Adventure racing – training for a lifestyle or a lifestyle for training?

12 September 2014



Words: Ico Schutte | Photos: Ico Schutte & Jessi Stensland


It is not long to go before Jessi Stensland and I line up at the start of the MOMAR (Mind Over Mountain Adventure Race), a 50 km sprint distance adventure race. Yes, in the sport of adventure racing, 50 km is considered a sprint, while longer races typically reach up to 500 km for expedition distance races in the World Series. Momar will be my final race in Canada before heading back to South Africa, to compete in the challenging WCAD 250 km expedition race later in the year.

MOMAR is taking place on 20 September 2014 in Cumberland, British Columbia, Canada. This cozy little historic mining town is an adventure racer’s dream destination, as it is filled with world-class single-track trails and breathtaking terrain. Featuring kayaking, mountain biking, trekking (trail running/hiking), maybe some bushwhacking and possibly a few mystery challenges too, this race promises to be a test for both the seasoned weekend warrior and dedicated novice.

The WCAD 250 km is taking place from 21 to 23 November 2014 in the picturesque Western Cape and is a highlight on the South African adventure racing calendar. As an expedition-distance race, you can expect long legs between transitions and a lot of night-time travel, as you make your way to the finish line.

I was asked to write about my training and preparation for these two races and this is what I came to realise:
Adventure racing is more than training – it is life. I wake up in the morning and feel the urge to go outside and play. As I drive into a new area, I note the highest peaks and know that I have to get up there. I see a river and it beckons me to paddle, to explore the cool blue waters rushing by. It is also reflected in my lifestyle and the decisions I make daily. If possible, I try and find a way not to use a car. I ride my bike to work. I run home. I walk to the shop around the corner. Not only does this have a positive impact on my health and fitness, it also has a positive impact on the environment. It's the simple things too, like taking the stairs and not the elevator, however insignificant it might seem, which all make a difference. For example, on the stairs, the hips, knees, ankles and toes flex and extend, my glutes, quads and calves power me up or down; all critical foundations of an active life.

Adventure racing is a multidiscipline race that, at a minimum, will include trekking, mountain bike and kayak legs. It is therefore vital that you are proficient in these disciplines. The quantity of training per discipline will largely depend on the distance of the race you are preparing for, so make sure you are comfortable with the time that will be required of you. Another very important aspect to consider is whether you will be racing at night. If you are entering the longer races, chances are you will be in the dark at some point or another. If you are afraid of the dark, well, I am not sure if this sport is for you. Bring out the camping gear and headlamp – it’s time to plan that overnight hiking or biking trip.

The most important physical aspect of adventure racing is body maintenance. Implementing strategies to keep the body healthy and happy throughout the race is critical. Blisters, chafing, illness, dehydration, malnutrition and more commonly cause DNFs (Do Not Finish). If you can minimise or, better yet, prevent these, you will make it to the finish line just fine.

Blister busters

Remember three things cause blisters: heat, friction and moisture. Treat any suspected blister or hot spot early. Remedies and prevention include duct tape, Super Glue, talc powder and lubrication. Bring on the chamois cream for the long bike legs.

Nutrition nuggets

For nutrition, I always recommend to go as natural as possible and stay away from highly processed energy products, especially in the longer races as these will create other problems. Quoting a teammate during Expedition Africa, "It feels like I am giving birth to a rock!" Eat often and healthy. High-quality, complex carbohydrates are an obvious energy source, however for longer efforts food with high-protein and high-fat content, such as nuts and fish oils, are essential.

Make sure you stay hydrated! Water is important but so is your electrolyte intake (sodium, magnesium and potassium), which is critical to your body’s ability to absorb water. Mixing electrolytes into your water bottle or taking electrolyte replacement tablets is always a good idea. It is important to stay in tune with your body’s requirements for hydration. Taking 500-750 ml of water per hour is a good benchmark. Also consider the availability of fresh water from streams or other sources when planning your race.

Powerful posture

Something that is often overlooked in sports is good posture. The ability to maintain an elongated, neutral spine throughout your race will provide you with a stable base of support that allows the major movers in your hips and shoulders to power you to the finish line.

Maintaining core stability and muscular elasticity is also vital in these races. You will be carrying a backpack and if you are too weak to maintain a tall, strong posture and instead begin to hunch over, you will soon develop tight abdominal muscles. This in turn will lead to back pain and an inability to utilise your prime movers, such as your glutes and this translates into all sorts of other issues.

Incorporating strategies into your training programme that focus on spinal stability, maintaining full range of motion in your joints and muscular length and strength is key. For example: hiking or running hills and rugged terrain, doing squats, dead lifts and lunges with proper form, as well as more dynamic things like cartwheels, handstands, hops, skips, jumps, plyometric push-ups and climbing up a tree every once and a while make for fun ways to add some awesomeness to your daily routine.


Navigation also sets adventure racing apart from other races. You will receive a map with checkpoints and be expected to find these checkpoints using said map and a compass. If you have good navigational skills, it will greatly enhance your racing experience. Getting lost sucks. Want to learn more? Acquire a topographic map and become familiar with the symbols and how to read it. Alternatively, seek out a knowledgeable person or group to practice or get involved in the sport of orienteering (a family of sports that requires navigational skills using a map and compass to navigate from point to point in diverse and usually unfamiliar terrain, and normally moving at speed).

The most important aspect of adventure racing, however, is to have fun! After all, why else are we doing this? Keep smiling, keep laughing and keep putting one foot in front of the other. It is a deeply rewarding experience crossing the line after completing a challenge like this!

More information
WCAD 250 km -

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