Go Harder, Longer: Tips from the World’s Most Hardcore Endurance Athletes

Chelsey and Jason Magness compete in six-day adventure races, but their training advice can bolster any sport.
Chelsey and Jason Magness compete in six-day adventure races, but their training advice can bolster any sport. Photographs Courtesy Magness Adventure Racing


Last November, the world’s best endurance teams met in Brazil for the Adventure Racing World Championship. The 700-kilometer race traveled through some of the most dangerous terrain in Brazil and tested competitors with 14 legs of navigation, hiking, mountain biking, paddling, and climbing. The winning time was more than six and a half days, as the event pushed even the grittiest athletes to their absolute limits.

One of just two American squads competing in the championships, Team YogaSlackers, out of Bend, Oregon, was the 11th team to cross the finish line in Brazil, overcoming dehydration, heat exhaustion, and waist-deep waters filled with crocodiles and stingrays. The team founders, Chelsey and Jason Magness, are no strangers to the intensity adventure. The couple met in yoga instructor training and their fourth date was a six-hour race that they completed in three and a half to avoid being late for class. Now they chalk up crossing snowy passes with tennis shoes, a single rope, and no ice axe, or competing for 72 hours with no sleep, as part of a day’s work. And when they aren’t bushwhacking through rainforests without a GPS, they’re running J and C Training, which helps athletes achieve everything from a faster 5K to longer slacklines and three-day adventure races. When it comes to outdoor sports, they’ve been through it all, so there’s something you can learn from them, no matter your event. The first lesson in endurance? Acceptance. “If you are an athlete, you will bonk. You will hit a wall.”

How do you recover from a bonk while training or racing?
Jason Magness: Through experience you do learn the signs and mitigate the frequency and severity of your bonks, but they will happen if you regularly compete. So more important to us is that you do work through it.

When you hit a wall, redefine your idea of success so that you can still succeed. Instead of being on the podium, that might turn into just finishing the race, or maybe even just finishing that section of the race. But learning how to adapt to non-ideal situations is imperative. There is no such thing as a perfect race.

How do you prevent overtraining?
Chelsey Magness: It’s easy to fall into the thinking that if we always do more we will perform better. More often, that mindset leads to injuries, so we take recovery and rest just as seriously as training. If we have overtrained it shows in our attitude and performance — we feel flat in the legs and are just not excited to get out and train. 

What is the best way to avoid overtraining?
CM: We find that the best tool is a heart rate monitor. If we wake up and our heart rate is way above our normal resting rate, we know that something is up and will probably take a rest day.

JM: We also keep simple training baselines that we repeat every few weeks, for example, a 10-mile time trial on bikes. If we do not continue to see improvement, we know we are overtraining. 

What training methods do you recommend for time-crunched athletes?
JM: We’re firm believers in high-intensity interval training to reduce our training volume. It’s hard, though — you make up for training time by turning up the intensity.

What are the most important mental skills for athletes?
CM: Every outdoor athlete needs to have confidence and common sense. Never stop developing them.

How can athletes prepare for their first adventure race?
CM: The most efficient way to train for a longer event and all the unknowns that come with it is to actually go out for big missions. If you want to do a 24-hour adventure race, a couple months before the event, go out for a 24-hour expedition with the smallest amount of gear needed and get yourself from point A to point B. Something is bound to go wrong. Your feet may blister, you may run out of food or water, but you will survive (tell people where you are going, or better yet, get a buddy to go along with you). In this experience you will learn where you need more training and perhaps different gear.

What’s your favorite advice for each discipline in adventure racing?
Running: Run the flats and downs and power walk the ups. Learn to run by using your glutes as the primary muscle.

Climbing: Trust your feet, commit to the move. Overthinking leads to over-gripping. Mental and physical fatigue can end even climbs of moderate difficulty.

Paddling: Use your core, and the more rotation the better. Look at where you want to go, not at what you want to avoid.

Biking: Don’t shy away from the butt lube (chamois cream). The sooner you take care of your butt, the happier you will be in the long run. Train with a consistent cadence, around 100 rpm, and shift gears as necessary to keep this cadence. 

Swimming: Train for ease and long glides. Alternate breathing sides for long distance to keep the body balanced.