Advanced Racing Strategy

Article by planetFear
Monday 18th May 2009

Team strategy and pacing for an adventure race are among the most important considerations in the entire sport. This subject is clearly different from the millisecond-saving pace calculations for a 10km road race or time trial. Whilst planning your race strategy, the most important thing to remember is that your team is only as fast as its slowest person. You should also consider the following factors:

  • Overall length of race
  • The included disciplines and their order (i.e. how much you have to use your arms, legs, or both)
  • Load to be carried - and who will be carrying what
  • Number of teams on the course at once
  • Specifically challenging navigation sections
  • Difficult terrain, extreme weather potential, altitude etc
  • Compulsory stops, normal transitions that are incorporated into race time and a rest strategy
  • Cut off times, dark zones

This article will consider some of the best ways to maintain pace and maximise the performance of the team as a whole.

Team Littleton Bike enters the wild in the 2007 Patagonia Expedition Race. Photo by Nathan Ward (www.nathanward.com)

Working as a team is very satisfying and is a great way to build a positive personality and responsibility. In adventure racing you not only have to think about pacing yourself, but you also have to consider the whole team. Although it sounds selfish, always look after yourself first. If you have made sure you have paced yourself, eaten and drunk properly, protected yourself against the rigours of the cold/heat etc., then and only then are you ready to support your friends in every possible way.

Honesty is the best policy. Let your team-mates know if you have been suffering from any injuries or other problems before the race. Try and be completely honest about your level of fitness. In multi-day events everyone - even the most experienced racers - has highs and lows, so there is no shame in admitting a difficulty. You will each have a 'low' at some point, so be prepared to cope with it, and to help your team mates cope with theirs. Once you know someone’s difficulties, consider them carefully, since you might need to change the pace.

Perfect team pace means no member is isolated from the group (Photo: copyright Carrick Amer)

However, in each racing discipline there are ways in which members can support each other at low times. If you are all at a comparable level of fitness going into the race, you could take some equipment from their sac or just carry it (carry one on your front and the other on your back). Or, if theirs is heavier than yours, you could simply swap. Whichever option you choose, this invariably gives the person struggling some ‘breathing’ space and also tends to provide a psychological boost, which is just as important!

Load-swapping between team members on the most demanding sections of a race can have huge benefits to overall team pace.

Although sometimes hard to imagine, towing is a great way to even out strengths and weaknesses. It can be done running, biking, in kayaks, inline skating, runners behind horses, almost anything. There are some wacky ideas for tows including retractable dog leads, plastic piping, bicycle tubes etc., but bungy cord is probably the most versatile.

Tows can be attached at all times, even when they are not really required. Tows can be used as strategic as well as practical instruments: they can keep the whole team together, providing psychological support on the toughest sections, thus reducing the possibility of a loss of motivation. Don’t forget the person being towed since the pace should suit them and be designed to keep the team together at one speed.

Strategic towing during Team eVENT® Endure, Ukatak 2004

Whenever you are being towed, remember to lean into the tow since that makes it considerably easier for the person towing you. For those towing, remember that it could require maximum effort for the other person to keep up, so you must be particularly careful to go slowly on rough, technical terrain or you will both end up falling and exposing yourselves to injury.

At times the terrain will make towing impossible but may allow you to simply push (either on the bike or on foot) either constantly or simply from time to time. Even short bursts of pushing support can make a significant difference on uphill biking sections to weaker members of the team.

Practising these techniques is very important. It can feel very unnerving and often uncomfortable, the first time you try it. Remember to never test a towing or pushing system for the first time during a race. And remember that anyone in the team could need to be helped, so even if you are generally the weakest member, experience towing and pushing just to understand what it feels like, as well as to appreciate the support your team mates may provide to you!

Top Trick for Biking: You don’t necessarily have to push a person; sometimes when pushing / carrying bikes uphill, for instance, it might be better to simply take an extra bike and thus enable your team mate to walk unencumbered.

A team of Chilean racers maintain good pace and a strong team dynamic during the 2007 Patagonia Expedition Race. Photo by Nathan Ward (www.nathanward.com)

 

Team Dynamics

There must always be positive energy and encouragement within the team, even during high times. Good team dynamics can make or break a team. Failing to complete a race through arguing would be more than frustrating. To avoid bad feeling, it is often advisable not to pressurise someone to be towed but merely to suggest it. However, there is no room for egos within a truly efficient, optimised racing team. Even if you don’t realise you are holding the team back, allow yourself to be towed if the offer is made. It could be that everyone else has just been politely going at your speed.

It may not always be a fatigue problem, it may just be motivational. To keep a team mate interested, and focused, try giving them a map or a specific team task to take charge of. Conversely, the normal navigator is likely to become mentally fatigued more quickly than others in the team, so watch for this and reduce their physical fatigue as far as possible (reduce the weight in their pack relative to other team members as standard etc). Basically, figure out all the responsibilities within a team and make sure you are sharing them. No one wants to be made to feel like a spare part, or especially as the ‘token woman’!

Cut-Offs and Stops

When it is important to ‘push on’ irrespective of how people are feeling (to meet a cut-off, dark zone etc) then although increasing the speed may induce greater fatigue, it is sometimes worthwhile in terms of longer tactical race benefits. Cut-offs are often enforced because of water sections, dark zones or mandatory stops. It could also be beneficial to reach a rope-work section, for instance, as far up the field as possible, to avoid hold ups.

Carefully plan your race. Try to estimate when you may reach a dark zone or a particular discipline. Darkness is usually a good leveller especially on difficult terrain or with challenging navigation. Speed is limited by these factors. Do not neglect other external uncontrollable factors however. Altitude will slow a team down, be physiologically demanding and psychologically tough since you will be expending lots of energy but not feeling like you are moving very fast.

Extreme weather conditions can also affect speed and stopping times. Although time consuming, changing clothing can provide a break and can also be extremely good tactics if it allows you to maintain a good core body temperature and keep you psychologically strong. Keeping warm during stops is critical, so don’t just change clothes at any point in a race without consulting with your team first.

If someone must take a rest or indeed stop for any reason during a short, fast race, it is best to maximise that time in order to reduce the need for later stops. Discuss as a team all the various things that could be done during that specific break so as to minimise the necessity for further breaks.

You may need to stop for the following reasons:

• Changing clothing
• Eating (or just catching breath)
• Mechanical problems
• Weight transfer between team members
• Toilet stops
• Navigational difficulties

Kath Joy adding a Rab duvet jacket during the Ukatak whilst waiting for the boys to fix a bike problem

Where possible, however, try and minimise stopping time by doing things on the move. Ask yourself if it can wait, e.g. until the next transition. Also consider what the next discipline is – it may be one in which you can rest your legs, or it may mean that you can eat lots (it is far easier to eat on foot than whilst kayaking, for instance).

Transition Times

Transition times can really eat away at race time. It is important to be familiar with the race set up and strategy, so as not to spend too long in transitions when it is really important to just push on. Appoint someone  to ‘clock watch’ and call out to everyone how long they have been in transitions. If you are coming off a trekking section and have time to play with an alarm on your watch, set it to give you a five minute warning before you should leave. Tell people who are ready to leave how to help you to get you ready more quickly. Allocate jobs to people who are always quicker in transitions – e.g. filling team water bottles. The key to quick transitions is basically good planning, good communication and a willingness to help each other with any task in order to get out of there as quickly as possible with everything you need for the next section.

Starting The Race

Probably one of the most important times in the race is right at the start. Even a race of a few hours still requires a lot of endurance; so setting off at speed is completely illogical. The first hour may be uncomfortable regardless of the speed and level of fitness but listen to your own body. It is likely that if you are trained for endurance it may take you longer to warm up. But don’t worry. You will get faster and the pace always slows after a while. Most importantly, disregard other teams. Consider only your team and your own strategy. Keep communicating and pace sensibly. Trust your planning and then learn from your mistakes.

In conclusion, concentrate on the race throughout, even after planning it carefully. Be prepared to change your strategy during the race, since even short endurance races can be full of surprises. Most of all, remember the following six top tricks for advanced adventure racing:
  • Look after yourself and your team mates
  • Share responsibilities
  • Always use positive psychological encouragement and support
  • Physically take care of each other when it comes to food, water and rest
  • Carry other people’s weight when necessary
  • Push or tow people and bikes wherever possible to keep the team moving at its optimal speed.

To find out about the latest adventure racing kit available from planetFear, click here to read our latest Mountain Marathon Kit List.

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