Look around an adventure race and you’ll see an abundance of one thing: men. In every adventure race I’ve done, men have outnumbered women with ratios ranging from 3:1 to 5:1. While this is something of a high school girl’s dream, it could also be a bit daunting to swim in that testosterone sea. Luckily, having grown up with only brothers and currently surrounded by men (my husband and three sons…even our pets are male!), it’s like I was raised for the AR environment.
The 3-4 person co-ed division is traditionally considered the “elite” division in adventure racing. For some reason, the appeal of trudging around in the woods for hours at a time is lost on many women. Fortunately for me, that puts those of us who think it’s a blast in high demand. I’m the only girl on my team, and before a recent race, I had emails from two other teams looking for a girl, despite me being very upfront about my mediocre skills.
Being a female in a male-dominated sport makes it easier for us girls to break into adventure racing, but that access comes with some responsibility. It’s important to be honest about your abilities and expectations for the race. Because teammates are required to stay within 100 feet of each other at all times, a team can only be as fast as its slowest member. At my last race, we were on the way to the very first checkpoint when we passed a couple; the man was pretty far ahead of his female teammate and kept calling back, “Are you coming? Hurry up! Let’s go!” Yeah, twelve hours of that is going to get old.
That’s not to say that the girl can’t be the strongest one on the team. I have female friends who can (and do) race circles around some of the guys I know. On my own team the guys often have to slow down for me on the single track bike legs, but I can make up for that on the trek. As long as everyone goes into a race with similar goals, healthy respect, and a working knowledge of each other’s strengths and weaknesses, differing abilities don’t have to be a problem. Just make sure to communicate: adventure races aren’t cheap, and nobody wants to waste their money on a lousy time or a finish that’s dramatically out of step with their expectations.
All of my races have been with predominantly male teams, and frequently there is the assumption that one of the guys is my husband/boyfriend/brother. While this is often the case with co-ed teams, don’t imagine that it’s a good way to get closer to a guy if it’s not your thing. Racing leaves you smelly, dirty, frustrated, sometimes at your very worst. You’d better like what you’re doing, because 18 hours on the go is sure to scrub the shine off a fake smile.
On the other hand, there’s a special joy that comes with attempting something new, finishing something difficult, and being a part of something bigger than yourself. AR is all of this and more, a place where you’re valued, not for your weight or pretty face, but by what you bring to the team and who you are inside… and nothing reveals that like an adventure race.