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August 2004

The Body Olympic: Fitness and Conditioning Tips

Meet these 6 Olympic hopefuls who will help you perform like a champion outdoors.

Rebecca Giddens: slalom kayak

Rebecca Giddens got her start in paddling at age 10 during a YMCA family canoe camp. "On the last day of the trip, we went down some class II rapids, and one of the trip leaders told me I had potential," she says.

Serious potential, it turns out: Sixteen years later, she’s a favorite to medal in slalom kayaking. The avid hiker and outdoors lover, who lives in San Diego, finished seventh in the 2000 Olympics and took home a gold in the 2002 World Championships.

If you’re the type who enjoys the adventure of kayaking but lacks paddling chops, Giddens has some advice. "When people start paddling, they’re using new muscles and fatigue fast," she says. "They start thinking, ‘This isn’t right’ and use other muscles to make it easier. But to get the proper technique, chances are, you’re going to be sore."

Rotation is fundamental. Giddens recommends rotating all the way from your hips, not just your shoulders. Another rookie move: improper seating position. "You don’t want your legs out straight, but rather up close in the foot pegs forcing your knees out to stabilize the boat."

And balance is key. "Waves come at you quickly and you need to find your center," says Giddens. For practice, she stands on a large Swiss ball and plays catch with a coach. A novice might want to just kneel on the ball and work up to standing.

With plenty of experience behind her now, Giddens realizes that the world’s best are no longer untouchable. "Slalom is unpredictable–the wind can blow and you’ll hit a gate, or you’ll just hit one on your own," she says. "But if I have a good race, I know it’ll happen."

Alan Culpepper: marathon

Sure, 26.2 miles is a long run, especially when you’re used to racing only 6. But making that switch hasn’t been a problem for longtime 10,000-meter racer Alan Culpepper, winner of the men’s U.S. Olympic marathon trial.

Even though Culpepper, 31, has run only two marathons in his life–the second being the trials where he triumphed in 2:11.42–he’s no newcomer to endurance. To train for the 2000 Olympics (where he competed at 10,000 meters), he ran 100 miles a week. Preparing for Athens, he’s stepped it up to 130. "My training has always been geared toward higher mileage," he says. "The marathon just played into my abilities."

Whether you’re looking to complete the Pacific Crest Trail or run a marathon in Greece, there’s no better way to gain endurance than to put in the miles. Culpepper’s longest run is on Sundays, when he takes off from his Louisville, CO, home for a 20-miler. And you won’t find him at the gym-he doesn’t lift weights or cross train. "I just run," he says, adding that any extra energy is reserved for chasing after his 2-year-old son, Cruz.

When Culpepper made the switch to longer races, he found the details that were merely significant in the 10,000 meters were vital in the marathon. "Footwear, fluids, and fuel are much bigger issues," he says. It’s critical to work out all the kinks during training, he adds, so when the big event comes, there won’t be any surprises.

Culpepper cautions that endurance is something that you can’t finesse your way through. So if you’re training to climb Whitney or bike a century, just start hiking or riding. The good news, he says, is the payoff. "If you put in 6 months of good training, you’ll see results," he says. "There’s no way around it: Endurance is a mark of consistency."

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