Adventure races are among the toughest ways for athletes to challenge themselves. STACK's own Craig Vavrock is a veteran of adventure races, having completed the Warrior Dash and the Tough Mudder. This year, he's one of 200 entrants in The Death Race, which is a different kind of competition in that athletes don't know what they'll be asked to do before the race begins. Vavrock might have to swim 10 miles, hike 20 miles, or crawl for two. He has to be ready for anything, and he trained that way.
Here are four things you can learn from Vavrock to help you run a better adventure race.
Vavrock started his training at 235 pounds. To lose weight, he ate six small meals a day, including two to three snacks. He says, "I didn't really count calories." Instead, he focused on whole grains in the morning, complex carbs and protein at lunch, and low carbs later in the day. "I'm really trying to keep my metabolism going all day," he says. He drank a protein shake after workouts to rebuild muscle, and he consumed slow-digesting casein protein before bed to prevent his body from entering a catabolic state during sleep. All in all, Vavrock lost 18 to 20 pounds over the course of two to three months.
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Vavrock’s training for The Death Race was different from his training for previous adventure races. "My ultimate goal was not to let my heart rate fall below 135 bpm," he says. He trained out of a home gym, and he wore a heart rate monitor during workouts. As long as his heartrate was up, he chose exercises based on feel. He also occasionally overloaded the bar on one side to create an off-balance lift, switching the overload to the other side on the second set. This helped prepare his body for uneven terrain and unorthodox challenges. He worked out five days a week, lifting four of those days and taking a day off in the middle of the week and again on Sunday.
Vavrock did a range of cardio training to prepare his body for the race. His short-interval cardio sessions used a 1:1 work/rest ratio, before lifting and other training. On the fifth day of training each week, he skipped short-interval cardio and opted for a longer run, between three and six miles, with a loaded backpack. He strapped on a 30-pounder for outdoor training and 50 pounds for the treadmill.
Vavrock trained his forearms with two exercises, twice a day, every day. Grip strength is vital for adventure races like The Death Race, which in the past has required entrants to carry heavy weights like cinder blocks or bricks. Vavrock also performed reverse calf raises while sitting; essentially, he lifted his toes off the ground to train the muscles near his shins. "When you're doing an endurance race, a lot of times you have to walk through water," says Vavrock. If those muscles aren't strong, you could cramp up. Vavrock also strengthened his ankles with bands to prevent injury. He says, "Anytime you run outside, ankle rolls are going to be inevitable."
Start preparing for your adventure race with our Endurance Training guide.
Photo: Men's Fitness