There are 3 main areas to consider when you are preparing yourself for an adventure race:
Preparing your body.
Preparing your mindset
Learning or improving your skills.
If you are a beginner to the adventure racing scene then the physical preparation is actually the least important part of adventure race training. The other two categories will influence how well you do in a race much more than your physical conditioning.
However if you are an intermediate or experienced adventure racer then your physical fitness will be as important as your mindset and skills.
If you are new to the sport your goal in your first few races should be to have fun. If you podium, then that’s just icing on the cake. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by going into your first race expecting to place near the top. There’s just too much that you’ll need to learn from actual race experience.
Preparing Your Body
To complete a 3-9 hr adventure race does not require you to be a great athlete, or even a good one. If your goal is to win the race or place very highly then that’s another story. You will need to be well conditioned to do so. But to complete and enjoy the race and even place in the top third does not mean that you must be a super athlete.
You may be skeptical, but keep in mind if you are a slower team but being very efficient with your navigation choices and route you may have to travel less distance than a ‘fast’ team that makes poor navigation choices and ends up doubling back a lot.
Sometimes the faster you run, the quicker you will run right off the map!
So what should your physical capabilities be to complete and enjoy the race?
You really don’t need to run at all. You should certainly be able to comfortably hike at least 10 kms at a fast walking pace. If you are a runner then even better. You will allow more wiggle room for mistakes if you are covering ground a bit quicker. If you are a novice navigator then you will need to be a little bit faster. You will cover more ground than a good navigator because you will take less efficient routes, and you will spend more time looking at the map and not moving.
You should be able to comfortably ride 30kms without taking many breaks on a mountain bike. You don’t need to ride particularly fast. Even a 20 km per hour average on the road will cut it. Obviously slower on trails. Most adventure races will involve a mix of trail and gravel roads as well as farmland so you won’t need to be an excellent singletrack rider. However single track skills will allow you to enjoy the race a whole lot more!
Most paddling legs in 6-9 hour adventure races are fairly short. Occasionally at the high end you will get a flat-water paddling leg that is 8kms or so or a river segment that is 15kms. You should do at least a paddle trip or two of that length before attempting a race. Many people lack paddling experience simply because they don’t have boats. Borrow or hire if you need to. You should have at least a small amount of experience to make sure you’re comfortable in the water and that your upper body can handle the work.
In addition to training the individual disciplines, you should also think about doing some multi-sport training sessions. Run-bike combinations are good to do as these will be the two disciplines you will be spending the most time doing in an adventure race. Ideally before doing your race, you will have undertaken one training session of at least 3 hours of fairly continuous activity, 4 is even better. These are the minimum physical requirements I feel you should have before you will be able to enjoy a race, that’s assuming you also have a good grasp on the skills and mindset aspects.
Preparing your Mind
This is one of the most important parts of your adventure race training. In order to learn all that you need to know about racing before attempting your first race, you’ll need to carefully read every bit of information provided by the race organisation.
You’ll also need to go into an adventure race with the right mindset. For many new racers who might be used to triathlon, it’s a bit of a shock to find out that there’s information they will need that might not be available until the night before the race. You have to embrace the adventure aspect to have the best experience! You may not know how far you will be racing or the order in which the disciplines will be. If you allow yourself to get frustrated when things don’t go perfectly, then you will only compound your mistakes.
You may get lost, you will probably make mistakes, you may be short coursed, but if you have the right mindset you will still have fun!
Preparing your Skills
Training your adventure racing skill set is a lifelong process. There will always be opportunity for improvement for even the best adventure racers. Many beginner adventure racers are just starting to develop their technical skills, which is fine as racing itself is a great way to improve your skills, but there are some minimum requirements you should have before attempting a race.
Orienteering – The most important skill for adventure racing is also the hardest to learn and master. It’s a good idea to go to several orienteering events before doing an adventure race. If not, then make sure you understand the basic concepts of orienteering and topo maps and try to at least take a hike with a map in hand and follow your route on the map. You’ll learn a lot in your first adventure race.
Mountain Biking – Many people who own mountain bikes never actually take them out on a singletrack trail. If this is you, you’ll want to consider doing so a couple times before your first adventure race. That way if the race does end up having some technical biking, you’ll be more prepared. To be fair, most 3-9hr races don’t have much technical biking. You can take your chances here if you want. However you will be much more confident going into the race with the knowledge that you can ride single track.
Bike Repair – Mainly you just want to know how to quickly fix a flat tire. This is something you can easily practice at home so no excuses! It’s also good to know a few other basics like how to quickly get your chain back on the chain ring if it falls off, how to fix a chain break and fixing derailleur issues.
If you can tick all of these off you are well prepared for your next race and will maximise your enjoyment. Happy preparation!
Kym is a mum of 3 boys, 5, 8 and 10 yrs, trains and races in multisport and adventure racing (currently as part of Tiger Adventure NZ) and is very 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 4 years.
Kym along with Rach Smith from Navigation North and Nic Leary (elite mountain biker and physio) will be running a specific Womens Adventure Race Skills weekend in Hawkes Bay Feb 29th and March 1st to help with up-skilling in different aspects of the race and helping you become a more confident and competent adventure racer.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 0272500435 for more information or to register.