Team goals and expectations are sussed, training dates locked in and you’re rearing to go. Now for the real meat and potatoes – it’s time to get stuck into training for Spring Challenge. The 2nd most popular piece of advice* from previous Spring Challenge competitors is to … TRAIN!
*Based on Make it Dirt survey April 2018.
If you’re anything like me this will make you chuckle and scoff “duh, of course, that’s so obvious!” But without a plan and some sort of guidance (see here for some of that) we can easily find ourselves still hanging out comfortably in hibernation only a couple of weeks out from race day.
The idea over the next couple of months is to build up or maintain a base fitness level, and to figure out what it takes for you to be just generally active. It might seem like winter is only good for hibernating, but there are still plenty of options – tramping, skiing, swimming, spin class, Zumba (is that still a thing?), yoga, roller derby, or maybe boxing. Whatever you find the most fun – do that!
But (always a but!) make sure you do some event specific training too. Unfortunately, this type of fitness doesn’t just magically happen or appear overnight – you’ll need to put some work in. Do your research and scout around for some local training routes that you can use throughout the winter months. This means tracks or roads that aren’t likely to be closed over the winter months, and ideally not too high and exposed to the elements. Whenever you can, practise carrying the amount of gear you’ll need on race day. You might be surprised how different your pack feels with the additional weight of extra thermals and a day’s worth of snacks.
Adventure Mountain Bike Rides
Best done with mates! To maximise the fun factor but also for safety, and roughly 1-4 hours long depending on which event you’re competing in. Make sure your bum is happy for these longer rides and that your backpack is comfortable. Gravel roads, farm tracks and 4WD routes are normally good places to train. Singletrack riding is also a great option to practise your technical skills – cornering, picking lines, riding over rocks and tree roots - but these tracks are often closed in winter to avoid damage to the tracks.
Check out NZ by Bike and the Department of Conservation MTB page for inspiration on where to explore. Many of the DOC tracks open to mountain bikes are 4WD and are often open year round.
Hiking in the hills
Also best done with mates! Aim to get off the beaten track on your hiking adventures - especially if you're entered in the 6 and 9 hour events. And even on short walks try to find some hills or get a bit adventurous. Tramping is a great way to prepare for the Spring Challenge hiking stages as hours walking with a pack on helps strengthen and condition your body. The absolute best resource I use for trail inspiration in NZ is the Wild Things Trail Directory - trails are ranked by difficulty, include detailed route descriptions, and are clear on the map. There’s also a Facebook group and it’s not just for hard-core runners … I’ve recently seen the term “Mild Things” being used by beginners to describe themselves.
Be sure to include some adventure days when you do both hiking/running and riding. Often hiking to riding can be a welcome change to get off the feet, but riding to hiking can be another story, and can take your legs a while to adjust (....sometimes they don’t!).
Are you a team that wants to be competitive or complete the course as fast as possible?
“You can lose a lot of time in a transition so it is important to get in and out of them. It is a good way to make up or gain time on your competitors,” advice from one respondent to the Make it Dirt survey on Spring Challenge.
Any time you can save in transition is effectively “free time”, just ask anyone that’s trained for a triathlon before. You have to train hard to shave minutes off your swim, bike or run times. Cutting minutes off your transition time can be as simple as just being organised, it doesn’t require too much extra effort. But it’s also totally fine if you want to use transitions to catch your breath, put your feet up, refuel and catch up on the goss of the day with your support crew.
Practise eating and drinking on the move. It can take a bit of trial and error to find what works for you. There’s often a difference between what’s easy to eat on the hike versus the bike, and it’s worth experimenting with what your stomach can handle if it’s a bit sensitive (like mine!).
Another survey respondent sums up all of the advice above by saying:
“Practice a trial run with all your gear from shoes and socks, clothing, bags and drink bottles. The smallest adjustment done beforehand makes it so much better. Annoying scratchy clothing tags can be found and removed, blister points can be found and you can try new socks or products for prevention, and trial your food. If planning to use energy supplements, test them first. Some can cause upset tummies which is the last thing you want. Test pack your back pack to find how to pack it comfortably and highly recommend dry packs. These saved us when were raced in torrential rain once. Take spare shoes and socks. Be a team and support each other. Have fun!”
Part of the thrill of preparation for Spring Challenge is trying to guess where the course will go. Keep an eye out for hints about the course in the newsletters and on the Facebook page with regard to things like terrain, strategy, disciplines, and navigation. I enjoy poring over topo maps (NZ topo map website) and while my navigation is currently average at best, it’s fun trying to spot potential good rafting, hiking and mountain biking routes. I’ve never really nailed it for past events, but it helps get your head around what you might be in for. You don’t necessarily need to do any training in the area - that just takes the fun out of the surprise anyway! But it can help to get familiar with the area just using Google maps and topo maps - don’t scare yourself looking at gnarly rivers or steep climbs, it’s going to be fun!
Entering rogaines, and mountain bike or running races over the next few months are another prime opportunity to test out gear and a good indicator to check your training is on track. I find that entering these helps with motivation along the way – the end of September or October always seems so far away – and the events themselves are fun, fast and good for fitness.
Check out tips and advice from others who fit training around a busy schedule here in the Summer Bodies are Made in Winter article.
Take a peek at Make it Dirt on Facebook and Instagram where myself and the Make it Dirt Spring Challenge team will be adding more adventure inspiration.
Feel free to post your own photos, tag Make it Dirt to be featured, and use #makeitdirt to spread the adventure vibes.
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