Learn from the Pros | Rachel Baker on Training & Adventure Racing

I am beyond excited to welcome Rachel Baker as a guest on the blog this week. Rachel is a multisporter and adventure racer based in Christchurch, has such a bubbly personality and is so generous in sharing what she has learned. Rachel has competed numerous Spring Challenge events, Coast to Coasts (3rd female in the 2 day event this year), and is a member of the Greenhorns Adventure Racing team (the youngest team by a country mile) who finished 10th in the gruelling GODZone event earlier this year. She took a well-deserved break after a busy summer and with the help of Team CP is now preparing for her next challenges - Red Bull Defiance and, every kiwi's dream, the Coast to Coast Longest Day.

Did I mention she's managed to achieve all that while studying fulltime, and started her graduate job in the military just days after finishing GODZone?! Rachel is an incredible chick and has a treasure chest of knowledge and advice, let's dig in to learn how she does it.

Greenhorns 10th across the GODZone finish line | Te Anau | 2018

How do you fit in training around your shift work hours?

"The biggest thing to working with a crazy timetable is getting a plan, I feel it’s the best way to cope with it. I work with a coach, and we generally set out two weeks of training and we work it around whatever shifts I’ve got. It means not every week is the same. It would be nice if I could have a structured training program where everything is the same each week, but my lifestyle has never allowed that."

"I generally just do it no matter the weather. I try to make it work. If you’re an adventure racer you don’t get to choose the weather you race in so you need to be prepared for anything. For example, Spring Challenge Hokitika when it rained ALL day. Even with a plan it’s still tricky to get the balance, (Rachel is currently training for three disciplines in preparation for Coast to Coast) but you just do the best you can."

Shift work can take a toll on your energy levels. How do you tell the difference between fatigue after a long shift and your body telling you it needs a break?

"That’s something I’ve always found difficult. I find I’m quite committed to training, and I have to be feeling really off to miss a session. Sometimes if you’re feeling really tired, just go out and see how it feels. If you feel terrible you can always stop and come back."

"It gets easier with experience to monitor your body - sometimes you can tell the difference. If I come off a night shift, I’ll try do my training in the morning and if I’m really tired in the afternoon I just take a nap. Some people might prefer to have a nap in the morning and then go out training."

What do you do about training when you’re away with work or other commitments?

"I love to get it in if I can. If I was on a trip where I could go for a run, I would. But sometimes, it’s not possible and I just have to tell myself that I’m going to focus on the trip, not worry about the training and just get back into it when I get home."

"If you get upset that you can’t get your training in while you’re away, it can get quite stressful. Sometimes you just have to not worry about the fact that you can’t get your training in."

What keeps you motivated to get out there and train over winter?

"My main thing is to try and make training fun or interesting. It’s also become a lifestyle, it’s part of what I do now. I might feel average before I head out, but I know I’m going to feel way better when I get back, there’s no doubt about it. I always feel better. If I’ve been a bit grumpy, I’ll always come back much happier."

Trekking GODZone 2018

"With the job I’m working, I realised I don’t have as many weekends as I used to. So when I have a free day I plan in advance - that day I’m going to go on a mission. I don’t plan exactly where I’m going, I just know that that day I’m going to do something exciting. Depending on who I’m going with, we may not even decide until a couple of days out. It could be a decision on weather or how we’re feeling. I just know that something fun is going to happen. For example, recently, we (my coach and I) saw I had a full day available so we booked in a run mission. I’d planned on going to Mt Somers but the weather was average, so I went to Packhorse Hut instead. I went somewhere different, which helped make it exciting and fun."

"Plus a lot of my training motivation comes from the goals and challenges I set. If they are something that excites me, and sometimes scares me, it helps to get me out there to do the training so I can achieve my goals."

Training is full of adventures | Photo credit: Greenhorns Adventure Racing

Rachel’s tips for a first-time Spring Challenge competitor

"Build your skills, particularly navigation and mountain biking. A team that can navigate will always beat a fit, fast fast team who don’t know where they’re going. It’s also really good to build mountain biking skills, especially downhill. A lot of females are worried about the downhill but downhill is awesome fun once you’ve learned the skills and developed the confidence to do it. It’s also an easy way to get time on your competition, if you can blitz down that hill twice as fast as them. Once you’ve developed those key skills on the bike, it’s easy to go out and get the fitness."

"Get out and have fun training adventures. Training is definitely a part of it, so actually enjoy doing that. And if you enjoy it, it’s going to make it a lot easier."

Spring Challenge 9 hour | Golden Bay | 2016

Tips for the more experienced Spring Challenge competitors

"Build your skills. (Yes it applies here too!) As a female it’s really good to build those skills, because then you can actually be a valuable team member (especially if you want to move on to longer races and racing with males). If you have a solid basic skill base then you can build on that. It’s hard to get fitter and faster if you don’t have the basic skills."

Rachel and GODZone teammates | Photo credit: Greenhorns Adventure Racing

On advice from her dad, Rachel has been intentionally building skills for many years. And it’s advice that she is now passing on. Mountain biking is something in particular that she has worked on, and these days is happily bombing down the descents just as fast as her male teammates. Navigation is another skill she has built on over the years.

“I still like to get out and do those rogaines. Even though normally when I’m in a team with guys I’m not the main navigator, I still like being able to read map.”

"Being able to look after yourself in the outdoors is key too, physically and mentally. If you feel an injury coming on, you need to be able to say ‘OK, there’s something wrong here, I need to deal with it.’ Or be able to make a judgement call and stop running."

This also refers to being able to keep yourself warm/cool enough, having the appropriate gear and knowing how to use it efficiently, knowing where your limits are and how/when to express these to your teammates, and ensuring that you have the right skills and training for the situation.

About to tackle the 160km trek and pack rafting leg | GODZone 2018

"Cross training is great, that’s the bonus of this sport. Don’t be afraid to do things that aren’t the main disciplines for fun, variation and to build strength in other areas. It pays off when you’re adventure racing."

A recent example from Rachel . . she enjoys rock climbing so it went in her training program last year, just to throw in a bit more fun and a change from the usual bike, run, paddle routine. But it also built up some different muscles and improved her flexibility. Rachel noticed the benefits from rock climbing when she raced Coast to Coast this year - she was more than prepared to conquer the boulders through Goat Pass on the mountain run stage.

Rachel is still in her early 20s, yet already has a wealth of knowledge, and has some massive achievements to her name in multisport and adventure racing. How did she do it?

"It’s a combination of experience and learning from other people. When I first did GODZone I only knew a couple of people who had done it so I just bombarded them with questions. I’m also quite lucky that I have an outdoorsy background and did a lot of tramping as a teenager."

"It’s about asking the right questions and then trying things out for yourself. You have to pick what works for you. Especially when it comes to things like gear, you have to find what works for you and not what works for everyone else."

"You don’t even have to race - just get out and enjoy the outdoors. Find a friend who is experienced, get them to teach you stuff. Experiencing things is a great way to learn, but it still helps to get the tips and tricks (from other people). It does take longer to learn if you only learn by experience."

And the most valuable piece of advice Rachel shared with me . . . What to do when things go wrong!

Last year Rachel raced with her team, Greenhorns Adventure Racing, at an adventure race in China. They had their first DNF (did not finish), which was incredibly tough for them but a hugely valuable experience - here’s why.

"We found out 3 weeks before we were going, that we were actually going. Which didn’t give any of us enough time to be fully prepared. And our DNF was essentially caused by preventable bike mechanical issues. It was pretty rough over there after the race, but we came back together stronger because we had to deal with the situation as a team. If you stick with the same team, remember that teams go through stages of development as well as you personally. Even if your team has a blow up it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the end of the team."

"When you know everyone in your team wants the same thing and you’re striving for it, and it’s easier to motivate each other."

Photo credit: Greenhorns Adventure Racing.

"It was a wide awakening, even though we’d managed to finish some good races, including GODZone that year, we still weren’t at that point where things aren’t going to go wrong. It showed that you need to be prepared and expect things to go wrong."

"Don’t expect things to go smoothly, be prepared for things not to go smoothly. And have a plan for how you’re going to deal with it. If it’s something you’ve never thought about it’s a useful process to go through."

"For example if you’re doing Spring Challenge for the first time, plan and prepare to have the best race ever. But still be prepared that something might go wrong. And it’s such a big day, chances are it probably will."

All of the situations below have actually happened, either to me (Hannah) or someone I know! You don’t need to get too stuck in the weeds thinking about every single thing that could go wrong, but it will pay off if you think about how you might deal with these situations before they actually happen to you.

- What are you going to do as a team if you get a puncture on the bike?

- What happens if someone is injured or gets ill during the race - do you continue or pull out?

- What if you get lost or miss a checkpoint?

- What if, for some strange reason, your support crew aren’t in the transition area when you arrive?

- What if the hiking stage (your favourite or your strength!) is removed from the course due to bad weather?

- What if the mountain biking stage (your least favourite or your weakness!) is extended due to high river levels, and you have to ride 30 extra kilometres to cross at a bridge instead of carrying your bike through the river?

"It makes a big difference in your team when you know everyone in your team wants the same thing and you’re striving for it, and it’s easier to motivate each other. Our experience in China forced the conversations about what we (the Greenhorns) would do as a team if we maybe had to pull out of a race. We hadn’t talked about it so no one knew what everyone else wanted."

"It’s not always easy to sit down and have that conversation - but you need to. It also pays to have the conversation again the week of, or the night before the race, just to put everything on the table and confirm that everyone is on the same page."

"Often the goal of having a good race is a good way to actually have a good race and do well. Focus on the process and getting the best out of yourselves, without worrying too much about your competition."

Wow - plenty of tips for rookies and veterans alike. A huge thank you to Rachel for sharing so many pearls of wisdom with us. Best of luck for your next big challenges!

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