Preparing for a 250 Kilometer Stage Race

Author: RacingThePlanet Events Staff

Introduction

We are continually asked several questions before someone decides to compete in a RacingThePlanet / 4 Deserts race. To assist future competitors, we have put together some general information below about preparation, training, etc. If you would like to receive this article in PDF then please email [email protected]

We hope this is helpful.

Questions include:

  • 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, six-stage, seven-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:

  1. Physical - actually getting out there and doing the training; and
  2. 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 race you are going to take part in is a “long distance endurance event through some of the most extreme terrain in the world” 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.

Your Goal

The first thing you need to consider is: What exactly is your goal? Are you aiming to win the 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 a 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 in, what equipment they used and their thoughts about what they would do differently next time. The RacingThePlanet 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 foot care “bible” -- a book solely about pre-, during and post-event foot care.

The RacingThePlanet 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).

The below table gives an idea of your fitness level versus training required. Don’t forget that even if you are in good shape and physically capable of finishing the race, you want to allow some time to select and test your gear, in particular shoes and backpack.
 

LEVEL

TRAINING REQUIRED

Not a regular hiker / runner. Fitness level relatively low. No experience of long distance races.

 

Minimum of one year of training and preparation time is recommended. Note that your training does not need high intensity but having a whole year ensures you have time to get stronger, fitter as well as understand the equipment needs and prepare appropriately for the expected weather conditions.

Hiking / running 2-3 times per week. Relatively fit and strong but no experience of long distance races.

Minimum of six months of training and preparation time recommended but 7-8 months is ideal. This time will allow you to modify your current exercise regime and become stronger and fitter. You will also have time to understand the equipment needs and prepare appropriately for the expected weather conditions.

Have a regular and consistent routine of hiking / running 3-4 times per week, plus a regular routine of strength / cross training. You are fit and strong, and experienced in long distance races / multi-stage races.

Minimum of three months of training and preparation time is recommended. You have the fitness and strength to be able to finish a 250km, seven-day race but this time allows you to fine-tune your training for the last few weeks, test your equipment and nutrition, and prepare your gear.

 

What You Should Know / Do Before Getting to the Start Line?

Competitors’ training plans vary depending on their goals and schedule - whether you train three times a week or six times a week, completing a RacingThePlanet / 4 Deserts race is achievable. 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.

  1. Been consistently completing a minimum of 50 kilometers per week in total for 3 – 6 months.
  2. Having completed a minimum of 50 kilometers in one go at least once.
  3. Having completed at least one back-to-back (consecutive days) training of at least 30 kilometers each day.
  4. Having consistently carried a 10kg backpack in training without any strain or pain.
  5. Having a good understanding the amount of electrolytes your body needs and which types / flavours you like.
  6. 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 5km at a time unless you have past experience with this distance. If you are starting from a very low base then start with up to 5km of walking. After a while, slowly change that into running or fast walking and build up to 10km over a few weeks and 20km 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 bottles of water / rice in it so that it is always weighted. However, be careful not get the balance wrong - dumbbells in your backpack may cause injury due to their awkward shape.

An Idea of a Training Schedule

Once you have built up your base level to be able to start completing 50km per week your training may look something like the below. These examples are based on training three to six times per week. Remember that rest and recovery is just as important as training itself.

 Three Training Sessions Per Week:

Monday

Rest day

Tuesday

Circuit training / Weight session

Wednesday

Rest day

Thursday

10-20 kilometer run / jog / walk

Friday

Rest day

Saturday

30 to 60 kilometers jog / walk

Sunday

Rest day


Six Training Sessions Per Week:

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

Sunday

Rest day


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 gram. Other high calorie / low weight foods include nuts (especially macadamia), 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 answers, “I do not get blisters” or “I couldn't find it”.

Getting to the Finish Line

RacingThePlanet / 4 Deserts races are six-stage, seven-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.