In this series, experienced adventure racer Fi Spotswood looks at some of the skills that differentiate adventure racing from other multi-sport events. This time around – towing.
Often involving teams, multiple days, minimal sleep and a variety of disciplines from mountain biking and running through to caving, abseiling, rafting and swimming, adventure racing takes more than just brute strength. In this article, we look at the curious art of ‘towing’ – attaching a slower team member to the strongest on bike or foot by a bungee cord.
There are various methods of towing available. On the bike, retractable, slightly stretchy dog leads are preferred, because they tidy away when not in use. You’ll often see the strongest mountain bikers in a team with a dog lead cable-tied to their seat post. On foot, a belt system is most common. The weaker runners attach a bungee to a waist belt with a small carabiner. The other end will be clipped onto the pack of the person towing.
When you see someone being towed in a race, it’s tempting to think they’re slow, struggling and weak. Sometimes that’s true, but normally it’s a strategic decision by the team rather than an indication of emergency. Adventure racing is a team sport, and it’s rare that all members will be the same pace in all disciplines. In the international and expedition races, the team will always include one female. So, if a strong runner can knock out a 20k stage half an hour faster than their team mates, it doesn’t help anybody. The whole team has to stick together.
So it makes sense to tow. It’s about spreading the effort. Towing will add a few centimetres to every step a towed runner takes. On the bike, it’s about keeping the team as a tight pack, using the draft to shield weaker cyclists from the headwind, and minimising the energy they expend so they will still be moving well in 24, 48 or 72 hours time.
“Everybody gets towed”, admits Stu Lynch, kiwi pro-racer and ex World Champion. “It’s normal in AR. It keeps the team together and makes sure the load is evenly spread. And yes, sometimes you have to tow when someone really ‘pops’ or gets sick. But normally there’ll be someone on the end of a bungee”.
And it’s actually not easy to be towed – particularly on the bike. If you’re going to give it a go in a race, then get out and practice first. Make sure your set up works and you have agreed code words for when you want to let go. “And never hook the bike tow around you handlebars”, Stu advises. “Always just hold on so you can let go if something goes wrong”. Wise words.
This article is part of our series on Adventure Racing Skills.
Read the other parts here: