Instant Ironman: The Next Level
March 2009

You’ve chosen a good time to start cross-training: Adventure races that combine a variety of sports are on the upswing. Spurred in part by the success of shorter, high-intensity cross-training regimens, the popularity of multisport races has exploded in recent years, especially at the amateur level. Last year alone, nearly 60,000 Americans competed in events across the country, says the Austin, Texas–based U.S. Adventure Racing Association (USARA). Ten years ago, there were only 11 sanctioned multisport races in the U.S. Today there are more than 400, most about four to six hours long and tailored to teams of amateurs.

Public interest in adventure racing seemed to plummet around the same time Mark Burnett ditched his popular Eco-Challenge for Survivor. Once out of the spotlight, though, multisport events became more accessible than ever thanks to grassroots efforts. "Our sport grew backward," says the USARA’s Chance Reading. "We started with the biggest national television contracts and huge races and have since boiled down to a smaller core audience of loyals. Burnett is definitely credited with bringing mass appeal to the sport, and when he left, the masses did lose interest. But as the numbers show, he sparked a movement." Here are some of the best events in the U.S., ranked from beginner level to badass.

Beginner
The Central Coast Adventure Challenge
This event features an 18-mile kayak, bike, and foot race through some of the most remote backcountry between San Francisco and SoCal (May 16–17 in San Luis Obispo, California; ccadventure.com).

Advanced Beginner
Adventure Week
There’s a little something for everyone here: orienteering workshops, three-hour sprint competitions, an XTERRA triathlon, and trail running and mountain biking races (June 5–14 near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; adventureweek2009.com).

Intermediate
Adventure Xstream Summit
Part of a six-race series, the high-altitude Summit installment plays out between 9,000 and 12,000 feet on stunning backcountry singletrack and alpine lake terrain (July 25 in Frisco, Colorado; gravityplay.com).

Difficult
The Longest Day
The name says it all. Staged annually, this 26-hour race combines trekking, trail running, paddling, and mountain biking with a decent dose of navigation and some ropes sections (June 6–7 in New York’s Catskill Mountains; nyara.org).

Extreme
Primal Quest Badlands
This is the big daddy of the North American adventure racing circuit. The 2009 edition is 600 miles long and includes everything from singletrack mountain biking to spelunking through local cave networks (August 15–24 in South Dakota’s Black Hills region; ecoprimalquest.com).

—Text by Devon O'Neil