Adventure racing is a true multisport pursuit that requires a wide range of outdoor disciplines. In this article, we look at USARA tips and techniques for the two most common disciplines in the sport: cycling and trekking.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on USARA.com and was modified for GearJunkie.
Each adventure race is different and can include disciplines including paddling, running, road and mountain biking, and rock climbing. Sometimes they even include esoteric “bonus” activities like caving or group challenges that will test you physically or mentally on-site.
Once you learn how to navigate, arguably the two most important disciplines are based on foot (trekking, trail running, bushwhacking) and bike (road, trail or singletrack). Runners must be prepared to go off-trail entirely and ride overland, often over technical terrain. Bikers need to be comfortable on all types of roads and paths.
Here we’re providing some context and a few tips as you prepare to train for the walking and cycling portions of the upcoming ARs.
Time to hike!
Efficient foot movement is extremely important in adventure racing and we think people sometimes take this “skill” for granted, especially in longer events. How exhausting can running, jogging or even walking be?
Anyone who has competed in a multi-day race knows that more experienced, efficient, and skilled teams can unlock massive leads on a foot leg. Being able to move efficiently through technical terrain requires both skill and artistry. And just racking up miles on a treadmill or local trails doesn’t necessarily turn into an adventure racetrack.
What should you do to better prepare yourself for Adventure Racing Foot Travel’s unique challenges?
First, spend time on your feet. Make them harder. Most adventure races get your feet wet, and even if you don’t cover many miles, you’ll be spending a lot of the race on your feet. Make sure they are prepared for this. Running, hiking, walking – everything counts. However, remember that longer sessions are important to allow your feet to prepare.
While many adventure racers train by running, make sure you mix in some hiking as well; Sometimes trekking is all the terrain allows. We’ve seen many accomplished teams successfully complete races without ever moving faster than a steady pace.
Add a backpack to your runs or hikes and practice carrying weight. This will also improve your leg and core strength.
With that in mind, try to put in some core and upper body strength. Fast running on a local trail is great for speed, but AR isn’t trail racing. You have weight to carry, you won’t be moving as fast, and you need your core to be ready for that extra work.
Unique challenges of Adventure Race Trekking
There are many obstacles in adventure racing that are not present in most other types of racing. Here’s how to navigate through them.
Get your hills in. If you’re not racing on flat land, expect hills. Many of them. You don’t necessarily have to run the hills to prepare; Hiking them will also do the trick. And don’t neglect training for descents either. Hitting your quads well on a training run pays dividends on the track by building strength and preventing fatigue.
It pays to be able to move quickly over land. Nobody needs to train in a thorn bush or a mountain laurel thicket, but you will often encounter these obstacles in adventure races. And the more comfortable you are with off-piste travel, the more efficient you and your teammates will be. Practice identifying old trail beds or animal tracks that allow for faster travel off established trails.
If you leave tracks, you will definitely find stones. Prepare for technical terrain. Find a local boulder field. Don’t be afraid of rockier trails. Practice hiking or even running on rough terrain to improve your dexterity, strength and speed.
Don’t skimp on speed training, especially if you’re focusing on sprint races. However, remember that adventure racing is endurance events and often ultra-endurance in nature. Make sure you get in some long walking workouts. Climb a few extra hills and try to do at least some of your workout off the pavement or treadmill.
For those starting out with beginner-friendly races, you can expect about 5-10 miles of walking in a sprint race and about 10-20 miles in a half-day race. The mileage increases in 24-hour races and longer. However, remember that the mileage can be divided into several stages.
You don’t have to be trained to run a steady marathon to finish an adventure race, even if it’s an all-day one. If you can run 5-10 miles in a bang without killing yourself, you probably have enough base to finish at least beginner-friendly races. You may not be competitive and it could hurt more, but you can finish!
Get on the bike
Adventure racing requires you to be prepared for all types of rides. Even with a shorter race, you’re likely to come across different flavors of cycling.
Yes, the section might be labeled “mountain biking,” but AR riding can and does involve a lot of variety. There can be paved surfaces, dirt roads, vintage jeep tracks, and singletrack, including smooth, groomed, and gnarly technical tracks. Some races even have sections where you just daydream about riding the bike that you’re towing on a shoulder, being pushed from behind, or thrown into a ditch. In short, be prepared for anything and everything!
Most importantly, all bike rides count. Road cycling, singletrack, indoor trainers – they all help you build endurance on the bike. As with all AR disciplines, make sure you spend time in the saddle. Build up your sit bones and try to sneak in a long ride or two every week.
As with the foot sections of ARs, bring your hills into play! Make sure you do some mountain driving. Find a steep hill, a long one, or both, and do some repetitions!
If you’re new to AR and mountain biking, building your skills on the trails will transform your racing experience. You don’t need to know how to bunny hop or get comfortable falling off a short cliff. But you’ll want to be able to handle the typical rocks and roots you’ll find trail riding.
From our experience, riding fast, smooth, fluid trails in an adventure race is an exception. It is more common to find sections of the route that require medium comfort with rocks, roots and elevations.
You don’t have to drive fast, but if you end up hopping up and down every few minutes, you won’t have much fun. And you may have to skip other parts of the course. It’s fine if you do, but getting comfortable on trails may be the best thing you can do for yourself when gearing up for cycling in an adventure race. You just have to make steady progress!
Hit the pavement
Ride trails, but also mix in some long rides on the pavement. In all-day and multi-day events, races often involve lengthy road trips to connect more interesting parts of the track or to navigate private property.
Racers who have a small armada of bikes sometimes prefer this type of training on sleek road bikes. However, we recommend that you ride the bike that you will be using on race day (probably not a fancy road bike).
As you prepare for your first race, remember that a sprint race typically involves about 15 miles of cycling. A half-day event can cover twice that, maybe a little more, and you can expect 50 miles or more in a 24-hour event.
Terrain and course design tend to correlate with distances. A course with significant road riding may involve higher mileage on the bike, while those that are more robust will have fewer miles but require more grit.
Teamwork makes the dream come true
Join a local mountain bike club or find some friends who ride bikes. Getting out with other mountain bikers, learning from them and working on your skills while trying to keep up is perhaps the best way to learn.
If you can take a skill-building course with a local instructor, that’s great. But just getting out there and practicing with other riders goes a long way. And it’s great fun.
This article is sponsored by Toyota. Learn more about the 2022 Toyota Tundra online.