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Adventure Racing with Outsider Morgan

September 26, 2023 7 min read

Adventure Racing with Outsider Morgan
Morgan’s a paramedic, an official Outsider, and a sucker for an adventure race. And we’re not just talking a day long race, but the big expedition races where they’re out on course for a week or more. 

So it’s no surprise he knows a thing or two about what it takes to race, and enjoy the outdoors under extreme conditions. Even if you’re not planning on doing an adventure race yourself any time soon, have a read and see how he got into adventure racing (spoiler alert: his first race did not go well!), what he loves about it, why he’s putting on his own race and why you might like to try it. 

Image of Morgan running on a trail wearing an ioMerino Ultra Tank. Morgan riding a bike through tall dry grass, wearing an ioMerino Cycling Jersey.
So Morgs, how did you get into adventure racing?

It was a long time ago - back in the 80s. I was only 16 and got asked to be part of a team with my dad.

It was hard core - full metal mountain bikes, these things weighed 20+kgs and they were the first of their kind. There was cross country skiing, white water kayaking in freezing cold water, there was a bike ride and cross country running. I did the cycling with my dad and ended up having a crash during it and it stuffed up the team, and I vowed one day I would make amends and come back and try again.

But then I got into sprinting, played basketball, got slow at sprinting in my 30s, and about 16 years later got talking to a mate about adventure racing… and here we are. 

He didn’t even know what adventure racing was, so I was telling him “it’s a bit of mountain biking, trekking, a bit of navigation, kayaking… do you want to do a race? There’s one coming up.” He was like “sure, let’s do it!”

We ended up doing a fairly short one at a place called Kuitpo Forest in South Australia. Those 'short' ones that are three to six hours are called Sprint Races and we did really well, came second and got absolutely hooked and it escalated from there. 

What’s so enjoyable about Adventure Racing?

Getting out of your comfort zone. These races immediately force you to do that. Pushing hard in the natural environment, in the bush, up hills, it’s quite often cold, it’s quite often raining, it’s quite often muddy, you’re wet, and you have to go find all these checkpoints in the middle of nowhere. 

It starts with wondering “How do you even do this?”

For me, it helped that I had a really good navigator to start with and he showed me the ropes. 

Then when you’re out there and you find your first checkpoint, and you’re like “Yes! Let’s go get the next one! Where are we going now?”. That not knowing where you’re going, going somewhere completely remote, completely out of your comfort zone, there’s something quite primal about that - almost 'hunter-gatherer'. You have to go find your next meal.

And when you’re doing a long race you literally have to go and find your next meal because it’s out there somewhere in a box!

In the multi day adventure races you’ve got maps, you’ve got your compass, you have to get from point A to point B, and you might not see that box of your resupplies for a day or two! So you literally have to go and chase down your next meal.

You carry what you think you might need for the next leg… trekking or kayaking, pack rafting, mountain biking etc, and at the end of each leg you might get resupplies or a bike box, where you have to pull your bike apart and put it in the bike box and it gets sent somewhere down the course where you then have to find it and put it back together again.

It helps if you’re smaller and you can fit your bike in the box without taking both wheels off. But if you have an XL frame and it’s a dual suspension you have to pull more bits off.

We’re not entirely sure this sounds like fun, but OK. So was there a biggest/best race you've done? 

The first expedition race we did was in 2011 and that was the World Champs Adventure Racing World Series in Tasmania. The course was open for 9.5 days and there were about 110 teams from all over the world and at the time I thought that was the pinnacle right there. 

It was in Tassie, it was beautiful, and you get to go places you can’t get to by car or even by foot a lot of the time, very deep into the north west of the state, and some of the waterways that you’re allowed to get into are just incredible so you go to places you can’t get to normally.

Image of Morgan and team mates at Adventure Racing Oceania Series, wearing an ioMerino Ultra Tee with Live to Run print.
With all that racing, do you still get to appreciate where you are?

Expedition Racing is anywhere from four or five days and with some of the larger ones the course is open for about 10 days. 

So in those races, a lot of the time, you’re moving pretty slowly. It’s one foot in front of the other and it can be a bit of a slog, and you are able to take that time to enjoy where you are.

What’s next?

Next week we’re doing GodZone which is about 800-850kms and the course is open for 9.5 days - they’re expecting the winning teams to take 5-6 days though. 
This one’s full expedition, you take all the food you need for that time and you can expect to be out on course in between resupply stages anywhere from a day to two and half days without any creature comforts.

It’s NZ’s premier adventure race and it’s being held here in Australia for the first time. It has a really high attrition rate, maybe only 40-50% of teams will finish. It’s notoriously hard, the nav is hard, the terrain is extreme. The course has been designed by a Rob Preston who is one of Australia’s best adventure racers. He’s raced all the hardest races around the world so it should be pretty interesting. I think this one’s gonna be tough. It’s gonna be pretty epic. 

Tell us a bit more about the Total Recon adventure race you have planned?

It’s been a dream of mine for a long time to get an adventure race back happening regularly here in South Australia so I got together with a couple of my team mates and created a new adventure race called Total Recon. It’s gonna be a sprint/day race and we expect the winning times might be around five to six hours, and the course will be open for 10.5hrs so you just need a reasonable level of fitness and you can get through the course in under 10 hrs.

We’ll also have a range of options so there’s something even if you’re not a top tier athlete. There’s a short course option, for those who just want to have a bit of a taste and experience being outdoors - mountain biking kayaking and trekking, The nav won’t be terribly hard so if you can read a map you should be able to get through this course. 

Are races on or off trail?

The beauty about adventure racing is there’ll be a random checkpoint in the middle of the map somewhere, and there'll be multiple ways to get there and you have to work out what the easiest way to get there might be. 

You need to take into account things like elevation profiles, so it helps to be able to read contour lines on a map. You can beeline to a checkpoint, but quite often that’s not the best way to go and it can be quicker to do 10kms on a track rather than 4kms bush-bashing. There’s a lot of strategy involved.

Image of Morgan with team mates in the dark, wearing head torches and wearing an ioMeirno Ultra Tee with Murraylands Multisports Inc print.

What would you say to someone interested in giving adventure racing a try?

With our race, I think anyone that has a base level of fitness or loves being outdoors would love it. If you’ve had a couple of goes at a kayak that’ll help. There’s no rapids in our race so you don’t have to worry about falling out. 

The terrain we’ve selected is completely do-able on a mountain bike even if you’re a novice. If you’re a bushwalker this is for you, you’ll enjoy being out in the bush, mostly on trails, finding checkpoints with a couple of areas to go off trail to get to the checkpoints.

It still sounds a little intimidating? Any advice for someone who’s still a bit nervous about having a go?

That’s the beauty of it, it should scare you a little bit and have you on the edge wondering if you can do it. 

But that’s what makes it so rewarding. 

You get out there and put yourself in a level of discomfort and you realise you’re doing it. And you get one checkpoint and you go “actually I can do this!” and you do it at your own pace you don’t have to win the thing. It’s really about just getting to the end of the course.

Even if you happen to miss a checkpoint because you can’t find it or it’s too difficult, that’s ok, you can just skip it and get a time penalty. It’s all about getting out there in nature, putting yourself out of your comfort zone… and just enjoying being in the great outdoors really.

Speaking of 'comfort zones', what do you wear when you go adventure racing? 

The longer the race the stricter any mandatory items are. If you’re spending a long time outside and it’s going to be wet or cold, you want something you know will work that is technical and will keep you warm and alive because we all know hyperthermia is a real thing. And the longer you are out there, the more real that becomes. 

So having something like an ioMerino top to keep you warm and insulated even when it does get wet. You know that these things work. I’ve been using ioMerino for what must be six or seven years at least, and it’s my only thing I take racing as my base layer and for my mandatory equipment.

I usually wear the Ultra Tee, teamed up with arm warmers, beanie, gloves, and I’m about to try out the Pinnacle mid weight thermal for the first time - that’s gonna be my warm layer for Godzone… I’ll wear it under my waterproof jacket. 
I also wear the Mullet Socks. They're my favourite for mountain biking and also on the kayak I put them under my booties. 

I can wear my Ultra Tee for eight days straight out there, and by the end it does stick to me a bit, but does not have the stank a poly top or anything else will have, because it gets pretty offensive out there and the only washing it gets is if you happen to go through a creek. 

The Total Recon Adventure Race is in South Australia on Nov 25 and you can find out more here
Image of Morgan with a team mate in front of the Godzone starting line.