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A Chat with Robert Nagle

A Chat with Adventure Racing Legend Robert Nagle

In January of 1998, Mid-America Xtreme (MAX) hosted a round table chat on its web site led by adventure racing legend Robert Nagle. The goal of this and other round tables held on the MAX web site were to help educate and bring together the adventure racing community which was, and still is largely connected via the internet. MAX is proud to republish the transcript summary of this round table chat.

Robert Nagle has since retired from competing in adventure races however it is difficult to forget that his team Eco-Internet, one of the most successful adventure racing teams in the history of the sport, won nearly every event they competed in, including the Eco-Challenge numerous times. The information he shared with us then, is just as relevant today.

  • Robert, We're wondering what (general) your yearly training schedule looks like (i.e. are you always ready to race?)
  • Robert Nagle: No way! It would be way too debilitating to try to maintain full race readiness all year round. I try to structure my year quite carefully and one thing I've learned is the value of rest. I normally schedule a couple of weeks "off" i.e. perhaps doing fun stuff but not as part of a regimen. Then I get back in the groove again, refreshed.

    I have three macro periods in the year - base/endurance (when I'm not racing), race & recovery time (about 6 months) and then a couple of week's recovery. The training objectives are different in each. During the "base" period (a bit of a misnomer actually as there's plenty of high intensity work) but during this I'm working on re-establishing a huge base, building my strength in various disciplines and usually trying to work hard on a few skills.

    The when it gets into race time, I am concentrating on the disciplines and skills required for those races. Normally I get into a long period of focus on race (and a little on the following one), race, recover, repeat. Fun!

  • I am from Germany and I started building a team last year. Finding the right person to add to the team can be quite tricky and challenging. What are your criteria for selecting a new teammate? What do you expect from your female teammate?
  • I've been fortunate enough to race with some women who are as strong, if not stronger, than any (every) one else on the team. So having "particular" qualifications/criteria for one or more females on the team isn't an issue. We just concentrate on the best blend of people.

    Everyone brings something different to each team, differences in attitude, thinking, particular skills, endurance, and sponsorship connections. (I picked that order somewhat carefully). Certainly everyone has to have a basic level of ability but how the team works together is what you should worry about. Be sure everyone on the squad has the same vision for the team first (it's easy for that to be overlooked or assumed). Then start putting together a program that will minimize your team's weaknesses.

  • Bad feet with blisters really can slow you down! How do you prepare your feet, what kind of footwear would you choose for a race like Eco 98 in Morocco and how do you take care of your feet during the race?
  • Foot care was once a major issue for me. Anyone see the first X Games? After that experience, I knew I had to work out a solution in order for our team to be the best. There are several aspects to the regimen that I use now. First, I toughen my feet by running barefoot regularly (e.g. on synthetic tracks). With the help of Keith Murray, we have a silicone based barrier ream that we use and find very effective in minimizing water damage. And we clean our feet religiously during races. Prevention is the best medicine. We work to prevent blisters from developing.

    I had zero difficulty in the Sahara. The sand (sometimes amazingly fine) did get into shoes and cause pinching but it was never really an issue for me. I used FOX RIVER Coolmax socks (brillo !!!!) and Adidas Terrain Lite shoes. Excellent.

  • What disciplines do you recommend a beginner start if their background is in running and biking.Nothing really outdoors except some trail running?
  • If you haven't done much paddling (either canoeing or kayaking) now's the time to start. Maybe make that a goal for this year - to get out and have some fun on the water, learn some new skills. Oh and maybe you should try some orienteering.
  • If you have different opinions on a certain decision during a race, which makes the call? Do you have a team leader who makes a call if there are different opinions?
  • Our (Eco-Internet) doesn't work that way. We work by consensus. We make all major decisions that way.
  • You never ran into a situation where there was no consensus?
  • Sure there are times when it is difficult to reach a consensus. But we find a way. We are fortunate in having a lot of experienced minds on the problem at once and, no matter how much we feel a particular choice is right, we also know that we have to get everyone to agree.
  • What about diet? Mostly interested in race food/bars/dehydrated/"just add H2O"/TAs &/or Camps etc....
  • It is very important to have variety in the diet. Powerbars are excellent but one can only eat so many (not to mention the fact that continuous intake of sweet foods will actually make you feel like not eating any more after a while). So we struggle to provide diversity.

    The "struggle" is that each race we seem to find "an answer" so we get lots of it for the next race and then find we can't touch the stuff after a certain point. -) When you're in serious deprivation (or should that be depravation?) the mind plays funny tricks and one has all kinds of weird cravings (oh, depravation again)

    But by ensuring lots of variety we can usually find something. Of course we don't always have enough with us. In British Columbia, we seriously underestimated the amount of food we needed and lived on berries for about 20 hours.

    Diversity first: savory foods, dehydrated foods (Alpine Aire (yes, another sponsor) makes all kinds of great meals, some spicy, some bland (you never can tell which you will want)). We used GELs extensively in Australia, especially on the last few days. We must have gone through hundreds; everyone felt they could get them down easily.

  • How much time for sleep do you allow in a long race. How long do you sleep at a time? When I look at your teams finishing times, there does not seem to be much room for sleep. How do you stay awake?
  • I would guess that we sleep more than any of the other top teams. We try to maintain a healthy state among the team and pick rest spots/times carefully so as to maximize the amount of quality rest we can get (by quality I mean maybe 75-90 minutes of not-totally-freezing rest).
  • In your training do you simulate race conditions (ex long runs canoeing climbing ) for several days ?
  • I used to do that. But now I do shorter races "instead". So, for example, I may do a 10 hour event as part of my training week. Certainly in the spring time, I will do several 10-12 hour solo stints at brisk pace.
  • Our team has been easily able to identify sponsors. But my question is how should we approach them? Obviously they want to know there is some benefit in sponsoring this team.
  • Sponsorship: Another book long topic :-) The most important thing is to identify your uniqueness as a team - some defining characteristic that will make you stand out in the crowd. You have to convince a potential sponsor that *your* team will give them some tangible rewards.
  • When doing your base training how much time (percentage) do you spend on each discipline?
  • what I do is highly tailored to what I know about myself, where my strengths and weaknesses are, what has worked for me in the past, what my objectives are (and to ensure there's plenty of fun in the schedule). I'm loath to toss off percentages - I'd prefer maybe to get a better idea of what the questioner intends to do, what his/her background is etc.


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