Training for the IMPI Challenge

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Seen here, Frederik Lotter (left) and Nelius Swart (right) in training for IMPI CT.

The IMPI series is an endurance obstacle race with categories suitable for everyone. The IMPI Mini for kids (1km), the IMPI Dash for entry level runners (5km – 7 obstacles), the IMPI Corporate and Challenge is 12km in distance (18 obstacles) and is aimed at the more serious competitor. Finally, the IMPI Elite (20km – 30 obstacles) is for the most ambitious runners wanting to test their own physical limits. However, the day is not only about winning, it is also about overcoming obstacles and having fun.

If you are a seasoned competitive athlete, you may agree with us that there are two types of race participants. The first group we refer to as the pros; people who dedicate the time, and have the discipline to train daily (and often more than once a day). Pros often focus on specific events and have a specialized training program targeting the needs of an event or category. The second group are the amateurs (i.e. the rest of us). We have real jobs (I am joking), families and responsibilities. We simply may not have the discipline, will power or genes to fit into the first group.

We (Nelius Swart and Frederik Lotter) proudly place ourselves in the amateur group, and would like to share how we prepare for the IMPI Elite race. We hope this would inspire more men and woman like us to participate. The bottom line is that there are only so many pro athletes out there, and from our experience in April this year, it is perfectly possible to complete the Elite race in the top 20 (or even top 10) as an amateur. This is inspiring given the fact that you can pat yourself on the back knowing that you are one of the most hard-core men or woman in your province. The IMPI Elite race is no joke, so you must be prepared for aches, pains, and occasional tears.

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Nelius Swart doing what it takes preparing for IMPI

People are built differently, and each of us has different areas of strength. We cannot give you a magic formula that would guarantee you a place in the top 20. However, we aim to give you some guidelines by looking at our own experiences, training and race day strategies.

The most important point that Nelius and I often talk about is running fitness. The Elite race covers a distance of 20km (this is pretty much a half marathon). Your primary focus of fitness must be running. You stand absolutely zero chance if you are not top fit for this distance. In fact, from experience, you must use the running between obstacles for physical recovery and at the same time maintain or gain on your race position. There are almost 30 obstacles. The problem is that the obstacles are so physically intense or difficult (you can easily fail some obstacles that would require a retry) that it is not always very easy to overtake your competitor during this time. The second challenge is that obstacles can easily form a bottleneck, which means you must wait for a slot. The first and most important advice we can give you is: be as running fit as you can be!

Let’s look at some of the obstacles. Remember, we are not pro athletes and we have not spent weeks analyzing previous IMPI obstacles in order to customize our training program. However, there is an essential minimum upper body strength and balance you should have otherwise you will fall behind, or even fail some of the obstacles.

The first category we want to mention is endurance obstacles. You have to be prepared running with a large rock or brick for several kilometres. The biggest issue here is actually how to hold the weight in such a way that you can run comfortably. We suggest you practice running with various shapes of cement and clay bricks. You should also be prepared to swim an overall distance of around 200m, and aslo pull some heavy objects (such as a tractor tire) over a distance. These obstacles are very important because many of them are not queued. They rely on general fitness and you can still overtake someone easily without facing the bottleneck dilemma.

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Frederik Lotter in action.

The second category is technical obstacles. These are physically very intense, often because they involve climbing over various structures without touching certain areas such as the ground. You have to pay attention to balancing, which burns extra energy. If you, like us, used to be an expert tree climber when you were little, you should be OK here. Note that some of the structures are incredibly high and you have to use both momentum and strength to get over them. You should be prepared to be able to pull yourself (or your weight) up against a rope.

You may be surprised to hear how we prepare for this. Like I said, our primary focus is on running. We try to run around 15km three times a week, while over the weekend we fit in a longer run, about 24km (with some small sections of hills done with stones). Every other day, we swim about 1km (40 laps in a 25m pool). In between I would do some push-ups (60-100 every second day) and sit-ups, while Nelius does similar upper body training in the gym.

The IMPI Elite race is physically very intense and you will burn a lot of energy and lose a lot of fluids along the way. You need to carefully take this into consideration. We make an effort to take in fluids when we pass water points, and I carry some GU Energy Gel packs for along the way.

We will see you there!