups on Facebook, media outlet and race calendars online, etc. Look at them.  See what those people are saying and what they want. Go do a triathlon and an obstacle course race. Then decide if your race fits their need.

Now’s not the time to be lazy. You have to put the work in if you want it to work automatically.

11894008_1046869471992023_8119302513204482418_o
credit Randy Erikson, Primal Quest 2015

The first step is creating a landing page for your audience. What’s a landing page? It’s a page on your website custom made for your target audience so when they arrive on your site, it’s the first thing they see. This is ours. So if you’re running a facebook ad targeting OCR athletes, the ad will be hyperlinked to this page instead of your standard home page. I made sure it was chock full of keywords an obstacle course racer would appreciate – and I challenged them, aggressively with the headline: Despite What You Think, You Have Not Yet Reached Full Badassery. I don’t want the OCR people doing it for fun with costumes . . . I want the people with egos who say, “Tell me I can’t.” To them, I say, “Prove me wrong.” Notice how across the landing page, we have numerous comparisons for OCR to AR to help drive home the connection between the two sports and excite the OCR athlete about AR being the “next step up” for them. Take a look at the image to the left, where we specifically target rappelling (one of the most popular events in OCR) and show how much more fun rappelling is in the AR world than in OCR. When we first introduced the landing page and targeted “obstacle course races” in 2014, during what might have been the peak of the OCR attendance, we had a 33% bounce rate (that’s SUPER low – editor) and our registrations showed it. 63% of post-event respondents were OCR competitors. OCR was a proven funnel, helping bring in the right kind of people to AR.

Optimize your page for search engines

Like your target audience, you want to target your search words – obstacle course racing, Ninja Warrior, OCR, Tough Mudder, Spartan Race.  Stick them in the metadata. Stick them in the descriptor tags of the photos, put them in the page title that no one reads, and for the love of all that is holy, stick them in the text as much as possible. You have to be found, you don’t have to write the most beautiful prose. (I say this as an English professor and professional journalist in a past life – so, like, trust me.)

Also, link to lots of credible sources. Search engines currently rank you higher for your links and links to your site . . . which brings me to the next point.

Use this landing page

48f320faca41af27aacc9508bdbb1bd1
consider how this images really attracts a certain set of folks, but repels others. I hope these folks have mountain bikes! Credit Gymnut.co

Now that you have it, it’s time to target your audience on Facebook using the tools Mark outlined in his article. You’re going to pick photos that reflect the message you want to send to the audience that you want to reach. If you’re looking for adventurous women with children, don’t show them a photo of a hardened 20-something. Show them themselves. If you want your hardcore OCR racer, show them a shot of a rappel. PEOPLE EAT THAT UP. Rappelling is super hardcore to the uninitiated.

Now you’re also going to drop this link everywhere you can, in those forums, on your page, on your blog, on your friends’ blog. It will be found and shared if you did it right, and between this and the enhanced Facebook love, you’ll be seeing a lot of new faces at your events – many of whom will end up lost or puking their guts out but if you did your work right, they’ll be loving every minute and be back for more.

 

Kristin Tara Horowitz is production manager for the All Out Adventure Series in California. She and her husband have written a book on how to produce and market events. For more info on developing a marketing plan, check out her base template here.

Adventure Racing Geographic Analysis

“essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful” –  George E. P. Box

I admit it, I’m kind of a nerd for data and data analysis. So the face that I’m sitting on more than 2 years’ worth of data about all the adventure races in North American has made me realized that there’s a serious gold mine just there waiting to be extracted. Earlier this year, newsletter subscribers of mine got the chance to look at my analysis of a year’s worth of races to see the density of races by month. You can check that article here. A few folks asked me to take a look at the geographic distribution of races, which I thought was a pretty good idea, I just didn’t know how. I discovered Tableau, a data analysis software that is like Microsoft Excel on steroids. It has a handy Latitude/Longitude analysis capability, so it was a simple process of exporting all of ARHub’s extensive catalog of previous and upcoming adventure races and using Tableau to examine the results. Hopefully some entrepreneurial race directors can use this stuff to spot opportunities and grow the sport!

Disclaimer: I think I’m pretty good at capturing all the ARs in North America, but I’m sure I’ve missed a few and a few more got lost in all the data cleaning. Overall, I’d give myself a “B”, meaning that directionally, this map is accurate but not perfect. I had to cut out Alaska (sorry!) to fit the rest of the continent in successfully. Spot any errors? Let me know at cy@adventureracehub.com

ar-heat-map

Map #1 is a density map of all ARs from the start of ARHub (late 2014). So it’s dominated by the 2015 and 2016 race seasons, with a few from 2014 and 2017. The size of the blue dot indicates the quantity of races in the area. So when REV3 holds 4 races in one weekend at the same venue for 2 years in a row, you end up with a large blue dot representing 8 races. This biases the map towards races that occur in the same location, but still provides a lot of valuable insights.

  1. What the hell, Montana? Listen, I know that in terms of total population and density, you’re a small state. But with endurance meccas like Billings and Bozeman, there’s no excuse for not hosting a single AR. Readers, if you’ve got some friends in MT, email them right now and tell them to get an AR setup already. You can’t have a state with a motto like “Big Sky Country” and not host an awesome adventure race.
  2. Same goes for you, AZ. Or least northern AZ, like up in Flagstaff. Another endurance mecca with no representation in AR. Nobody wants to race amongst a bunch of giant cactus, but north AZ is a fantastic location. Shame.
  3. You know what? I’m throwing the whole West Coast under the bus. We’re supposed to be the “healthy” coast with all the yuppies and hipsters and what not. Look at the sparse offers of ARs compared to just the mid-Atlantic. Especially you, California. Somebody in NorCal needs to step it up.
  4. There are some serious “Adventure Racing Destinations” thanks to a big AR series having preferred race locations. REV3, FLX, and BendAR have really established awesome systems to create such success.
  5. Kinda expected more from Texas, given its size.

Now here’s a graph of the quantity of races that have occurred by state/provincestate-province-quantity

Florida and Pennsylvania are officially the co-champions of the “what state is the best for Adventure Racing”. FLX pumps out a crazy quantity of high quality ARs, so credit goes to Ron Eaglin and the FLX crew for their commitment to the sport. Pennsylvania benefits from great series like Roostock and Goals ARA among others. Clear evidence that multiple race series can thrive while drawing from the same population. Anyone else a little surprised to see Kentucky that far up the list, besides Virginia? The line you see represents the statistical average for the number of races that occur across all the states and provinces that have races, which is 7.2.

Here’s that same graph again, but this time color coded by year.

state-by-year

Here’s the same bar graph again, but this time filtering just to 2015 and 2016, as those are the only 2 years that I have (mostly) complete data for all ARs in North America. Shifts up the ranks a bit 🙂

count-of-races-by-year

Finally, here’s the map analysis again, this time with the dots turned into pie charts to reflect when a city hosts multiple races year over year.

race-location-by-year

 

Facebook Marketing for Adventure Races

Thanks to Mark VanTongeren, for this detailed and illustrative guide to creating your first Facebook Ad. Be sure to visit Mark’s website, Michigan Adventure Racing, for more great content about growing your races! Take it away, Mark.

Adventure racing as an industry has a problem. We’re niche. We’re weird. We’re a tad bit crazy. Even among the recent surge in “suffer fests” like obstacle course racing and ultra-endurance races, adventure racing represents a whole new level in terms of difficulty and complexity. And while many veterans of the sport continuously debate the necessity for building races that provide easy entry to new racers versus others who want to double down on the elite-ness that’s intrinsic to the sport, one fact is certain:  Every race needs a steady stream of new racers to fill its ranks. Race Directors (RDs) compete against all the other sports and events that adventure racers participate in, on top of everyone’s busy lives. For some, AR is a part of their life, but for many others, it’s a passing fancy before they move onto the next interesting challenge. So by necessity, a steady stream of new racers is mandatory for a race to flourish, both to replace the lost racers as well as grow the sport.

Typically, adventure racing has been driven by word of mouth, supported by RDs long on passion and often short on time and money to promote their races. Unfortunately, not every RD knows how to make sure their races are getting heard of. Many people struggle with conducting sales and advertising because it makes them uncomfortable, whereas building a course is a lot of fun. Who doesn’t enjoy running through the woods, trying to find the best place to hide a checkpoint, instead of trying to pass out flyers about your race at a local bike shop? RDs can fall into the “field of dreams” fallacy, expecting that racers will come flocking to their race just because they built it. It’s easy to fall into this trap because we become so immersed with building our races that we forget how uninformed everyone else is about it. Facebook provides one of the most effective channels to fix this fallacy, allowing RDs to connect directly with their target audience.

With Facebook, RDs have a tool to reach those who are fans of their Facebook page. However, on average their posts will only reach 2% of their fans. 2%. Facebook isn’t stupid. They restrict who sees posts to drive business users, event promoters, and influencers to purchase greater exposure to page fans and new audiences. Facebook’s number one priority is to keep people on their site, so they will happily restrict companies who post a lot to make sure they aren’t overwhelming Facebook users’ news feeds. So you can either 50x the number of posts you make in order to make up for the 2% throttle, or… you can use Facebook Ads.

Facebook ads are hands-down the best tool to reach target audiences, providing the biggest bang for the buck when it comes to growing your race.

facebook-reach
source: wordstream.com

Facebook ads are highly targeted. You can narrow the audience by geography, interests, age and other demographics so you can get the ads in front of the people most likely to be interested. People who like running Spartans races and Tough Mudders will see your adds. Competitive quilting aficionados? Not so much. Facebook needs your ads to be as successful as possible, otherwise it annoys the end user, making them leave the site faster. Your ads’ success is Facebook’s success.

Facebook ads are highly measurable. You can get a daily snapshot of how your ads are meeting the goal you set for them, in many cases how many people clicked on the ad to go to your website to learn more about your event. With some work by your web person, you can tie their click of the ad with an actual purchase of a race entry using the “Facebook pixel” so you can measure the return on investment and make sure the ads are worth the money. In fact, if your website is using WordPress, there are simple plugins that will install Facebook’s pixel, making a painless tracking capability to better measure conversion.

Facebook ads are shareable. Those interested in a race will often share the ad with a friend or tag them in their comments. Unless they restrict access, the ad is then seen by many of their friends. The reach has expanded. Friends of adventure racers are among the most likely future adventure racers. I don’t know many adventure racers who spend lots of time hanging out with folks who are competitive quilters…

An aside: A simple way to increase awareness is to boost an existing Facebook post you create to promote an event. Facebook ads involve a greater deal of customization and targeting. Read more on the difference here. The Ad Creation section is what we’ll review below and is the most comprehensive way to promote your event on Facebook. Comprehensive does not mean complex in this case however.

The following does not cover all the questions that you’ll be asked during ad creation. Additional questions you are asked usually can be answered with the default answer Facebook provides; you can learn more about every question on the Facebook Ads Help Center or other online sources.

Ad Creation. What’s your marketing objective? For most races, it will probably be to get people to your website to learn more about your event or, if you are installing the Facebook pixel, to increase conversions on your website and better understand who is registering for your event through the Facebook ad (which isn’t necessarily the only driver, but certainly plays an important role). Select the best objective for your event.

Audience.
What’s a reasonable distance that people may travel to your event? The further out you go away from where your core audience lives, the less frequent your ads will go to the core audience. It’s good to reach new people from further away but balance that against the likelihood of people coming from your primary area of focus. If your race is taking place close to a population with a higher density of potential racers, you may only need to select a radius of 10-50 miles. If you’re way out in the boonies, you’ll need to expand the radius. Drop additional pins to expand your reach. Then select additional demographics.

Detailed Targeting. Facebook ads allow detailed targeting unlike any other type of advertising. Type in interests, behaviors and other demographics like age and gender to narrow down to those people most likely interested in your event. Consider terms like adventure racing, orienteering, mountain biking, kayaking and canoeing, as well as Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, The Amazing Race, obstacle course racing, ultra running, etc. This way you are not wasting your ad dollars on people very unlikely to do your adventure race, orienteering event, clinic, etc. Your potential reach shown in the right column will drop from potentially millions of Facebook users in your geographic area down to tens of thousands. This is good, even if it seems like you’re loosing a lot of potential customers. Trust me, people who quilt competitively aren’t worth spending your money to advertise to.

For more details, go here

facebook-targeting
source: wordstream.com

Budget. Select a daily or lifetime budget. We would suggest at least $50 for the event campaign (lifetime budget). That gives 10 days for the ads to get out there. As events get larger or more profitable, a commitment of several hundred dollars is reasonable and can draw 5,000-25,000 Facebook users to your website, likely resulting in several new racers, potentially life-long “addicts” who in turn become even better salespeople than the ads. So even if you determine you did not get as much profit from these new recruits as what you spent in ads, keep a long-term view. And even if a person did not register, they now know about you and may try a future race. Bryan Tasaka, the RD for Mind Over Mountain Adventure Race, spends thousands in advertising prior to and during his race. And his race sells out 9 months in advance to nearly 700 racers. Food for thought… Events that require many months of planning and team recruitment should have ad campaigns that start far out from the race and end well before the start of the race. Shorter races can shift to just a few months before the event and end within weeks of the event since planning, gear, and team recruitment has a shorter time frame.

Format. Choose the format for your ad. Single image ads are the most common. Hopefully you have had a photographer shoot photos at previous races to select from. If not, you can buy stock images for small amounts of money or search WikiMedia Commons for photos that are in the public domain. Ideally you should select two to four images and run the same ad content with each image at the same time. This allows you to measure the photo or photos that are most effective. After several days, you can then drop the photos that are not effective. You can try more or run with the best. Select images that are human-centered and emotive (happy racers, intense racers) where possible as the human eye is drawn to faces. Iconic scenery can also be effective, although shots of a control marker hanging in a generic woods generally do not draw as much attention. Use Canva to make the ads Facebook-ready by formatting them to the right size and resolution.

Page and Links. Connect the ad to your Facebook page and add a link to your website. Write your headline, text and extended newsfeed text. Write text that will entice them to click to the website for the details while having just enough details to describe the race activities and location. Make a clear call to action, don’t drown them with details. Remember, you just need them to be interested enough to click the ad so they’re taken to your site. You’re not selling them on the entire race just in that ad.

Adjustments. Track your campaign in real time so that you can make small adjustments to improve it. With Facebook’s ad analytics, you can see how many clicks you’re receiving and how much money you’re spending. You can then widen your demographic filters if you aren’t getting enough clicks to expand how many people see the ad. Or you can make small changes to the ad copy if you think it can be more effective. Create new versions of the ad with different photos to keep things fresh. As long as you do not extend the campaign’s timeframe or budget, you can edit your ads at no cost.

Examples. Here are examples of ads we created for two of our recent races. The ad on the left received the strongest response to this aerial shot of Ludington State Park along Lake Michigan to our surprise, so we went with that over the people-centric images we tested. We found a local photographer team who lived in Ludington and had a passion for their area. They agreed to be our lead sponsor and provided us some amazing photos of the area including photo trophies for all the winners. That’s a good way to get photos and a sponsor at the same time. The ad on the right is for our beginner-friendly race. We picked a photo of one of the challenges featured in a previous race that quite clearly draws your eye. Text states “lots of chances to catch your breath” to help potential racers realize it’s not a 4-hour marathon.

best-adfb-example-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food For Thought: Much like Facebook is extremely protective of its holy grail, customer engagement, it’s also extremely invested in seeing new technologies succeed. When Facebook (or really, any company) rolls out a new platform, service, or gizmo, they put everything they can into making sure it succeeds. A great new feature on Facebook that is ripe for utilization by RDs is Facebook Live. Facebook Live is where you can conduct live broadcasts from your phone or webcam. People can also re-watch the video after its broadcast. Imagine giving live video of you as you set parts of the course, like a particularly fun bike section. Granted, there’s limitations:  In order to be live, you’ll need internet service, so that rules out some ARs. But this just shows that innovation in the marketing sector is constantly occurring, and RDs are wise to keep their fingers on the pulse. Have you noticed that any page or person you’ve “liked” that has conducted Facebook Live broadcasts, and Facebook was sure to notify you via that little globe button on the top of your profile? Or that your news feed has recently featured a large percentage of Live updates? Facebook really wants this to succeed and is stacking the deck to make sure of it, because it only further encourages users to stay on their site. Their gain can be your gain too!

Good Resources:

*NEW* Neil Patel, a renowned marketing guru, has a MONSTER post about the who, what, why, and how of Facebook advertising

Mojca Mars – A Social Media expert, Mojca regularly publishes a lot of quality content and guides. ARHub is a fan.

Wordstream – A good resource for digital advertisement tools and guides.

Social Media Examiner – Another good source for Facebook and other social media strategy and tools.

Canva – Super user-friendly online tool for building ad images. It’s drag and drop, pre-formatted to be optimized for Facebook (Or Google, Instagram, whatever). Maybe buy a few AR photos from a legendary photographer and build some good looking content!