Training Tips

Our adventure races are as “relaxed” or strenuous as you want to make them. On race day, there’s no shame in hiking to checkpoints (lots of racers do) rather than running or deciding to call it a day and come in a little early – so there’s no need to engage in a demanding, long-term training regimen (although here are 12-week and 16-week plans worth checking out if you need the structure). Just get there hiking or running when you can and squeeze in some biking as the weather warms up if you can’t bike or do elliptical indoors during the winter; training outdoors is the ideal. Most of your miles should be at conversation pace; throw in some strong efforts here and there to get the heart rate up. Hill repeats and high-intensity intervals are great; just don’t overdo them until you have built up a base. You can find good, basic guidance on training from our trail running race sponsor/coaches here.

For those a bit more serious about preparing for a race, your training should mimic race conditions. Trails, hills and even off-trail running. That’s not easy for most people who work during the day but use your weekends to train in “real-world” adventure racing conditions. Running and biking easy road miles will help build a base, but for those who really want to improve their performance, here are some ideas.

  • Build a good base of miles, preferably trail running. Six weeks of consistent running before a race is a good target.
  • Include intervals – short segments of 30 seconds to a few minutes during your run at a pace that gets your heart rate up.
  • Run hills – as part of your run or…
  • Even better would be merging the two – hill intervals. Run up the hill hard, recover on the down hill and repeat. Even five or ten of these on a decent hill once a week can really boost your endurance and speed and takes a lot less time than long run for those with limited time.
  • Running on a treadmill weeknights? No worries. It’s still helpful. This High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT; Google it for other workouts) is great for those who want to get off the treadmill as quickly as possible but get in a workout that some studies show is better than a long run:
    • One mile warm up
    • Sprint at 90-95% of your maximum heart rate for 10-30 seconds (high speed and raise treadmill incline as needed to really push yourself)
    • Recover and repeat the cycle for 20 minutes
    • One mile warm down
  • Test your gear & nutrition. When you are working out outdoors, consider keeping a gear & nutrition diary so you know what works best for various weather conditions and what hydration and food works best for you.
  • Attend a clinic. If you haven’t been to one of our clinics, that’s another way to get better. We hold a free clinic one or two weeks before every race. Not from the area? Follow along with the online version of the clinic. Check in with MI Adventure Club in the Brighton area. They put on clinics now and then.
  • Practice navigation. Here are the permanent orienteering courses in Michigan. Or, create your own “streamer” course using a free app on your smartphone such as Terrain Navigator Pro (search in apps on your phone). Tie a small length of streamer tape to defined points on public land and have your teammates try to find them.
  • Try a low-key event/race. There’s no better practice than putting your non-race practice into practice at a race. In Michigan, head to Lost Arrow Sports and Southern Michigan Orienteering Club for navigation-based events.
  • Strengthen your mind muscles. The longer an adventure race, the more important mental fortitude becomes. When you’ve been lost in the woods for an hour or more in the middle of the night in a heavy rain, it’s easy to throw in the towel. But once you get through an experience like this, your confidence and pain threshold increases and each race gets easier to handle. You start to relish the pain and your ability to overcome it.You can improve mental toughness without having to get a lot of races under your belt. One way is to periodically train at a high intensity. Not only will this strengthen you physically, but it will also improve your confidence and help you learn to “push through the pain” as athletes often say. Another method is to develop a mantra – a saying you can repeat over and over, such as “I got this” or “I love hills.” Convince yourself that you DO love hills – for the challenge they give, for the fun descent on the other side, for the way they will separate you from the pack if you climb them faster. Some athletes also incorporate visualization techniques to improve mental – as well as overall – performance.
  • How can I make my mountain bike faster? Read my post for 6 ways including changing to a low-knob racing tire and adding a tow system when one teammate is much faster than the other.
  • Paddling technique. While “real-world” paddle training is difficult to do for many if you don’t own a canoe or kayak (especially when everything is iced over!), you can work on your core strength in various ways and review paddling videos to improve your technique. Paddlers who paddle with their core and entire torso working in tandem with their arms rather than all in their arms have much better speed and endurance. An “army” stroke quickly leads to fatigue. Keep your arms and your paddle out in front of you more and let the core “engine” fire the “piston” arms. Check out this video that I often go back to for tips.