It may be tough to believe, but often just making it to the start line is half the battle in adventure racing. Determining how to train, what gear is required, and most importantly how to choose your teammates are going to be critical to your success.
Choosing a Team
Choosing a team is by far the most important thing you are going to do, so do not rush into a decision. Your first option is to join and existing team. It isn't uncommon for teams to lose a member for one reason or another, and you could be the replacement. The advantage of this option is that you are likely joining a team with some experience that they can share with you. More experienced racers can help you train for an event and also assist in determining what gear might be most appropriate for an event. It is also important to consider the personalities involved, and the teams goal, if they are out of sync with your own then it is better to look for another opportunity.
The second option is to simply start your own team. The advantage of starting your own team is that you get to choose who you race with. If you can pick up someone who has some racing experience that can be helpful, but it isn't necessary. You have the ability to learn and grow together as a team.
The most important part of choosing who to race with is determining who you can get along and communicate with. Any sporting event can be stressful, but adventure races can multiply the stress. For example, after racing for several hours your team is exhausted and has made a navigation mistake and you are lost in a large wilderness area, what do you do? Hopefully you have chosen team members who are able to discuss the situation calmly, and find a resolution to getting back on track. The worst case scenario in this situation is to have a team member or members who begin to lay blame, and have the entire situation devolve into chaos.
Finally, insure that the team member's goals are the same. If one team member is very competitive and the rest of the team is simply out to finish and have a good time it is going to create conflict within the team, which usually leads to not finishing the race at all.
Watch this video where adventure racing legend Robert Nagle discusses what made Eco-Internet, the team he co-founded with Ian Adamson successful.
It is important to understand that your gear is going to be put to the test, so choose wisely. Important considerations are the quality and reliability of the gear, as well as the weight. For any gear that you are going to have to carry, consider its weight carefully because a few ounces here and there add up to pounds. If you are carrying around several pounds of unnecessary weight during an event, not only are you going to move slower, you are going to tire faster. This is especially important during longer races. I know of racers in multiday races who will break the handles off their toothbrush to save weight; it all adds up!
For example, consider your headlamp, there are many options available. My initial headlamp was a halogen headlamp that lit up the night as if it was day, but it was actually a poor choice. I now use an LED headlamp. Although it isn't quite a bright it provides plenty of light,uses fewer batteries and actually lasts longer. Not only does my headlamp weigh less, I also don't need to carry around nearly as many extra batteries which reduces the weight I need to carry even more. The added bonus is that I spend less valuable race minutes fumbling through my bag looking for extra batteries, and changing them.
Your bike is going to be one of your most important investments, and durability is critical. A broken or malfunctioning derailleur can be a race ending event, so be sure to do your homework and choose a bike with higher end components that will hold up in extreme situations.
Footwear is also critical, choose something that is lightweight, breathes well and is comfortable. Improper foot care, foot problems and blisters and the number one reason people are unable to finish a race. Ask around, see what works for other people, but don't assume that because something works for one person it will work for you. You many need to try and buy several pairs of shoes and train with them to determine what will work well for you.
Good moisture wicking clothing is import, in other words cotton clothing is not a good choice. Consider layering your clothing so that you can adapt to varying temperatures; depending on location you may need to dress for 40 degree temperatures at night, but 80 degree daytime temperatures. Also consider proper rain gear for inclement weather.
Volumes could be written about proper training, and there are plenty of books by others that cover endurance training in depth. So we will focus on the some of the higher level points here. In our chat with adventure racing legend Robert Nagle, he summed up his training regimen this way:
- Robert, we're wondering what (general) your yearly training schedule looks like (i.e. are you always ready to race?)
- Robert Nagle: No way! It would be way too debilitating to try to maintain full race readiness all year round. I try to structure my year quite carefully and one thing I've learned is the value of rest. I normally schedule a couple of weeks "off" i.e. perhaps doing fun stuff but not as part of a regimen. Then I get back in the groove again, refreshed.
I have three macro periods in the year - base/endurance (when I'm not racing), race & recovery time (about 6 months) and then a couple of week's recovery. The training objectives are different in each. During the "base" period (a bit of a misnomer actually as there's plenty of high intensity work) but during this I'm working on re-establishing a huge base, building my strength in various disciplines and usually trying to work hard on a few skills.
The when it gets into race time, I am concentrating on the disciplines and skills required for those races. Normally I get into a long period of focus on race (and a little on the following one), race, recover, repeat. Fun!
The important points here are to maintain a level of fitness year round, and then begin increasing that level of fitness and endurance as you approach race time. About a week or so before your big event, begin tapering down your work out sessions so that you maintain your fitness level and are rested for the event. Finally, focus on the disciplines and skills that you know will be required in the event you are training for.
Learning to read maps and navigate with a compass is arguably the most critical skill in adventure racing. It doesn't matter how fast your team is if you are hopelessly lost!
Most races will provide you with a map, and here in the US that is often a USGS topographical map. Learn to read the terrain as you trek from one point to the next so that you can validate your position on the map at any time. Is there a large hill to the north you can use as a landmark? Is there a stream you will hit if you miss your point and go too far? Navigation is not taking a bearing on a compass and following it; it is an active process that requires constant attention to insure you do not wander off course. If you attempt to simply follow a compass bearing for a mile through the woods, you will inevitable be off course, you need so use the terrain along the way to guide and correct your path.
It is also important to have a general idea of how far you have travelled, to do this measure out a quarter of a mile, and walk it. How many strides did you take? Next run that same quarter mile, how many strides did you take running? The average person takes between 500 and 625 strides walking a quarter mile. Our team uses a bracelet with beadsto count our strides and insure so we don't lose count. We count fifty paces and flick a bead over, that way at any time we can count the beads and estimate the distance we have gone. Keep in mind the terrain can change the number of strides per mile. If it is thick woods you will need to adjust accordingly. As an alternative to this method we provide this table for our training events that will allow you to estimate your distance based on time:
|Minutes per Mile
On our team navigation is a three person job. One person uses a compass and follows the compass bearing, another is constantly reading the map and comparing that with the terrain around them to verify the team's position, and another person is counting strides so that we have a general idea of how far we have gone. This provides three different independent data points to insure navigational accuracy.
If you need help in this area consider attending an adventure racing clinic/school or joining an orienteering club.