Welcome to our series “15 First Adventure Races” which interviews veteran adventure racers on how they got started in the sport. If you’d like further resources, check out our New to AR? page on usara.com for additional material!
What's your name? How old were you when you did your first adventure race? Why did you want to participate?
My name is Bryan Niehaus, and at the time of my first adventure race, I was 32 years old. I had some friends that were always trying new activities, and I was one of the few people they knew that could recruit for something like this.
How did you find your first adventure race? Which race did you pick and where was it?
A couple that my wife and I hung out with found this race in Highland, IL called Goomna, and they needed a third teammate. I thought it sounded like a good adventure. I don't recall the exact length, but it was in the six-hour range, which seemed manageable to me as a non-athlete.
Did you create your own team or did a team recruit you?
I was recruited for the adventure, and we were all first time racers. I ended up racing with one of those teammates for the next 4-5 years.
Did you need to get any new gear, what did you need, where did you find it?
I had already been a (very) amateur mountain biker, so I had the bike thing covered. The gear list for a beginner race in summer was pretty minimal so I was able to scrape most things together without a lot of investment. I maybe needed a whistle and an emergency blanket at most. You can see from the picture, I was still racing in cotton shirts, so "good gear" wasn't really a concern of mine.
How did you train for your first race? Did you need to gain any new skills?
There was absolutely zero training. I wasn't much of an athlete but enjoyed being outdoors. My perception of running came from high school track days where you ran in a circle. That all changed once I found adventure racing.
Were there any resources (online or in person) that significantly helped you prepare? Please provide links if applicable.
There wasn't anything before the first race, other than discussions and brainstorming with my teammates before the first race. After the first race I fell in love with navigation and joined the St. Louis Orienteering Club to improve those skills.
How did the race go?
All things considered, not too bad. We probably finished middle of the pack and we were still friends. I made my first major navigation error when we accidentally skipped a checkpoint that was on the other side of the map fold. It caused us to backtrack on the bike about five miles near the end of the race, which did not make anyone happy.
What hooked you on adventure racing?
There were two things that kept me in AR. Not being one to exercise, I found myself "accidentally" exercising while playing around outside. The hours fly by while I'm out there and my mind is engaged the entire time; I complete forget about everything outside of the race. The second thing that kept me interested was the constant desire for perfect navigation, which I'm still looking for fourteen years later.
Since your first race, name one or two AR highlights you’ve experienced.
There are several memories that stick out in my mind. Early on there was a race where we took a bus to the start. We had been studying the map before getting on the bus and I had accidentally left the map at Race HQ. We had studied the map so much the night before that we were able to complete the entire race from memory. More recently in a 24-hr race, we had found ourselves four hours from the cutoff and didn't think we had any chance of making it to the finish line in time. We made it with only three minutes to spare as the sun was coming up. But I think nothing compared to finishing our first 24-hour race in KY. That map is still displayed in my home office.
A space for AR musings from the USARA team and guest authors. Ready to race? Check out the rest of our resources on the USARA homepage.