How To Become Mentally Tough For Adventure Racing


Everyone has heard of the 80/20 rule right? Well I believe that adventure racing is 80% mental and 20% physical. Once you have learnt the physical skills of navigation, kayaking, mountain biking and you have a decent level of fitness of course, then the teams that are going to do well are the teams that are mentally tough.

Mental toughness is essentially an array of various mental skills, including self-belief, resilience, motivation, focus and the ability to perform under pressure, as well as to manage physical and emotional pain.  A recent study found that mental toughness to be a characteristic that was both innate and developed over time, meaning an athlete who doesn’t appear to be “born with it” can still improve it. This is great news for up and coming adventure racers!

So here are a few tips to help you cultivate your mental toughness in adventure racing…

  1. Goal Setting

It’s great to have an overall team goal however you should also set personal performance and process goals. Your performance goals might be a PR (personal record) for a particular hill run or challenging mountain bike track you ride. Your process goals are about breaking that skill down into it’s technical parts to help you improve. So you might work on your cornering on the downhills or your ability to ride over roots uphill to achieve your PR. By breaking down and achieving smaller steps towards your bigger goals increases confidence and belief in your ability.

  1. Self Talk

Self-talk is the internal dialogue we have with ourselves. Apparently in just one day we have over 50,000 thoughts! Thoughts are powerful and can affect your confidence in a big way. Consciously practice engaging in positive self talk, especially if you are in the middle of a tough session or have been going for several hours. It can include affirmations of your strength, or you can use cue words that pump you up or manage your nerves. It can include simple reminders of where your focus should be and what it is you need to do in that moment. Always try to stay in the moment rather than thinking of what’s ahead as that can be daunting and negatively affect your self talk. This is easy to do in an adventure race as you can just think of each stage as a race in itself and focus solely on that stage you are on.

Be your own best friend out there, your number one fan or if you have trouble with that imagine your friends and family telling you how strong and determined you are. Ultimately, this process has the incredible ability to make you feel confident, in control and ready to face any challenge.

  1. Upskill

Upskilling improves confidence. Confidence is a large component of mental toughness. If you are confident in your ability to perform a task you are much more likely to be using positive self talk and in a better frame of mind to push yourself through a tough patch in a race. Identify your weaknesses and work on them consistently to increase your confidence. If you haven’t done much kayaking, take a kayak course, if you struggle with riding single track, get some mountain bike tuition, if you are worried about being stranded in the middle of a race with a bike malfunction, take a bike mechanics course. If you are worried about navigating your way through the race, join every orienteering event you can, get into the hills with a map, study maps and take the opportunity to learn any tips and tricks from navigation courses and clinics. You can never do too much navigation practice!!

  1. Visualize

Visualizing the actual actions you will perform during an adventure race helps to engage all your senses and also helps you feel organised and ready. I particularly like to visualize transitions, as these can be high pressure situations. Once I have my transition gear ready I will lie down and visualize transitioning from one activity to the next.

It also pays to visualize bad or challenging scenarios that could occur, feeling the pressure and discomfort, and rehearse your appropriate response. When it is time to compete, you will feel ready for any and every situation.

When it comes to performing well in an adventure race, there is no question being mentally tough places one team at an advantage over another. While it may be possible for some people to have this innate quality, it can certainly be learnt and developed.

Kym Skerman is a mum of 3 energetic boys, 4,7 and 9 yrs, trains and races in multisport and adventure racing events and is super passionate about nutrition and wellness. She is the co-creator and retreat leader at NZ Adventure Retreats and is part of the team that has won the Spirited Women Adventure Race long course for the past 3 years.

Kym and Rach from Navigation North will be running a specific Whaiora Spirited Womens Adventure Race Skills Weekend in Taupo November 17th and 18th to help with upskilling in different aspects of the race and helping you become a more confident and competent adventure racer. Contact or 0272500435 to register.