Adventure World Magazine published a thoughtful piece today on why expedition length adventure races don't fare well in the U.S. The article offers up five reasons why major races struggle to stay afloat and attract teams here in the States.
The article, written by AWM editor Clay Abney, defines an expedition race as being at least 72 hours in length. Clay says that it's not a true expedition race unless sleep strategy comes into play, and I tend to agree with him. Heck, with some of the top teams in the world, even racing for three days without sleep isn't a major issue. Still, the three day events means that it takes more than a weekend to complete the course, and with the rise of so many 12, 24, and 36 hour races, you have to make a distinction somewhere.
Amongst the five reasons that Adventure World feels that expedition races struggle in the U.S. are expenses and an overly large list of mandatory gear. Clay acknowledges that these races are expensive to produce, which forces entry fees to go up. But when you factor in travel costs, the price of buying all the gear needed for the event, and possibly having to pay for a support crew as well, and the costs go up quickly. If you're coming in from Australia or Europe, international airfare will hit the bottom line very hard as well.
Clay also cites redundancy as an issue, as some races recycle the same venue on a yearly basis. He also points out that at times the AR calendar can be quite full, which means they cannibalize one another in terms of the number of teams that can race in each event. 40 teams that can race in two events well spread out will be forced to choose one over the other if they are scheduled too close to one another. Add a third event to the mix, and teams will elect to simply compete in the race that is closest to home.
One very interesting reason that these races struggle, in Clay's opinion, is that they are not strategically located. He notes that most of these major races take place in the western U.S., and for good reason. The wilderness is scenic and spectacular, and there are plenty of great venues to host a course. But he also points out that more than half of the U.S. population lives within 500 miles of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which opens it up to being a great destination for a big race provided the proper course is designed there. An expedition race held in the eastern part of the U.S. would at least have a large population base to draw from, which holds a certain appeal as well.
This article comes on the heals of the news that a new expedition race has been announced for Idaho next summer and follows the Gear Junkie's recent open letter to race directors imploring them to make some changes to their races.
I love the discussion and buzz that has come up around the sport in recent weeks as it seems that people are looking forward to 2011, and what appears to be a prosperous year ahead. With the future looking bright, it does seem like a good time to examine what works and what doesn't for the sport.