10 SAFETY TIPS FOR ADVENTURE RUNNING
Australian National Champion Powerlifter, in consultation with Jarad Kohlar.
For the athlete plugging away at their training week after week, it’s sorely tempting to have a go at an adventure race. There’s the chance to test the functionality of your skills and fitness, and the opportunity to have fun and see some great sights. It’s not easy, though. I know – I was one of several non-adventure racing athletes to have a crack at the five-day Mark Webber Tasmania Challenge in 2012.
Here the eventual winner of that race, 2XU Ambassador and world-class adventure racer JARAD KOHLAR (who competed with James Pretto as the SWISSE ACTIVE team) gives ten rules for athletes looking to compete in an adventure race.
OUTLINE THE AIMS AND GOALS OF EACH INDIVIDUAL AND THE TEAM IN WRITING BEFORE THE EVENT.
You can then refer back to this during the race. As it’s easier to make these decisions in a warm and comfortable café than in the rain/wind/heat/freezing when you’re stuck out on the course.
DOM SAYS: Absolutely! We agreed that we would take our time and make sure we finish – for me, I couldn’t write a good story about the race if I pulled out on day 2 and for my teammate, adventure racer Debbie Chambers, it was an early training hit-out for an event later in the year.
I ALSO THINK IT’S IMPORTANT TO OUTLINE A CLEAR DNF POLICY FOR YOUR TEAM.
Is it OK to DNF due to blisters on your feet? Is it OK to give up because it’s too hard and the hill is too big? Is it alright to keep racing when someone has a major head injury, but wants to keep going? This way you are all clear and you’ll still be on speaking terms with your teammates after the event if you have a misadventure or even a disaster of a race.
DOM SAYS: No-one wants to talk about this! Just bringing up the topic can be seen as negative or self-defeating, but if any sport requires you to be a realist, it’s adventure racing. I’d done trail running ultramarathons before (but this apples to other sports, too) and in these this is a conversation that should happen between competitor and support crew/coach. It’s very different when it’s something that you have to discuss with teammates, especially in the heat of the race!
DON’T WORRY ABOUT YOUR FITNESS, WORRY ABOUT IMPROVING YOUR TECHNICAL SKILLS IN EACH LEG.
Your fitness will come as a result of improving your skills.
DOM SAYS: I was coming from a power sport, so I really needed to build up my aerobic base – but then I was the odd one out. I saw lots of people who were way fitter than me, but they suffered physically – they crashed or strained their muscles or simply got too tired – from simply being too inefficient with their technique, especially while paddling.
THE BEST ADVENTURE ATHLETES EVEN THEIR SKILLS AND FITNESS ACROSS ALL KEY ADVENTURE DISCIPLINES.
Swimming, ropes, navigation, biking, trekking/trail running, kayaking and teamwork. Therefore it’s important to work on your weakest leg and try to improve you technical skill and fitness in that leg.
DOM SAYS: For me, this was cycling. Paddling needed practice, but I had a strong base for running, whatever the trails threw up at me, so I structured my training sessions in a 3:2:1 ration for cycling, paddling and running.
IT’S ONLY A MATTER OF TIME BEFORE YOU CRASH DOING MTB AND TRAIL RUNNING.
When it happens, you need to minimize your injuries. Push the uphills and stay in control on the descents. If you are feeling unstoppable in training, remember that the faster you go, the bigger the crash and the bigger the injury. Keep your ego under control as a non-injured athlete is a much more productive one than an injured athlete.
DOM SAYS: We were big on self-preservation, as we both had the big picture in mind – I had an international comp a week after the event and Debbie had other adventure races coming up with her usual teammates. I know I frustrated the hell out of Debbie for the first couple of days by cycling down gravel slopes like a granny with everyone and their dog passing me, but at that stage I didn’t have the confidence or skill to go faster without risk of a fall.
By the end of day 3, the campground looked a bit like a battlefield hospital – broken wrists and hands, bandaged legs, taped-up shoulders, people limping, faces scratched up. Psychologically, it was a real pick-me-up to know that we were totally unscathed.
NAVIGATION – DO AS MUCH AS YOU CAN.
Street or bush orienteering, rogaines and mountain bike orienteering events are the key here. If you want to win adventure racing events, then navigation should be your strongest discipline.
DOM SAYS: I found a local nav running series and although this was all in suburban areas, navigation is navigation. One thing I observed, though, is that even racing as a pair (and this becomes more important in bigger teams) is that there is one person who is the head navigator and they make all the calls unless they ask for input. Sounds a bit dictatorial, but arguing in the middle of nowhere when you’re hot and tired is not ideal for your race time or team morale. The other person can assist a lot by organising and carrying the maps, tagging the checkpoints, keeping their eyes peeled for anything that might help locate checkpoints or yourself, and generally being supportive especially if things go wrong!
GET SOME COACHING OR MENTORING FROM AN EXPERT IN YOU WEAKEST ADVENTURE DISCIPLINE.
This will save you hours of time.
DOM SAYS: For me, this was Debbie, who I met the evening before the race – a little late! But I’d already been on email with her for weeks with a bunch of questions about bike set-up, cycling and how to eat during the race days.
ORGANIZATION IS THE KEY TO BACKING UP ON A MULTIPLE-DAY EVENT.
Arrive early and well rested. Take every opportunity to recover, pre, post and during the event. Your last day of racing should be your hardest and your first day should be your easiest.
DOM SAYS: Here’s something that was a real eye-opener to me: once you finish racing for the day, the organisation of gear and delivering it to the right place, going over maps to plan your navigation and strategy for the next day, setting out your food and drink – it all takes hours. There is no time to dilly-dally and if you miss any step of this, you’ll pay the price for it! You also need to be regimented with your eating and drinking to catch up on your nutrition for the day (because you’ll never eat or drink as much as you need while racing) and recovery. We slipped into our 2XU Compression Tights and tops as soon as we could after the day’s finish line, then hopped back into a second pair of Compression Tights after showering and slept in them!
THE SPORT IS NOT ABOUT GOING FAST, IT’S ABOUT MINIMIZING YOUR MISTAKES DURING THE EVENT.
Mistakes with pacing, mechanical issues, nutrition, recovery, navigation and teamwork.
DOM SAYS: The middle days of the event were really hot and it was surprising how many elite competitors became sick. Some blamed food poisoning – it just looked like plain old heat distress and dehydration to me! Also note that the time penalties for missing compulsory checkpoints in adventure racing can be harsh – three hours in this race. We were slow the first day – one of the last teams to finish for the day – but our lack of penalties put us in a reasonable position.
KNOW YOUR TEAMMATES STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES.
DOM SAYS: I think this becomes even more crucial when you have a third, fourth or even fifth person on your team. We were just a pair, but we spent a couple of days feeling these things out, which is another reason we probably hit our top speeds on days three, four and five of the race.
2XU WILL AGAIN BE A MAJOR SPONSOR OF THE 2013 SWISSE MARK WEBBER TASMANIA CHALLENGE, NOVEMBER 27 – DECEMBER 1, WITH JARAD BACK TO DEFEND HIS TITLE. GO JARAD!