Training & Preparation
Taking on the Operation Flinders Challenge, whatever the distance you choose, can be just that - a real challenge. Having said that, it is a goal that can be achieved with the right preparation. Planning for success in the event is crucial.
The first step is to set your goal – 10, Half Marathon & the ultimate Marathon. How much are you prepared to challenge yourself? In setting a challenging but achievable goal, we then need a plan and a method that will see us strive for, and achieve this goal.
Start with a basic fitness program and get some experience walking. Walking for 3 or 4 times a week for 30-45 minutes will quickly build a basic level of fitness. At the weekends, test yourself with some longer walks that include some hills. It is important to have walked the trail (of your event) before the event. This will enable you to become familiar with the route, and minimise time lost by searching for the track. When tired or walking at night it is easy to take a wrong turn. Being familiar with the trail is a big advantage.
It is extremely important that you prepare your body for all possible weather conditions. Extreme heat or cold weather WILL influence your ability during your event and can seriously affect you if you are unaware of your physical limits. You should prepare yourself by training sensibly on the trail in various conditions and learn to become aware of what your body can and cannot achieve. It is extremely important that you keep your fluids up and rest or retire the moment you begin to feel unwell or stressed. It is good practice to train with at least one other person and to let someone know your plans when you are training on the trail.
Clear parameters have been set for the Operation Flinders Challenge and the event will be cancelled should the conditions be deemed dangerous by Event Management in consultation with the Emergency Services.
Set a Timetable
It is important to develop a basic plan, but more importantly, to stick to it. Set out your approximate arrival time at each checkpoint (this can be calculated by walking sections of the trail beforehand). Consider where and when you might like to have a longer break. A word of warning, many teams find it harder to get going again after long breaks. Short and sharp rests are preferred. Gaining an understanding of your walking times will provide assistance to your team and support crew.
Your practise walks will give you an indication of your speed. Keep sectional times for future reference. It will help your timing for support crews to provide additional water and food. Regular contact with support crews will enable you to have changes of clothing and additional warm/wet weather gear should the need arise, without having to carry it yourself.
Navigation at night can be a little daunting. A night walk must be completed at least once in your preparation. It will prove valuable if at least one member of your team has completed a night section before the event.
The team that stays together, finishes together and achieves together. There is no greater satisfaction in knowing that you have helped other team members complete your goal together. The Operation Flinders Challenge is not a race - all teams who finish together are winners.
These notes are designed to encourage and assist people in their preparation for the Operation Flinders Challenge. Above all, remember…..have fun, use common sense, and the safety of all teams is the number one priority.
Drink to Revive
You will need to re-hydrate regularly. As mentioned, weather conditions can be very hot. Your practise walks will give you the opportunity to carry your water and give you an idea of how much you will need in given conditions. It is important to take hydration seriously over the weekend. Water is best for beating dehydration, but occasionally a sweeter, energy-type drink makes all the difference to lagging spirits and tired legs.
Food and Fluids (pre-event)
Begin preparing the food you will take on course in the days prior to the event. Foods such as cereal bars, dry biscuits and tinned fruit can be organised several days ahead. Fresh foods such as sandwiches can be prepared the night before. Avoid additional stress by ensuring you have got the foods that you need well in advance of the night before competition though! Don’t forget your drink bottles!!
The term “carbohydrate loading” is used to describe the practices of endurance athletes to consume large amounts of carbohydrate in the days prior to an endurance event such as the Operation Flinders Challenge, with the aim of maximising muscle carbohydrate stores and improving performance.
Classical carbohydrate loading practices required 2-3 days consumption of large amounts of carbohydrate-rich foods. Recent research, however suggests that an intake of ~10g Carbohydrate per kg body weight in the 24-36 prior to an endurance event, combined with tapering training will maximise muscle carbohydrate stores. A Sports Dietician can help you design an individual carbohydrate loading plan.
Tips for carbohydrate loading:
Use Carbohydrate-rich foods such as pasta, rice, white breads, English muffins, crumpets, cereal bars and high carbohydrate meal replacement supplements such as Sustagen Sport.
Have more frequent meals in the 24-36 hours prior to the event.
Increase your meal size if possible with emphasis placed on the carbohydrate component of the meal.
Choose low fibre breads and cereals to avoid the “filling” effect of high fibre wholegrain breads and cereals.
Practice your regime prior to longer training sessions.
Incorporate an effective exercise taper in the days prior to the event.
Before you start a long training session or an event such as the Operation Flinders Challenge, ensure you are fully hydrated. If you are well hydrated you should be producing regular amounts of clear or lightly coloured urine in the hours prior to exercise. You can achieve this by drinking 400-500ml per hour of fluids in the 1-2 hours leading into exercise.
For individual advice on event preparation contact a Sports Dietician.
Food and Fluids (during event)
Replenishing your energy levels during the event is important. That’s where your support team earns their keep. Muesli bars, lollies and bananas will be available at Checkpoints; however it is recommended your support team provide additional food. Pasta, rice, rolls and breads are a great source of slow burning carbohydrates, and will help you tackle the latter part of the trail with more energy. Carrying glucose based sweets and energy/nutritional bars will supplement the food available at checkpoints and from your support team. Go easy on the salts and electrolytes, as your major issue is keeping fluids up. Lightweight, high-energy bars or pieces of fruit cake can also prove helpful.
When considering your food requirements for the event, the rule of thumb is take with you what you want and need, especially if you have an individual “palate” or special requirements.
In general you should aim to consume 60-80g carbohydrates per hour during the event. This can be achieved through regular intake of carbohydrate containing fluids and food. For individual advice on meeting carbohydrate requirements contact a Sports Dietician.
Remember to familiarise yourself with the foods and fluids you are going to consume during the Operation Flinders Challenge so you won’t have to worry about it during your race!
Some examples of foods to choose during extended training sessions and on event day include:
Fruit including fresh, tinned and dried fruit
Sandwiches – try vegemite for a savoury option
Fruit buns, scrolls, scones and pikelets
Rice cakes and crackers
Sports bars e.g. Power bars
During the event it is time to put all the practice during training into action. There will be plenty of fluids (including Sports Drink) available at the checkpoints, so refill those bottles. Aim to drink to your estimated fluid requirements or at least 150-250ml every 10-15 minutes. Thirst is a poor indicator of hydration status so remember to “Drink Early, Drink Long, Drink Smart”.
Are there any nutrition supplements that may improve performance in the Operation Flinders Challenge?
The answer is yes in some situations, but any race supplement strategy should be practiced in training first and individualised advice is recommended.
The Operation Flinders Challenge is not an easy event and it requires proper training. Much of the trail is over difficult terrain, and you will be out in the open country for many hours. It is important that you plan and train for the event in advance, including undertaking night training.
Make sure you are familiar with the route by walking it during practice, particularly those sections that you will be walking in darkness.
Wear a pair of good hiking boots or running shoes. Make sure they are well broken-in before the event by wearing them in on practice walks.
Start practice walks early. Walk at least one day a week for a minimum of 4-6 hours (about 15 to 25 km). Plan a schedule with your team mates and stick to it!
Each weekend you should slightly increase the distance and/or time of your walks. All walks should include some hill work and rough cross-country sections. Remember that very hilly routes will obviously take more time and energy than comparatively flat ones. By the end of the training period, you should feel able to walk for 10-12 hours without difficulty.
Remember to drink sufficient water. Dehydration is a real risk and can result in death or serious injury. Always take maps and learn how to use them with a simple compass.
As part of your training, choose a weekend to practice night-walking. Distances, terrain and direction are all very different in the dark, and walking rough ground by torch light is a skill that needs to be practiced. Estimate which areas of the Trail you will be walking at night and practice them.
Two weekends before the event try walking about 8-10 hours on Saturday. This helps to accustom yourself to walking when stiff and tired. Allow your muscles to relax during the following two weeks.
For those who really want to complete the course with as little discomfort as possible, a short run every day will give additional basic strength and fitness.
Tired muscles start to stiffen during long rests. Shorter, more frequent stops may be more advisable during the event.