29 October 2020

Nicola MacLeod talks adventure racing

April 27, 2009

Nicola MacLeod has raced across the wilderness, sailing, kayaking, running, cycling and hiking. She has recently returned to the UK after a six day race in Patagonia, South America and will be completing the Three Peaks Yacht Race, one of the toughest challenges in British sport, in June. Sportsister met up with Nicola to find out more about the unique sport of adventure racing.

What does a typical adventure race entail?

Part of the joy of adventure racing is that there isn’t really a typical one. Nearly all of them comprise of three core disciplines that might be running, biking, kayaking and usually some rope work. They can last anything from three hours to ten days; they can include all sorts of different activities and they can be continuous or staged.

How did you get into adventure racing?

My friends at university were all into running, biking, kayaking and a few of the lads when we were aged around 20 or so needed a girl to join them because most adventure races are mixed team races. I was top of their list because I could do all of the sports that they needed.

What’s the toughest challenge you have faced so far?

The most recent race was a six day race in Patagonia which was in the wilderness. Probably the toughest bits of any race I’ve experienced so far have been in that.
We were stuck in a forest for about 24 hours making about half a kilometre an hour in distance, just thrashing through trees, that was quite mentally challenging.

What is the best moment you have had during a race?

The most exciting recent moment was a big sea crossing in Patagonia. We were in gale force six winds, with sea lions jumping around the boat and some albatross and a little seagull following us. So it was exciting, there were amazing mountains to see and I think all in all it was challenging but beautiful.

And the worst moment you’ve faced during a race?

I was doing a race in New Zealand in 2000 and we managed to paddle with sails up on our kayaks for about an hour down wind and down tide until we realised that we’d missed the check point so we had to turn round and paddle four extra hours back into the tide to collect it. So that was kind of demoralising because it dropped us round down to the back of the pack.

How do you train for such events?

In a lot of ways it’s similar to a single sport because you concentrate on different aspects of it. Most of us will train for the individual sports so I mountain bike race, kayak race and running race as well as combining the three. I concentrate on that and do a bit of triathlon just to make sure I’m fit for longer things. The important thing in adventure racing is to practice the navigation too.

Have you ever been completely lost?

We had a few moments on the big race we’ve just done were we didn’t know exactly where we were but that was mainly because we were trying to follow satellite photos complete with clouds! I’ve definitely taken wrong turnings but I haven’t managed to get so lost that I haven’t been able to complete a race yet.

What is your favourite and worst racing discipline?

My favourite is probably the mountain biking because you’re off your feet, you’re moving fast and you’re seeing a lot of stuff and I like it when it’s relatively technical because it sorts out the good off road teams from the not so good.

My least favourite is having to queue for ropes, that can be a bit of a hassle. Ropes are great if they’re there for a reason but when they’re just there to have to climb up and down they’re not so enjoyable.

You’ve raced in many countries around the world but what is your favourite place you have competed in?

Patagonia was exceptional, a complete wilderness. We were out for three days at one stage and we didn’t see a single person or a single path. Just stunning glacious mountains and big seas. The organisers took calculated risks in enabling us to do things and the place was just incredible.   

How do you deal with sleep deprivation during races?

Making sure that you’re well rested before the race is important. Sleep strategy is something that separates the teams so we usually try to get 90 minutes a night on a long race because we think that’s enough to re-charge your brain enough to get you through to be able to do 22 hours of exercise during the day. But it is difficult sometimes and I think once people start to fall asleep you lose pace and sometimes it’s faster to gain sleep than keep moving.

How do you relax away from adventure racing? 

Well I’m a full time army doctor, so I don’t know how relaxing that is! That’s my day job. In terms of relaxing I quite enjoy a nice glass of red wine around the fire or being out doing non-racing outdoors stuff, whether it be in the mountains or on the sea.

How do you balance training and a full time job?

My job is great with time off but I usually just use my normal annual leave. Although obviously it’s all stuff that is compatible with racing, it’s team work, navigation and endurance.  I usually do something at lunch time or cycling into work and I do some racing for the army so it does fit in.

What do you friends and family think of adventure racing?

I think they’re quite interested sometimes when they see amazing photos of places and a lot of them follow it online or on race websites. My family have just got used to things and they just expect me to be doing something all the time! They’ve kind of lost track!

Are there many women that adventure race or is it a male dominated sport?

There are quite a lot as it’s almost compulsory in most races to have a woman in the team so there’s been a lot encouraged to join the sport for that reason. There are probably more men in the sport but it’s certainly growing amongst both sexes. I know more women are becoming more interested because it’s a mental challenge and actually we can do as well as the men, particularly in the longer races.

What three qualities do you need to be a good adventure racer?

Tenacity, endurance and teamwork are key qualities to be a successful adventure racer. 

Do you use energy drinks or gels when you are racing?

We do sometimes, it depends on the length of the race. We generally use something like Nuun, it’s a type of tablet electrolyte drink. But often we just use sensible eating. We were sponsored by a prune company called Prunesco when we went to Patagonia – so we ate a lot of prunes for that one!

What would you say to encourage someone to have a go for the first time?

Adventure racing is a sport that anybody can do. You don’t have to go at a certain pace, you don’t have to be quick, although the competitive element is certainly there a lot of it is about being able to work with your team mates and enjoy doing fun things.

Quick fire questions: 

What’s your favourite meal?

Steak and chips

What’s your favourite film?

Slumdog millionaire

What do you listen to most on your i-pod?

Snow Patrol

What’s the last book you read?

Books to help pass some exams I’ve just had to do.

If you could appear on any reality TV show what would it be?

Krypton Factor because I’ve wanted to do that since I was about three!

Scarlett Smith, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

Nicola is sponosred by Helly Hansen – www.teamhellyhansenuk.com/team/nicola.html

One Comment

  1. Pingback: Sportsister - The Women's Sports Magazine - Quadriplegic sailor in record-breaking mood | Sportsister

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