Tag: adventure race

Why we love the sport of Adventure Racing

Back in the beginning of the year, 913 folks submitted their thoughts to the 2018 AR census over a variety of subjects, from their favorite outdoor brands, how much time and money they spend traveling to races, they most frequent race lengths they do, and many more. One of the last questions of the census asked participants “what do they love about Adventure Racing?” Because the answer was a write-in, the responses had to be slowly reviewed by hand to try and group and classify them by themes. It quickly became apparent there was a significant commonality across the board. Bluntly said – we pretty much all love AR for the same reasons.

What were those themes? I did my best to classify them, using the following definitions:

  1. Adventure – Not surprising (since it’s in our sport’s name), but this theme is defined as enjoying doing something different than normal races/activities, exploring new places, going off-trail, etc. You know, not being boring
  2. Challenge – Getting pushed out of your comfort zone, both physically and mentally. Steep hills, fighting the sleep monster, trying to stay calm despite being lost at 3 AM, etc. Learning what you’re made of when all the armor is stripped away.
  3. Teamwork – The enjoyment of doing the sport with your friends/family. Camaraderie and shared suffering that creates unbreakable relationships (usually…)
  4. Navigation – The only sport-specific theme that repeatedly came up, some folks really love having to navigate around instead of following race markings. This could arguably get placed under the Adventure theme, but there were enough responses that it warranted its own theme.
  5. Complexity – The requirement to blend so many different things together to succeed at AR. Multiple sports, navigation, off-trail movement, competing against yourself, the field, the clock and the terrain all at the same time. 
  6. Outdoors – The sport gets us deep into the woods, covered in dirt, with lots of vitamin D (unless of course, it’s rainy, but some of us love that too).
  7. Uncategorized – Everything else that didn’t fit the above. Some folks love using the race as a reason to stay fit, as an escape from the drudgery of corporate America, etc.

Now granted, most folks didn’t say just one thing. A standard response was something like “The adventure, the navigation, going and doing things I otherwise wouldn’t, plus the camaraderie.” How exactly do you code a response like that? All of the above? That’s the bedeviling thing with our sport, it defies definition and for someone like myself, who needs a definition to measure things, this is troublesome. So I did my best to code each response to one of the above themes. Here’s how they ranked:

Theme# of Responses% of Total

As you can see, Challenge led the day by a country mile. The phrase “physical and mental challenge” showed up over and over in the responses. Clearly, adventure racers like the chess-like nature of our sport!

Because we all like pretty, pretty pictures, I decided to put all of the responses into a word cloud to isolate which individual words appeared the most often. Based off the above response evaluation, you can imagine which word dominated.

Challenge showed up so often, I actually had to reduce it’s weight, as it overpowered everything else by such a large margin that all the other words were nearly unreadable! 

Use this image as you see fit and be sure to incorporate these learnings as your market/advertise/preach about AR to others!

Word cloud answer to the question “what do you love about AR?”

Winning back the Folks that Don’t Return

Back in January, ARHub dropped its bombshell report on the sorry state of racer retention in the sport of adventure racing. Our study found that some of the sport’s best racing organizations suffered from serious racer retention issues to the tune of 71% of all adventure racers only doing 1 race and not coming back. Given the enormous cost of acquiring new customers vs. retaining existing ones, the large obstacles that everyone faces when starting to participate in adventure racing, and the relative obscurity of the sport, this retention rate is catastrophic. So we put out a call to any interested race directors who had tackled the issue of racer retention. FLX sent us their plan. But shortly afterward, the folks at All Out Events answered the call as well, wanting to help to continue the efforts to share best practices and help level the playfield. Breaking down organizational silos and tribal knowledge is kinda my bag, so I’m happy to present their thoughts. Take it away, All Out!

Winning back the Folks that Don’t Return

All Out Events owners, Kristin and Yishai.

Adventure  Race Hub ran an article stating that the best-renowned adventure race companies had a return rate of less than 30% and I was shocked. Our return rate is more like 70% year over year . . . it’s so good that I don’t spend a lot of time trying to win new racers because my returners bring them with them. We’ve been written off before because we’re a big fish in a small bowl – the only professional race organizer for AR in California . . . but our numbers aren’t an accident.

I operate on the Pareto Principle: that 80% of your results come from 20% of the causes. We put on not only adventure races, but other endurance events, obstacle course design contracts, and our primary bread and butter is a chain of climbing gyms. The only way I’ve been able to grow these businesses (especially with the birth of our twins two years ago) is by finding ways to best utilize our community and the tools around us.

The number one thing that drew me to adventure racing was the community of it. My husband, the founder of the company, loved the idea of things like Primal Quest on TV and looked up to Mark Burnett, its producer. He wanted the greatness of epic courses and adventures, of helicopters dropping people into the sea and putting them through paces, and just being AROUND those kinds of people as his job.

When I came onto the scene to help him (I started by administering ropes), I found the camaraderie and relationships that formed around AR both from the staff point of view and the racer one was something unlike anything I’d experienced. That’s what hooked me. It’s also what drives our business now that I’m in charge of it. We don’t see it as a race and a money making venue, we see it almost like a party we’re throwing for people who like this stuff. When we’re scouting or blazing a path through poison oak with machetes, we’re imagining what people will be feeling when they come through it, too. My husband thinks of the elite athletes, and I think of people like me – weekend warriors who don’t feel complete without a little epic now and again.

I think that bringing that attitude to the business is the number one reason we’ve been successful and outlasted almost everyone when things got harder for events. That continual need to push, to get better, to make the experience greater. We have the skills to do some epic rope challenges, so even if it’s stupidly hard to haulable and we have to build magical structures and work to convince the land authorities to let us, we do the thing. Because it’s what we’re about. It’s not about reaching out to anyone population of your racers so much as it is about making all of your racers feel appreciated and like they’re in a peer group. The most elite of our racers hang out with the most beginner. There is no ego. There’s only a common love of something.

One way to make sure racers come back – ensuring your races provide an incredible experience. PC Kaori Photography

Communicating that as a race producer is the most important thing.

When people call and ask questions, I intentionally get into that mode. I know that people just getting into it can change lives. When I answer questions, I go into it with that mindset. I find out what their motivations are and I speak to them on that level, and I make sure they know that I want to hear how they feel after the race. This is especially important after the race. Things can get nuts, and I’ve been known to bluntly tell a racer wanting to know their rank that they aren’t my priority right now when I’m looking for a lost team before sunset, so I always make sure to make note of who might have felt slighted and reach out to them.

But beyond that little bit . . . there’s the Post Race Survey

After each event, we send out a final email with info about rankings, photos (we have the best photos around, thanks to Kaori Photo being on our team), and a short survey. The survey is everything and here’s why: People who answer it do so because they are either:

  • really psyched (and now you can identify who your champions are)
  • really pissed off (and now you can reach out to them with premium customer service) and also know how to improve and communicate that improvement for the next iteration

Because it all comes down to showing humility as a race producer. Did you mess up? Communicate that. Own it. People are more likely to come back for that if they trust you not to mess up again – especially because races can put them in perilous situations. Trusting the race director is key.


Over time, you get to know who is really all about what you’re doing. If you’re being humble, that means you’re also grateful. Finding ways to share that gratitude to the people putting in work to your race and organization is key. It’s not about “stuff” or discounts, it’s about making them feel like they’re part of the team. I started a Facebook group for All Out Alumni. It’s really easy to put out questions and concerns and the people who love us and want us to improve generally jump in with good ideas. The key is validating those people and USING their ideas so they feel valued. Communicating gratitude to enthusiastic people who bring in more people, and asking them how you can help them sell others on adventure racers.

This last year, I specifically put out the call about this and it resulted in a couple outreach quizzes and a little infographic that people could share and print out to hand out (see the infographic at the bottom). I vetted it to them and got their feedback about what they needed as a tool. It was different than what I would have done from a producer standpoint, and that’s exactly why it worked.

Your job is to serve your champions. They don’t even want a reward most of the time, they just want to help. TAKE THE HELP.

Asking Why

The final thing to do is periodically send emails out to people who haven’t registered for a race in a while, and, in as personal a way as possible, ask them why.  Here are the questions I ask:

  • How likely are you to recommend our Dawn to Dusk to someone?” 0 is that you’d rather them die a horrible death and 10 being that you’d pay for their entry and get them there yourself if money and time were no object.
  • What, specifically, has kept you from registering this year?
  • Email address

The first one is such a clear range that you get a solid idea of how you’re doing and how important it is to follow up on comments. We got two 0s. One said it was an event not for someone off the couch (yeah, it’s not so, okay), and one came with some concrete feedback that I was able to reach out to the person about, commiserate and offer to make it right. Win for everyone. A full 60% gave us a 10. That’s why our retention is so high. The reasons they didn’t register was that they are busy or out of shape or something out of our hands.  The rest (it went the gamut from 10 to 5) were highly praising us, but again, reasons out of our hands. And 5’s not so bad when you phrase it like we did above. The fact that we got so many 10s is kind of amazing, really. And, the warm fuzzies keep you going, too. 🙂

So, in summation – how do you get such a good return rate?

  1. Genuinely care about the entire experience being a life changer for the people in it.
  2. Identify your champions and encourage them however you can.
  3. Be brave and ask how you can improve, regularly, every race, and once in a while to the people who don’t come back.

The 1-and-Done Problem – How Customer Retention Is A Serious Problem for Adventure Racing

My fellow adventure racers, we have a serious problem.

Our sport has a lot of challenges that are restricting its growth, many of which we’ve talked at length about on this website and across various social media forums. You know the most common issues:  Complexity of the sport, equipment requirements, fierce competition with other sports for racers’ time and money, permitting, insurance, relative obscurity, people not willing to go bushwacking or read a map, etc. The list goes on.

There’s a lot of good, rational reasons why adventure racing faces a steep uphill fight to gain credibility, stability, and growth. But at least we’ve got one thing going for our sport that most other sports don’t have – once somebody does AR, they are hooked. There’s something so awesome about crashing through the woods, switching between disciplines, getting hopelessly lost then landing precisely at the CP all within the same hour that somehow just works.

Adventure Racers are passionate and loyal to their sport. The trick is just getting people to try the first race and then they are hooked. Right?

Maybe not.

Maybe we’ve got a serious problem that isn’t appreciated yet. What if our assumption that getting someone to do just one AR is all that’s needed is wrong?

Maybe it actually takes a fair bit more than just one race to make somebody become an adventure racer. And if this is true, then getting people who do their first AR to come back to their second and third race would be an absolutely CRITICAL action every race organization must take.

As you might have guessed from my tone in this article, the common assumption is wrong (at least as far as I can measure). Adventure Racers don’t get hooked after one race, it takes on average three races for someone to become a regular racer at their local race organization.

So what happens to all those people who do just one or two races? Great question, glad you asked! Turns out, the sport of adventure racing stinks at customer retention. We’re about as good at getting racers to come back to our races as paper bags are good at holding water.

In other words, poorly.

How bad is it? According to my analysis, 70.9% of all adventure racers are “1 and done”, meaning they do one adventure race and don’t return. Let that sink in for a minute. 71% of all racers don’t come back after experiencing their first race. There goes that “just race once and you’ll be hooked” idea, right out the window!

That’s no bueno.

Making matters worse, 15.5% of racers do just 2 races. That’s a total of 86.3% of racers doing just 1 or 2 races. The remaining 13.7% make up racers who do 3 or more races with a race organization.That meager 13.7% make up the dedicated core of race organizations’ racers. The rest are essentially lost customers. This is a big problem! We are hemorrhaging racers!

Let’s throw back the curtains and see what’s going on!

Before going into greater detail, let me talk a bit about how I got to these numbers. Over the past few months, I partnered with 6 race organizations who volunteered to send me their race registration data from every race they had ever conducted. These race organizations span the US, from east to west, north to south. 5 of the 6 organizations held races for 3 or more consecutive years and at least 2 races each year.

Out of respect for not divulging individual organization’s customer retention data, the 6 will remain anonymous, but you can take my word that these 6 were chosen in part because they represent some of the best AR organizations in the sport. All this matters because I wanted to make sure the measurements accurately reflected the “best case” scenario for our sport. Established race organizations should generally have better customer acquisition and retention systems in place vs. new companies just getting started. Or so we hope.

This model has tons of flaws. While I hope these 6 organizations fairly represent all of AR across the US, that doesn’t make it so. Despite my efforts, plenty of data errors still exist at the individual racer level. But with 6,717 unique racers, I hope that it’s both statistically significant and large enough that any data errors can’t impact the averages.

So let us charge forward, knowing that this is far from perfect, but still a significant step forward from what we had previously, which was just individual race organizations MAYBE knowing their retention rates. I hope this can serve as a benchmark metric for all organizations to measure themselves against and keep the conversations focused on data-driven decision making for the sport.

Relentless Forward Movement, my friends.

It took a while, but I scrubbed the registration data of all races (a total of 187 unique races), removing duplicate entries, cleaning missing data points, etc. Boring, tedious work, but oh so necessary to ensure accurate analysis. At the end, I had 11,692 unique racer/race entries for 6,717 unique racers. This ranged from 1-hour family races to 72-hour expeditions. I then summed the total number of races and race hours for each individual racer. Finally, I pivoted out the number of racers by the number of races attended, which gave me the percentages listed above. Here’s the full bar graph of # of racers by # of races. I cut it off after 13 races attended, as it went on for a while in the single digits. 

As you can see, there is a HUGE drop off between the 1st and 2nd race and then again from the 2nd and 3rd race. Then essentially tells us that we have three clusters of racers: “1 and done”, “2 and done” and “3 or more”. Let’s break down each of these clusters for greater insights.

1 and Done

It’s breathtaking (not in a good way) to see that 71% of racers don’t come back. That’s 4,761 out of 6,717 racers.

Let’s brainstorm for a minute why the numbers could be so high.

For starters, any business will naturally have customer loss. There are valid reasons for folks never returning to race again with a specific race organization. Maybe they loved the race, but don’t live in the area, and are actively racing elsewhere. Maybe they were invited by a friend, had a good time, but AR just doesn’t make it to the top of the priority list. Maybe they had a bad experience and don’t want to return (just ask my wife, as she’s a 1-and-done racer!). Or maybe they just had their first race in 2017 and are super excited for their next one in 2018. All these will take place, no matter how great a race is. No sense crying over spilled milk, we do the best we can with what we’ve got, knowing you can’t win over everybody every time.

From the other side, many race organizations aren’t really businesses in the true sense. We’ve got full-time organizations like Adventure Enablers or Michigan Adventure Racing, but most race organizations are side gigs for their RDs, more a pursuit of passion than a serious income stream. So expecting them to operate like a business run by full-time employees is a stretch. But for the good of the sport, I’ll assume that every race organization is motivated to bring more racers back, regardless if they are doing it to make more profit, fundraise for a good cause, or just for the fun of getting more folks into the great outdoors. Regardless of the reason, I think we ALL want more people to adventure race.

But with such a high number of lost customers, some things MUST be done. There’s plenty of great writing about the critical importance of customer retentions (here’s a great article by Harvard Business Review), but the short version is that it costs anywhere from 5 to 25 times as much to acquire a new customer than it costs to keep an existing customer. I suspect AR is close to the 25 times, as the well-documented difficulty of finding someone who has all the gear, skills, and mindset to do AR is like finding a needle in a haystack of endurance athletes.

Don’t believe me? Think about it for a second. To get a new adventure racer, you’ve got to:

  1. Find a someone who might be interested. This likely means they are already doing outdoor endurance sports, but not always.
  2. Get them the necessary gear if they don’t have it. Maybe they have a mountain bike, or maybe they can easily borrow one. Kayak or Packraft required? Good luck finding someone with those lying around the house!
  3. Get them comfortable with map reading and navigation. Maybe they join with some more experienced racers, maybe they attend an orienteering course or clinic. But 99% of the population doesn’t have this skill
  4. Get them to come out to a race, prioritizing that event over whatever else they might have done that day/weekend.

My $.02 – if somebody makes it to an AR, they have already overcome significant filters and we need to pull out the stops to bring them back.

Undoubtedly, there are a lot of variables that affect if someone will come back for their second race. But at least one variable that we can actually measure is the race length. Let’s take a look at the count of 1-and-done racers by the race length of their only race.

Not surprisingly, the 1-and-done racers are heavily weighted towards the beginner lengths, with 3 hours being the most popular race length (28% of total). 73% of all 1-and-done racers are clustered around the 3 to 6-hour length, and this makes perfect sense to me. You go out to your first AR, only sign up for the short length option, and that’s all. No big deal, thanks for coming, hope you had a fun time, be sure to tag yourself in the race photos, and hopefully, we can convince you to come back.

Note that the 11-hour length in the graph actually represents 11 hours or longer, all the way up to 72 hours. So while technically, someone in this data set is considered a 1-and-done if they only do a single race with a race organization, that could include doing a 72-hour race. I highly doubt those who do a 72-hour race and are 1-and-done have actually stopped doing ARs. More likely they are racing somewhere else and came into town for that big race, not returning to race in that specific organization’s shorter races. But this is a pretty small number of overall customers, hardly making a dent in 4.7K 1-and-done customers.

What also really surprised me was the relative consistency between the 6 race organizations in terms of their 1-and-done rates. Some of these organizations have been putting on races close to a decade, others just a few years, but they all had about the same rate. This is an additional point in favor of using this study as a benchmark for the whole sport, given the diversity of the organizations that all same the (mostly) same return rates. Check out this table:

Race Org. 1 Race 2 Races 3+ Races
1 65% 17% 18%
2 69% 17% 14%
3 69% 16% 15%
4 79% 17% 5%
5 55% 15% 30%
6 86% 14% N/A
Total 71% 15% 14%

They all are generally around each other, especially for “2-and-done” racers. This goes to show that regardless of organization age, geographic location, type of races or race length, we see the same numbers.

Hey! A quick interruption to give everyone a sneak peak on a new shirt I’ll be launching soonish. It’s my parody of the famous John Muir quote we all love, “the mountains are calling, and I must go”. Sometimes, when I find myself staring at my computer screen after being at work for 8 hours that the mountains are calling, but I’m just not hearing their call. So I had that idea sketched out and will be making it into a shirt (and coffee mug) soon.

Want one? Email Cy@adventureracehub.com and I’ll give you early access to the shirt AND a discount. Only for the cool kids.

Back to our originally scheduled program…


Now to our 2-and-done racers. What stands out to me is the shift to the right in terms of the average race length. In my mind, this is good, as we want racers to gain confidence and sign up for longer racers as they do more races. Some of these folks only just did their 2nd race in 2017, so I suspect we’ll see them continue to sign up for longer races next season. But nevertheless, there are still lost customers in this cluster of racers, we can’t just hope that people will come back. There has to be outreach efforts to make it happen!

Note that this graph reflects the average race length of the 2 races these racers have done, so it’s not quite an apples-to-apples comparison to the first chart.

3 or More

Once a racer attends 3 or more racers, we can essentially call them a loyal customer. These folks have decided that they enjoy the sport and keep coming back for more punishment fun. While there is a ton of variance within the 3-or-more customer cluster (some people just do the same single race three years in a row while others do multiple expedition races within a calendar year), we can use the 3-or-more measurement as a benchmark to identify the core customer base that a race organization relies upon. This is both a good thing and bad thing.

It’s good because identifying your loyal customer base lets you better craft experiences for them. You no longer need to market to these folks – they have your website bookmarked, open your emails, and take advantage of your early bird registrations. More important is to keep making your races a great time so they continue to get the same positive experiences they had that made them a loyal customer in the first place. New race locations, new challenges, cool trophies, etc. are ways to keep these loyal customers coming back and recruiting others. They are the best way to build brand ambassadors and smart RDs mobilize them to become recruiters and marketers for their races.

It’s also bad because it can skew an RD’s efforts to over-emphasize the types of experiences and events that cater to a dedicated elite instead of ensuring their marketing and operations continue to target new racers and the 1-and-done or 2-and-done racers. When RDs get accustomed to having a core crew at their races, work done to bring in new folks may diminish. It’s an easy trap to fall into, as the above data shows just how tough it is to find new racers and then convert them into loyal customers by getting to three or more races.

As an example, one of the 6 race organizations saw 73% of their 2017 revenue come from the 3-or-more customer cluster, despite those racers making up only 30% of the total number of racers to attend their events that year. That’s a classic case of the 80/20 rule in action – 80% of the revenue coming from 20% of the customer base (with some rounding).

Great, because you know who your best customers are, and they are rewarding your good work with their loyalty. Bad, because you risk losing sight of serving the other 80% of the customers, as they make up a considerably smaller percentage of your revenue.

Sooner or later, those 3-or-more customers will move away, retire, find a new sport, etc. You have to keep a steady inflow of not only new customers but also an additional flow of converting less loyal customers into loyal ones. Otherwise, your business is on shaky ground.

What To Do

Tons of great content out there about how to increase customer retention rates, so no reason to reinvent the wheel. Let’s focus instead on what makes AR unique vs. regular business concerns about customer retention. A few tactics:

Post-Race Surveys:

In my ten years of adventure racing, I have only received 1 post-race survey. In my (admittedly anecdotal) experience, race organizations stink at follow-up. It’s a stressful experience to get the race properly executed that after the race is spent mostly trying to catch up on sleep, get back to the regular job, etc.

I get it, the last thing most RDs want to do is spend even MORE time doing AR things in the days following the race. But that’s the BEST time to keep up the engagement. Racers are still high on the great times they just had, they are getting their race photos put up on social media (so your website and social media account traffic is spiking), and they are telling family and coworkers about the crazy thing they did over the weekend. The iron is hot, it’s time to strike.

NOW is the best time for keeping the flame stoked by continuing to engage the racers and one of the best ways to do this is a post-race survey/questionnaire. Ask them to fill out a simple form that records their thoughts and opinions about the race. This gives you valuable feedback to incorporate, helps spot errors and omissions in your operations, and most importantly, reinforces your organization as a professional event company in the minds of the racers.

As a bonus, you can do a raffle or a discount code for people who do the survey.

The fact is, many of your racers will be willing to come back and pay even more the next time, but unless you identify the pain points they have, you’re flying blind. Let your customers speak their mind, and you, in turn, must listen.

Sounds great, right? So why aren’t RDs doing it?

You can actually do all of it before the race. Just write the email, and schedule it for delivery 3 or 4 days after the race ends. Make the post-race questionnaire a line on your race checklist, removing the obstacle of remembering/finding the energy to follow up after the race is done.

Boom, done.

Enhance Loyalty:

It ain’t easy, but it must be done – growing a race organization past the point of being a thing on the side to the catalyst for a strong community of adventure racers. Racers in VA or PA are lucky, they have a strong community that reliably attends races. But for most other race organizations, they have to put in serious sweat equity to build themselves to be the type of event company that puts on experiences so great that people prioritize their races over other activities.

You want racers to come back? Then you better out-plan, out-execute, and out-deliver everything and everyone who is competing for your racer’s time and money. Only then can you start to attack that 71% 1-and-done rate.

This means mastering email marketing instead of just sending 1-2 emails prior to a race.

This means actively engaging your customers across social media accounts to build a robust community instead of 1 Facebook post each month and no Instagram account.

This means building great content so people share your course setting videos, memes, etc instead of just posting what the weather on race day will be. Little wonder that videos from 361 or Adventure Enablers goes viral.

This means developing mechanisms to cross-sell and upsell your products. How many RDs have an established system that takes all racers who’ve done their beginner race and try to persuade the racer to try the next level race?

This isn’t just about making sales (though that is about 90% of any business) – it’s about growing our sport and each race organization within it. Customers vote with their wallets – selling your races is a direct reflection that you’re doing something great.

So whether your race is a fundraiser to help protect endangered wildlife, or helps you afford to let your spouse stay at home to raise the kids, or is an excuse for you and your crew of friends to spend the weekend in the woods is irrelevant, because without those racers coming back, none of these equally valid reasons for putting on a race will matter.

It’s go time folks. Who’s in?

Depressed? Nah, don’t be. Every adventure racer can stare up at an imposing mountain and think to themselves “this looks like fun”. It’s long past time that the sport’s passionate start to embrace some of the traits and characteristics of more professional sports in how we operate. We just need to recognize that there are other mountains to be climbed outside of the physical ones, and for the sake of our sport, I sincerely hope the few folks who read this article embrace that challenge.

Relentless Forward Movement, my friends.

The 2017 North America Adventure Racing Report

With the 2017 adventure racing season coming to a close, it’s time for the 2nd annual analysis of adventure racing from Adventure Race Hub! 

It’s our “state of the union”, where we use the metrics collected from our race calendar to identify the trends and insights from the 2017 season, as well as some year over year comparisons with previous seasons. This is a DEFCON 1 nerd alert people, we are talking statistics! None of that fancy-pancy “feelings” and “emotions” and other nonsense. Plain, hard facts.

Check out my original analysis of the 2016 race year here: https://adventureracehub.com/2016-adventure-racing-analysis/

Before we jump right into it, a quick disclaimer as always:  This analysis represents the best efforts of a single individual to track a loosely organized sport across a whole continent. I undoubtedly miss a race or three, get details incorrect as race directors update their races, and sometimes miss critical updates like RDs canceling races.  A favorite saying of mine is “all models are wrong, but some are still useful” and I try to keep that in mind.

I welcome anyone who spots an error to reach out to me, and always, the ARHub calendar is open to anyone to submit a race. It’s a community tool and if you enjoy or use the data in this article, I ask you to help keep me accurate by submitting races and race corrections to the calendar!

But overall, I’m confident this is at least 90% accurate. Just don’t try to use it in a court of law. Good? Good.

Drumroll, please.

In 2017, there were 155 adventure races, up 14 from 2016, when there was 141. This was thanks in part to existing race organizations like Bend Racing, Krank Events, and Adventure Addicts Racing expanding the number of races they ran in 2017, as well as the launch of Soggy Bottom Boys racing, which hosted 3 races in their inaugural year. Definitely, a great signal for the sport to see existing race organizations decide to execute new races as well as new race organizations finding the courage to launch. As they say, ‘if you ain’t growing, you’re dying’ and I’m glad to see it looks like AR is growing, at least at the organizational level.

Now, before anyone says “yeah, we’re up from 2016, but we still aren’t as good as 2015!” keep in mind that I’ve gotten better each year at finding adventure races and being more precise with my measurements. There are some “adventure races” in my 2015 data that probably shouldn’t be there because they weren’t actually ARs by even my own liberal definition (which, FYI, is multisport (mountain bike, trek/trail run, paddle, etc.) and includes navigation. That’s it.)


Across the 154 races, there was a total of 2781 hours of adventure racing. This is calculated by summing the total number of hours a race offers across all their length options (e.g. a race offers a 12, 6, or 3-hour option, they get a total of 21 hours), then totaling all races together. That’s a ton of racing!  According to my data, in 2016 there were 2562 hours, so those 14 additional races between 2016 and 2017 brought with them 219 hours of additional racing. That’s an 8.5% growth rate year over year!

So we’re not roaring ahead or anything, but that’s pretty good! This is the first positive indicator of the sport’s health since I started monitoring. Dare I say it? Are we starting to see glimmers of the sun after the long AR winter?

Across the year, there were definitely preferred months for racing, with June the most popular, hosting 23 ARs. Interestingly, when you look at the # of races by month for 2016, there are real differences in the month of September and July. Beats me why. Changes in parks granting permits?

Hold up. Shameless plugin before we go on. Did you know ARHub sells t-shirts? Like, super cool t-shirts, designed for adventure races?

Instead of asking for donations, I’m trying to make content and products adventure racers would be happy to spend money on.

How nuts is that??? There’s actually shirts made for adventure racers! We no longer are limited to just the ratty shirts from races that are covered in sponsor logos. We can wear comfy, top-quality shirts with kick-ass graphics that help proclaim our sport to the world.

And since you’re reading the most popular article on ARHub, I’m giving you a limited opportunity. The first 100 readers to buy a shirt off ARHub’s store can use the code “datanerd” for 30% off!!!

Check out our newest shirt, Race Happy:

Does the thrill of competition make you smile? Is nothing in the world as fun as racing through the woods, alive and free? Then share with the world your little secret – that you Race Happy!

This super-soft, baby-knit t-shirt looks great on both men and women – it fits like a well-loved favorite. Made from 100% cotton, except for heather colors, which contain polyester.

So if you like adventure racing, like shirts, and want to help ARHub, head over to our store (after finishing this awesome article, of course!) and treat yourself!

Now, on to the most popular data point – what’s the current capital of AR? What state hosts the most ARs? In 2016, it was Pennsylvania and Florida tied by the # of races, but since PA had more race organizations, I gave them the win. Do they hold onto the throne?

Holy cow, we’ve got a shake-up! Virgina for the win!  Huge props to Adventure Enablers, Adventure Addicts Racing, Dominion River Rock,  Happy Mutant, and Soggy Bottom Boys for making Virgina the new ADVENTURE RACING CAPITAL OF THE US!!!

*airhorn noises*

*Mark Harris rips his shirt off and waves it around like a wild man*

Wait, hold up!

What about the total number of racing hours by state? It’s possible that VA hosted a bunch of short races while PA or FL hosted longer ones. This would make them more worthy of the crown, right?

It’s not even close. VA storms past FL, PA, and KY to lock down the top of the podium. Florida follows, led by Ron Eaglin and the FLX crew, then a tie for 3rd place between KY (361 as the leaders of the state) and PA, which hosts 5 different race organizations.

Image if Adventure Enablers weren’t so busy with the whole ARWS world championship over in Wyoming. Virginia would be even farther ahead! And by the looks of their website, they’re getting SUPER busy with ARs in their home state in 2018. It will pretty hard for other states to keep up!

I should also note that the final race of the 2017 season takes place December 31st, and is down in Florida put on by FLX. So if that race falls off for some reason, Florida will fall behind PA and KY to 4th place. Watch out Ron!

I wonder if there will be some back-room negotiations as PA or KY try to lure some races away from VA in 2018? Maybe host a few more short races to plus their numbers up? If I can help stoke the fires of friendly competition between these race organizations, my job here is done!

Here’s the same data, presented over a map:


And here’s the map with the races by total racing hours:

What’s up, Arizona, Montana, and Oklahoma? Looks like the Oklahoma adventure racing organization closed up shop last year, and the Sky Challenge Adventure Race that was set for launch in AZ never happened (yet!) I still can’t believe there isn’t a regular AR around Lake Tahoe (I know, PQ was there 2 years ago, but it’s an endurance playground, it should always have a race.) Same goes for ALL of Montana. If anyone has friends in Montana, please get them moving on an AR. You can’t have cities like Bozeman and Missoula, which win awards like Outside Magazine’s ‘best places to live’ and NOT have an adventure race. I’m about to move there just to start one!

Can we take a minute to talk about easily the CUTEST AR of the year, the S’more Adventure Race? If that ain’t a commitment to developing the adventure racers of the future, I don’t know what is!

S’more Adventure Race

Let’s take a look at the race organization level. Who were the leaders? Who put on the most races?

It’s not even a competition. Mr. World Wide, the only RD who makes their racers fire machine guns mid-race, Toby ‘Happy Mutant’ Evans, carries it by a LONG shot for the 2nd year running. The man is unstoppable! Not surprisingly, we see Adventure Enablers, FLX, and 361 duking it for the 2nd through 4th place. Let that be a lesson to other RDs – include machine gun ranges in your races! Although, I hear FLX’s Sea 2 Sea may feature skydiving in 2018? I’m going to need to expand my list of disciplines I track…

Let’s take a look at the year-over-year data by race organization to see if there’s anything interesting!

Yeah, no surprise, Happy Mutant for the TKO.

Let’s take a moment to recognize the race organization that is the clear “Rookie of the Year”, Soggy Bottom Boys Racing out of southern Virginia. As many racers know, Mark launched Soggy Bottom Boys in 2017 with three races for a total of 74 hours of racing and has been absolutely on his GRIND getting the word out. I mean come on, the man has free massages at the end of his races (don’t worry, not from him, from a professional!) His dedication definitely planned a crucial part in getting Virginia the championship! Way to go, Mark!

Now, to be fair, I can’t check every race organization to see if they made good on all the race lengths they posted when I made their entry to the race calendar. And I found a data error – the maximum race length in my system was 96 hours, so I went in and manually updated the max length to 157 for those poor souls who had to keep chugging along at Cowboy Tough for that long, which boosts Adventure Enablers’ numbers up to 2nd place.

Sadly, 2017 also had some losses. It looks like Mid-America Xtreme, KanDo Adventures, Rolla Multisport, Team Dragon AZ Adventures, and Infiterra Sports didn’t host any ARs in 2017. Hopefully, we’ll see them re-join the fray in 2018!

As for the length of the races, we see the same lengths being the most popular in 2017 as we saw in 2016 – The average length of a race was 12 hours, and the most frequent option was 8 hours. I know, I know, all the expedition racers are crying about the shrinking of the sport’s common lengths. No reason to cry over spilled milk, we need beginner-friendly races to help grow the sport, not everybody is willing to make an expedition their first race.

Though that does seem to be a badge of pride…

Did I miss anything? Most definitely. Made an error in calculating who the best states for AR are? Yeah, sure. Email me and let me know what you think and help me improve the article’s relevance and accuracy!

And finally, don’t forget to submit new races to ARHub’s calendar and check out our store! Use the coupon “datanerd” for 30%, but it’s only good for the first 100 people!

See you on the trails,