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Adventure Race Preparation: a 4- to 6-Month Overview
By Courtenay Schurman, MS, CSCS
You’ve tried the marathon, the century, the triathlon, maybe even some orienteering, geocaching and mountaineering. But have you ever tried piecing several of them together into one race? The ultimate Primal Quest adventure race (held in South Dakota in 2009) will involve single track mountain biking, climbing mixed with spelunking (caving), paddling, swimming, and trekking/running. If you are thinking about trying your hand at a few less extreme adventure races (a day’s worth, perhaps) to see if you’d like to ultimately make a go at the “World's Most Challenging Human Endurance Competition” keep the following points in mind.
KEEP THE END GOAL IN MIND: First consider the longest stretch you might face in any single event and the most effective way to prepare for it. In a race where you know you will be biking 100 miles (though not all in one piece) you need to be able to face riding a century over the duration of the race. A single trekking stretch of 13 miles means being able to go the distance of a half-marathon over varied terrain while carrying a weighted pack. While you may be tempted to follow a general running training program for the trekking component, keep in mind that the multi-sport aspect and additional pack weight dictates that you’ll need to include elevation gain, loss, and loaded pack training as well. Ascending and losing elevation and manipulating ropes courses will also require full body strength and stamina not necessarily used in flat course training. Most endurance athletes will already be comfortable training for stamina, but including key components of strength and speed are also vital.
IDENTIFY YOUR WEAKNESSES: Your team will only be as strong as its weakest link. If you already know what your weak activity is, you can put into motion a plan to shore up that area in the first few months of training. If you are nervous about vertical gains of several hundred feet, start getting experience with ropes and climbing at a local climbing gym. If you are comfortable running marathons but slow down as soon as you put on any sort of pack, get out on boulder fields, hills, sand dunes, or whatever varied terrain you have access to and start getting used to climbing and descending with a weighted pack. If your navigation skills are lacking, take an orienteering course or work closely with someone else on your team who has those skills. If you have any strains or physical limitations that flare up under hard work, address those early before you get deep into training.
CHOOSE TRAINING MEMBERS WISELY: Early on, you will want to make sure your selected teammates will be comfortable working together under the most adverse conditions: extreme weather, darkness, sweat, blood, tears, fatigue, and confusion. When you set up your training program, be sure to include several all-day (and into the night) multi-sport “mini-events” for yourselves including navigation, gear changes, and transitions from one sport to another so you understand the logistics involved in competing.
ESTABLISH SUITABLE TRAINING BLOCKS: In a 6-month training program, periodize your training so that you focus on different variables as you gain strength and stamina. Below are the blocks and suggested durations, components in each block, and repetition brackets to use when strength training. These are all based on training information provided in The Outdoor Athlete: Schurman and Schurman, Human Kinetics, 2008). Below are pointers for each phase.
Baseline (4-6 weeks) In this phase you will accumulate the appropriate skills where you need more proficiency and develop a foundation of endurance on which the rest of your training will build. This phase would include each of the legs of the multi-sport race: i.e. several long baseline treks over variable terrain with a lightly loaded pack, paddles at slow and steady cadence, swimming as needed, and mountain biking, building your volume of lower intensity cardiovascular training. Be sure to include several full body strength training workouts per week, shoring up any weaknesses.
Strength (4-6 weeks) Your goal in this phase is to build as much strength as possible in any of your identified areas of weakness; this probably will involve paddling and climbing muscles of the upper body and pack-loaded uphill propulsion muscles of the gluteals, calves, and core. Treks will increase in steepness, panniers will increase in weight, and strength training will bump up to heavier weights and fewer repetitions several times a week. This is also a good time to start rope and climbing gym training (if they will be involved in your race) if you aren’t already familiar with such workouts.
Speed (3-4 weeks) As you complete the strength phase, add interval training, kettlebell or plyometric training, and dynamic strength training for several weeks before embarking on sport-specific stamina building. Adding long hill repeats on your bike, fartlek training in the mountains (see www.bodyresults.com/e2fartlekintervals.asp for more on how to do it) or boat, and plyometric training for leg power (see The Outdoor Athlete for suggestions: ) will all play a role in this phase.
Sport-Specific Stamina (4-6 weeks) The crux of your training program will involve linking multiple sports together in mock- or trial-adventure races, working closely together with your teammates to problem solve, figure out an effective navigation strategy, and determine how to help each other out under duress. In this phase, similar to triathletes’ brick training, or, as we refer to them in The Outdoor Athlete, Back-to-Back training, you will be getting your body used to hard repeat effort with little to no recovery time. If you plan to spend several straight days racing, you need to be sure you can exercise hard, loaded, and in multiple sports, for at least 1-2 days in a row several weeks before your adventure race begins.
Taper / Recovery (1-2 weeks) This is what you’ve been waiting for! The hard work is behind you. The volume of your training is greatly diminished so you can physically and mentally recover and prepare yourself for the event itself. In this phase, your gear is prepared, checked and rechecked, and your focus will be on maintaining your intensity but making sure your flexibility is at normal levels and skills are sharp and ready to go.
Race – The event itself! If this is your first-ever adventure race, your goal may simply be to complete the whole course, after which you can evaluate what worked and what needs changing before trying the next one.
For additional outdoor sports training considerations please see our book, The Outdoor Athlete. If you seek professional on-line assistance to prepare for your own outdoor adventure, see www.bodyresults.com/p1webt.asp for information about on-line WebTraining through Body Results, Inc.