6 Tips for Training for Your First Extreme Event

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by | Updated: December 4th, 2016 | Read time: 5 minutes

You hit the gym or yoga studio a few days a week. Maybe you’ve done a local race or event. But now you’re ready for more of a challenge, something more extreme. Whether your goal is a multi-sport event, marathon, century bike ride or even a trek to Mount Everest base camp, the following marathon training advice can help you train for your first extreme event.

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Trainers and athletes agree that training for an extreme event has three equally important components: nutrition, physical preparation and mental preparation. According to a December 2011 Journal of Sports Medicine and Fitness article, all three are necessary to train for and complete an extreme sporting event. The advice from both extreme athletes and fitness experts is surprisingly simple and will lead the way to successfully completing your first extreme event.

1. Have a concrete and attainable goal.

When you begin training for an event, it’s critical that you have the end goal in mind. Karen Todd is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and registered dietitian with more than 20 years’ experience in exercise performance. She lives in Michigan and works as the director of marketing for a global nutrition company. Despite a busy work-travel schedule, Todd is able to carve out time to train for a few extreme events every year. This successful business woman, triathlete, marathoner and adventure race participant suggests picking an event that interests you several months ahead of time and designing your training to complete that specific event.

Tiffany Coolidge, personal trainer and owner of Blunt Force Personal Training in Denver, Colo., specializes in cross fit-based personalized training. Coolidge has trained clients to reach diverse and extreme goals, including climbing Mount Rainier and completing ultra-distance cycling events, triathlons and running events. She says her passion is to push clients to their limits to achieve results they couldn’t attain on their own. Her planning advice is to map out a training plan for success, starting with the day of the event and working backwards. This plan, she notes, “will help keep you disciplined, while allowing you to plan for everyday life.”

2. Start slow, finish strong.

Training for an extreme event is a process of building your body up to endure an extended period of exercise. Sara Helgeson decided to train for her first marathon in 2010 after the birth of her third child. She wasn’t a long-distance runner before training for her first 26.2-mile race, but with the support of her husband (a two-time Ironman finisher) and the local Green Bay, Wis., running group, Prevea, Helgeson was able to gradually build up the endurance she needed to finish the race. Now, with three marathons under her belt, Helgeson feels blessed that her body cooperated with her throughout endurance training.

Depending on the event you choose and your level of fitness, experts agree that you‘ll need between two and six months to train properly. Start slowly and gradually build your strength and endurance during that time.

3. Use a variety of resources.

Aspiring extreme athletes have a variety of resources to choose from. Two-time Colorado State boxing champion, high-school basketball strength and conditioning coach and personal trainer, Vanessa Espinosa, has trained and advised extreme event participants throughout Colorado. She advises athletes to “try every tool and resource possible, and then choose what works best for you.”

The first step many extreme athletes take is to seek out people who have completed the events they’re considering and glean tips from them. Depending on your experience, you may be able to develop a solid training plan from fitness websites, magazines and books; but a sure bet is to hire a professional trainer. A trainer can develop an event-specific training plan that can reduce your chances of injury, keep you motivated and get you across the finish line.

4. Vary your training techniques.

Training for an extreme event requires significant sport-specific training time, which prepares your body for the event but also leaves you susceptible to injury and mental fatigue. Espinosa says that while this focused preparation is necessary, first-time extreme athletes should avoid over-training and change up the routine often to prevent boredom and potential injury. Trying different types of cross-training can also help keep things fun. For example, you may decide to do shorter runs two days a week, lift weights two days a week and then do a long run once a week.

5. Have a nutrition plan

An article in the February 2010 Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition explains that how you feed your body during your training program can have a major impact on athletic performance. Following a few simple nutritional tenets—hydration, adequate caloric intake, nutrient mix and nutrient timing—can positively affect your recovery time, muscle development and energy levels. It’s important to note that sports nutrition is an ever-evolving and complex field, and it may be wise to consult a specialized nutritionist to maximize your performance potential, as well as stay healthy during the process.

6. Be accountable.

There is no need to train alone. Athletes and trainers agree that the most important motivational tool for training and completing an extreme event is accountability. Denver-based hairstylist and extreme athlete Tricia Linley was a competitive swimmer in high school but decided to engage a professional trainer to develop a plan for her first triathlon, the 2010 Tri For the Cure.

“I told everyone I know that I was doing a triathlon. The more people I told, the more I was motivated to do it,” Linley says. She is currently training for the 2012 Tri for the Cure and has taken on the ultimate form of accountability for this race: She persuaded her mother to participate with her. Whether your motivation comes in the form of a personal trainer, a training group or partner or even just a workout journal, accountability will push you to complete your goal.

Taking on an extreme event is a personal challenge. It is you facing you. Advice from trainers and participants is invaluable and, without a doubt, will help you complete your goal. But, the reality is that every athlete who has taken on an extreme event has felt the shift—when the 4:30 a.m. workout is not arduous, but necessary; when food becomes seen as fuel; and when you look in the mirror and know that there is no option but to finish.

So, follow the advice, stick to your plan and keep looking in the mirror. Good luck!