Born in Bilbao, Jon Ander Arambalza is a proud Basque Boy. He moved to Mallorca in 2004, met Amaia and never looked back! I met him a few years ago and every time we hook up, I am more amazed with his accounts of his Adventure Racing. Jon Ander is an incredibly modest person and as a World Champion of his sport, is very relaxed and inwardly confident in his physical & mental abilities. I met up with him at Palma Tennis, where he trains, to dig a bit deeper into his past and this multi day racing thing…
Adventure Racing is a multi-day, multi discipline team sport. Deemed to be one of the toughest sports in the world, it is the ultimate endurance sport. Teams of four work together over multiple days, navigating, trekking, paddling and biking hundreds of kilometres nonstop. The team is constantly confronting challenges and must work efficiently as a team to cross the finish line together. All races seem to be very different, from the durations & terrain to the weather conditions. As mentioned, the general principle is, that it combines mountain biking, trail running, kayaking / packrafting. The route is unmarked & in the wilderness, with only a map & compass to help navigation. You receive the stage check point positions just before the start of the race and you have to plan / navigate your route (GPS & computers are not allowed). He is part of a team of 4 people (with one female). You are completely self sufficient with regards to food & water. It takes between 4 & 9 days to complete and you have a panic button that you can pull in emergencies.
Jon Ander has always been into his sport, his parents Jon and Rosa, are lovers of mountaineering and cross-country skiing and were the ones who encouraged him to practice all kinds of sports with the aim of burning off some of his incombustible energy. At a young age, he enjoyed cross-country skiing, soccer and judo, but quickly discovered that judo and the mountains were his thing.
Prior to University he began to study as a mountain guide and he discovered the sport of RAID AVENTURA. The Benasque Mountain School, was his first great adventure (at 18 years old), there he learned the challenges & dangers of the mountain – through experienced mountaineers and climbers. He didn’t hang about – Immediately after completing his training, he created his first team to compete in an Adventure Race.
Early on, despite things not being easy, they were enjoyable… travelling and competing in as many of the races in the Spanish league that they could. After becoming multiple Spanish and Iberian champions, they made the leap into international expedition races. Same rules and philosophy apply, but a massive step up in the level of endurance (4 to 9 days non stop).
Jon Ander’s team competed in their first world cup in 2008, after 5 days of racing they finished in 5th place. At that point there was a realisation that winning was a real possibility. They managed 2nd place in the Patagonian expedition race 2009, one of the wildest and toughest races on the World Calendar. Then 1st place in Costa Rica Adventure Race, their first victory in a World Cup. To date, there have been 12 World Cups, 1 ORC Adventure Race World Cup 2016 (Canada) and 4 top world rankings, among many other international podiums. You can see more details of the team and videos on www.teamvidaraid.com
Chatting to Jon Ander, you realise that AR more than a sport, it is a way of life. He talks of his memories of the first international victory in Costa Rica and stories of success & challenges scattered across exotic and remote countries, such as: Patagonia, Tasmania, Reunion Island, New Zealand, Mongolia, Canada, many states of the USA, Brazil , Australia, Alaska, Panama, China, Paraguay… You need to have an adventurous survivor mentality and face life with the energy and enthusiasm that this sport demands. It is an adventure race, where knowing how to suffer and survive as a team is essential to finish the race. Adapting to each climate and situation is something that the athlete must possess in order to “survive”.
Jon Ander recounts different good and bad moments that he has lived through with his team: from a fall and the rescue of a colleague in a crevasse in an Alaskan glacier, an extreme dehydration of a colleague in the desert of Mongolia, a blood infection in Pantanal (Brazil) where they endured 2 days without food in an area with water up to our knees. Or having to sleep in the kayaks with the crocodiles in the marshes of Costa Rica.
His most recent race was in May 2022 in Oregon, it was the last race and possibly the “hardest race of my life!” Heavy snowfall out of season extended all the organisation’s estimated times and forced them to bring all kinds of technical equipment such as snowshoes, crampons and ice axes. In this type of race, having the necessary clothing and technical material is mandatory if you want to survive, but this time constantly fighting against the snow and wind was a real challenge. The heavy snowfalls and low temperatures of the first couple of days (between 5ºC & -10ºC) left them with a complicated circuit completely covered by powder snow, slowing down their progression and therefore needing to ration the food prepared for the 3 days of competition (when it needed up taking 5 days). The constant snow and low temperatures resulted in frostbite on our feet as they passed through the mountains and freezing. Despite the bad weather and suffering, they crossed the finishing line victorious with a total time of 121 hours…
Each race has a totally different distance and stages, adapting to the terrain and climate of each country. Below is the Stages and Disciplines of last Race in Oregon Total Distance 600km aprox
Stage 1 Run 30km
Stage 2 Mountain Bike 73km
Stage 3 Packraft 41 km
Stage 4 Mountain Bike 42 km
Stage 5 Trek/climb/orienteer16 km.
Stage 6 Mountain Bike 43 km
Stage 7 Trek/Mountaineering/packraft 32 km
Stage 8 Mountain Bike 19 km
Stage 9 Run/Trek 32 km
Stage 10 Mountain Bike 56 km
Stage 11 Trek/ropes/orienteer 8 km
Stage 12 Mountain Bike 32 km
Stage 13 : Trek 34 km
Stage 14 Packraft/Trek 33 km
What are the challenges of training for so many disciplines?
“It is difficult to manage the training time for so many sports, the main aerobic base is usually done with the road bike and MTB, expanding the load in the months before the competitions with Trail running and Kayak, then reaching a total volume of about 20-25 hours a week. Years of competition and experience have helped me a lot when developing my training plan, paying attention to injury prevention with the corresponding muscular work.”
What Coaching do you offer?
“Thanks to my sports and work career, I offer a variety of services based on all my lived experience. An experience forged with years of learning in different fitness clubs, a variety of trainings and knowledge acquired from great professionals that I have met along the way. I offer a very exclusive and personalised service of coaching and Indoor & Outdoor physical training. Personal training can be done in my own studio, at home or outdoors with the bike, running or any other sport. I will help you find the motivation and challenges to achieve the desired goals. You can find more information on my website www.micoach.eu
How difficult is it to find Sponsors?
“The sponsorship issue is something very complicated in Spain, we are lucky to have had help from many private companies over the years. Since 2010 we have the support of Columbia, Spiuk, Nutrisport, Light & motion, Outthere backpacs and the financial help of many other companies and brands. Unfortunately, the team survives on a shoestring budget and we spend a large portion of the prize money to continue competing. Sadly, the search for new investors is a very complicated job at the beginning of the year…Thanks to the magnificent facilities and the support received by the Mar Club and Palma Tennis, the specific training sessions are more pleasant.”
Are you still involved with the MALLORCA 312
I have been collaborating with the race for 12 years and I hope there will be many more! For me and my family it is a long-awaited date, it is a week in which we enjoy cycling, friendships and unforgettable moments! As the slogan of the march itself says: Mallorca 312 ¨More so thoroughly”. Over the twelve editions and together with my team of colleagues, we do the complete march motivating the participants and marking the regulated time to finish the test in 14 hours (the maximum time). We are the group known as “the Greens”, those in charge of making you see and live the march as a magical and special day of cycling. We are already looking forward to the next edition on April 30, 2023!!.