Wondering how to train for an adventure race? We've got you covered with this 15 week adventure race training plan designed to help you finish an 8-12 hour course. Written by Geoff Hart, experienced endurance athlete and coach with certifications ranging from USATF, RRCA, UESCA in running, triathlon, and ultrarunning, and overseen by Heather Hart, ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, UESCA ultrarunning & RRCA running coach. .
With the abundance of variables in adventure racing, combined with the fact that many athletes have limited access to equipment and terrain, it is unfortunately impossible to put together any kind of all-encompassing generic plan to fit every athlete.
However, I designed this plan with newer adventure racing athletes in mind, to help them confidently and safely build their endurance, strength and discipline specific skills to successfully complete an 8-12 hour AR course.
Together, my wife Heather and I have helped hundreds of endurance athletes reach finish lines from ultramarathons, to obstacle course races, to adventure races, and beyond. We are confident this plan can help you reach the finish line of your race as well.
In this post we'll cover:
- Who this training plan is designed for
- How long the training plan will take
- What gear you will need to complete the training plan
- All of the details of the training plan itself.
Who Is This Adventure Race Training Plan For?
This training plan was designed for first time adventure racers looking to train for, and cross the finish line of, their first 8-12 hour event, as well as athletes who still identify as beginners, and would like to increase their overall fitness before their next 8-12 hour event.
Before beginning this plan, we recommend the following baseline fitness level:
- Comfortable covering a 10K distance on foot, whether running or walking is a great starting point. You should be comfortable on trails and off-road surfaces (grass, dirt, rock, etc.)
- Comfortable riding a bicycle off road. You don't need to have advanced mountain biking skills, but rather, be comfortable riding on surfaces other than pavement.
- Have general range of motion and mobility to do things like paddle a kayak, get in and out of boat, crawl under or over small obstacles, etc.
You don’t have to be an advanced athlete to tackle either this training plan, or an 8-12 hour adventure race, but you should be reasonably comfortable with physical movement, and have a baseline fitness that allows you to spend multiple hours on your feet.
How Long Does This 8-12 Hour Adventure Race Training Plan Take?
This 8-12 hour adventure race training program builds gradually over the course of 15 weeks. The training schedule begins with a total of 3 hours of training spread across 5 days for the first week, and gradually builds to training 7+ hours per week. Seven hours of training per week may seem like a lot, but don't worry, you'll have plenty of time to work up to it.
During the first week, you will be focusing on one training discipline per day. As the training plan progresses, you will be combining multiple disciplines into brick workouts.
What Gear Do I Need to Follow This Training Plan?
Training and participating in an adventure race does require quite a bit of gear. The gear doesn’t have to be high end or expensive, but you do want to invest in gear that can hold up to the abuse mother nature and adventure racing may give it.
Here's what gear we suggest you invest in to start training for an adventure race:
- Running Shoes. Trail running specific shoes will offer the best performance come race day. But if all you have currently are road running or cross-training shoes, those will work.
- A Bicycle. A mountain bike is really a necessity in the sport of adventure racing. Many races only allow mountain bikes, and you want your gear to be rugged.
Do you need an 8,000 dollar carbon fiber full suspension? Absolutely not. Whatever mountain bike you can get your hands on will do the trick (as long as it fits you within reason, too big of a bike can be dangerous.)
- Hydration pack. There are myriad choices out there for hydration packs. You won't necessarily have to carry a lot for your workouts in this training plan. However, occasionally practicing with the pack you plan to race with is always a good idea. Be sure to have a pack large enough to hold any mandatory gear for your race.
- Kayak or Canoe. Ideally, you’ll have access to some kind of canoe or kayak. Your boat doesn’t need to be anything fancy. Even an inflatable or foldable kayak will work.
No Kayak? No Problem. Since we realize that many people do not have access to paddling equipment or even water to paddle on, we have created a resistance training option programmed in substitution. Although nothing beats paddling to train for paddling, having a strong core and upper body can help prepare you for the paddle. Check it out here:
12 Kayaking Strength Exercises to Boost Your Adventure Race Paddling
A NOTE ON ADVENTURE RACE TRAINING SAFETY:
Two major things to consider before tackling this plan are bicycle safety and water safety.
- Please always wear any and all required safety gear while training. Always wear a helmet while cycling, and always wear a PFD while paddling. Get used to them. Not wearing proper safety gear can easily result in a disqualification on race day.
- Be sure your equipment is in good working order, especially the brakes on your bicycle! Be sure your boat isn’t going to sink half way through your paddle. Make sure your running shoes fit properly, etc.
- Basic bicycle maintenance. Although not required by a race director to participate in an event, having some basic trail side bike maintenance skills can come in handy when you’re 30+min away from your destination.
- Water/kayaking safety: Knowing how to right a capsized canoe/kayak and re-enter it is a nice perk, but at the very least please try to stay within swimming distance of the shoreline. We always hope for the best but prepare for the worst.
- Share your plans. For all three disciplines, if you will be doing them solo, please always tell someone where you will be training and your expected time to return home.
What Disciplines Does This Training Plan Cover?
Our training plan focuses the three primary physical disciplines of adventure racing: foot travel (which could be running or trekking), mountain biking, and paddling.
We will not be covering any kind of navigation in this plan, but highly recommend you practice your orienteering and navigating skills as well!
A great place to start is to see if you have a local orienteering club near you. If so you may find anything from workshops offered to help you learn navigation, to a fixed orienteering course, to an orienteering race.
For any workout labeled RUN, please walk or hike if you are more comfortable doing so. Any time on your feet will benefit you later!
For any workout labeled BIKE, you'll want to hop on a bike! While the mountain bike you plan to use for the race is best, any riding can help improve your riding endurance and strength. This includes things like an indoor bicycle (Peloton, spin class, road cycling etc.).
Coach's Note-Get Outside! For both the run and the bike, ideally, at least some of these workouts are done outdoors on as similar terrain to the event as possible. Of course, you won't know EXACTLY what the course will look like, but chances are, much of it will be "off road".
Training on pavement for hours per week, then showing up to an off-road event can lead to trouble very quickly. Get comfortable with your terrain and don’t be bashful about pushing your bike uphill when needed.
For any workout labeled "PADDLE", you'll want to hop in your kayak or canoe.
Note: as mentioned, if you do not have access to a boat, or for whatever reason, cannot get out on the water that day, the Kayak Strength Training plan is a great substitution.
For any workout labeled "Full Body ST" you'll want to perform a full body strength training workout. If you don't have a plan you already enjoy, we'll be including an optional strength training workout with the plan, below!
Beginner Adventure Race Training Plan Details:
Let's get to the good stuff - the details of the training plan.
DISCLAIMER: The following 8-12 hour adventure race training plan is designed for educational purposes, and is not a prescribed training plan for any particular individual. This plan has been designed by Geoffrey Hart, UESCA, USATF, & RRCA certified triathlon & ultrarunning coach, and was overseen by Heather Hart, ACSM EP.
This plan was designed with safety in mind for the healthy, adult adventure racer. However, you should understand that when participating in a training program, there is the possibility of physical injury. If you engage in this training plan you agree that you do so at your own risk, are voluntarily participating in these activities, and assume all risk of injury to yourself. You should consult your physician or other health care professional before starting this or any other fitness program to determine if it is right for your needs.
Our program will have a number of build weeks, where the focus is on building both overall endurance and strength. During our build weeks we’ll be increasing the total volume (how long you are training) or the total intensity (how hard you are training), and occasionally both.
This training plan lists workouts in duration versus distance. This is done to accumulate time at intensity, rather than focusing on a specific distance. For example, 5 miles of running on a flat, paved road may take an athlete less than an hour, but 5 miles of running on a very technical, hilly trail may take closer to 90 minutes for that same athlete.
To avoid doing "too much" , we recommend training by time.
Further, you'll notice there is a general range assigned to the workouts. This allows you to add a little bit to the workout, if you are having a great training day!
Most of our training sessions will be kept within a pretty comfortable level, however at least once a week we’ll have some kind of hard effort. This hard effort may vary in discipline week to week. I won’t be asking you to keep any particular pace, but instead we’ll work within the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE).
Easy Effort Workouts:
For our comfortable days (white boxes) we’ll want to keep our RPE in the 5/6 area. You should be able to comfortably carry on a conversation without gasping for breath.
It's important to remember that these endurance sessions are performed at a lower intensity on purpose. While it may be tempting to push hard during every workout, these easier efforts not only build endurance, but help ensure you are not putting yourself at risk for overtraining/under recovering.
Moderate to Hard Effort Workouts:
For our harder efforts (orange boxes) however, we’re going to want to push into 7/8RPE area. These should be a little uncomfortable! These harder efforts will help with not only fitness levels, but also mental strength and in some cases, proper form.
Intervals are a fantastic option for these workouts.
If you do have a treadmill or some kind of indoor bicycle trainer, please feel free to do your hard efforts inside. A controlled environment can allow for both a better and safer workout.
Many athletes may be tempted to skip a rest day here or there, fearing that they are "loosing fitness" or wasting an opportunity to get stronger. However, what many athletes fail to understand is that the physical adaptations our bodies make in order to become stronger don't happen during training...they happen during rest and recovery. Please be sure to adhere to scheduled rest days.
Build weeks will be followed by a “cutback week” or a recovery week, in which overall intensity and volume is brought down in order to give the body some extra time to adapt to the previous week's workouts and prep for the next build weeks.
The Taper is an integral part of any endurance sport training cycle, which is why you will see it across all of our training plans. The taper allows your body to further rest, recover, and make adaptations to the peak training weeks, hopefully leaving you feeling strong and refreshed by race day.
Even an 8 to 12 hour Adventure Race can throw random challenges at you. Static lines, ladders, carries, pulls, even throws might be found in any given event. There is no one correct all-encompassing static plan for any AR but being a well-rounded athlete will help increase the chance of a successful finish, as well as make the whole experience much more enjoyable.
Need More Adventure Race Training Help?
For more in depth questions, or a personalized training approach, feel free to reach out to me through the Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching team.
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