Introduction To Adventure Race Training
From the outside, looking in, the world of adventure racing can seem like an intimidating place; filled with outdoor fitness nuts and wild-eyed gym hounds. But, don't despair. With our guidance, you'll be able to ditch the paunch, build up your stamina, and be fully prepared to take on whatever your adventure race of choice throws at you. Bring. It. On.
We're writing this article on the presumption that you've already got a pair of trainers, and that you know wearing your finest cream-coloured suit at an adventure race event is a sure-fire way to ruin your finest cream-coloured suit. No. This isn't about what you need to wear, it's more of an in-depth look at how to get yourself physically ready.
Consider this, if you will, your adventure race training plan.
The Basics Of Adventure Race Training
Training for an adventure race should be divided into several stages, as this will help you structure yourself in the build-up to the event These stages can be categorised in the following way: base, build, peak, and then race.
The base training is, in a nutshell, the bread and butter of your adventure race training. It's the foundations that you're going to build the entirety of your adventure-race-shaped house on. Without it, you're screwed.
Some triathletes and adventure racers find it difficult to comprehend the basics of base training because, in a way, it seems counterintuitive to the mammoth task ahead. In front of you, is one of the most intensely epic tests you've ever undertaken and the base training segment of your training has got you doing slow jogs that your gran could do.
Because of this entry-level pace, some people push themselves much harder than is necessary in the early stages. Injuries, as a result of a refusal to "hold back", are more common than you'd think and can hamper your progress towards ultimate adventurer status.
The Science Behind Base Training
When you're training, there are two basic energy systems you need to consider: anaerobic and aerobic. Unfortunately for you and the concept of athletic efficiency, it's not possible to simultaneously maximise both your aerobic and anaerobic systems.
The main idea behind base training, and the reason you need to do it, is that it helps build up your aerobic energy system specifically. The more work you perform aerobically, remember low-octane is good initially, the more efficient this system will become and the fitter you'll be in the long term.
Big spoonfuls of lengthy aerobic training produces physical adaptations that improve the transportation of oxygen to the muscles, reduces the rate of lactate formation, improves the rate of lactate removal, and increases your onboard energy production and utilisation.
We know we're getting ever so slightly bogged down in the scientific side of outdoor fitness but it's our belief that if you understand what processes your body goes through during training, you'll be better placed to tackle the challenges ahead.
Fat is one of the main fuel sources for the aerobic energy system. Over the course of an adventure race base-training period, your body has to "learn" to break down and utilise fat as an energy source. The fat stores currently contained within our bodies are, in theory, capable of providing us with the energy to perform many marathons back-to-back. And if you have designs on becoming the ultimate outdoor racer, you're going to need to optimise this internal process to the best of your ability.
Other adaptations that come from aerobic training in the months leading up to your adventure race are an increased stroke stroke volume of the heart, mitochondrial density and capillary density. An increase in stroke volume, in layman's terms, means your heart will pump more blood per minute. This means the organs and tissues in your body will receive a greater quantity of oxygen-rich blood. Great news when you're trying with everything you've got to make it round the adventure race course.
Still with us? Good. We'll continue. Mitochondria are structures within the make-up of muscle cells. Through physiological sorcery, they produce energy from carbohydrate oxidation and fat. To put this in the simplest terms we can think of, picture them as tiny Duracell batteries. A specific focus on regular endurance training can increase your "battery" count by an eye-popping 200%, and help transform you into an adventure racing master.
Increasing capillary density means your body will be able to effectively transport more blood to working muscles. If you imagine your insides as a big train network, then the increasing of capillary density can be seen as the expanding of train lines to accommodate more trains during the morning commute (we may have suffered some bad experiences with commuter trains recently).
One thing you should be aware of, while we're on the subject, is that the process of building capillaries occurs gradually. High-impact, high-stress, running can break down capillaries. And yes, this links back to what we were saying about pushing yourself too hard during the base training phase. Taking it relatively easier in the early stages will encourage the slow growth of your body's capillaries and serve you well as an adventure racer in the longterm.
Progressing In And From The Base
The base training phase, which ideally will constitute a 12 to 16 week period, should gradually progress from the low end (61% of maximum heart rate) up to the high end (80% of maximum heart rate).
During this transitional phase in your training, it's a decent idea to incorporate slow hill running and walking sessions. This is a way to incorporate a specific mode of strength training at an aerobic level. These low-octane workouts should increase in duration as the base training phase progress.
Many commentators on the subject of adventure race training state the importance of using the base training phase as a time to work on form, economy, and technique. This is because as the intensity increases it will become increasingly difficult to concentrate on the small details of your athletic method. Remember when we said something about constructing foundations for your house and you looked at us a bit funny? Well this is what we meant by that.
As briefly discussed already, one of the most difficult things about base training is maintaining the discipline to train at low intensities for weeks on end. Even short amounts of time spent above your aerobic zone will spoil the workout, and set you back a step on your mission to become an adventure racing god/goddess.
As strange and wrong as it might seem, you have to let your anaerobic systems regress before you can build them up again. Of course, this does mean you will be missing some of your top-end speed as you jump off the base and take things up a level but that's alright. Rest assured that it will return and, when you've got a got base underneath it, it will be a new and improved you at the steering wheel.
Training for adventure races, triathlons, or even big obstacle course events can, at times, seem like a long and brutal slog. If you're a novice athlete, and new to the fitness game, it might even take several seasons to feel the full effect of all your hard work. However, when you're on that adventure racing start-line feeling primed and ready; you'll know those early stages were worth the effort.
Good luck, adventure racers. You can do it!