Adventure racing: my perspective on training

Entering the world of orienteering and adventure racing from the sport of triathlon, I was very familiar with multi-sport racing and the need to practice all three disciplines (swim, bike, run) – sometimes in combination – leading up to race day. But adventure racing is a different beast, in particular once you throw navigation into the mix!

I’ve never been lost in a triathlon – though I have swum into the wrong bay during an Olympic-distance race in Gravenhurst!

I got my start in orienteering in the fall of 2016, adventure racing in 2017 and adventure racing with a navigation component in 2018, so I still consider myself a newbie! 

In advance of my first adventure race, the Bruce Peninsula Multisport Race, which involved a 4k paddle by canoe in Georgian Bay, a 16k mountain bike ride and a 6k trail run, my race partner and I went canoeing briefly once to try kayak paddles in a canoe for the first time (with a 2 year old who did not want to sit down or stay in the boat!), didn’t mountain bike because we didn’t own them, and didn’t run together once. However, we were both fit and confident that we could do the race. We ended up 2nd out of 8 teams of 2 females (and I won the mountain bike draw prize!).

Now, as I prepare for longer and more complex adventure races with my teammates, I have all kinds of ideas on how we can train together, and apart.

RockstAR with Rebecca. [Pic by Brad Jennings]

For example, recently I re-ran a Don’t Get Lost X-league orienteering course in the forest near my house, and instead of worrying about finding as many controls as I could within the 50 minute time limit for this particular map, I chose instead to focus on my navigation and find all the controls (“clear the course”), however long it took. To keep my navigation sharp (and to continue to improve!), I participate in the weekly X-league races, and look for every opportunity to challenge myself by racing as often as I can with Don’t Get Lost and other clubs. 

To work on training with my teammates, we have used old race maps and chosen our own features on the map to navigate to (for example, a hilltop, or a stream junction). Sometimes we just practice our compass bearings and don’t use trails at all. We’ve done this during daylight, in the dark in preparation for racing overnight, in the rain, and in the snow. We have practised using a provincial park map in the winter. Other maps could be used too, such as google maps, or local park or conservation area maps. It’s important to be mindful of park rules and the need to stay on trail in some places. More tips on how to orienteer when you don’t have a map can be found on the Orienteering Ontario “About Orienteering” page. 

While COVID-19 threw a wrench into our 2020 training and racing plans, my teammates and I will train together again with precautions when it’s safe to do so. We have plans to practice our mountain biking together (and do a race), canoe (and portage!) at night, and of course participate in orienteering races. We’ll also train together this winter, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. 

Cross-country skiing at Arrowhead with Heidi – that day we skied every single trail in the park!

I’ve been tackling increasingly longer races since that first one, from less than 3 hours to nearly 14! In addition to sport specific training, as the race distance and complexity increases, we need to continue to work on nutrition strategies to keep ourselves properly fuelled, and team dynamics to make sure we can lift each other up when the going gets tough, the bugs are nasty, we hurt all over, we get lost, or we start to lose hope! Bring on the races!

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