Interview: What Can We Learn from Adventure Racers?

Words by Kath Bicknell | Images by Andreas Strand, Caadis Foto

French nationals, Mimi Guillot and Jacky Boisset raced for the 2011 Adventure Racing World Championship winning Thule Adventure Team. They came to Australia to train last summer and enjoyed it so much they have recently returned for round two.

It takes the best adventure race teams around five days to complete gruelling courses, in stunning parts of the world, in mixed teams of four. These guys don’t just ride bikes; they paddle, trek through ice, scale rocky walls, raft down unknown frothy rivers, kayak smoother water and run distances that make marathons seem like mere warm-ups. All-day mountain bike races look like a morning commute by comparison.

Long days smashing your body is what Adventure racing is all about. There are a few things we mountain bikers can learn from their pain and suffering.

Given the high training loads and complex logistical preparation adventure racing at this level demands, we caught up with Mimi and Jacky to see what insights they could offer the regular mountain biker. Once we finally managed to stop them raving about how good the singletracks are on our sunny shores, their responses showed how focussed and methodical they are despite their constant laughter and carefree demeanours.

Read on for some tips, tricks and insights that might give your riding fresh sense of perspective, or a timely summer boost. [private]

[And yes, Mimi and Jacky are French nationals so you have to read this with a broken-English French accent]

How can cross-training make for better strength on the bike?

Jacky: When you are just mountain biker and you always ride, you get a very big difference between different muscle groups which can often give people problems with their backs. It can be good to paddle or swim because you develop better strength in the upper part of the body.

Mimi: And running too. If all your muscles are used to being prepared and doing some exercise, it can help because some muscles then compliment the others better during mountain biking – so you can have less injuries.

Cross training really can help your mountain biking.

Does the fitness and strength you have from training in different sports help with managing injuries in other ways?

Mimi: When we have an injury, we try to find another solution so we can keep training. We are lucky that we practice many sports.

I twisted my ankle two weeks ago and haven’t been able to run but if we have our boat we paddle every day. If I do better training in the paddling and the riding, at the end I don’t lose too much time.

Jacky: Also, I think the best thing you can do is look more at what you eat to have better recovery.

Maybe not getting out to paddle in this, but there are advantages to being injured when you have so many sports to choose from.

How do your singletrack skills compare to the average Aussie mountain biker?

Mimi: Oh! This we need to improve!

Jacky: In fact there are more mountain bike parks here and people are used to this. Everybody is more used to knowing the track, and because they know the trails they can go faster. In adventure races we never know the track and we need to be very reactive.

And what about fitness?

Jacky: I think with fitness it’s the opposite. We have heard many times that people prefer to play in the bike park and when there is big climb they don’t really like it. They really prefer to play and enjoy the singletrack!

But at the same time, everybody rides even if they are tall or a bit big – not just the small, sporty people like in France. It’s everybody… that’s cool.

Racing in remote locations means you have to be quite flexible about what you eat and drink. Is there anything you have learned from this that other riders could benefit from?

Mimi: People are very used to having power drink, power bar, power gel, power power, power for everything! For some races I think you don’t need to have as much of this.

Jacky: For some people it’s good help if you just race sometimes, but if you race all the time and you eat too much [gels and bars] you can have trouble. We used to have a lot of gels and power drink, but then we got a lot of stomach troubles. Now we try to eat something more natural.

[Mimi and Jacky are known to race on drink bottles filled with honey, salt, lemon and ginger and completed the Australian Solo 24 Hour Champs last Easter on a selection of gourmet homemade cookies.]

That’s a lot of gear to carry but if you are remote and without help it is sometimes better to have too much gear and not have to deal with the consequences of the opposite.

If something breaks during an adventure race, you’re a long way from help. How does that impact the equipment you choose to ride with compared to some of the riders you have met here?

Mimi: I am very surprised because many mountain bikers don’t have a lot of repair kit. Us, I am quite sure we have everything. Perhaps it’s a bad choice because we carry more weight. But we can always finish a race.

Jacky: Also I think our equipment is less light than the top mountain bikers. It’s still not very heavy, just maybe 200gm more here and there, but it’s more durable. This is safer for a long race, which is a big difference for us.

Thank you! Do you have one final piece of advice about how mountain bikers can have an even better experience on the trails?

Mimi: Take the start and enjoy! And enjoy where you are. And smell! Because in Australia it smells so good in the forest. This is a huge difference for us!  (Turns to Jacky: Did you smell the forest today? It’s so crazy!)

Jacky: I think maybe the other advice is a lot of people are going too fast at the start. Maybe in a 30km race it’s not a problem, but in a marathon or 24 hours it’s very huge mistake. I think when you are more experienced, you are not afraid when you see people who start very fast and you know your pace. If you just keep your pace, people who are going too fast blow up, and you catch them.

I think this advice is not for the elite pro riders or people who fight for the first place, it’s just for the others. Then they can have the very, very best position at the end.

Running repairs aren’t only on the bikes.

 

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