By Brent Freedland
Last week, we tackled two of the primary AR disciplines: biking and trekking. While most adventure racers put most of their training time into those two sports, paddling and navigation are important too, and proficiency in navigation is arguably the single most important skill to develop. Both skills are harder to train for, however, and while this may be true, new racers can't afford to ignore them altogether.
Most adventure racers ignore paddling until they are forced to do it on race day. So, if something has to give, maybe this is it. I don’t recommend this approach, but unless you own your own boats and live on the water, getting out for quality paddle training can be really difficult, especially on a regular basis.
In addition, being skilled for all the different forms of paddling you may encounter in AR is much harder to achieve on your own than preparing for the other disciplines. Depending on your race schedule, you may need to practice flatwater paddling, white-water handling, or open-ocean kayaking. This might sounds like a lot, but consider a few things.
Given the above caveats, here are some suggestions for paddle-specific training:
You can train 15 hours a week and be Danny MacAskill on the trails, but if you can’t find your way from point A to point B, you won’t be making it very far in an adventure race. As noted in past articles, many adventure races, especially sprint races and one-day events accessible to beginners, are designed with less experienced navigators in mind, but you will still want and need a certain level of comfort with maps.
For those new racers taking on a one-day event or a multi-day expedition race with additional disciplines, identify those specialized skills you'll need. The RDs will highlight any out-of-the-ordinary activities or competencies necessary. Most likely, you will need to brush up on or learn some basic ropes skills. Ropes tend to be the most common add-on, and basic skills such as rappelling or ascending using mechanical ascenders are hallmarks of longer events.
Beyond ropes, you may see sports such as stand-up paddle boarding, coasteering, caving, mountaineering, and rollerblading in an adventure race, and more obscure disciplines such horseback riding are not unheard of. Such disciplines are not to be taken lightly. Some can be picked up quite easily with a local club or an experienced friend, while others require more intensive training with professional instructors. When signing up for a more advanced and/or longer event, make sure you do your homework and know what you're getting into.
If you can’t find the time to develop an intermediate comfort level with a more obscure skill, consider whether it’s the best event for you and your team, especially if that discipline seems to be a significant part of the race. It’s not just your ability to complete the event that could be compromised, but your safety as well. Depending on the skills necessary, you can sometimes get away with only having a couple of proficient team members. If they are able to help guide the rest of the team safely through a section of the race, that may be enough. The RD should make this clear; if they don't, ask! And as I’ve noted throughout this series: know your limits. You and your team’s safety is paramount, but so is that of the other teams on the course, not to mention the race staff and other safety personnel involved in the event. If you know you are in over your head, make sure you put the time into developing the proficiency necessary to complete the section of the race.
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