Three. Hundred. Kilometres.
You're asking yourself, can I do it? Everyone who's done the Challenge has asked themselves the same question.
The answer is you can! But you need to put in hard work up front. Here is some hopefully useful guidance as to how.
It's all about strength, endurance and recovery. We don't go at a fast pace on the Challenge, but we are constantly moving covering big distances and often lifting heavy weights, then building camp everyday. If you cannot recover you will slowly succumb to fatigue, increasingly having to dig deep to perform basic tasks. More importantly, fatigue impacts your decision making and good decision making is vital in the wilderness. If you're fit and strong, you exert less and therefore don't need to recover so much.
The areas of strength to focus on are good overall core, shoulders, back and legs. The first three power your canoe along, the last two do all the lifting and the legs alone are what gets you and your rucksack over the hills and the finish the line.
So we're looking for good all round conditioning but you're going to have to do exercises you don't like to achieve that. Love those squats. Enjoy those lunges. Dig those planks. Once you've got that going, start adding weight and progressively build up. Don't bulk up though - we want lean muscle, no need to carry extra weight!
Now add in the recovery bit: to be able to recover quickly requires a high level of fitness, focused heavily on interval training and we especially recommend - but only once you are fit enough and ready to do it - High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).
HIIT follows a very simple principle - by doing difficult exercises in a short timeframe with very small intervals to recover from in-between, you shock the body and develop strength and fitness in a short timeframe. It really is quite a shock to the system to begin with but soon becomes addictive. It works best when combined with other types of training in your routine, such as cardio/endurance training - lower intensity training building the ability to keep going for long periods.
So your goal is to build yourself up to a routine that includes a mix of cardio, strength, endurance and HIIT. Sound good? If you're starting from scratch - don't panic! Let's say you're a year away from the Challenge. Just follow this:
Mon - circuit training (1 hour interval training)
Weds - weight training (1 hour circuit)
Fri - Swimming (target 30 mins non-stop swimming with a 1km goal, swimming is important for safety on the Challenge plus it's great shoulder training for paddling); run, cycle or spin if you prefer at moderate distances.
If this is completely new for you, about some point in the first few weeks you'll be in agony, wondering if you'll ever be able to manage this. Just keep going (and keep stretching in-between) and your body will adapt.
You can interchange swimming with rowing, which is excellent or running if that works for you. 5km in 30 mins is a good start point for rowing - you should be able to manage that comfortably and from there move to under 25 mins and finally target under 20 mins (hard). Same goes for running - 5km in 30 mins is a good fitness start point to aim for. When comfortable start combining it, so that you are building your endurance to doing a sort of mini-triathlon (alternatively do smaller distances - e.g. 2.5km row, 2.5km run and build up). Rest for 15 mins in-between each one if doing that.
Once in a while, do a long walk - 10-15km - over some hills carrying moderate weight - 10-15kg, no more, just get used to walking with weight and in boots.
That's it. Once you get comfortable with that you can start pushing yourself. For those of you already there here's the type of routine we do in the 6 months prior to the Challenge:
here's an example of how Les Mills - who take a very scientific approach - advise maintains a good overall level of fitness and strength:
Mon - rest
Tues - flexibility
Weds - cardio
Thurs - strength
Fri - HIIT
Sat - rest
Sun - HIIT
To push for an event they advise adding another cardio session to the above. It's crucial to balance HIIT training with milder more prolonged activity, get it right and the difference it makes is staggering. Too much HIIT you'll plateau, disrupt sleep and get injured, too much cardio and you won't build the recovery and strength you need.
Steve's example routine (David Lloyd)
Sunday morning - Les Mills Grit Strength
Monday evening - Bodybalance
Tuesday evening - 55 min group cycle
Wednesday evening - 45 min group cycle
Thursday evening - Bodypump (strength)
Friday morning - Les Mills Grit Strength HIIT circuit
Saturday - rest
Mix and match. Remember to allow your body to recover. Whatever works for you.
Again, once every couple of months or so we get out with weight on our backs, 24kg over hilly terrain, just to benchmark ourselves get our feet used to our boots and shoulders used to the weight. If you are doing the above routine or similar, you really don't need to spend that much time walking or rowing, you'd be amazed at how your strength and fitness improves over the period.
There are numerous other ways of achieving the same goal, from exercises that can be done in your own home to gym classes with very innovative routines that genuinely achieve results quickly. Les Mills Grit Strength is particularly well-suited to that, available online and requiring just a mat, bar and weight plate.
Be wary of doing too much HIIT though - 30-40mins total time in the red zone of your heart rate per week is enough. Don't over-do it, the less intensive stuff is important too, as is actually resting. A recent scientific study has shown you should be two sleep cycles between sessions like Les Mills Grit Strength. You can mix it up in-between sessions to whatever suits - your muscles will take time to recover quickly at first and then you can push yourself more. Understanding your body is key and team physio, Tyrone Cassius of Specifeye Health, provides guidance on when we need to ease off or when we should push ourselves.
Those on the team that have used personal trainers have achieved great results too, but if you can't afford one then classes are a good trade-off if you find that more motivating than training on your own.
This year, Charlie is trying a strength routine that uses your own bodyweight for all exercises, which will be the subject of another blog article!
There is one last piece of the puzzle though: you and what's (taps head) up here. You have to push yourself out of your comfort zone. This is the purpose of the first fitness gate - not to fail anyone, but to push you, so you know where you need to get to and why, so that we're all ready to do the Challenge together.
300km? You can do this. 100% commitment and you will be there.