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Train and Race like Ian

By Ian Adamson

Ian Adamson Three-time Eco-Challenge champion Ian Adamson is arguably the most successful adventure racer of all time, having raced (and often won) events from three hours to ten days all over the world. Known for both his physical prowess and tactical race strategies, Ian has undoubtedly figured out the body (training)/mind (racing) formula to be successful. So what are the secrets to Ian's success?

1. Subscribe to the Periodization Method
One of the challenges with training for endurance-oriented multi-sport events is fitting it into your professional, personal and family life. Periodization is one of the most effective and well-researched training systems in current use that fits these constraints. The fundamental idea of periodization is to break your training into periods, with build and recover cycles so you don't burn out. This school of thought is nothing new in the world of competitive endurance sports but can get tricky in multi-sport racing because of the many disciplines involved. The goal is to peak for multiple sports at one time and for multiple races in one season. Most people use cycles of weeks and months as periods, since these are convenient to most people's daily lives and are appropriate to human adaptation to physical training.

Training for mid- to long-distance triathlon series or weekend adventure races like the Balance Bar 24-Hour Adventure Race series lends itself well to periodization training. As the season approaches you build your base in each sport and then add in speed and intensity as the first race approaches. Once in season you build for each race and recover in between.

Take the Balance Bar race series as an example, in which the core sports are running, mountain biking, kayaking and rope skills. By this time of year you will have built your base and will be focusing on the first races, sharpening your speed and honing your skills.

It is important to try to include speed, strength, endurance and skills in each sport at least once each week, but you can combine several sessions if it is hard to make the time. If you can only do one or two long sessions, then make them bricks (two sports back to back), tricks (three sports) or quicks (four), as I mentioned in my column, "Managing your Time" in the March issue of asm. Strength can be done in the same way, combining strength exercises in the gym for all muscle groups once or twice a week. Skills are ideally done as stand-alone training sessions but are quite effective as an addition to speed or endurance sessions.

I like to break my training into cycles of four weeks, with weeks one through three increasing in distance/speed/intensity and week four a recovery or taper week. That way, I should peak about a week out from the race and then use the last week to taper so I'm fully rested and sharp for race day. The following chart details the training schedule for a very fit athlete doing a weekend race series and should be modified to fit lifestyle and fitness level.

2. Race: Developing Race Strategies
The classic conundrum for teams competing in an adventure race is when or if to race your own race vs. making decisions based on other teams. This situation arises frequently since teams are more often than not in close proximity throughout the race. The conventional wisdom dictates that you should try to keep out of sight of teams behind you but keep teams ahead in sight. These strategies are based on the idea that teams ahead of you are doing something right that you might want to know about, but you don't want teams behind you taking advantage of your route finding or trail breaking.

There are two problems with this strategy. First, teams ahead may be there because they went too fast at the start, or your team is pacing effectively and thus is relatively slower. Second, teams close together often slow each other down since the combined group tends to act as one team; if one person lags, everyone slows.

Sometimes teams traveling together can move faster than teams individually, for example in fast biking or paddling conditions where the group can pace line, or in hiking/running situations where you need to break trail. In theory, larger teams are disadvantaged if they decide to stay together, since there is twice the probability that someone will get sick, injured or break equipment. The flip side to this is that there are twice as many people working on navigation and trail blazing, and all the extra brains and bodies can make a big difference if everyone works together effectively.

If your team races intelligently, you should be able to use other teams to your advantage and then separate from them when you need to. Quite often, trying to get away or being chased will make you move faster; you just have to be careful not to go too fast or too long and end up bonking.

In multi-day races, sleep management is one of the important areas of strategy you are confronted with at some point. If you sleep too little teams can pass you because you will move slowly and make bad decisions. If you sleep too much teams will pass you because you will be stationary while other teams are moving. The choices of when to sleep or when to go are tied heavily to how you and your teammates are performing and the difficulty of the terrain, but should not be influenced by what other teams are doing.

The danger of following another team at night when you are profoundly tired is that you may move forward, but you may loose track of where you are. If you are separated from the other team, or they get lost, you can lose a lot of time, possibly having to retrace your steps.

Whatever your race strategy, you will have to consider how you and your teammates are performing as the race evolves. It is smart to have a basic plan at the start, but it should be adaptable since surprise and change are fundamental to the nature of adventure racing.

Ian Adamson has helped his teams win Eco-Challenge three times and finish on the podium four other times. He is a regular columnist for Adventure Sports magazine, so check back for more of his words of wisdom.

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