Wondering how to train for your first adventure race? We've got you covered with this 16 week 3-6 hour sprint adventure race training plan for beginners. Written by Heather Hart, ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, UESCA ultrarunning & RRCA running coach and Geoff Hart, experienced endurance athlete and coach with certifications ranging from USATF, RRCA, UESCA in running, triathlon, and ultrarunning.
One of the big appeals of the sport of adventure racing is the unknown. How far will you be paddling? Will the check points be easy to grab, or will the race director be putting them in trees? Will the mountain biking terrain be easy to navigate, or will you be carrying your bike through swamps?
Unfortunately, the unknowns can make training a little more complex. Whereas other multi-sports such as triathlon come with known race distances, the the abundance of variables and unknowns in the adventure racing - combined with the fact that many athletes have limited access to equipment and terrain - make adventure race training a little less "exact" and a little more of a "best guess".
All of that said, we have carefully designed this plan with beginner adventure racing athletes in mind, to help you confidently and safely build your endurance, strength and discipline specific skills before their your adventure race.
Together, Geoff 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 first adventure race.
In this post we'll highlight:
- 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.
Let's get started!
Who Is This Adventure Race Training Plan For?
This sprint adventure race training plan was designed for first time adventure racers looking to cross the finish line of their first event (between 3-6 hour events). It may also be useful to athletes who still identify as beginners, and would like to increase their overall fitness before their next sprint distance race.
How Fit Do I Need to Be to Start This Training Plan?
Before beginning this plan, we recommend the following baseline fitness level:
- You should be comfortable covering 2-3 miles at once on foot. It doesn't matter if you run, run/walk, or hike the entire distance, and it does not matter how fast you go. What matters is that you are comfortable staying on your feet, moving forward, for at least 30 minutes.
- You should be comfortable riding a bicycle off road. You don't need to have advanced mountain biking skills! Most sprint level adventure races aren't going to take you onto super technical single track trails anyway. But, we do suggest that you are comfortable riding on surfaces other than pavement.
- You should 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, lift your bike over a downed tree, etc.
Again, let us emphasize: you do not have to super fit to tackle either this training plan or an sprint adventure race! But you should be reasonably comfortable with physical movement as a starting point to get the most out of this training plan
How Long Does This Beginner Adventure Race Training Plan Take?
Our sprint adventure race training program builds gradually over the course of 16 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 5+ hours per week.
Five 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!
What Gear Do I Need to Follow This Training Plan?
Training and participating in an adventure race does require quite a bit of gear. For your first race (or your first dozen races!) the gear doesn’t have to be high end or expensive. That said, you will want to invest in gear that can hold up to the abuse mother nature and adventure racing may give it.
Here's what you'll need to start:
- 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 absolutely work! What matters most is that your shoes fit well, and are comfortable.
- A Bicycle. Cycling is one of the main disciplines of adventure racing. So unless the specific race you are training for has explicitly said there will be no biking, it's safe to assume a mountain bike is a necessity.
While many races only allow mountain bikes, some do offer courses that are hybrid and road bike friendly. Be sure to check with the race director if you plan to use a bike other than a mountain bike!
Now all of that said, do you need an 8,000 dollar, carbon fiber, full suspension bike? 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. Carrying fluid and nutrition on you is mandatory during the race, therefore, it's a good idea to practice carrying these necessities during your training! 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. But as mentioned, occasionally practicing with the pack you plan to race with is always a good idea.
- Kayak or Canoe. Ideally, you’ll have access to some kind of canoe or kayak in order to practice paddling - which is one of those things that isn't always as easy at it appears.
But just like your bicycle, your boat doesn’t need to be high end or top of the line. For practice purposes, even an inflatable kayak or stand up paddle board will work in helping you get comfortable with the paddling movement and training associated muscle groups.
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:
Now, it's important that we mention two major things to consider before tackling this plan: bicycle safety and water safety.
- Please always wear any and all required safety gear while training. Always wear a well fitting helmet while cycling, and always wear a PFD while paddling. Not only is a good practice to get into, from a safety point of view, but it will help prepare you for race day, where these items are mandatory. 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 (especially if you are training on an inflatable!) 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. (Trust us on this one: Geoff dropped his chain well over 20+ times during Heather's second adventure race ever)
- 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 sprint adventure race 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. Many adventure racers walk or hike at a fast clip and never run a step, so know that running is never mandatory. 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.
STRENGTH TRAINING (LIFT)
For any workout labeled "LIFT" you'll want to perform some sort of full body strength training workout. If you have one you already like - feel free to stick with it!
If you do not, we recommend starting with one of the following strength training plans:
If you already have a core workout you love, go for it! If not, give ours a try:
30 Minute Core Workout for Adventure Racers & Off Road Athletes
Beginner Adventure Race Training Plan Details:
Let's get to the good stuff - the details of the training plan.
DISCLAIMER: The following sprint 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 (pale green boxes, we’ll want to keep our RPE in the 5/6 area. You should be able to comfortably converse 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 overuse injuries or mental/physical burnout.
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. Or, a more difficult hike that will get your heart rate up.
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.
Substituting occasional active recovery for low impact activities that are easy effort is more than acceptable!
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.
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, you do not have to be a superstar athlete to give adventure racing a try! But, we hope that this sprint adventure race training plan will help you build your strength and endurance enough to leave you feeling confident as you tackle your first AR.
Need More Adventure Race Training Help?
For more in depth questions, or a personalized training approach, feel free to reach out to us through the Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching team.
More Posts You May Enjoy:
How to Find an Adventure Racing Team (Or Start One Yourself)
Adventure Race Nutrition: How to Fuel to Avoid the Bonk
Adventure Racing vs. Obstacle Course Racing: Are They the Same Thing?