How off-road drivers train for peak performance

Tasha Krug, an engineer at Honda, spends nearly six months a year customizing a Honda Ridgeline pickup to prepare for the grueling eight-day Rebelle Rally.

The women-only off-road navigation race covers 1,500 miles of unforgiving desert in California and Nevada. The catch? No GPS or cell phones are allowed. Contestants must find their way using only maps and a compass. (And for Krug, it’s a hobby, something she does in her spare time.)

“You get addicted to it,” she says. “You feel connected to your teammate and fellow competitors.”

Jeff Proctor, on the other hand, is a professional driver and team principal for Honda Factory’s Off-Road Racing Team. He relies on high-tech fitness trackers, biometrics and data to get an edge. Meticulous preparation keeps it laser-focused enough to race for nine hours straight on fast dirt trails, rocky terrain and high altitudes, for example.

He also trains with a triathlete coach so he can push his body to “the absolute limits”. Last November, Proctor’s team won the Baja 1000, the most demanding and dangerous off-road race in North America.

What connects Krug and Proctor, besides the love for the open (off) road? A focus on training their mind and body to deliver incredible performance. So whether you’re looking for a new PR or just getting through a rough week, take some tips from these endurance drivers.

Listen to your body.

Proctor uses a WHOOP fitness tracker to track his heart rate, sleep and recovery: “It just reflects how you feel.” Then, leading up to race day, he makes sure he’s well rested and doesn’t overtrain.

Thanks to Honda

Try functional training.

When Krug and her co-driver modified their Honda Ridgeline truck to be rally-ready, they found that their new 55-pound wheels and tires were difficult to lift. So Krug, a soccer player, started strength training with dumbbells and tires lying around in her garage. First, she lifted the tires off the truck bed and installed and disassembled them five times in a row.

Proctor does core-focused biometric workouts to keep him grounded during races. “Your core gets the greatest training in those trucks,” he says. “You have nothing else to grab onto or brace yourself. It’s all core stability.” The former motocross racer regularly rides 40 to 80 miles on the road bike to mentally prepare for long stretches behind the wheel.

Recreate the conditions.

The first year Krug did the Rebelle Rally, she discovered the source of her neck pain and headache during the race: her helmet. “You wear it for 10 to 12 hours, eight days in a row,” she recalls. And when you’re navigating, you’re usually looking down on a map.

honda ridgeline rebel rally

Honda

Now she always wears a helmet on practice runs or when mapping simulated navigation problems. And before a race, she’ll wear her helmet in the house to get used to carrying the extra weight.

Adjust your sleep schedule.

Because no phones are allowed at Rebelle Rally, participants wake up the old-fashioned way: to someone ringing a cowbell at 5 a.m. At home, Krug sets a cowbell alarm for 5 a.m. a few weeks before the race to get her body used to waking up in the dark. After that, she makes it a point to get out of bed and stay awake for at least ten minutes.

Go easy with nutrition on race day.

When you’re being pushed to catch big air during jumps, the last thing you need is an angry stomach. So Proctor sticks to breakfast before a race with a protein shake, peanut butter and a banana or a hard-boiled egg.

For Tasha, 10 or 12-hour days in a car means there’s no time to stop for lunch. So she and her co-driver eat a full breakfast and dinner at camp, then pack plenty of energy bars and snacks to graze during the day.

Focus on hydration.

“You have to be physically fit to race, but hydration and mental focus are much more important,” says Proctor. “It’s the key.”

He drinks his calories behind the wheel. Proctor teamed up with a nutrition lab to create a unique drink mix formulated for his body. His race suit monitors his sweat levels and automatically dispenses the electrolyte-packed drink from a tube in his helmet when his hydration level drops.

Learn from your mistakes – and keep going.

Tasha’s persevered through storms, white-out conditions and the inevitable accident during rallies. Once, she had misjudged the height of a fall and ended up nose-diving the truck straight into the ground. “That was the most heartbreaking moment ever because it damages your confidence,” she recalls.

honda ridgeline rebel rally

Richard Giordano

But as the clock ticked, she and her partner jumped back into engineering mode to get the truck back on course. “You have to accept that it happened and move on,” she says. “You don’t think about anything. You figure out what caused the problem. You figure out how to get out of it. And then you execute it.”

Make time for recovery.

Proctor shifts his right hand more than a thousand times during a race. To relieve upper body pain, the driver regularly schedules sports massages and cryotherapy and red light therapy to limit inflammation.

“I use alternative therapies to get ready and ready for battle in the middle of nowhere for nine hours,” says Proctor. “I live and die by cryo-preparation.”

honda ridgeline rebel rally

Regina Trias

After eight days without modern technology, Tasha has learned that she needs a few days to come back to life.

“You’re not connected to the world at all,” she says, joking that it takes a minute to remember all her passwords when she comes back. “You don’t check email. You don’t catch up on social media. You don’t text anyone.”

But if she rests for a few days, she’s ready to go all over again.

“It’s mentally and physically challenging and exhausting, but at the same time it’s an extremely rewarding competition,” she says. “You learn a lot about yourself and your co-driver. And you become more one with nature. You are just more in tune with yourself and generally have a much higher appreciation for life.”

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