Beginner Training for Adventure Racing
NOTE: this article was originally published in a long-ago (see Eco-Challenge opening line) issue of Florida Sports.
With the recent (May) broadcast of the Eco-Challenge on television, there are sure to be hundreds of new people interested in adventure racing. And, while many may look to the five to ten day expedition race for their first experience, most are likely to get started at a local three to six hour “sprint” race. What follows is a simple guide to help true beginners prepare for your first sprint-length adventure.
Starting any new sport can be difficult for non-athletes. Making time for your training–either through more efficient time management or by sacrificing other activities-will be an essential part of your success. For seasoned athletes, training for adventure racing may just mean substituting workouts in new disciplines for your normal training sessions. Triathletes, already familiar with multi-sport training, may have the easiest transition-substituting paddling for swimming and taking some biking and running workouts off-road.
If you are lucky enough to live somewhere near a park that has unpaved trails, by all means make this your major running destination. Running on trails differs from road running in several ways. Because the trail may suddenly present you with obstacles-turns, drops, roots, rocks, water-you’ll need to focus more on foot placement and agility. Because the surface is often uneven, you’ll want to strengthen the small supportive muscles in your ankles and hips. The best way to do this is simply to run on trails.
If you don’t have ready access to trails, you can create your own “trail run” by modifying your road running. Simulate the variety of surfaces by running in the grass, down brick streets or sidewalks, along the top of a seawall, or in sand on the beach. To model the obstacles on a trail and practice the agility required to navigate them safely, step up and down the curb while running, weave in and out of trees or posts, and climb over benches and picnic tables. It actually makes running more fun and is only limited by your imagination.
I don’t recommend trying to tackle the super-technical trails on your first ride. In fact, if your are a real novice I’d suggest getting in most of your early training miles on the road and, similar to the simulated trail running, introduce yourself to off-road riding by riding off curbs, through the grass, or in sand. Navigate around obstacles in a local park-trees, picnic tables, and posts. When you get more comfortable with your bike handling skills, take a trip to a park with some beginner mountain bike trails. As your confidence grows, try your hand at increasingly more difficult trails. For a real boost in your ability, try hooking up with a local mountain bike or adventure racing club-they often have introductory classes that will help you with your off-road bike skills.
Unless you are blessed and live on or close to the water, paddling can be the most inconvenient of the three main adventure racing disciplines. If you want to have a successful first race, I suggest taking the time and making the effort to paddle twice a week. If you know what type of boats the race director might be providing-canoes, kayaks, or inflatables-try to practice in a similar craft. If not, paddle whatever you have access to–just get out and paddle. As with mountain biking, most beginners can greatly benefit from some expert paddling instruction or just paddling with an experienced group. When you attempt to paddle in more challenging conditions, always make it in the company of an instructor or more highly skilled paddler.
Month One-Building the Base
The first month is the time to get your body used to working out, your bottom used to the bike seat, and your hands used to the paddle. Most running and biking workouts can be done “on the road”-with the gradual adding of the simulated off-road elements mentioned above. Paddling should be done in sheltered waterways. I recommend trying to do each discipline twice per week with two days completely off. Workouts should be of low intensity (50-60% of your maximum heart rate) and of moderate length (40-60 minutes).
Month Two-Transition Time
While still building your aerobic base, you’ll introduce interval training to further develop your cardiovascular system and your higher-end speed. Interval training involves sets of higher intensity work alternating with active rest (walk/light run, light pedaling or paddling). For each discipline do one session of low intensity, longer length (50-80 minutes) and one session of interval training (60-70% of your maximum heart rate for 5 minutes with 4 minutes of active rest-4 sets). If you are not riding or running on trails during the week-you should be simulating off-road conditions. During your weekend workout run and ride on real beginner or intermediate trails-an excellent time for your low intensity workout. The end of this month is also an ideal time to do a practice race-try three to four continuous, low-intensity hours of paddling, biking, and running.
Month Three-Race Specific
Month three you’ll continue to build your base and increase the intensity of your interval training. It is also a great time to practice some of the non-physical aspects of adventure racing. For each sport, complete one session of moderate intensity (60-70% of your maximum heart rate), longer length (50-80 minutes) and one session of interval training (70-80 % of your maximum heart rate for 3 minutes with 2 minutes rest-7 sets). During the week prior to the race, take it easy-train for each discipline once and make it a low intensity workout of short duration (20-40 minutes). Take the day before the race off-relax, pack your gear and go over your race plan.