Graham Bird on expedition adventure racing



Compiled: Tracy Knox | Photos: Various photographers | Video: NothinButShorts International

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If ever there was a racer who knows about expedition adventure racing it’s Graham Bird. As the captain of Team Merrell Adventure Addicts, Graham has heaps of experience from racing locally and internationally – with superb results too. DO IT NOW caught up with Graham to find out more about expedition adventure racing and why he enjoys the sport so much.

The most satisfying and rewarding part of adventure racing for Graham is the mental aspect and sense of achievement of finishing a race, getting outdoors and being one with nature.

When did you enter your first adventure race and how did you feel when you crossed the finish line?
I have always been involved in sport since I left school and my main focus had been canoeing. I started doing a small amount of mountain biking while I still paddled. I had always seen adventure racing on TV and in magazines and thought it looked cool. Two good friends and I by chance saw an advert for a 30 km sprint and decided at the last minute to do it. We loved it and then did every AR that we could find that year.

What do you enjoy most about expedition adventure racing?
For me, the most satisfying and rewarding part of racing is the mental aspect and sense of achievement and accomplishment once I finish a race. No matter how long or hard. For me, it is about the power of the mind to get you though all those tough and long times. I also love getting out into the outdoors and being one with nature, getting back to the basics. The places we get to see and experience are unbelievable and generally we go to places that most people can't go to.

What does a typical expedition adventure race consist of?
The majority feature the three main sports of running/trekking, mountain biking and paddling. The other major aspect is the navigation. It is about getting your team from checkpoint to checkpoint with only a compass and map. Depending on the race and route designed, other sports that could be included are rope work, rafting, sea paddling, canyoneering, coasteering and swimming.

What motivates you to carry on during a race when you feel it's impossible to take another step?
During every race you will go through extreme lows and extreme highs. The motivation to continue during those tough times comes from your teammates. Being a team sport, the dynamic of the four members is vital and it is your team that you rely on to get you through. It is about helping one another to get the team to the finish as quick as you can!

What has been your favourite race to date and why?
I can honestly say that I don’t have a favourite race. I have loved all the races I've done and taken something unique and special out of each one. Each race has wonderful moments, views, challenges and experiences in them. To highlight one is impossible.

What is the toughest race you have taken part in?
Again, they are all tough in there own unique way. I would probably have to say the XPD in Australia, in May 2010, was probably the toughest race for me. It took us six-and-a-half days and broke us mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically.

What has been your biggest success to date?
For me, the success comes from completing the events and gaining the renewed 'soul food'. This is what feeds me and my desire to live. In terms of results, we have won a few of the local 500 km Expedition Africa. We also finished second at the XPD in Australia and last year we came fifth at the World Adventure Racing Championships.

Who inspires you?
I would say all the people who actually take the step and get out there and enjoy the great outdoors and nature. Adventure racing, or expedition racing, is ultimately not as tough as everyone imagines. Once you convince the mind you can do it, it is easily possible. The people who are getting out there and doing it are all inspirational to me.

What tips would you give to someone about to compete in their first adventure race, in terms of:
As mentioned above, it is more about the power of the mind. You need to have basic fitness and skill in the three mains sports of trail running, mountain biking and paddling. You don’t need to be this super fit or super fast athlete. Adventure races are done at a very slow speed. It is about being able to continue for long periods, which is where the mind comes in. You also need to have someone in your team who can read a map!

For the long races, it is about trying to eat as much normal food as possible rather than highly processed energy foods. It is about getting a lot of variety and being able to continually eat throughout the race. You also need to choose food that is not too heavy to carry. Biltong, nuts, chips, sandwiches, chocolates, nougat, dried fruit, cakes, biscuits and the like.

Gear choice
There is so much good gear out there. Most people are put off from AR because they think it requires too much gear. Start slowly and it's easy and quick to build up to the required gear. The most important gear is your backpack, which must be comfortable, and your clothing. It is vital that your base and outer layers are of good quality, as these are what you are going to rely on to get you through the very cold and stormy nights. You have to trust the gear.

Team choice
Team dynamics is the most important thing in AR. There needs to be a huge amount of trust, respect and loyalty amongst the team. You need to ensure that you all have the same goals and objectives for the race, so that when the going gets tough out there you are all on the same page. It is not about how the team interacts before the event, in training or around a dinner table. It is how the team interacts in the dead of night, when you are all freezing, sleep deprived and lost. There needs to be good channels of communication.

More information
For more information on adventure racing, visit

To follow Graham and Team Merrell Adventure Addicts, visit

WILD RACERS :: WHAT IS ADVENTURE RACING? :: TEAM MERRELL from NothinButShorts International on Vimeo.

Navigation is a major aspect of adventure racing. It is about getting your team from checkpoint to checkpoint with only a compass and map.

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