Triathlon/Adventure Race

So you figure you’re an athlete, eh?

You’ve done a marathon or two, conquered your fair share of team sports, maybe even ventured into the realm of extreme sports — just for kicks. But have you got what it takes to tackle three sports in a single day? Are you ready to test every muscle in your body? Ever thought you’d enter a race where simply finishing is considered a victory? Do you think energy bars actually taste pretty good?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then the Mountain Sports Festival has a couple of events that just might sate your relentless craving for competition that pushes the limits of endurance.

The RiverLink Triathlon and the festival’s namesake Adventure Race promise to challenge the fittest of the fit. Both events involve three sports: paddling, bicycle racing and running (or running/hiking/orienteering for the third leg of the Adventure Race). And in both events, competitors are racing against the clock, their opponents and Mother Nature — who, depending on her mood, can complicate matters by throwing in rain, heat, fog or any combination thereof.

But while adventure racing can be trying, and triathlons can be an adventure, there is a clear distinction between these two events. To understand the difference, consult someone who’s done both: Asheville native Jay Curwen has competed professionally both in triathlons and adventure racing. For him, it all boils down to teamwork.

“Traditionally, the triathlon is an individual sport, while adventure racing is a team event,” Curwen declares. “In adventure racing, you’ve got to be prepared to carry the weakest member of your team — and the weakest member of your team has got to be prepared to carry you.”

Curwen should know: He’s competed at the highest levels as an individual and as a member of a team in both sports. His resume includes membership on the United States Triathlon Team, a stint he remembers fondly: “We competed in England and I got to wear the Stars and Stripes; it was an incredible feeling.”

More recently, he has occupied a slot on Team Litespeed, a troika of local athletes who’ve been racking up impressive finishes in adventure races across the country.

For the novice, confusing triathlons and adventure races can be easy; a primer on the basics can clear up some of the confusion.

For starters, triathlons involve three events such as running, biking and swimming. The athlete must complete each event in succession and in one day, making organization and speed just as important at the transition areas as it is on the course.

For most people, exposure to this type of sport has come from TV coverage of the granddaddy of all triathlons, the Iron Man competition held annually in Hawaii. Similarly, TV has raised the profile of adventure racing. The Eco-Challenge and the Raid Galoisses — multi-day events where coed teams traverse courses that are hundreds of miles long and include anything from mountain climbing to mountain biking — have been staples on cable for years. In fact, these documentaries may well be the forerunners of the reality-TV trend (who needs Hollywood’s version of Survivor when you can watch these folks battle exhaustion, the elements and each other?).

Adventure races also involve a little more brainwork.

While triathlons are held on well-marked courses, adventure races usually involve an element of orienteering — good ol’-fashioned compass-and-map work. Race organizers keep the course a secret until the last moment, then announce the checkpoints and finish line for the hiking/running portion. How you get there depends on your ability to navigate while exhausted. These folks don’t use the word adventure lightly.

Tracyn Thayer, one of the organizers of this year’s Mountain Sports Festival Adventure Race, has some interesting news for thrill lovers with graying temples who’ve grown tired of watching the young set take home all the trophies at mere road races.

“In adventure racing, it doesn’t matter if you’re the fastest team; you’ve got to be the smartest team,” Thayer maintains. “Going fast — but in the wrong direction — doesn’t really help much. This sport appeals to athletes of all ages, because of the emphasis on thinking; you’ve got to outsmart the other team. Teams comprised of people in their late thirties and early forties often are the most successful.”

Both the Mountain Sports Festival’s adventure race and triathlon will feature a leg of paddling on the French Broad River. (While swimming is a mainstay in most triathlons, dodging boulders in the frigid waters of the French Broad is a little too much to ask even these adrenaline junkies.)

John Paul, the organizer for the RiverLink Triathlon, points to the event’s steady growth in popularity over the years. (The RiverLink Triathlon predates the Mountain Sports Festival, but is now part of it.)

“We’re now in our seventh year, and we have more participants every year,” he notes.

“We’ve got a four-mile run, a five-mile paddle and a 12-mile bike race: It’s very accessible for people looking to do their first triathlon. We also keep the course along the river — where it’s mostly flat — that makes for fast times for experienced triathletes; and yet it’s also great for newcomers who are looking to have fun and test themselves by just trying to finish.”

It’s also a great way to get people in touch with Asheville’s river, a resource that RiverLink has been advocating for since 1986, Paul says.

“You get to see Asheville from a different perspective,” he adds. “[This is] a beautiful course, and hopefully it’ll open people’s eyes to the potential of this wonderful resource.”

As for the adventure race, Thayer would only tell Xpress the barest of details — given the secrecy surrounding the course selection.

But she does promise this: “We’ll have a course that totals 40 miles and involve mountain biking, hiking/orienteering or running — if you’ve got it in you — and canoeing. The finish line will be downtown.”

Alas, if both events sound enticing, you’ll have to choose between them: They’re each held on Sunday, June 8.

So if you’re a team player (and if you have two adventurous friends) you might just consider the Adventure Race. But for those preferring solitude and self-reliance, the RiverLink Triathlon might just do the trick. And since Asheville’s such an accommodating town, this year’s triathlon will also feature a team competition, where three people can compete as one, each member doing a leg of the race.

But if you just want to compete because you answered yes to the question about the palatability of those energy bars … well, there’s no accounting for taste. But you’re guaranteed your fill at either event.

And rest assured, you’ll need every bit of energy you can put your hands on.

RiverLink Triathlon

[2 p.m. on Sunday, June 8, French Broad River Park.]


Intersection of Amboy Road and Lyman Street, Asheville.


$60/individual, $75/team (there is also a $9 insurance fee for anyone who is not a USAT member). On Saturday, June 7, pre-registered participants can pick up their registration packets at the RiverLink offices (the corner of Lyman Street and Riverside Drive), 3-5 p.m. Registration will also take place at that time. Race-day registration will be available at the French Broad River Park, noon-12:50 p.m. A pre-race meeting will be held at 1:40 p.m.


Awards will go to the first three male and female finishers overall, plus in the following age groups: 19-under, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59 and 60-up. (All participants will receive T-shirts.)

Best viewing spot

The transition area between the paddling and cycling events; this will take place at Riverside Park in Woodfin (on Riverside Drive). Come early to avoid temporary Amboy Road closure.

Need a boat?

Southern Waterways, Nantahala Outdoor Center and USA Raft will have a number of boats for rent on a first-come, first-served basis. Call Southern Waterways at (800) 849-1970, or USA Raft at (828) 656-8148.

Further info

Call RiverLink at 252-8474.

The Mountain Sports Festival Adventure Race

[6 a.m. on Sunday, June 8; location to be announced (the course is kept secret until the morning of the race, though the start line will be announced during a pre-race briefing on Saturday, June 7 at the Adventure Race booth at City/County Plaza).]


$375/three-person team. If you haven’t already registered, do so on Saturday, June 7 at the Adventure Race booth at City/County Plaza, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.


Cash prizes for the top-three coed teams. (All participants will receive T-shirts and be invited to a post-race party.)

Best viewing spot

Nice try. We told you the course is a secret, but the race will finish at City/County Plaza sometime on Sunday afternoon. Come on down and cheer the racers as they complete their adventure.

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