Winter Motivation Tips to Train for Adventure Racing

During this time of year, it can be pretty tough to find the motivation to train. There’s Christmas and all that goes with it – the shopping, the eating, the baking, the Christmas cards, the wrapping, the eating, the traveling, the eating, etc. It’s also getting cold in a lot of places. And with cold comes snow and ice. On top of all that, the hours of daylight have diminished drastically. Add all of this together and it can be very difficult to find the motivation to train for adventure racing (or for any endeavor for that matter).

Well, in this series of posts, I’ll be sharing with you how I like to stay motivated over the long, harsh winter.

1. Train Socially

When training for any endurance sport, you might find yourself training alone most of the time. While that’s often necessary, training socially has really helped stoke my motivational fire, and it just makes training much more enjoyable.

Riding Bikes in the Winter

If you can find a group willing to train with you in the snow and mud, you’ll be fine all winter long.

Now when I say “train socially,” I’m not just referring to meeting some friends for a run or ride, although training with friends is a fantastic way to stay motivated. We try to train with friends and teammates as much as possible, but training socially also includes joining a running or cycling club where you might learn something from other more experienced athletes. And who knows? Maybe you can help someone else who might have less experience. Either way, it makes training that much better.

But wait… There’s more.

You can use the internet to “train socially” even if you’re a recluse who lives in the middle of nowhere with no friends, clubs, or teams within hundreds of miles. How? I’m glad you asked.

There are websites where you can track your training and workouts. MapMyRide and MapMyRun come to mind, but you can go even deeper than that. Take a look at Dailymile, which is sort of like facebook for fitness enthusiasts and athletes. Here’s a description from their website:

“Dailymile is a social experience for active people. We’re a community of people just off the couch to ultramarathoners alike, who encourage and inspire one another as we achieve our goals. Together we’ve shared over 12 million workouts. Each of them tells a story. Share yours.”

There are also Challenges on Dailymile to keep you motivated. You’ll find anything from “Fastest 5K in January” to “Cycling 1000 Miles in 2013.” Don’t worry, though.  There are enough challenges to suit anyone’s abilities and interests.

For the slightly more competitive person, Strava might be a better option. Like Dailymile, Strava allows you to upload your rides and runs, but you can do so directly from your GPS like a Garmin or your smartphone using the Strava App. Each climb on your route is recorded as a “Segment,” and you can see how you rank on each segment compared to others on Strava. If you work hard enough, you might eventually become the King or Queen of the Mountain (KOM/QOM).

I’ll just mention one more thing to help keep you motivated to train through the winter: Virtual Races and Virtual Events. I guess that’s’ two more things, but they’re basically the same thing. Here’s a nice, short blog post on what a Virtual Race is.

A Virtual Event is much like a Virtual Race, only there is no real “winner,” and it’s much less competitive. We at Team Virtus put on an event called the Super Century in Februrary on Super Bowl Sunday. The idea was to see who was stupid brave enough to hop on their indoor trainer (or go outside if no trainer was available) and ride a metric century (100 Km or roughly 62 miles) before the Super Bowl. We had WAY more people participate than we ever dreamed possible.

We updated each other on facebook and twitter which really made the ride a lot more fun, and it seemed like we were all doing it together even though some of us were thousands of miles away. Enough people were participating and tweeting that #SuperCentury was actually trending in the St. Louis area. That’s just crazy. We’re dumb enough to do another Super Century, so if you’re interested in participating, be sure to keep an eye on our team page for more info.

And there you have it. The first tip to stay motivated this winter is to train socially. Stay tuned for more tips.

Eating on the Go for Adventure Racing

The dreaded bonk.  Hitting the wall.  Running out of gas.  Whatever you want to call it, you want to avoid it at all costs.  What is “bonking,” you ask?  Well, perhaps you’ve seen this video before (Warning: It’s a bit hard to watch).  While this is an extreme example, there are varying levels of “hitting the wall” that can affect you and your race which you’ll want to avoid completely if possible.

But how do you do that?  You must make sure you fuel your body properly before and during your race.  I am not a nutritionist or a dietician, so I’ll save what to eat for the experts – starting with this article on the 10 Laws of avoiding the Bonk.  What I can help you with is how to eat during an adventure race.

“But I already know how to eat,” you say.  Well, it’s not quite as simple as just opening your mouth and chewing during an adventure race.  There are, however, some ways to make sure you eat sufficiently and frequently enough while on the go.

Eating is a big part of adventure racing

Eating is a big part of adventure racing.

Most people don’t have too much trouble eating while on foot.  But sometimes, especially during a difficult orienteering section, everyone becomes so focused on finding the next Checkpoint they forget about eating.  I know that sounds ridiculous, but it happens more often than you’d think.  To help prevent this, you should consider making someone on your team – preferably not the navigator – the food/hydration monitor.  Every 30 minutes or so this person will remind the team to drink something, and every hour or so he or she will remind the team to eat something.

Your finishing time will suffer dramatically if you stop, take your pack off, and get some food out every time you need to eat, though.  Those short food-breaks can easily turn into 20 minutes or more if you’re not careful.  And asking your teammate to get food out of your pack can be a pain in the butt after a few hours.  To make eating easier while trekking or running, make sure your pack has pockets on the hip belt and/or the shoulder straps.  You’re much more likely to eat if you can get to your food quickly and without hassle.

Adventure Racing Pack with Hip Belt Pockets

Food at the ready in the hip-belt pockets.

In the canoe (or kayak, or raft, or other boat), it can also be difficult to stay on top of eating and drinking.  Your pack may not be close enough to you in the boat, or the water might be so rough it requires your full attention.  You should try to eat something substantial before starting a long paddling section as a sort of preemptive strike on hunger.  Then do your best to keep food and water close to you in the boat during the paddle.  Many Personal Floatation Devices (PFD’s) have pockets to help make your food much more accessible.  And your food/hydration monitor should continue reminding everyone to eat and drink.

Many people have the most trouble eating while on the bike.  Obviously, if you’re biking on technical single track, you probably shouldn’t reach down for that bottle of sports drink or a Cliff Bar.  Most Adventure Races, however, include lots of gravel and paved roads.  This is where you can fuel your body.  You need to be able to access the food easily, though.

There are several products that make accessing your food on the bike easier.  There is the Bento Box, a box-shaped bag attached to the front of the top tube of your bike, which is popular with triathletes.  There are similar products from Revelate Designs called the Gas Tank (sort of resembling a gas tank on a motorcycle) and the Jerrycan.  Revelate Designs also makes frame bags that are extremely popular endurance gravel races such as the Dirty Kanza 200.

My favorite product for the mountain bike, however, is the Mountain Feedbag.   This attaches to your handlebar, stem, and fork completely out of the way.  It looks like it would obstruct your pedal stroke or be awkward to ride with, but I don’t even notice it’s there until I want to grab a snack.  It’s also big enough to carry a bike tool, a spare tube, car keys, or whatever.  You can open it and close it with one hand which is a huge advantage.  It’s rugged, too.  I’ve abused mine for over two years, and it’s still going strong.

Mountain Feedbag on the Mountain Bike

Please ignore the hideous mustache and notice the Feedbag on the bike.

We learned this next tip from Scott Frederickson, our friend from Team Bushwhacker.  Anytime someone on your team gets something to eat, you share it with your team.  It’s sort of an “If I eat, you eat” kind of thing.  This helps everyone remember to fuel their body, and it also adds some variety to your nutrition since everyone brings something different.  And the best thing to eat while adventure racing is what your teammates are carrying.

One final thing… Make sure you practice eating on the go.  Not only to make sure you can ride/paddle/run and eat at the same time, but to make sure your body can handle the food.  You don’t want to be 10 hours into a 24-hour race when you realize that you shouldn’t have eaten that bean burrito.  Find out what works for you in your training, and don’t try something new in a race.  That’s a recipe for disaster.



Intro to adventure racing

Almost exactly two years ago I had my first glimpse of the coolest sport I’d never heard of. An internet friend posted that he and his team were about to participate in The Berryman Adventure, and he included a link to the race’s online coverage. Out of curiosity, I logged in to check it out and was immediately spellbound. I spent the next 36 hours obsessively cyber-spectating the race, and before it was halfway over I had emailed my brother with a link and a plea: “We HAVE to do this next year!!”

If you ever watched Mark Burnett’s Eco-Challenge or the subsequent Primal Quest, you’ve heard of adventure racing.  Teams of 2-4, or in some cases solo racers, navigate an unmarked course using topographical maps and compasses.  Adventure races can include several different modes of self-propelled transportation and lengths that vary from a 4-hour sprint to a 5-day expedition, but one element remains constant:  all race directors tend to have a sadistic streak, taking great delight in forcing their participants past previous physical limits.

At the time I fell in love with adventure racing, I was just a few short months past my first 5K, a distance which had seemed impossible to me at the beginning of the year.  I was training for a half marathon and putting in double digits on my hybrid bike, but my offroad experience was limited to hikes and one ill-fated mountain biking attempt that had resulted in surgery.  I didn’t own a mountain bike, couldn’t read a topographical map, and had only the most rudimentary understanding of how a compass worked.  In short, I was pretty much the last person one would expect to toe the line at Berryman.

One year later, though, I stood in the early morning darkness, my headlamp barely illuminating the bike I was holding as we sang the National Anthem.  A horn signaled the start, and my brother and I rode off on a 14-hour odyssey of challenge, frustration, and utter wish fulfillment.  Sometimes you anticipate an event for so long that it can’t possibly live up to your expectations, but this was not one of those times.  This is not one of those sports.

I’m about to participate in my seventh adventure race in just over a year, and it’s safe to say I’m hooked.  I’ve had incredible experiences: racing through the night, rappelling into a river, and crawling through caves to name a few.  I’ve made amazing friends, learned the true meaning of team, found new heroes, and discovered I have more grit than I ever imagined.

All smiles 7 hours into the race

Midway through Berryman 2011

A picture my brother took during that first Berryman says it best.  He posted it on Facebook with the caption: “Kate, enjoying torture as usual.”  Yes, I’ve  been hurt, lost, and quite literally at the end of my rope, but through it all I’ve never lost sight of how thrilled I am to be there…even if I’m not positive exactly where “there” is on the map!

Clearly I’m in love with the sport, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.  Just don’t be suprised if you find yourself googling adventure races, researching packs, or speculating which of your friends you could convince to spend 12 hours crashing through the woods you.  In fact, maybe you should get started…we’re going to have a lot to talk about!


The Spirit of Adventure Racing

As I hobbled out of the canoe in the middle of the night, soaked and shivering, the race volunteer said, “I have some good news and some bad news.”  The bad news:  “Well, you’ve only paddled about 4 miles and you have about 20 more to go.” What?!?! We thought we only had a few miles left! Our spirits plummeted.  “…The good news is there’s a van right here if you want to pull out of the race.”

I was elated and embarrassed – elated because the agony was finally over, embarrassed because I didn’t even come close to finishing my first adventure race, The Berryman Adventure.  I crawled into the volunteer’s van, conceding defeat, and I promised myself I would never again be foolish enough to do another adventure race.  NEVER!  Well, eleven years and more than 25 Adventure Races later, I’ve clearly broken my promise.

It’s hard to truly describe what Adventure Racing is, but I’ll give you my own version of the Wikipedia description.  Adventure Racing combines two or more disciplines, usually mountain biking, paddling of some sort, and trekking/orienteering.  You and your teammates must make your way through an unmarked course using a map and compass to find Checkpoints along the way.  Adventure Races can last anywhere from 3 hour “sprint” races up to 10 day expedition races.  Longer races usually include more disciplines such as river boarding, rappelling, ascending, rock climbing, caving, horseback riding, and occasionally “mystery events.”

Paddling with Bikes while Adventure Racing

Sometimes you have to paddle WITH your bikes.

But Adventure Racing is so much more than that.  It’s not about who is the fastest.  That’s what triathlons are for.  Adventure Racing forces you to work as a team, use your head, and make critical decisions under enormous stress.  And that’s just to finish the race.  If you want to do well, it clearly helps to be fast, but you have to be fast as a team.

And yet, even that description doesn’t do it justice. To try to portray the spirit of Adventure Racing, allow me to describe the “Noodle Raft” mystery event.  After racing for more than 30 hours straight, my teammate, Drew, and I had to construct a raft using twenty foam pool noodles, three PVC pipes, and boxing twine.  We then had to paddle it a half mile across the lake to get a Checkpoint (CP), and then paddle back.  Did I mention that it was around 50 degrees?  And did I mention we were running on just 2 hours of sleep in the previous two days?

We could have skipped this non-mandatory CP, which is what most teams did.  Had we skipped this CP, we would have had more time to get more of the “easier” CP’s before crossing the finish line.  That probably would have been the smarter choice, but no one ever accused us of being smart.

Noodle Raft Mystery Event for Adventure Racing

Is that a Noodle Raft or a Guy-yak? You decide. (Photo Credit: Gary Thompson)

How many chances does someone get to do something like this?  I mean, have you ever paddled a homemade Noodle Raft across a lake with one of your best friends?  Well I have.  And it was definitely worth it.  It’s one of my fondest memories of any race.

And to me, that’s what Adventure Racing is all about.  It’s about the experience.  It’s about the fun.  It’s about overcoming your preconceived limits.  It’s about teamwork.  It’s about the people.  It’s about the memories.

I’ve had some of the best times of my life while adventure racing.  I’ve also had some of the worst times.  It’s funny, though.  As time passes, our memory blurs the lines between good and bad, pleasure and pain, enjoyment and suffering, and as I look back on all the racing I’ve done, all of it is good.  Especially the worst of it.