Here at ioMerino, we’re super excited to announce we’re sponsoring this hardcore Aussie adventure racing team, otherwise known as the BMX Bandits. They’re about to embark on their biggest adventure yet – the Adventure Racing World Championships (ARWC) – and we’ll be cheering them along the whole way. Not just in spirit, but they’ll also be decked out in their own custom ioMerino high performance thermal tops, leggings, undies, socks and neck tubes. Trust us, they’re going to need it!

To be exact, the ARWC course is 185KM of paddling, 322KM of mountain biking, 115KM on foot and 5KM on their hands and knees (through a cave!). The race begins on Thursday the 10th at 12.30PM and you’ll be able to follow their progress through the live tracker here. For those of you who will be playing along from home, they’re team 92, so be sure to show your support. We’ve just caught up with them in their last few days of freedom and asked if they could explain ‘adventure racing’ for those you who perhaps don’t know. So! Here it is…

Words Rohan ‘the crooner’ Kilham
Images Ben ‘Adonis’ Cirulis
BMX Bandits Adventure Racing

“We are the IO Merino BMX Bandits. We’re four lads with a penchant for self-flagellation, fluro and Dolly Parton. We’re just about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime – the Adventure Racing World Champs – in the Shoalhaven region of NSW. Not sure what adventure racing is? Well there’s adventure racing and then there’s her big, burly and very mean mumma: expedition adventure racing. Let me explain:

Expedition adventure racing is a rough sport. Competitors – invariably in a sleep-deprived stupor – typically race through a course of about 500kms over 4-7 days on bike, by foot and in kayak. There is only one start and one finish – no stages. Competitors choose when and where they sleep, typically getting between one and two hours of sleep per 24hrs. Throughout the planet, from Patagonia to France to China, there are a series of races that make up the toughest and most respected races in the world, comprising the Adventure Racing World Series. Every race is unique. Each race is re-invented each year: a new course, different legs, different challenges, different lengths and so on. In this series Australia’s one and only expedition race – XPD – stands as a behemoth. It is consistently longer than any other race in the world series, and is renowned as being one of the toughest races of any sort around. Period. In 2011, the Geocentric-run XPD ran for about 750 km with a course duration of up to 9.5 days. In 2013 it crossed deserts and dried salt beds. Competitors carried as much as 35L of water per team, on foot, skin peeling and macerated, angry feet slowly deteriorating to bloody pulp. The pictures are truly something.

This year XPD is a paltry 630 km.

So it’s tough. More than tough. Athletes, some of them bordering olympic standard, are broken on a regular basis. In some races the number of teams finishing in a qualifying time might be less than 1 in 4! And being the world champions isn’t enough – last year even the world number ones were beaten by the course – pulling out due to ruined feet and a stingray barb wedged in the heel of one of the competitors. Again, the photos are mind boggling.

But it’s not just the physicality of racing for 60 hours without a break at 70%.of max heart rate, or the constant nutritional and fluid deficit (I once lost 4kgs in 8 days of racing), it’s the mental game too. Forcing bruised, blistered, bleeding feet into wet shoes for a 60km run at 2am, in the rain with no sleep for two days… is a little unpleasant. Will power must trump common sense in order to finish an adventure race – let alone to perform well. It is an irremissible component of an adventure racer. Racing at that level isn’t sustainable. From the get go bodies are breaking down, screaming for calories, rest and fluid. Toward the end of any race it’s invariably those able to push protesting muscles, aching – sometimes even broken – bones, and torn skin beyond its normal limits, that finish.

As teams chase checkpoints – perhaps 50 of them throughout the wilderness – other requisite skills become apparent. The ability to look at a map and know which piece of wilderness will afford the fastest route, or for that matter, the ability to look at a map and know exactly – to within metres – where one is 100% of the time. Navigation is an oft underestimated skill. Checkpoints are often stashed in devious hidey holes, or amidst a sea of in-determinant knolls. During expedition racing this requires a certain tactical panache.

The question: ‘what is an adventure racer?’, I hope, should provide a more visceral answer to the question: ‘what is adventure racing?’. Because it’s the story of human suffering that defines such races and makes them so rewarding”.

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