Whether you are new to adventure racing, an improver or an aspiring professional, it can be difficult to work out what exactly you need to achieve your goals. There is a big difference between the bare minimum requirements, what will make your adventure more enjoyable and what are the marginal gains that the top adventure racers use. Obviously, in a perfect world you would opt for all of the above, but when limited by time to prepare, budget or experience, you need to focus on what is most important and appropriate to you.
Here we look at the four specific areas of nutrition, training clothing and equipment. We will then break down each of these areas into;
Must-haves: what you will absolutely need to merely complete a Quest adventure race. These include mandatory items will be checked on the day before you are allowed to participate, and items that are strongly recommended.
Nice-to-have: what will help to make your adventure race an enjoyable and memorable experience (for the right reasons). This will help make sure you are as comfortable as possible given the conditions, while still working hard to get through the course as quickly to achieve your goals.
Next-level: these are the marginal gains when you have reached a certain level of training and racing, there are loads of tips and tricks to get you over the line that little bit faster, put them all together and you get there much faster. This is key if you’re competing for a place against other athletes of a similar level. The trade-off is training time, practice and cost.
Must-haves: you need to have appropriate food and drink with you to complete a Quest Adventure race. This means carrying some snacks and water on your bike and in your bag, to last you the length of time you will be racing. On challenge-distance routes, you may not even need to do this once you are well hydrated.
Nice-to-have: eat little and often throughout your race BEFORE you get hungry. This makes it easier to digest food and ensure you have constant fuel. Use small portions of food with good sustenance that is easy to carry and eat e.g. flapjacks and bananas early on, then sugary jellies later in the race. As well as drinking water often, you could use electrolyte tablets in your bottle which allow for quicker re-hydration.
Next level: this involves training with a nutrition plan that is tried and tested specific to you. It takes research and trial and error (the use of gels in particular) and will include caffeine, gels, carb-loading, energy drinks and other supplements (e.g. magnesium). Hydration will begin 72 hours in advance and breakfast will be substantial and eaten very early race morning giving time to digest
Must-haves: You should be able to undertake fitness or sport for 45mins without much trouble. You should have practised cycling and running recently and have a good idea of how the kayak works. You should have recently exercised for a period of time and at a level similar to your specific event.
Nice-to-have: the earlier you start the better. Training should include at least one long session a week relative to your race. It is good to have trained in transitions (run-bike-run, also called ‘Brick sessions’) so that you become accustomed to ‘jelly-legs’. One to two weeks before the event will include a taper where training is continued but eased back on to rest in advance of the event. Watch some YouTube videos on how to kayak which will help your technique. Ideally, do some actual training on water or undertake a kayak training course.
Next level: this will involve a long-term plan over a year which is built around peaking for specific Quest adventure races which includes training sessions that attempt to mimic as close as possible, actual race conditions but usually with less effort so as not to exhaust the body. Shorter sessions will be very intense at max threshold to increase that threshold.
Must-haves: you have to have your full mandatory kit with you throughout the event. This kit will be checked before you are allowed to start the race. You should wear sports gear that is comfortable, nothing too heavy or loose and have appropriate footwear.
Nice-to-have: Quest Races in Ireland and the UK are prone to all four seasons in one day. You should pack more than you will need before you leave home and have access race morning to each combination depending on the weather forecast and the weather that morning. Either way, you will need at a minimum to bring wet and warm gear which can be stowed away when not in use. The higher quality, the lighter the material while still proving protection. Trail runners are recommended. Footwear with good support and good grip are important for wet stones and boggy slopes.
Next level: Using a tri suit or tri shorts provides minimum comfort on the bike but maximum performance on the run. Even the Pros will have wet and warm gear and always have mandatory kits to avoid disqualification but usually will travel lighter as they will be exposed for less time. Usually trail runners are used which have a thick rubber sole that wears down and so have a limited number of uses. Most pros now do not use cycling shoes as the time lost in transition is not worth the benefit on the bike.
Must-haves: mandatory kit is key! You will need a functioning bike and helmet that is in good conditioning and a spare tyre and pump.
Nice-to-have: mountain bikes are ok to use and on some surfaces in short sections they actually work best but on the road they are slower. Hybrid bikes can be used too but the optimum bike is a road bike (Racer) with Gator skin tyres as this is light and therefore faster but the gator skin tyres reduce the risk of puncture greatly on those narrow wheels. Some cheap, but useful equipment includes soft foldable water bottles which save weight and space or bum bags instead of back packs for the same reason. For a little more, a GPS multisport watch will measure your bike and run and is really useful for training.
Next level: the world is you oyster with an unlimited budget from carbon frame bikes to electronic gears on your bike. It is all about weight reduction and aerodynamics, for example the more expensive helmets can save precious grams and provide a better shape to cut through the air.
Remember that the only things that are essential is a relative level of fitness and the mandatory kit item. The ‘nice-to-haves’ will enhance your race but not necessarily make it, don’t sweat it if you are missing some, the only sweating you should do is on the bike or the mountain! Once you have nailed the basics, and you want to get faster, then you can start adventure racing on the next level.