Endurance sports are an extreme test of your mental and physical strength. But not only. Success in any long-distance running, cycling or swimming event starts a long time before the starter’s pistol fires.
Preparation is fundamental to overcoming the challenge faced by an endurance event. As the Styrkr team likes to say: “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.” It’s become a bit of a motto of ours.
Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, what makes someone actually want to take part in an endurance event such as long-distance running or cycling? It's a good question, one which we are asked very regularly.
In this little article, we’re going to look through the importance of preparation and planning for an endurance race, talk about the benefits of endurance sports, and also attempt to give some reasons as to why we love endurance events so much.
Preparing for an endurance event
Training will increase your strength & stamina.
With the right training schedule, you’ll definitely be hitting the gym as well as just going out on the road, trail or down the pool. Weight training and aerobic exercises will add much-needed muscle, overall strength and stamina for increasing your performance and getting better results.
It’s a good idea to talk to a Personal Trainer so that you can explain what you're aiming to achieve, that way they can suggest better training equipment and routines to get you in the right shape for the event.
Training will let you understand yourself & your equipment.
It’s a huge confidence-boost to know that you’ve got the distance under your belt before you start the event. With training you will also have discovered what your triggers are for setbacks and how to overcome them, when is time to add some fuel to your body or to slow/pick up the pace.
You will also have found your mindset, where you mentally travel to in the middle of an endurance event. All long-distance events are a test of willpower and motivation: training will allow you to discover your mental mantra TRAINING
You would be a very brave person to attempt any endurance event without training beforehand. And as we know, there is a very thin line between bravery and stupidity. For the majority of long-distance cycling, running and swimming events, but also any other endurance event for that matter, there is usually a criteria checklist to actually qualify or enter into it. You can’t just rock up with some running shoes and a bottle of water on the day. This is for your safety. Even hardened athletes, with years of experience, often fall short and quit during endurance events.
So, training for endurance events is essential for these reasons:
Training will get your body used to the distance & terrain.
If your objective is a marathon, you need to know that you can complete 26.2 miles before race day. That means you need to organise your training schedule with achievable goals within a realistic time period. Many amateur runners aiming for a marathon start training a year ahead of race day. That's because they need to work their way up to the distance, starting at 3-mile runs in week 1, 5-mile in week 2 and so on. Your body needs consistency and time to get used to the new stresses.
This is the same for all long-distance events. If you’re swimming for example, you need to get down to the local pool and train, setting differing distances and time markers for completion until you know you’re ready to cover the endurance race distance.
Additionally, you need to train on the right terrain. There’s no point training on the road if the race is on gravel. Well, it will increase your strength and overall fitness, but your joints will not be used to the shock stresses caused by different surfaces.
Finally, you can tune your equipment to perfection. For running this means getting the right trainers and clothes for the terrain and climatic conditions. For long-distance cycling; the right bike adjusted to you, convenient and balanced packing systems for unsupported races, and kit such as gloves and of course the helmet. The last thing you need is extra weight, poor equilibrium and equipment which just doesn’t feel right and causes grief during the endurance event. It’s also essential that you know your equipment, particularly your bike, as if/when something goes wrong in the middle of nowhere, you need to know how to fix it.
Planning for an endurance event
As the endurance race approaches, you need to start planning in detail. Here are the essentials you need to consider and have thoroughly covered before the event.
For long-distance day events, the route is usually well-signed with marshalls along the way keeping you going in the right direction. However, for multi-day events, particularly long-distance cycling, you may find yourself alone with no indication of where to turn next. This is also true for ultra-marathons and trail runs located in the wilderness. Sometimes there are no marshalls at all, or the checkpoints are spread out at much further distances allowing for unwanted slip-ups.
Planning the route thoroughly beforehand allows you to gather intelligence (like the military) and mark out your own checkpoints.
The terrain & climatic conditions
Planning also helps you understand the terrain better. You need to know where the big hills or the off-track sections are. This will help you strategize your race, EG. when to go fast, when to slow the pace, when to take on fuel, when to rest.
You also need to know what type of weather is likely for that time. This will help with making sure you have the right equipment.
For multi-day events, without staged-distances (eg. 120miles on day 1), knowing where to rest your head (and body) is essential for obvious reasons. Some endurance races are set in pretty inhospitable environments, meaning that putting up a tent for the night can be a nightmare if you find yourself in the wrong place.
When planning your route, you have to find suitable sleep-stop locations along the way. A good idea is to find places near shops or service stations that will be open so that you can resupply if necessary.
Food & water stock
You ain’t gonna complete anything without food and water. For supported endurance races you must coordinate fixed checkpoints for refuelling and stocking up. For unsupported long-distance cycling you have to know where you can restock your supplies.
When reading the map you should mark out clearly where there are shops or service stations. This is essential as sometimes there may be a whole lot of road between you and the next place which sells these things.
Many trail runners mark out streams and rivers with drinkable water and refill their bottles on the way. There are no shops in the jungle or up a mountain. Marking these sources are vital to your race ambitions, and indeed to your overall wellbeing in general.
One last thing: in some cultures, shops are shut at siesta time or open/close later or earlier than you might expect. As the Styrkr team found out during Badlands in southern Spain. It wasn’t too clever. Make sure you understand where you’re going.
Fuel plans for long-distance endurance events are crucial. The more training you do, the more knowledgeable you’ll become of what your body needs and when, as well as what your body doesn’t want. Getting your fuel plan right can make the difference between completing the race or ‘bonking out’.
A good fuel plan should consist of simple and complex carbs, protein and fats.
Boosters & hydration
It’s becoming increasingly popular for endurance and non-endurance athletes alike to use boosters and gels to keep their bodies running. They are super lightweight and much easier to carry instead of sandwiches and fruits. Also, as sports nutrition has advanced, we know that electrolytes found in sports drinks keep the body better hydrated and maintain neuro-muscular systems communicating with each other efficiently. Although we believe there is no substitute for proper food, when you’re out there on the trail with huge distances to cover in a limited time-period, these things are quick to get into action and keep your motor running.
Although the expression says that ‘every bad workman blames his tools’, you just aren’t going to complete 1,200miles across mixed terrain on a road bike without violently cursing and/or breaking something. Likewise, you’re probably not going to complete any marathon in any sort of decent time in a pair of wellies. Get the right equipment. Spend more. Invest in the gear you need for the event you’re taking on.
Unfortunately, things happen that mean you need to get help fast. Or it might be that you’ve just bitten off more than you can chew and need help to get out of there. Absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. However, it would be a shame if a bad situation became a lot worse due to poor planning and oversight.
Make sure you have GPS tracking and an ally (a responsible friend or family member) who can keep track of your progress, and also all emergency details for the event and the country you’re racing. Don’t be foolhardy about this.
What are the benefits of endurance races?
It goes without saying that if you’re able to finish an ultra-marathon or a long-distance cycle event, you’ve got to be in pretty good nick physically.
However, the benefits of endurance competitions are several, and sometimes they can be an unexpected bonus. Here are our top ten benefits of endurance races:
Endorphins: the happy chemical
Why do you feel good after exercising? Endorphins, the body’s happy chemical. This chemical is released during times of physical stress and post-exercise recovery to deal with the pain. The more you exercise, the more endorphins are released, the happier you’ll be.
Completing any long-distance cycling, running or swimming event is a hell of an achievement, and something that proves to yourself that you’ve got some serious mettle.
As we mentioned above, exercising, playing sports, running and so on releases endorphins which makes you happier. Secondly, the sense of achievement increases your confidence. But also, being out of the daily struggles and stresses of working life is hugely beneficial for your mental health. As Christian says, “I do it for the headspace.”
Receiving the plaudits from friends and family is great. Shocking friends or work colleagues with your latest endurance sports weekend or event can raise your confidence, but also inspire them to do more too.
The ‘fun’ of taking part in an endurance sport is enhanced at the finish line by sharing it with like-minded people at the end of the day over a beer and some hot food.
Getting off the beaten track, away from the urban jungle, reconnecting with the earth and the elements is life-affirming and good for your soul.
Self-explanatory this one.
Routine & discipline
All the training, planning and preparation; the gym sessions; the early starts and balancing your work and family responsibilities means you’ll need to get into a sustainable, disciplined and efficient routine. This will all but eliminate the desire to procrastinate, one of the overriding obstacles we all face on a daily basis.
If you want to get in the right shape and have any chance of completing an endurance race, your diet is going to be full of whole foods and beneficial macronutrients. You’ll still be able to have the odd treat, but generally speaking, your diet is going to greatly improve across the board.
Ambition & confidence
Getting yourself into shape, feeling fit, completing extremely challenging endurance events such as long-distance cycling, running and swimming is going to give your confidence a huge boost. Furthermore, this confidence can help you in life to be more ambitious and self-assured, entering into other events and/or taking on more difficult challenges both in the world of sports and work.
Why do we do endurance races?
There are all sorts of reasons why someone would choose to do an endurance event. Here we take a look at the principal motivations.
- We just love it!
- What am I made of? Do I have the mettle to take on the wilderness and win?
Health - not just physical
- I’ll be stronger physically
- I’ll be tougher mentally
- I’ll reconnect with nature and get away from the smog
Kicking bad habits
- There are many endurance athletes who started out in order to get rid of addiction
- Some who want to be more active and get off the sofa
- To be the best versions of themselves
Life is short - twenty years from now…
- Mark Twain once famously wrote: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. ”
Stop dreaming, hoping, imagining. Go do it.
For family - setting an example - legacy
- Doing incredible things such as endurance events inspires the people you love the most to be better and stronger people. If you have children, they will admire you and follow in your footsteps.
Preparation, planning and training is key to success for any and all endurance events. The benefits of competing in and completing an endurance sport are fantastic: personally, physically, mentally and to your overall lifestyle in general. You can also become a role-model for those around you and those you care for most, maybe inspiring them to make positive life-changes or to put themselves to test too.