Adventure Team Challenge Colorado Training

Ian Adamson, a former race director for World T.E.A.M. Sports‘ Adventure Team Challenge Colorado, offers some useful advice on teamwork strategy for adventure sports events. He is one of the most experienced and successful adventure racers in the world. A three time Eco-Challenge champion, he is also the only athlete in the world who has won the Raid Gauloises, Southern Traverse and Primal Quest. Adamson is the author of Runner’s World Guide to Adventure Racing: How to Become a Successful Racer and Adventure Athlete.

The following content is adapted from Adamson’s book by Skyler Williams with permission of the author.


The biggest single thing that stops teams from finishing a race is not injuries, illness, equipment failure, hypothermia, worn-out feet, or fatigue. It’s their inability to work together. Just about any problem a team encounters during a race can be surmounted, providing that the team is cohesive, focused, organized, motivated, and well lead.

ATC 2010 teamwork

Teamwork greatly helps with the success of teams during the Adventure Team Challenge. This view is from the 2010 Challenge.

The Adventure Team Challenge Colorado is a race that is designed to test the very definition of teamwork. Every athlete will encounter their own set of challenges and it is up to the team to respond and develop a strategy to overcome. The point of communication cannot be overstated. From clearly established goals before the race, to simple check in’s such as, “how’s everyone feeling?” and “is this pace okay?”, good communication will either make or break the effectiveness of your team. However, good communication and leadership from all racers requires honesty. Start today by asking your teammates what their goals and expectations are for the race.

Inevitably the stress of the race combined with fatigue will put every individual in a vulnerable emotional state. Many competitors will be nervous, perhaps even fearful, at the prospect of undertaking certain course elements. Or, they may be simply anxious about potentially letting their team down. Some competitors will even get fired up and are in perpetual race mode wanting to charge unabashedly forward. The Challenge is designed as the ultimate TEAM event – it is not a place where egos reign. Keeping personal motives and egos in check will help you and your team to work toward the bigger goals and purpose of the race. With such a wide range of emotions on the line, good communication to understand where everyone is at before, during and after the event will help facilitate a positive and impactful experience for all.

Developing Synergy

Synergy can be defined as the power of the group exceeding the sum of the parts. In the context of adventure racing teams, this means that a team that develops synergy moves faster, more efficiently, and makes better decisions than the individual athletes could do alone. Many people believe a team is only as fast as its slowest member, but this is only true of bad teams. A good team, especially one that develops synergy, can and should move considerably faster than the slowest teammate.

A very basic example of synergy in the physical sense is a pace line or drafting on a bike. The limiting force on any person riding a bike on flat ground is wind resistance. If four people ride so that a few bike lengths or more separates them they each have to overcome their own wind resistance. On the other hand, if the team rides close together, one behind the other, only the front person has to overcome the wind resistance and the other three riders can rest. By rotating the lead so that each person breaks the wind for a short period of time, the team can maintain a much higher speed than each individual rider could alone.

Race Tip

Teamwork is a critical element of any adventure race, but will be particularly critical in the Adventure Team Challenge Colorado. One simple strategy is to employ is a simple towline system created with a heavy duty bungee cord (found at your local hardware store) and two carabiners tied to each end. The bungee allows stronger teammates to effectively aid others while still allowing for some stretch to accommodate varying speed and terrain. This technique is especially effective to help pull one-offs and hand cycles which are notoriously difficult to crank up steep and loose terrain. Further the towline systems will help to keep the team together and provide an added element of safety for the one-offs/hand cycles on uneven and off-camber trails.

You may want to bring two tow lines to attach to either side of a one-off or from the back of one teammates pack to the front of another. A ten foot section of bungee should be sufficient; you can always knot it in the middle if it becomes too long. Just make sure to tie secure knots into the carabiners at either end. Also, remember that using a towline requires good communication, since the person following may not be able to see obstacles ahead, or know when to stop and start. In the end, effective distribution of energy will help keep your team together and move much faster.


Often referred to as orienteering, navigation is one of the most critical parts of adventure racing. Even the best teams can easily find themselves off track and racing in the wrong direction, a costly mistake.

Navigation can be very complicated and seem overwhelming. However, if you and your teammates hold to the basics and assess and confirm your position early and often you will stay out of a lot of trouble. For the Adventure Team Challenge Colorado, there are two critical pieces of navigation equipment, a topographic map (which is provided) and a compass. GPS devices are allowed but can add confusion in the hands of an inexperienced user.

In the link there is a brief explanation for effectively using a map and compass, as well as a link to more detailed resources. Navigation takes practice, so getting your hands on the necessary equipment and practicing your skills now will pay big dividends on race day.

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Unlike a road atlas, a topographic map includes contour lines to portray the shape and elevation of the land. Hence, a topographic map defines the topography or lay of the land. Maps come with in a variety of scales. On some, one inch represents one mile or on a more defined map one inch may represent only a quarter of a mile. At the bottom of the map there is usually a scale that you can use as a reference. Depending on the scale of the map the contour lines represent varying distances from 100 feet to maybe 40 feet or less. As an easy rule of thumb, the closer the lines, the steeper the terrain.

ATC 2010 Alteryx Team Rafting

The Alteryx Team at the 2010 Adventure TEAM Challenge.

Once you have the correct map, the first step is to orient it to the terrain. This is where your compass comes in. A good compass can be very simple with a magnetic needle and a bezel (the dial with markings for 360 degree increments). We recommend a compass with at least one flat or right angle to line it up on the map. The compass can be used for many navigational reasons, but primarily it helps you to align the map or “orient” it in the appropriate direction, i.e., the top of the map to North. A map does little good if you have it slightly off, let alone upside down. Here is where the compass gets a bit complicated. The needle in the compass does point North, however, it points to magnetic North. The map however is drawn to true North. This difference is called declination. Because of a variety of issues declination can be off 10 degrees or more depending on where you are in the world. For example, Eagle, Colorado is nearly plus 10 degrees from magnetic north. As you might imagine, this small oversight can lead to big navigational mistakes. Although the terrain may be very rugged, maps are drawn to right angles for a reason. Step one is to align the compass so that it is parallel to the grid lines drawn on the map. In western Colorado, you must then turn the map so that the needle on the compass points to +11 degrees in the compass bezel. Your map is now adjusted for declination to true North. When you finally look up from the map to the field, or the terrain around you, features such as rivers, mountains and gullies will be directly in line to how the map is laid out.

For more information and a more detailed description of navigation, check out REI’s navigation basics. Additionally an introductory course at a local outdoor shop will really help to improve your understanding of maps and navigation.

Return to the main Adventure TEAM Challenge page.