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."