GODZone 2020 What's the plan!
GODZone 2020 WTP!
Got a plan for GODzone mid the COVID-19 lockdown? Multiple world champion Nathan Fa'avae walks us through his ideas & training plan.
Written by Nathan Fa'avae
19th-28th November, Rotorua
What’s the plan?
With the current Covid-19 situation upon us who knows how the rest of the year will play out, I certainly have no idea, but what I do have right now is some spare time. At this stage (April 7th), I don’t know if GODZone will happen or not, I’m sure it will, I certainly hope so as that’ll mean New Zealand has the situation under control, or at least the country is moving with less restrictions.
Let’s assume it is and that the New Zealand adventure racing community has something significant to look forward to later this year, a grand adventure to be part of or to follow.
Over the past few months I have had a number of GODZone entrants and teams approach me for advice or coaching. I said to them that it’s to soon to be looking at training and coaching but that I’d write a ‘blog’ and share it publicly, then closer to the event if they wanted my guidance to get in touch.
Thanks to Godzone for the fab photos
Traditionally the event has always been late summer or autumn. This is the ideal time for kiwi racers as everyone has had an active summer, long days, sunshine, warm water, everyone is vibrant and healthy. Most people have used other events as build up to the big one. What struck me is that with the race now in late spring, in November, many people have been unsure how to train and prepare. I know a few teams did quite a bit of training over summer and while I’m sure they enjoyed it, especially now we’re on lockdown, in reality that training will largely have little benefit come November, any skills you improved though will be keepers.
Some history, Southern Traverse was typically in November and for the most part, it was in the deep south. This meant that the weather for the race could be a mixed bag. Okay, New Zealand weather is always a mixed bag, but I’ve raced the Southern Traverse in every imaginable South Island weather condition, sweltering heat to freezing cold southerly snow storms. The weather in Rotorua in November will be more temperate and I suspect quite pleasant for racing.
So you’re doing GODZone in 7-months time. What should you be doing now?
Short answer, very little. While in lockdown it’s limiting to what you can do and you don’t need to do anything in terms of training anyway. Some daily activity for basic fundamental health is important, 30-60 minutes each day, walking, running, biking, whatever you can do. This is more about staying healthy than training for anything.
My general rule with coaching is that I don’t design training programmes any longer than 16-weeks. This aligns to my philosophy about adventure and lifestyle. Adventure Racing is a dynamic and transitional sport. It requires flexibility and the ability to change, adapt and adjust. Having a rigid and structured training programme for a sport that is the polar opposite is an oxymoron of sorts. My experience of adventure racing is you spend most of the race walking while dealing with curve balls and limiting damage. Your ability to think fast and find solutions is key.
Therefore, the person who has prepared by being an adventurer will prevail over the person who has trained with a power metre, in target heart rate zones on an indoor trainer. The essence of training is to prepare your body for what it can expect in the event, adventure racing is an outdoor event in the elements, your training needs to mirror that.
It’s important to remember that adventure racing is ultra endurance. You don’t need to peak like someone in a shorter event, like a marathon for example. For an adventure race, what is important is that you are fit, strong and healthy. Provided you plan your training and recovery that you peak sometime in late November, you’ll be just fine.
Being ultra endurance, the risk of over-training is less as you don’t need to train much in high heart rate zones. Many years ago I was a competitive mountain bike racer, I qualified for the 1996 Olympic Games. In my mountain biking days we spent much of our training in high heart rate zones, intervals, time trails and stacks of racing. It was really easy to ‘cook all your beans’ (overtrain) and timing your peak to arrive on race day was an art form. It was common to under perform as you’d get to a race without adequate recovery. I can recall a few times when I’d pre ride a World Cup course a few days out from the main event and feel on fire, only a few days later to feel flat with dead legs come race day, or the other way around. My point is that timing was everything.
When I moved from mountain biking to multisport and then to adventure racing, it felt simple to ensure I was ready come race day. For starters the races were so much longer that you could have a bad patch and your day wasn’t necessarily over, compared to a two-hour mountain bike race. For adventure racing, you don’t need to arrive at the event with a perfectly timed peak, you just need to peak sometime during the event week and you’ll do just fine. With multisport and even furthermore with adventure racing, there are so many other components that contribute to success that physical fitness is just one of the pillars required.
In this piece I’ll address what I think the key things are and share my thoughts on them. I wanted to focus on the top 5-things but after much internal debate, I think there are 6-things. I’ll leave training to last as that will take up the most space.
- race strategy
- training / skills
We all know that navigation is extremely important in adventure racing. Being able to navigate in day light is one thing, being able to navigate at nighttime is two, three, four and five things. There are plenty of daytime nav heroes but only a select few can carry that skill into the darkness. For me the navigation ability of the team is more important than fitness. What I mean by this is that a really committed training build up for the race versus a moderate build up likely equates to a few hours difference in speed each day. But a poor route choice or getting lost can easily be a 10-hour costly mistake. Then you have a very fit bunch of people going around in circles all night, while the less fit team but strong navigators, wander through the night slowly but on task. Obviously to win a race the team needs to be strong navigators and very fit (or have Chris Forne in your team), but my observation is that most teams weight their training in favour of fitness and not enough on navigation, or they rely on one person to get the navigation sorted. To get better at navigation it is time on maps. Orienteering and rogaine events are excellent but GODZone is raced on topographical maps so you need to be able to interpret those to a high level, and what little I know of the North Island wilderness, intricate bush navigation with repeating features will be plentiful. My advice to teams is throw yourself into untracked bush areas, set yourself a course with checkpoints along the way and practice this regularly. You can use a GPS or phone mapping program to confirm your location. In terms of compasses, there’s two main options, either an orienteering style thumb compass or a field compass with rotating dial and numbers galore. I prefer the thumb compass, when I’m navigating all I need to know is what direction is north. For GODZone Fiordland I simply drew magnetic north lines on the maps and I navigated through the course on an orientated map, I only used the compass to make sure the map was true with the land. Others prefer to take bearings from the map and follow their compass. It’s largely whatever gets you the best results.
Having strong, reliable and well maintained equipment is important. I see many teams, especially international teams, waste time on gadgets and the latest greatest ultralight gimmicks. In most races the gear list is simple and practical. You want to travel light but not at the cost of reliability. Examples for me was years ago I’d race with the lightest clothing, head lights and other things, but over time I learnt that it’s better to take heavier things that function well. I often carry heavier gloves, hats and rain jackets than what is mandatory. In the 2010 World Champs in Spain I expected it to be sweltering hot in a Spanish summer so I took minimal gear options. The first night of the race we were hit by an icy storm and my featherlight gloves, hat and jacket were useless. I suffered big time through the night and never fully recovered for the remainder of the race. I was dreaming of the gear I had at home that would have protected me from those elements, cursing myself for being a fool. Mountain bikes are my biggest concern when it comes to equipment in a race. They have the most working parts so the biggest chance of gear failure or breakdown. For that reason I always say to people to start with a really good bike, look after it and get it fully serviced before an important race. Then make sure you have the spare parts that you’d likely need in the event of bike issues. It’s a luxury, but having all the team on the same model bike is a big bonus, it reduces the spare parts the team needs dramatically. I still prefer a full suspension bike for adventure racing but some courses a hardtail would be fine also. The problem is you often don’t know what the riding surface will be like until the race has begun so you can’t prepare for it as well as you would like.
The most common question I get in relation to adventure racing is what do I eat when out on course. This has changed tenfold since I started expedition racing in 1999. For the first 10-years I raced it was mainly energy bars and gels, and snack type foods. Doing a food shop was quite embarrassing as the bulk of the food in the trolley would be considered junk food. The shopping list was typically lollies, potato chips, muesli bars, chocolate bars, crackers, biscuits, salted nuts, dried fruit. In transition areas we’d eat normal meals that our support crew had prepared. We’d aim for them to have sandwiches and fresh fruit for us exiting transition areas. We never used freeze dried meals as they required hot water to prepare so we couldn’t use them on course and in the transition areas it was easy for the support crew to prepare meals with fresh ingredients. But around 2010 the races went mainly to unsupported format so we started to use freeze dried food in our transitions sometimes, but the meals weren’t any use on course as they still required hot water and we weren’t going to either a) carry a cooker, or b) stop to heat water. The big change came for me in 2012 when I was preparing for the Adventure Racing World Championships in France when a Nelson mountain biker and orienteer I knew, Grant MacDonald, a leader in freeze drying technology in New Zealand, said to me he believed with improved nutrition our team could go faster for longer, naturally I was curious. What eventuated was our team racing with Grant’s freeze dried food and winning the race, and have won 5 of the past 6-world championships since.
Soon after the race in France, Absolute Wilderness became a commercial product. There are some key things that make the product unique, on a global level. The company has developed a new technology that means the meals taste like ‘real food’, largely because the technology allows real meals to be dried. Traditionally freeze dried meals are made by mixing dry ingredients together, which is why they don’t cold water rehydrate well. The advanced processing Absolute Wilderness has provides for meals in the range that are cold water only, such as salads and fresh fruit yogurts. Absolute Wilderness prepare the meals first then the complete meals are put through the drying process. The meals are then vacuum packed to seal in the freshness. Our team are the primary testing ground for the meals, most of the range was tested by us in adventure races prior to being commercially available, and we nearly always race with prototype meals to test, for taste and energy. I can honestly say that meal times on course with our team are cheerful and the more we race, the more freeze dried meals (and smoothies) we use. Freeze dried sushi has been a highlight in recent races. We still take the usual junk food but much less of it than we used to. The Absolute Wilderness meals provide the energy we require for a fraction of the weight of alternative options. In hot climates, we take a lot of Saltstick products. We like Pics Peanut Butter Slugs, Pure gels and Em’s Power Cookies, load them into our packs and we’re pretty much set.
Given most of us have spare time at present, if you haven’t seen the documentary For The Team, produced by WinShape Teams, it’s worth a watch as it encapsulates my teamwork values and principles. As an overview, the first step in teamwork is building the team. You need to make sure the people you are racing with are people you can trust, people with respect, people who will be willing to put the team before self. It’s crucial that the team has a common goal that is communicated and agreed upon long before the race start. Once the race is underway, it’s then vital for the success of the team for the members to have open honesty without ego. People need to be trusted to ask for help if they are struggling, to accept that everyone will have highs and lows, and that helping each other through those times is what makes a performing team. Team decisions need to be shared so everyone buys into them, most likely facilitated by the captain. A team must have fun together, enjoy the adventure and everything that comes with it. For me as a team captain the most important value is composure. It’s said in an adventure the thing you haven’t prepared for is coming right your way. Therefore, how you deal and respond to that is hugely important. As a team captain, if you lose your cool, that will unsettle and rattle the team, it’ll be a distraction from the primary goal. But if you can stay composed in the face of controversy or conflict, act swiftly to solve the problem at hand, the team will rise and grow stronger. My mantra while racing is ‘nothing will shock me’. And believe me when I say we’ve had some epic challenges to overcome out there racing. I’m no saint myself, I can get frustrated and annoyed about things, but the question I ask myself before saying anything, or acting in a particular way, is ‘how is this helpful?’. If what you’re thinking of saying isn’t going to be helping a situation, don’t say it. Stay calm, think carefully, be gentle. I make mistakes, others make mistakes.
It’s all about pacing. If the start line of a race was an intelligence test the results would be disturbing. If I said after you read this go and run 500-kilometres non-stop, I’m going to guess you wouldn’t start by sprinting. Yet, in an adventure race that seems to be the norm. I have witnessed some crazy behaviour at the start of a race, people putting themselves in danger to save a few seconds. I’ve seen a team warming up before the start doing sprints. Starting a race at high speed puts people at unnecessary risk of hurting themselves and forcing their team out of the event, plus danger that could cause them serious harm. My advice to 90% of teams is don’t get sucked into racing. An adventure race is different to most other races. It’s more of a time trail against the course and clock rather than a race against other teams. It’s commonly said in adventure racing that teams stress about minutes on day 1, only to throw away hours on day 2. Racing other teams is mostly a distraction from your own teams needs. My experience is that many teams, certainly at the elite level, are more reactive than proactive. Rather than making their own plan and racing to that, which should be based on their teams strengths, they focus more on what other teams are doing and this is nearly always detrimental. Most teams start to fast, then members start to struggle, the team loses momentum and fades back through the field, being passed by teams that paced sensibly from the start for the task ahead of them. Pace needs to reflect the level of training the team has done. The other important factor in race strategy is realistic goals. Adventure racing as a sport rewards those with experience. While sport can produce phenomenal things, it’s extremely rare for an inexperienced team to win a major race, safe to say, it doesn't happen. By all means have ambitious goals, but keep them achievable and keep it real. If you start to fast, you won’t recover in time to compensate for the error, but if you start to slow, you can increase your speed later in the race, or race with less rest, the end result being you’ll move smoother through the course with less mistakes.
Training / skills
Training for adventure racing should be a mix between getting fit and competent. Adventure racing often has technical sports included so it’s really important that you prepare for what you can expect in the race. For Eco Challenge Fiji in 2019, we had outrigger canoeing, stand up paddle boarding and sailing as part of the race, so those sports needed to be built into training for the event. Once you know what the disciplines will be in the race you’re focusing on, you want to invest time in becoming proficient at them, and the best time to do that is in your off season, or before you knuckle down for the fitness part of your training. You want to avoid having to learn new skills close to the race as it can be stressful floundering around learning something when you feel you should be training hard instead.
Okay, onto training. It’s important to point out that training is very specific to an individual. I can give you a guide as to what to do but the best results will come with a personalised programme. That said, for most people, a generic training programme will be suffice to achieve their goals.
If you’re doing GODZone, the first step is decide whether you want to train with a plan for 12 or 16-weeks. Calculate that date and mark that as the official start to your build up.
Between now and then I suggest you tick over with about 6 to 8-hours exercise per week. You can do more if you wish but it shouldn’t be a chore, it’s just because you enjoy getting out. Let’s call this the off-season. For my off-season I mainly keep active by skiing, touring and downhill. I’ll mix in a few bike rides, runs and paddles as I feel the desire.
Mixing in some longer trips will be a bonus if you can, some day hikes or weekend tramping trips but it’s important not to feel that you need to do these. Sea kayaking is a great way to build paddling endurance and enjoy time in the outdoors. Once you get into your training build up there will be big volumes and you’ll need to juggle life and make sacrifices, so save those credits for when you need them.
The 12-16 week build up.
I have found for me that 8 is the magic number. If I train each discipline 8-hours per week I’ll go well. Unfortunately though, that equates to a 24-hour week which I rarely can justify with life’s other demands. But 16-hours is typically achievable. That said, there are better results to be gained from varied training, rather than getting into a routine and doing that over and over.
To design a GODZone program, the question you need to realistically answer is how much time do you have to train. There is no point designing yourself a programme of 20-hours per week when you only have 10-hours to play with. Work out what the maximum amount of training is that you could do in one week. Ideally, it should be about 30-hours.
30-hours may sound like a lot and it is, but if you do a 10-hour day hike (with a 10kg pack on), that’s counted as 10-hours. If you do a weekend tramp with a full pack and you hike for 15-hours in total, then you need to clock up another 15-hours during the week to make up your 30.
But 30-hours is not realistic or sustainable for 12-weeks, that’ll just be your biggest week, which should happen about 4-weeks out from the event.
Let’s use the 12-week programme as the example. If there are any races in this 12-week period, anything from paddling, mountain biking, running, orienteering, cycling, multisport, use them as training. My philosophy is if there’s a race on, be on the start line.
What you need to do is picture a graph that has a 30-hour week on the eighth week. From week one start with a 10-hour week, then add a five hours each week for 3-weeks, then make week 4 the same as week 1, a recovery week. Then from week 5 add 5-hours per week until week 8 to reach the 30-hour target. Weeks 8-12 drop the volume by 5-hours per week.
Training intensity should start off steady, everything you do for the first 4-weeks is at conversation level, if you’re with your team, you should be able to maintain a discussion while training. After a recovery week on week 4, step up the intensity a notch, not by much but your training is slightly more focused. You’re clocking up the hours now until week 8. The final 4-weeks the volume drops 5-hours per week, you need to recover from the training you have done, but you want to sharpen up also so the intensity rises as the volume decreases. This is where you can start adding intervals and higher heart rate training in, it’s time to go hard. 7-10 days out from the main event you taper, volume and intensity reduces significantly.
The bigger volume weeks are ideal to do some team training adventure weekends.
That’s the overall picture. Now it’s time to look at what a day and a week looks like. There are a few guidelines to follow as a theme. Ideally, it’s best to train 2-disciplines per day if you can, alternating the combination. For example, Monday run & paddle, Tuesday bike & run, Wednesday bike & paddle. This is not crucial but adventure racing is a lot about adjusting to different disciplines quickly so training for that is worthwhile. Aim to train each discipline 3-4 times per week, essentially 9-12 sessions in total. Each session should have a theme, short and easy (recovery), medium but hard (strength), long and slow (endurance). If you add a 4th session in make it technique or skills focused
As a general overview, I believe that logging hours is what is important with adventure racing, and how and when you get those hours is largely flexible. Provided you get the hours in your system and make sure you do some longer endurance sessions, a few ultra long bike rides, paddles and runs, and then allow yourself time to recover, you’ll have a strong race.
I always maintain that one rest day per week is wise. If you can train 7-days per week, you’re not training hard enough on the other 6. A massage on your rest is bliss.
Remember, it’s not how much training you can do that will get you results, it’s how much training you can recover from. Try as much as you can to keep your diary empty in the final 6-weeks in your build up. Minimal work, train, eat, sleep, give yourself the best chance of having a great race.
AVAYA, RAB, inov-8, Santa Cruz, Torpedo7, THINK Kayaks, Saltstick, Em’s Power Cookies, Absolute Wilderness Freeze Dried Meals, SUUNTO, Frontier Packrafts. BMG Toyota, Tineli, Xinix
Clothing - RAB
Mountain Bike - Santa Cruz Blur
Footwear - inov-8
Cyclewear - Tineli
Kayak - Think Uno Max
Pack Raft - Frontier
Backpack - Lowe Alpine
Watch - suunto9 for training, suunto core for racing