by Faye Rapoport
Ian Adamson describes himself as a “Jack of all sports and master of none,” but Racing the Planet says simply that he “just might own the most impressive multisport credentials on the planet.” Adamson is a member of the world champion adventure racing team, Team GoLite Eco-Internet, and holds the 24-hour kayak distance World Record (217 miles). The native Australian, who now makes his home in Boulder, CO, has been a member of winning teams in the X-Games, Raid Gauloises, Southern Traverse and Discovery Channel Eco-Challenge (winning team member in 1996, 2000 and 2001, second in 1997 and 2002, third in 1995 and fourth in 1999). He has also competed in the Iditasport 100-mile foot race.
Eco-challenge is an expedition race that takes place in exotic locations like New Zealand, Morocco and Fiji. Focused on teamwork, the event is comprised of teams of four, including both men and women, racing non-stop for six to 12 days, 24 hours a day, over rugged terrain. They use mountain biking, river rafting, horseback riding, mountaineering and fixed ropes, kayaking and navigation skills. The first team to reach the finish line together is the winner. One of Adamson’s accomplishments is being part of the top placing team that included three women.
A typical peak workout week for this indefatigable athlete might include 4-8 hours of trail running or high altitude hiking, and that’s just on day one. The rest of the week mixes everything from open water paddling to rock climbing, mountain biking to running, and backcountry skiing, inline skating or swimming.
Wow. Foot.com took one look at Adamson’s impressive training regimen and racing history and realized that on top of (or below) everything else, this athlete’s feet must take quite a beating. So we asked Ian to tell us about the sport of adventure racing, and what he does to take care of his feet.
Foot.com: How did you get involved in adventure racing? What drew you to the sport?
Adamson: I first heard of adventure racing in the early 1980’s and went to my first race in 1984 to support some friends. I entered my first race in 1985 (Winter Classic, Australia) with the misplaced idea that it would be fun. I was wrong; it was an absolute blast, at least retrospectively with a few beers under my belt at the awards.
Foot.com: As an athlete who trains hard in a variety of sports, you demand a great deal of your body, including your feet. Can you tell me the number one foot problem you have had to deal with, and what kind of treatment you’ve had?
Adamson: The worst foot problems I have had are racing with a broken big toe in the 1996 Eco-Challenge in British Columbia (after a boulder rolled over it on a talus slope) and with a deep tissue infection during the 1999 Elf Authentic Adventure, an 11-day sufferfest. There was nothing I could do for the toe other than tape it and grit my teeth, and it took several weeks to recover from the infection. The lesson I learned on the infection was to pay more attention to abrasions and cuts and to protect my feet for really long tropical races. The infection didn’t set in until day seven, so I had four more days to race on my bloody stumps.
Foot.com: Your workouts include everything from hiking up Colorado’s 14ers to running, kayaking or mountain biking for hours on difficult trails. What challenges do the different sports create in terms of taking care of your feet?
Adamson: Interestingly every sport requires use of your feet to some degree. Mountain biking often requires hike-a-bike and kayaking inevitably includes portaging (carrying your boat over land). In both situations footwear choice is important and foot care even more so since water shoes and bike shoes are not particularly suited to hiking or running.
Foot.com: You train and compete in all kinds of weather, including sometimes very wet conditions. Does this contribute to blisters on your feet, and if so, how do you deal with the problem?
Adamson: Wet conditions soften the tissue on your feet and make them more susceptible to skin trauma – cuts, abrasions and blisters. I always coat my feet liberally with a body-based lubricant like Bodyglide or Hydropel to help reduce friction and prevent infection.
Foot.com: Your training sometimes include skiing and other winter sports. How do you guard your feet against frostbite in cold conditions?
Adamson: I do winter races and training in conditions down to -40 degrees, but I’m fortunate to have good circulation and have not had any frostbite on my feet. In the Iditasport 100-mile foot race, I ran in trail shoes with two pairs of wool socks. One was a thin base layer and the second an expedition weight Smartwool sock. The trick in really cold conditions is to keep your feet from saturating, which can then freeze and reduce the thermal properties of your foot layers. Wool seems to be a good at transporting moisture to the outside where it can sublimate freeze and then sublimate (solid to vapor) on the fibers, preventing saturation and preserving heat.
Foot.com: Have you ever had any other foot injuries?
Adamson: I have had numerous injuries, including stress fractures, sprains and strains. After years of playing competitive soccer my ankles were completely wrecked and I couldn’t run for several years. Now I get routine ankle sprains and simply train through them, being careful to stay on even surfaces for a few weeks and taping for races.
Foot.com: Do you find that taking care of your feet and wearing proper footwear affects other muscles and joints?
Adamson: For ultra-distance running I have moved away from super low profile racing “flat” type shoes because it is too hard on my body. Well cushioned shoes like the Nike ACG Air Zoom Steens are an excellent choice because they include generous cushioning in the midsole and help attenuate damaging shock and vibration as you run.
Foot.com: What else do you think about when choosing socks and athletic shoes?
Adamson: I have a neutral gait and large feet for my weight (US 11 on a 155 lb frame) which helps spread the load and prevent injury. I always choose the largest shoe I can comfortably wear to provide a generous amount of room and the ability to wear a cushioned sock. Most people wear their shoes too small, so it takes time getting used to a generously sized shoe, but it does help prevent injury and discomfort. I only wear wool or Coolmax (polyester) socks, most often a light mesh running sock or cushioned wool.
Foot.com: Do you have one favorite sport or athletic activity?
Adamson: My activity preferences are cyclic depending on the season and what I have been doing recently. I love sail-boarding, sailing surf club races (beach running, ocean swimming, surf skiing and surfing) when I am in Australia, back country skiing in winter in Colorado and white water kayaking in the spring.
Foot.com: What advice would you give to athletes interested in getting into adventure racing?
Adamson: The single most important thing for an athlete getting into adventure racing is to become competent in all the sports. This will keep you safe and make the experience that much more enjoyable. It is also a good idea to start with short races and build up if you want to attempt multi-day events. Doing Eco-Challenge as your first race would be a painful and frustrating experience.