Preparing to Race Overseas

As if you hadn’t noticed recently, there’s a lot of coverage and profile of races overseas right now, particularly on our Facebook page with Hardrock 100 taking place just this weekend gone and the Skyrunning World Champs just around the corner too. We’ve also had Western States 100, Ultra Trail Lavaredo and the Eiger Trail too.

The choices for Aussies and Kiwis abroad are spectacular. But once you’ve signed up and paid your money, how do you go about making sure you give yourself the best possible shot of doing well on a course you’ve never seen or are unfamiliar with?

Europe and indeed some of the courses in the US are well-known for their ‘vert’, whereas here in Australia, even our tallest mountain could barely be described as a mountain, more so a nice gentle stroll along a fairly well-maintained track to the top 🙂

We’ve pulled together four of what we feel are crucial areas to focus on ahead of your big day in the overseas?

#1 Train to replicate race day

This one shouldn’t be too much of a surprise in the slightest, as it goes for any race you’re preparing for. Aim to replicate as much of the type and style of the course you’ll be running on as possible.

It goes deeper however than simply doing hills if it’s a race filled with vertical. Where you can, break the course down into chunks and train according to certain sections. For example, if there is a section of 20kms in the 100km or 100 miler that you’re racing that has some seriously steep sections that you’ll know you’ll be hiking. Make sure you get some very specific hiking sessions in that replicate the gradient as much as you can, even if you’re doing hill repeats, it’s vital to get as close as you can to race conditions.


You can go a step further too. If that 20kms of really steep climbing comes at around 80kms in the race, then you’re going to be doing that steep section on pretty tired legs. So the day before, it makes sense to head out and give your legs a bit of a bashing so that you’re doing your steep hiking on tired legs, helping you to understand more about how you will feel on race day at this particular section.

This gives you not just a physical sense of what it will be like, doing this type of training allows you to mentally adjust and plan too. On race day, the 20kms of really tough, technical steep climbing won’t feel as quite tough because your legs and brain will remember the training you’ve done that have replicated this.

#2 Get to know and understand the course / terrain

How can you do this when you live thousands of miles or kilometers away from it?

The first is to study course notes and maps that race directors provide. Try to commit them to memory so you know exactly what to expect on race day and where certain sections might be. Not only does this mentally prepare you, but it also allows you to understand if there are certain sections you can push ahead on, or you should hold back.

But there’s more. Chat to people who have done the race previously too. Speak to as many people as possible to understand what they thought. What did they think were the toughest sections? How did they prepare for each checkpoint/aid station. What was the terrain like? While studying maps and charts gives you a sense of the physical nature of the course, the addition of some of the more ’emotional’ responses from those who have done it before help you to build a clearer picture as to what’s coming your way.

#3 Dealing with different climates / weather

This is a huge one for those that travel to different hemisphere’s to race. Right now, Australia is in the midst of ‘winter’ (I use that term extremely loosely!), but when athletes head over to Western States for example, temperatures can easily hit the low 40C. This is a problem. Most training will have been done in cold climates and your body needs to adjust to being baked in an oven.

While you can’t change the weather outside, you can inside. Sauna/steam room sessions (depending upon the climate you’re heading too), can be invaluable in helping to raise core body temperature by a degree or so in the few weeks leading up to a race. Why would you do this? Well it enables the body to learn how to deal with the hotter weather than you might currently experience on a day-to-day basis. Another tactic used by many is to place as many layers of clothing on as possible, turn a heater on full blast and get onto the treadmill. Extreme measures indeed, but if you think it will help you on race day, no reason why you shouldn’t do it.

Tucks at the finish line of WSER100
Tucks at the finish line of WSER100

#4 Races rules and interpretations

Finally, it also pays to make sure you understand the rules and regulations in the country in which you’re racing. As we saw with the infamous, ‘switchback-gate’ involving a certain Mr. Jornet at the Speedgoat 50km a few years ago, what one person thought was perfectly normal, was totally unacceptable according to others. Most people have oodles of common sense when it comes to racing, but it pays to know what’s expected of you.

If you’re racing in France particularly, red-tape and biding by the rules is par de course. In the marathon des sables for example, your race number has to be visible at all times and is only placed in a certain position on the chest and cannot, at any stage be covered by anything.

So while you might think that you know it all, read the rules for any curve balls that might find their way in section 67, paragraph 45, sub section 3, line 17 🙂.

Needless to say, above all have loads of fun. Racing overseas is great for many reason, not just because we see new terrain and mountains, but for the people you meet and the different ways things are done around the world.

Dan on Twitter
I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

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