Ultraendurance and Adventure Racing and Events


  • Ultraendurance and adventure races are prolonged events, usually longer than 6 hours (and some may be as long as 10 days) that usually take place in remote, austere, harsh, or extreme environments.

  • These events include challenging terrain, extreme elevation changes, inclement weather, and on-course obstacles.

  • Adventure races require participants to perform multiple disciplines that may include trail running, hiking, mountaineering, mountain biking, boating/rafting, climbing, caving, and/or orienteering.


  • More than 100,000 ultramarathoners compete in more than 1000 races held annually worldwide.

  • Adventure racing participation has increased by 211% in the last 5 years (1.3–2.2 million participants in 2013).

  • Over the past few decades, there has been continual increase in the number of masters athletes (>40 years of age) and women participating in ultraendurance events.

General Principles

Terminology/Event Types

  • Adventure races

    • Sprint (2- to 6-hour races): 4–8 miles on foot, 15–25 miles biking, and 2–4 miles paddling

    • Endurance (12-hour races): 6–12 miles paddling, 8–14 miles trekking, and 25–50 miles biking

    • 24-hour races: 10–25 miles paddling, 10–25 miles trekking, and 50 miles biking

    • Expedition: 400+ miles of varied disciplines

  • Ultraendurance races

    • Any running race longer than the standard marathon distance

    • Most common distances are 50 km, 100 km, 50 miles, and 100 miles.

    • 100 km is recognized as an official world record distance by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

    • Other distances include double marathons, 24-hour races, and multiday races of 1000 miles or longer.

    • Many events involve challenges such as trails, variable terrain, altitude, weather, and variable aid and support


  • Discipline-specific (e.g., shoes, clothing, pack and tools, lights, bike, kayak, paddle, rope harnesses, compass)

  • Participants must carry/provide their own food, water, protective clothing/footwear.

  • Hydration system

  • Water purification devices (e.g., iodine tablets, filter system, ultraviolet pen)

  • Compass (global positioning system [GPS] is usually prohibited), maps, and race directions

  • First aid kit and personal medications

  • Boxed food, water, clothing, other apparel for resupply points

  • Additional information can be found at http://www.usaranationals.com/gearlist.aspx .

Specific Training

  • Need to think about physical, mental, and skills training

  • Master the logistics of fluids, nutrition, use of equipment, and rest.

  • Frequency, intensity, and duration of training should be balanced for fatigue management and avoidance of overtraining.

  • Plan multidiscipline, multihour sessions so that athletes know how their bodies will react and feel after extended exertions in different disciplines ( Table 98.1 ).

    Table 98.1
    Guidelines For Adventure Races
    Race Distance Total Training Hr/Wk Bicycling Running Paddling
    Sprint 5–10 2–3 2–3 1–2
    Endurance 10–20 4–5 4–5 2–4
    Expedition 20+ 5–7 5–7 4–6

Nutritional Issues

General Guideline

  • Aim for a healthy weight; avoid rapid weight loss.

  • Choose foods sensibly and consume them during training to ensure body tolerance on race day.

  • 60/20/20 split common (aim for 60% of calories from carbohydrates, 20% from protein, and 20% from fat)

  • The International Society for Sports Nutrition (ISSN) recommends consumption of carbohydrate (∼5–8 g/kg.day-1) and protein (∼1.6–2.5 g/kg.day-1) to mitigate effects of chronic glycogen depletion during training for single-stage events.


  • Carbohydrate loading: load muscles and liver with glycogen (stored carbohydrates) during the week before an event

  • Consume a normal intake of carbohydrates (5–7 grams per kilogram of body weight) during the first 3 days of the taper week.

  • Increase this amount to 10 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight for the next 3 days.

  • Eat the last big, high-carbohydrate meal 2 nights before the race.

  • Do not overeat night before race! Avoid items high in fiber or in fat, which may be hard to digest and may lead to gastrointestinal (GI) distress during the event.

During Event

  • General carbohydrate needs vary but often range between 30 and 60 grams per hour or approximately one-quarter to one-third of body weight in pounds per hour.

  • Some athletes also use small amounts of protein during events, up to 5–10 grams per hour.

  • Athletes may need up to 300–400 calories per hour (with consideration of an additional 100 calories/hour per 1000 ft of elevation gain). This calorie intake may be difficult to achieve depending on GI tolerance with demands of exercise.

  • Athletes must realize that the rate of loss will exceed rate of assimilation by approximately threefold during endurance events.

  • Many athletes use sports bars, drinks, and gels to replace calories on event day. Make sure to test tolerance in advance to minimize GI distress during the event.

  • Use of caffeine may be recommended towards the latter stage of the event when sleep deprivation may compromise the athlete’s safety.


  • Important to replace calories, especially glucose, within the first few hours after training sessions lasting >90–120 minutes to ensure liver and body stores are replenished adequately before future training sessions.

  • The American College of Sports Medicine recommends consuming 1.5 g/kg carbohydrates within the first 30 minutes after prolonged exercise, then every 2 hours for up to 4–6 hours.

  • Protein should also be included as a refueling tool after prolonged exercise, with current recommendations of approximately 20 g or 0.25 g/kg/meal.

Train Low, Race High

  • Some athletes train with low carbohydrate reserves/supplies to train the body to increase oxidative enzymes and use fat stores and to spare glycogen use for longer periods (fat adaption).

  • These athletes then race while ingesting carbohydrates so that their bodies will burn the ingested carbohydrates but will be able to rely on fat stores for energy when the carbohydrate supply decreases.


  • Drink to thirst.

  • Train with the fluids you will use during the event.

  • Aim for no more than 2% weight loss during training/event; avoid weight gain, as too much fluid may lead to hyponatremia.

  • If mixing calories in fluids, make sure to avoid >6% sugar solutions, because they can interfere with fluid absorption and cause GI distress.

  • Using different types of sugars (e.g., glucose, fructose, maltodextrin) may be helpful.

  • Maltodextrin is a complex carbohydrate that may be mixed at high percentages (e.g., up to 18%) without exceeding system osmolality, and it may cause less GI distress than other sugar types.


  • Mainly used by athletes for the prevention of exercise-associated muscle cramping.

  • Larger athletes, faster athletes, and those who have high volumes or high concentrations of sodium in their sweat (white salt deposits on chin straps, headband, clothes, skin, etc.) may need to ingest additional sodium beyond what can be found in sports drinks, but the best method to ingest is in fluid or food form.

  • Some athletes use salt tablets but can easily ingest too much; GI upset and cramping are common.

  • Need to remember that muscle cramping is also frequently a result of exercise-associated muscle fatigue, excitability, dehydration, and heat illness.

Practical Issues

  • Must experiment with a variety of different foods/nutritional items during training; essential to have a basic hydration and nutrition plan before entering competition.

  • The amount of calories tolerated per hour is inversely related to the intensity of effort (harder the effort, fewer calories tolerated).

  • Should assume that calorie and fluid deficits are inevitable even in ideal circumstances; must plan to minimize this as much as possible.

  • In multiday events, the goal is to return to a state of euhydration before resuming competition the next day.

  • Urine should be “clear and copious” before resuming competition.

Environmental Challenges

  • Remember that the variables listed here are often a greater threat in ultraendurance athletes because of sustained exposure.


  • The most serious temperature-related illnesses are heat stroke and hyperthermia.

  • Heat acclimatization is an important adaptation but is unrealistic for many athletes who may live in variable climates; takes approximately 10–14 days training in heat to acclimate, loss of acclimatization is rapid once heat exposure is removed.

  • See Chapter 21: “Exercise in the Heat and Heat Illness” for further details.


  • Hypothermia and frostbite are the most serious cold-related illnesses.

  • Need to factor in wind chill (especially when on a bike) and body heat loss in water, which is constantly displaced from body in swimmer (wetsuit helps).

  • See Chapter 22: “Exercise in the Cold and Cold Injuries” for further details.


  • Altitude illness may occur above 2500 m; see Chapter 16: “The Wilderness Athlete and Adventurer.”

  • Acute mountain sickness (AMS), high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), and high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE) may all occur.

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