Hit the Ground Running – Adventure Race Training

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Adventure races are usually great fun, but one thing can be a total killjoy, and that being underprepared.  One previous event,  I badly rolled my ankle and couldn’t run for six weeks before a 48-hour race. The team was competitive, and I was busting myself to run as fast as I could to keep up. My body hurt, everywhere, and amidst the suffering, I vowed I’d never again race so underprepared.

So my tips to hit the ground running with the goal of enjoying your first adventure race: 

June Long Weekend Mid North Coast NSW....12, 24 and 36 hour event- perfect for all levels!

June Long Weekend Mid North Coast NSW….12, 24 and 36 hour event- perfect for all levels!

It would be amiss of me not to say before you start, check with your doctor to make sure it’s safe to exercise and for any extra precautions, especially if you’re new to endurance events.  Build up slowly if you haven’t been exercising recently (by the way, it’s a terrible idea to do a 24- 48hr race on no, or little training),  the enjoyment factor far outweighed by the suffering.

Adventure races are so varied depending on the course, which is why we love them, but with strength and interval training and some longer sessions, we can be ready for anything the race organisers throw at us.

Strength Training
Strength isn’t the most obvious training for endurance events.  But it really helps for a few reasons.  

One is for the actual strength you need.  You’ll be lifting bikes over obstacles, carrying kayaks to and from the water and moving heavy gear boxes at least.

Photo Credit: Ben Cirulis

Photo Credit: Ben Cirulis

Second, being strong, particularly in the core, helps you move efficiently and transfer more of your power to forward motion. 
Imagine trying to kayak with a floppy paddle – it would be so inefficient. You want a strong, straight paddle and an efficient technique which transfers and maximises all your power to move through the water.

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Lastly, being strong makes your body more robust and less likely to get injured.  Which means you can do more of the things you love, like adventure racing!

HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) 
Are basically strength circuits and are available at most gyms. 
Or try bodyweight circuits at home or in the park,these are space and time efficient.  Include exercises like squats, lunges, ‘perfect planks’, burpees, push ups, pull ups and bridging.  Check your technique with a qualified trainer so you don’t invite an injury.

Interval Training
This is the most effective training, especially when time is short.  You can do interval training with almost any activity (bike, kayak, run).All you do is add ‘intervals’ of time where you put in more effort, then stop or go slower to recover.

There are infinite varieties of session options with the best designed around your experience, the event you are training for, training venue and history.  Interval training does put more stress on your body because of the intensity, which means more improvements but also more recovery time.  

For beginners, I suggest starting with ‘fartlek’ training (Swedish for ‘speedplay’).  You vary the intensity of the run, for example, run over hills, go fast every second block, or run faster during the chorus of the songs you’re listening to.  It’s effective for beginners and experienced alike, and there’s no pressure. Just ‘play’ with the intensity and build the speed and length of intervals as you improve.

If you’re more advanced and want specific intervals, here’s a ‘ladder’ session I really like:
Warm up (few mins cardio, mobility and technique drills)
Main set:
1min fast, 1min slow
2mins fast, 2mins slow
3mins fast, 3mins slow
5mins fast, 5mins slow
3mins fast, 3mins slow
2mins fast, 2mins slow
1min fast
5min slow jog cool down

The main set only takes 33mins, but it can be tough if you really push the intervals.  If you’re new to interval training, skip the 5min effort and walk the recovery instead of slow jog.  Also, don’t worry about going ‘fast’ in the intervals, just go ‘fast-er’ than your jogging speed.

Longer Sessions
Long sessions are vital because they build your endurance and let you test your race gear and food, a must if you are planning on longer distance events in varying climates.

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One longer session each week for each discipline (kayak, bike, run/trek) is enough.  Ideally, build up so you can cover the race distance of each discipline (not all at once, but individually).  To reduce the chance of injuries, try not to increase your weekly time or distance by more than 10% so your muscles and tendons can adapt.

Photo Credit: Ben Cirulis

Photo Credit: Ben Cirulis

Putting it together
Weekly training plans vary a lot, but here’s an example.  Three ‘key’ sessions are in bold.  Try to complete these sessions at the very least, so if life gets in the way and you can’t do the others, you have still done ‘3 quality’ sessions.

Mon: Strength – 20min bodyweight circuit

Tue: Ride – intervals

Wed: Strength – HIIT

Thurs: Run – intervals


Sat: Long ride

Sun: Long run or kayak

It’s rewarding to train to a plan and feel yourself improve, but it’s also valid to just head out the door and train by feel.  Doing something is always better than doing nothing and any exercise that you actually do beats the best training plan in the world if you don’t do it.  
Keep it fun, do your best and happy training!

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Author Lisa Antil is into nearly any outdoor activity, especially adventure racing and cycling.  She loves that outdoor challenges show us what we’re capable of (way more than we think) and has a gentle knack for making people comfortable out of their comfort zone.  She believes adventures enrich our lives and shares that passion through Live Adventure – helping people get fit, have fun and be adventurous.

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