Preparing for a 250 Kilometer Stage Race
By RacingThePlanet Events Staff
We are continually asked several questions before someone decides to compete in a RacingThePlanet / 4 Deserts event. To assist future competitors, we have put together some general information below about preparation, training, etc. We hope this is helpful.
- How do I start preparing?
- Is there a training plan?
- When do I know if I am ready to take part?
A training plan is not published as the training required is so different depending on what level you are starting from and what your goal is. In a 250 kilometer, 6-stage, 7-day race, the difference in time between the first and the last competitor to cross the finish line is on average more than 50 hours. The training / preparation for each of these results is very different. However, this document has some basic information to help you get started. The information here is targeted at people who are new to endurance events but some of it does apply to the experienced athlete as well. Also note that this information is aimed at a 250 kilometer stage event / race, but if you were to follow it for a 100 kilometer non-stop event then you will be in good shape for this too.
There are two sides to the preparation:
- Physical- actually getting out there and doing the training; and
- Mental- preparing yourself mentally and literally for the event with equipment, knowledge of your body and the confidence that you are able to complete 250 kilometers by foot.
We cannot tell you how to prepare mentally but by remembering and preparing for the fact that the event you are going to take part in is a “long distance endurance event through some of the most extreme terrain in the world”, then you are starting and continually adding to the mental preparation. Both physical and mental preparation is vital to help you get to the finish line safely. You can walk the entire course, but even doing this with a backpack is a considerable undertaking. There have been competitors who have completed events with minimal training and having never run or walked even 20 kilometers in one go, but this is not recommended either for your safety or enjoyment.
The first thing you need to consider is: What exactly is your goal? Are you aiming to win the event / race or simply to finish it? Do you want to be in the top 10 or top half? It is also a good idea to think about why you want to do the event as this may help determine your goal. There are many reasons people decide to do the event / race, including: for charity; to take on a new challenge having done a marathon(s) / triathlon(s) / ultramarathon(s); to push themselves further than before; due to a bet; and to see a particular country / area like you cannot in any other way, etc. Each of these generally comes with a goal.
Other People’s Experiences
You are not the first person to take part in a long distance / stage event and so there is no need to start from zero. Benefit from other people’s experience, but be aware that there is not a perfect answer -- everyone is different. Some recommended sources of information as you start preparing include the following:
Blogs from past competitors – many entries include why they decided to take part, the training and preparation that they put into it, what equipment they used and their thoughts about what they would do differently next time. The Ambassador Blogs are particularly useful.
Expert Articles – learn the theory about blister care, warning signs that you being affected by the heat, how to maintain your electrolyte balance, managing sleep when changing time zones and more.
Fixing Your Feet – the “bible” on footcare -- a book solely about pre, during and post event foot care.
RacingThePlanet’s, The Outdoor Store - you can see pictures and prices of all equipment that you will need to do a race. All equipment available has been used and recommended by past competitors.
Photos / Videos from past events – see what equipment other people are using and how they are using it. These photos/videos can also give you an idea of the terrain.
When Should You Start Training?
You want to build up to a consistent training schedule of more than 50 kilometers on your feet a week. If you are already doing that distance or more then you are in good shape and three months of dedicated training may be sufficient. If you are nowhere near that then one year is recommended to ensure you build up your base. At least six months of dedicated training is ideal. Do not ramp up too quickly – do not go out tomorrow and run 50 kilometers if you have not run more than 10 kilometers for a few weeks (or ever).
What You Should Know / Do Before Getting to the Start Line?
There are certain minimum goals / objectives that you should aim to meet / achieve before you step up to the start line. These are listed below in a simple checklist. However do note that if you do not meet all of the items below it does not mean you will not be able to take part and finish.
- Been consistently completing a minimum of 50 kilometers per week in total for 3 – 6 months
- Having completed a minimum of 50 kilometers in one go at least once
- Having completed at least one back-to-back (consecutive days) training of at least 30 kilometers each day.
- Having consistently carrying a 10 kilogram backpack in training without any strain or pain.
- Having a good understanding the amount of electrolytes your body needs and which types / flavours you like.
- Having tried ALL your kit in training (especially shoes, backpack, hydration system, electrolyte and food).
How to Get Started?
Start Slow. Don't start more with than five kilometers at one time, unless you have past experience with this distance. If you are starting from a very low base then start with up to five kilometers of walking. After a while, slowly change that into running or fast walking and build up to 10 kilometers over a few weeks and 20 kilometers over a few months.
Do Not Just Run / Walk. Cross training is highly recommended to build overall strength and prevent injury – spinning classes, cycling, swimming and weights are all good alternatives. However you do need the “time on your feet” as well so do not completely replace running / walking with other exercise.
Build Training into your Daily Schedule – walk up the stairs to your office / flat (if applicable). Get used to taking your backpack with you everywhere – carry it to work, to the gym, out for a walk etc. Slowly build the weight you are carrying – start with an empty bag and then increase the weight by putting bottle(s) of water / rice in it so that it is always weighted. However do be careful not get the balance wrong - dumb bells in your backpack may cause injury due to the awkward shape of them.
An Idea of a Training Schedule
Once you have built up your base level to be able to start completing 50 kilometers per week your training may look something like the below:
|Monday||1 hour spin class|
|Tuesday||10-20 kilometer run / jog / walk|
|Wednesday||Circuit training / Weight session|
|Thursday||10-20 kilometer run / jog / walk|
|Friday||1 kilometer swim|
|Saturday||30 to 60 kilometers jog / walk|
Research and Testing
Do some research and read the information sent to you. Familiarise yourself with the equipment list early and make sure you know what all the items are and how / when to use them. For example, not knowing what electrolytes are, what they are used for, how much you need to take and the consequences of not keeping your electrolyte balance state could create a possible problem for you during the event or your training. Equally having your patches placed incorrectly will cost you time (in the form of penalties) which can be easily avoided and may cause you frustration before you even start. Some tips on equipment are below:
Shoes – you will be wearing these for a considerable amount of time. It is important that they are comfortable, are not going to be the sole cause of blisters and will still fit after three days. Feet swelling from excessive use or heat is normal, but if you are not prepared for this it can be the cause of blisters (especially under your toe nails). It is recommended that you wear shoes that are 1.5 to 2 sizes bigger than you would normally. It is also important that the shoes being bigger than normal are not going to cause blisters in the early part of the event before your feet fit into the shoe snugly.
Mandatory Gear – all items on the mandatory list are required to be carried. If you do not have an item, you may not be able to start due to safety being breached. If you don't know what something is that is required, ask -- don’t just show up without it!
Food – Expedition Foods (freeze dried food) have the highest number of calories per gramme. Other high calorie / low weight foods include nuts (especially macadamias), meat jerky (beef is ideal) and crisps (generally crushed up and eaten with a spoon as it is a challenge to keep them uncrushed). Whatever you choose, make sure you have tried it during and after training for taste and effectiveness. Variety is important as you appetite changes.
Blister Kit – there is a minimum amount of items that you have to bring to the event, you must have all of these items or equivalent. We do not accept the answer “I do not get blisters” or “I couldn't find it”.
Getting to the Finish Line
RacingThePlanet / 4 Deserts are 6 stage, 7 day, 250 kilometer events. There are many things that can happen along the way that could stop you from making it to the finish line, but the main reasons for competitors having to withdraw are blisters and dehydration. Anything you can do to prevent these through training and preparation will put you in good stead to getting that coveted finisher’s medal.