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Last year I conducted a study through the UCC School Of Medicine Sports and Exercise Programme in conjunction with the Helly Hansen Killarney Adventure Race. The study aimed to detail the demographics of the athletes competing, their training habits, competitive history and injuries occurring within the sport. It was the first study of its kind, which focused on this unique athletic cohort, and it is hoped that the findings will help reduce injury in this years race.
Adventure Racing athletes differ in age, gender and body type but are united by the thrill of a challenge, their love of the outdoors and the sense of achievement that comes with completing a unique event. Whilst intensely competitive in the elite ranks participants new to the sport can take great pride and satisfaction in simply completing the challenging course.
If you are competing in this year’s race you are less than two weeks away from a truly exceptional event. Whether you’re a beginner racing for the first time or a seasoned “elite” collecting points in this years national racing series it is important you arrive in Killarney on the 4th of October injury free and in prime condition. All the training (or lack there of!) will have been in vain and hopes of “a good finishing time” or “just finishing” will be dashed if preparation in this two week period does not go to plan. The following are a few key tips to keep you safe and injury free in this crucial preparation period.
Injuries are inevitable- but not this week!
Cumulatively the lower limb accounted for 74% of all musculoskeletal injuries reported by last years athletes. The majority of these were ankle and knee insults and approximately 85% were attributed to running as a discipline. Interestingly, most occurred in pre-race training as opposed to competition and it is likely therefore that many of you have already sustained an injury. Obviously it is a poor decision to compete if injured, but resting in this preparatory period may prevent a “niggle” or a “strain” becoming a far more significant issue long term. It is comforting to know that at this late stage it is unlikely that any training will positively impact the outcome of this years race, so if harboring a minor ailment or injury, rest is key to arriving in Killarney on the 4th Oct. in optimal condition.
Maintaining fitness- Just relax
Much of your training should now be complete but for various reasons some will feel compelled to continue to practice the various disciplines involved, be it running, cycling or kayaking. 70% of all injuries reported by last years athletes occurred out of competition. This is to be anticipated given the fact that the majority of activity occurs in preparing for the event and not the event itself.
Personal preference and past experience will dictate the volume of training at this stage but you should certainly start to consider tapering down from you usual training load. As eluded to already, last years study revealed that the vast majority (81%) of injuries were attributed to running while only 15% were attributed to cycling. It makes sense therefore that if you are intent on squeezing in a few more sessions to maintain aerobic fitness or simply instill some self- confidence, dust off the bike and pack away the trail shoes for race day. Kayaking was also associated with very few injuries and is therefore a sensible training option in the final lead up to this years event.
On or off road training?
Training off road, on surface conditions similar to that found during the course of an adventure race is often encouraged and so it should be, but this close to race-day is not the time to get such exposure. We showed that in our study that the risk of injury is proportionally linked with time spent on such surfaces. Of the athletes that reported training “off road” the majority of time, injury rates were as high as 60%, significantly higher than those that never trained off road, 40% of which reported injury throughout the season. While exposing oneself to “off road” training will bring about a biomechanical change within your body over time, it is unlikely to be of any benefit this close to the event and could potentially result in injury. Stay off the trails.
Footwear- Decision time
Pre-race nerves can often result in the panicked purchase of pricey trail shoes. Trail specific footwear is often promoted to increase performance and reduce the incidence of injury when competing on foot off-road. In this study their popularity was linked with level of experience with 88.1% of advanced, 68% of intermediate and 55.1% of beginner level athletes reporting to wear footwear designed for use on trail and off-road terrain whilst training and competing. There was no significance demonstrated however between the use of trail footwear and the likelihood of injury when the entire group was analysed.
Therefore when deciding on the type of shoe for use during competition other features of the design such as comfort, age of current shoe, materials, durability and weight may be more important to consider than its proposed effect on injury reduction. Persevering with the shoe you have trained in may be the wisest decision at this stage with any last minute change potentially resulting in injury. Foul smelling as they may be, they may just save your knee!
On your bike!
Only 15% of all injuries reported by last years athletes were attributed to cycling. The likelihood of injury during the cycle component of the race is therefore low. However many cycling injuries can occur suddenly, particularly in the case of an unexpected dismount or crash. So while cycling injuries are infrequent they can be serious when they do occur and often result in long recovery periods. Remember to stay alert and look out for obstacles in your path and ensure your bike is in good functional condition.
Injury comes hand in hand with physical activity and should never deter or discourage participants. Undoubtedly the benefits of competing outweigh the potential risk.
At this stage all the hard work, discipline and sacrifice is coming to an end. Remember to relax, eat, drink and sleep well for the remaining few days and follow the above tips to arrive in Killarney on the 4th of October, prepared for a truly unique experience. Enjoy!
By David Keohane