So you’ve done some adventure races, maybe a few sprint or 24hr races and you’re starting to feel more comfortable with that distance. But the longer events – 3 to 10 days just seem so long! The short answer is yes, they are! But don’t be deterred, they are very manageable with the right preparation.
1) Don’t be intimidated
Because these events are so long, the pace is inevitably slower. In a 3-6hr race, the foot leg is mainly running with not much walking. In an expedition length race, only the fastest teams run significant portions of the race. Most teams treat the foot sections as hikes so you don’t need to be able to run huge distances. Likewise on the bike and kayak, you don’t want to go anaerobic (where you start to accumulate lactic acid) because it will tire you out and slow you down later in the race. This means you race at a steady pace that you can sustain all day long – it shouldn’t ‘burn’ and have you running out of breath.
Just as important as fitness are injury resistance, navigation, and team cohesion. It will be a huge help if you train well, practice navigation and get to know your team. Don’t assume (which they say is the mother of all stuff ups), be very clear on team goals and philosophy before you commit to race with each other.
2) Be injury resistant
You will need more training than you’re used to and the most common mistake is to increase the volume without looking after your body. As a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t increase training by more than 10% each week. This gives your body time to adapt to the new training load.
Make sure you spend some time on body maintenance too. Using a foam roller or other self-massage tool is the best way to keep your muscles loose and supple which greatly reduces the risk of injury. Don’t forget other aspects of recovery like sleeping well, eating nutritious foods and finding the right balance between training hard and allowing enough recovery time before your next session.
3) Long sessions
For expedition length racing, long sessions are the most important training session of the week. Mentally you get used to pushing on when you are tired. Physically they build endurance, help to find your rhythm and settle into your pace. Try to do these sessions off-road on as similar to race conditions as possible. Racing in rough conditions requires specific skills which can only be learnt by practice.
4) Make the most of weekday sessions
Time is usually limited, especially during the week but that doesn’t mean you can’t do valuable sessions before and after work. Use a structured program so you can get the most out of your time. Interval sessions including technique work allow you to work on different aspects of that discipline and strength training, particularly core strength, work gives huge benefits in the race and doesn’t require much time.
5) Practice with race food and gear and look after yourself and your team in the event
During the race, the most important thing of all is to look after yourself. All the training in the world won’t help you if you forget to eat enough, become dehydrated or get blisters. While racing is exciting, always be thinking in the back of your head what you need to do to keep yourself in good shape. Eating and drinking can be hard to do on the go, particularly kayaking, so it’s extra important to eat as much as possible when you can. Hiking sections and flat sections on the bike are the best times to eat but keep eating continually because if you forget, a hunger flat will really slow you down. Plus, racing through a hunger flat is no fun at all!
You need to address chafing as soon as you feel it. It may not seem like much at the time but a small spot of chafing can turn big, painful and possibly get infected over the course of the race. Many blisters can be prevented by putting a bit of anti-chafe cream, sports tape or a band-aid over the top to prevent it getting worse. Support your team mates too and check up on each other. It’s one instance where it can really help to be ‘mother hens’.
Doing an expedition race is a huge challenge physically, mentally and emotionally. But if you set your mind to it, prepare well and look after yourself and your team, you can do it. You might well find it one of the most rewarding things you’ve ever done.