How on earth do you prepare for an ITERA?
The ITERA is an intense action packed 5 day Adventure “Holiday” – A challenge but definitely possible to cross the finish line given some preparation and most importantly have lots of fun! It is not really possible to equate the ITERA to x number of marathons except to say that 26 miles is likely to form only part of a stage of the race. In some ways ITERA is as much or if not more a mental challenge than a physical one. James T’s comment of “Attitude is everything and expect the unexpected” sums up what you need to complete an ITERA.
About me – Pre ITERA I loved playing in the outdoors – I raced for fun a few 5 hour events (MTB and foot), a few 2 day races and a couple of marathons. I also worked full time and did something most evenings after work.
If I’m honest my personal reason for doing the 2016 ITERA was I knew people who had completed the 2014 event in Wales and thought if they can do it so can I! My personal ambition was to complete the short course having had fun and enjoyed the event – anything more would be a bonus. So, my goal in training was to get physically and mentally fit enough to be able to enjoy the event. This is a summary of what I did to prepare for ITERA 2016 in Ireland.
Broadly speaking I reckon if you have the base fitness to complete a 2day mountain marathon or 2 good days (8-10hrs per day) on the hill and still be able to go to work on Monday and function well for the whole week then you can finish an ITERA.
Endurance and keeping going is more important than breaking any speed records or your personal best times. You don’t need to be an Expert in any of the disciplines of Kayaking / Canoeing/ Mountain bike or Trekking however, you do need to be comfortable and confident in all of them even when you are tired. Comfortable and confident means doing the activity whilst navigating in whatever the British weather / midges throws at you. Ireland had particularly atrocious weather – 4 days of non-stop storms but the race still went on! On top of that you need to be prepared to test yourself in the ‘Trouser Filler’ stages. (Past ITERAs have included Caving, Zip Wires, Coasteering and open water swimming). Getting to the comfortable and confident stage can only really be reached through experience, practice and more practice. Crap weather is your friend in training.
As much as possible I’d recommend trying to get out into the remoter mountain environment to get used to being self sufficient – knowing the limits of yourself and your gear. There are no event arrows pointing the way and in some sections you have to choose which route to take E.g. the short route over a big hill or a longer but flatter route.
Work on your weakest discipline – for Ireland mine was Kayaking and canoeing – I found it useful to join a local canoe club who did lots of river trips. I also did a 5 day introduction to sea Kayaking course at Plas-Y-Brenin with a team mate which proved invaluable on the event (a very choppy Atlantic Ocean in a force 4/5 gale).
As to a training plan I used a Mountain Marathon training plan as a basis then stretched it out over 9 months to incorporate building up canoeing and mountain biking aswell. (http://www.brutalevents.co.uk/MMM_16wk_plan.pdf). Don’t forget to incorporate rest and team socialising!
Mental Training Before the ITERA I considered myself fit and had never seen the point of a Personal Trainer. I had never seriously trained for an event before (previously relied on turning up with a reasonable base fitness) so I saw a physio to have my running assessed before I started to train. He passed me to a Personal Trainer to build up my strength and balance up muscle groups to under take all the sports involved in ITERA. It did take a while for the PT to get her head around the event but her input definitely helped as she pushed me beyond what I thought was possible.
In some ways the mental approach the ITERA is more important than the physical one. When you are cold, wet, sleep deprived and hurt all over you have got to want to keep going. It is worth remembering that the ITERA is aimed at everyone from the World Elite of Adventure racing (who sometimes look like they breeze around the long course with little effort) to the humble novice who sees the short course as a daunting challenge. I suppose what I am saying is be realistic and be clear what you and your team want to achieve from the race / experience. Our team’s objective was to complete the short course having explored what Ireland had to offer and have a lot of fun along the way! We knew that we would finish between the knee and foot of the leader board. As such we declined potential team mates who wanted to compete rather than be content just to complete the event.
Mentally you need to flexible and be prepared to change your plan as the race evolves – 5 days is a long time and a lot can change. In Ireland my team was not moving fast enough so made the difficult decision skip the second kayak stage so we could do the more fun / novelty sections later in the race. As a team we opted to cross the finish line as a team rather than risk not finishing at all. Then, due to the weather, course changes were made by the organisers so we arrived at transitions to be given completely new maps and alternative stages to complete.
Sleep deprivation is a major factor on ITERA and its worth knowing how your body reacts to doing things in the wee small hours having had very little sleep. In a way I was fortunate to have experienced working nights and learnt how to keep my body going when its body clock is all messed up. You won’t find very many coffee machines on route!
The ITERA is not an event for individuals – you will need to be a team to cross the finish line. It is useful to know what you and everyone in your team wants from the race – far more useful to have the awkward conversations early in training rather than them turning into massive arguments on the race. I formed team with 2 people I who I didn’t know very well another person who I had never met before. It definitely helped to get to know them socially and have a laugh with them in the year before the race. Even chatting on social media helped us gel together. Learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses – what makes them tick, what do you need to do to keep them going when they are down and want to give up? I had secretly got a team member’s family to write notes of encouragement that I could pass on when things got tough during the event. In my team I tended to take a back seat on the trek stages but took the lead on the bike stages as I was stronger on the bike. You must to be able to trust your team to look after you and you look after them. On the penultimate stage I bonked (hit the wall) big style in the worst possible place (exposed mountain top in a storm)– my team mates got the emergency shelter out, shoved a lot of food down me, took my bag then guided me along the rest of the ridge with the help of another team and down to safety.
Keeping a life
I was lucky to have a very supportive husband who let me undertake the ITERA. At weekends I would try to have one day for training and spend the other with him. Through the week I worked full time and tried to fit things in on the way home after work.
All of our team worked full time and had family commitments which occasionally, rightly, over ruled planned training. But we all had the support to have a bash at the ITERA. Yes looking back we could have trained harder and longer but we all still wanted to have a life outside preparing for the ITERA.
Most of all you need to enjoy the preparation and the race and not see it as a chore.
Other Training Events
It may be helpful to do some other events as training
Multi Discipline: Adventure races such as Open5 or Tri Adventure.
Multiday events are worth exploring – OMM lite (bike or run), mountain marathons, Lakes 3dayer.
Navigation – some of the longer orienteering events – find your local orienteering club or look at the Mountain bike orienteering events (BMBO)
Longer events – e.g 40 – 50 mile MTB rides, Ultras e.g. Lakes in a Day. E.G. events run by Open Adventure and High Fell Events in Northumberland.
I found this book a fantastic introduction into multiday adventure racing and really helped me get my head around expedition racing: Runners world Guide to Adventure Racing by Ian Adamson, 2004.