We talk to Olympic rower and top endurance athlete James Cracknell about this weekend's tough coast to coast adventure race.
This Bank Holiday weekend, northern hills will be alive with the sound of adventure racers with some of the best in the world battling it out in the adidas TERREX Coast to Coast race starting Wainwright-stylee at St Bees Head in Cumbria and finishing at Robin Hood's Bay on the North Yorks Moors coast.
Along the way, the 100-odd racers will cover around 200 miles with a mix of running, mountain biking, kayaking and open water swimming. Among them will be ex-Olympic oarsman and endurance athlete James Cracknell, who'll be competing for Team adidas TERREX, the current adventure racing world champions.
OM's Nik Cook caught up with James a couple of weeks ago and asked him about the race, his preparations for it and where he's going next.
OM: With your impressive racing CV, what’s the main challenge of the Terrex Coast to Coast for you?
JC: The challenge is getting to the finish line with no energy left and having made no mistakes. If we can do that then we will get the best result we can. Whether we will get to the end having used all possible energy and having made no mistakes I pretty much doubt, but that is the aim. If we have pushed hard every day and left enough energy for the next day till the end then there is nothing else we can do.
OM: Will it be strange racing on water again and how does rowing fitness and technique transfer to kayaking?
JC: Kayaking is very different to rowing, in fact rowers and canoeists can often not get on in the same way fishermen and rowers are deemed to dislike each other. Take the Olympics for example, Kayak races are much shorter; approximately a quarter or half the distance. Additionally rowing is predominantly leg work based where kayaking is not. However the basic principle to move the boat passed the oar or paddle remains the same. It is about efficiency of every stroke, so having a feel for a boat will help.
OM: How good are your mountain biking skills and what will you be riding?
JC: My mountain biking skills are definitely not great, especially my technical skills. A trail route will be more challenging, fun and interesting and different to my previous road experience, but the more technical stuff will be my let down. I like getting stuck in so I look forward to some of the climbs, especially as mountain bike climbs are power climbs rather than long slow climbs. I will be riding a hardtail, Merida 9.0.
OM: Have you managed to recce any of the course, if yes, what sections concern you most? If no, how good is your navigation?
JC: It is very hard to recce the route and create the same situation because during the event you are going to get there in a totally different physical and mental state. Of course it is important to recce where possible, but it is unrealistic to expect it to be the same as when you get there during the competition. My navigation is OK and that is as big a part as fitness. You need to ensure that you save enough energy when you are tired for navigating, so that mistakes are not made.
OM: What are your personal goals and expectations for the race?
JC: In adventure racing it is particularly difficult to predict as there are so many different disciplines and aspects to the race, from physical fitness to managing your diet and navigating, that all impact the end result. Unlike a marathon where at the start line I would put my money on a small and slight African rather than a larger white man, the outcome in adventure racing is not as obvious. My aim is to get to the finish line having utilised all my energy and I am hoping that being taller than average isn't going to be a massive handicap.
OM: How do you tend to fuel long races? Any must have snacks?
JC: This will depends on each racing section and how long and intense it is. If it is a short and high intensity section then I will take more carbohydrates and fill the muscles with more sugar based products to give a burst of energy. However during longer sections then I will fuel with slow releasing foods that provide energy for longer.
OM: How do you manage to rein in your natural competitive drive and pace yourself on long events?
JC: It is very difficult and depends on what you have to do during the event. It is important to pace yourself and in disciplines where self navigation is an important aspect then it is vital to save some energy up your sleeve to ensure that this is executed accurately. There is no point in going all out in sections that you find difficult only to discover at the end that you have gone the wrong way. Unlike the London Marathon, for example, everybody is not going the same way and there are no isotonic water stations. You must carry your own water and navigate your own route, so it is important to think sensibly.
OM: Any top tips for novice Adventure Racers?
JC: Be realistic about what you want to get out of it and what you want to achieve, and when you get to the start line ensure that you have completed the necessary preparations and training to do that. Also make sure that if you are in a team you are all working towards the same goals, and you are really honest with each other.
OM: What’s next on your to-do list?
JC: To be honest, after the adidas TERREX Coast to Coast, my to-do list is pretty empty. I definitely want to do more things and I am determined to get back to doing the things I was doing before my accident. However in terms of what I will do next, that will be a decision I will make with my family as a whole.
There's more information about the race at www.adidas-ar.com/2011/where you'll be able to follow the progress of all the competitors, including James Cracknell, with live tracking.