Communication & Logistic tips
for Adventure Racing teams
Thoughtfully planning your race-logistics and establishing an adequate culture of communication are at the backbone for a successful AR-team. That’s why I want to start this AR-blog-series by sharing some of my learnings and thoughts on communication and give you some logistic tips for your first Adventure Racing experiences.
1. Talk, talk, talk and train to talk!
Honest and comprehensive communication is the number one most important thing for your team, before, during and hopefully after. Preferably you get to train with your team. Don’t forget to put some long, all night sessions together into your training plan. It’s a big advantage to get to know your team mates beforehand. Everyone ticks a little different, and under pressure little differences can become a big deal. Aim to create a personal connection between team members and get a good idea of everyone’s physical and mental abilities. Learn to trust each other no matter what!
2. Make things clear
One of the best logistic tips for Adventure Racing is to avoid misunderstandings by talking about your expectations before the race. What’s your personal goal for this race? Do you want to win, set a personal record, cross the finish line without getting short coursed etc? Make sure all team members consent to the same goals and build your race logistics around these goals.
Clearly assigned responsibilities
Every team member should have, and be comfortable with, their own role. Clear all uncertainties beforehand. Who is the lead navigator and who is backup? Do navigators appreciate input from others, and what type of input? Who is the designated bike mechanic, who keeps track of time, fills the water bottles at transitions, reminds everyone to eat and drink and so on? The more you’ve thought of before the start the easier it will be. Don’t worry, there is lots of room for surprises in Adventure Races, you will always get your chance to improvise!
3. The most difficult part is arriving to the start
The early worm catches a good start
Depending on how far from home the race takes place, make sure the whole team arrives with enough time to prepare before the start or the official race briefing. For local races, that might mean arriving the afternoon before, for international races you might want to give yourself a few days to acclimatise and get over the jetlag. Personally, I love making a holiday out of international races and try to arrive a week or two before. This way I can explore the area, get used to the climate and see if the locals have some insightful tips. For me, attaching a holiday to the end of the race doesn’t work. Naturally, your body and mind dips into a low after a multi-day event. You’ve depleted all your reserves during the race and usually I just want to go home and take it easy for a day or two.
Get your gear ready the night before the race. It might sound obvious, but time can fly the morning of the start. Many adventure racers don’t sleep too much the night before the race either. Don’t give your tired brain the chance to forget your favourite ‘buff’. Pack everything the night before and lay out the clothes you will wear in the morning – be ready to rock!
Give your brain a head-start – research is part of the adventure
It’s the navigator’s job to research the terrain of the area you will race in, but the whole team can help to give yourselves a head-start. Remember you won’t be allowed to bring your smart phone on the way. For races in Ireland check out beforehand if there are shops or pubs in the area. What are the opening hours? For international races it’s helpful to look up some details about the country and the culture. Is the tap water drinkable? Will there be many mosquitos? What’s the weather like in the next days? Learn how to say Hello and Thank you…
Brainstorms & Mind melds
Don’t keep your gathered wisdom to yourself! Help each other to think of everything. If you do out an excel sheet for your gear list, share it with your team. It might contain something useful for everyone. Do out a list for your mandatory gear and see who will bring and pack it. Don’t just rely on ‘We’ve talked about this’, write everything down for everyone to read up later (e.g google spread sheets). This will help to minimise misunderstandings.
4. Mandatory kit
Every race organiser will provide a list of things you will have to carry with you at all times, and things you might need for certain sections. The mandatory gear list usually contains items like med kits and bivvy bags. You might need to carry your harness for a climbing section etc. Some items you will need one per team and some will be mandatory for every person to carry. As mentioned before, it is important to make sure everyone knows where everything is. If the person carrying the med kit has an accident and no other team member knows which of the 100 pockets on their backpack contains the bandages, things can get bloody difficult.
Try to keep your personal mandatory gear organised, have a list and remind each other at transitions. It’s common to see a person heading out of transition forgetting their helmet – besides a high risk of injury you might get a time penalty for not having your mandatory gear together. Apart from the mandatory kit there is lots of ‘optional’ gear you will need or want to bring. For more advice about gear check out my blog ‘Gear advice for Adventure Racing’ (coming soon)
5. Ego – the unnecessary baggage
Once you are out there, there is no space for ego on your team. Ego is just an energy sucking beast – don’t waste your precious energy feeding it. Make everyone’s life a little simpler and surrender to honesty!
Be honest if you are suffering or going through a low point. We all do! One advantage of racing with a team is that we usually don’t experience that low at the same time! Maybe someone can take a little weight off you, even just your water bottle. Everyone can ease the pace a bit – whatever it takes to move the team efficiently and safely forward.
Don’t hold on to stereotypes like ‘The girl can’t carry more weight’ or ‘Big boys don’t cry’. You are not holding the team back unless you make everyone carry your ego! Not speaking up because of a false sense of pride could end up bringing a team to a halt and ruin the fun for everyone.
No false sacrifices
The ego is a loser but so is the sacrificial lamb. You need to look after yourself as well as your teammates! If you are not the best version of yourself, you are not the best teammate. Some people tend to care better for their teammates than for themselves. Guess what – it’s just another form of ego! Tune into your body and its needs. For sure you will hit lows, as well as many highs. The important thing is that you can manage yourself either way. Know when to ask for help and know how much help you can give without sacrificing yourself down the line.
6. Steady and consistent
It’s often the slower but steadily moving teams that win the race. Towards the end ‘steady’ teams often pass out the ‘fast’ teams because the ‘fast’ teams blow up and need a long rest.
Make sure to evaluate your energy level with your teammates consistently and consciously (Talk, talk, talk). If everyone hits a low at the same time, you might be moving too fast and it’s maybe a sign to change the strategy. One of my teammates, Paul, has a good strategy which I have adopted. Every hour, or when it looks like people are getting sluggish, he says ‘Scores on the doors!’. On a scale of 1-10, you rate how you feel. 1 means you are asleep, and 10 you are ready to call an ambulance. If, for example, everyone is at 6 or 7 and one person is at 8, we do something about it! Ask your teammate what is wrong. Often, they have forgotten to eat or hydrate and need fuel.
7. Don’t risk getting hangry (angry because hungry)
On that note, everyone should learn to eat on the move and have their food easy to hand. In everyday life I do not recommend eating while walking, but for AR it is essential. You will need to fuel consistently and preferably before you get hungry. Aim for small bites very often and keep on top of hydration. Stopping every time someone needs a snack won’t work well. As you might know, getting up again after a sit-down break is the hardest part! Hence choose food and food ‘containers’ that meet your ‘to go’-requirements. AR food logistics are a very comprehensive topic, and I designated a whole chapter of my Adventure Racing tips to it. You can find some more on race nutrition, hydration and developing an AR-food-plan in my blog Fuelling for multi-day Adventure Races.
8. Sleep strategy
How much you should or need to sleep during a race depends on many factors. Considering the duration of the race, daylight hours, dark zones etc., I recommend having a rough and adaptable plan. Make sure you have an overall consent about this strategy in your team.
As a rule of thumb, I would not sleep while there is daylight. Use the darkness and the light to your advantage. Lie down to rest just before the sunrise. Closing your eyes when it’s still night and open them when the day breaks can make you feel like you’ve had a full nights rest.
Remember that there is a thin line between not sleeping and as a result slowing down or risking injury because of complete physical & mental exhaustion. Your team could be faster overall after a stop for a quick snooze. Even 20mins can be enough. Having tried different strategies, I now prefer having short naps over long rests. I feel that the body and mind highly appreciate a short pause. I move and respond much better after a short break, where as longer breaks tend to make me sluggish, especially after pushing without pause for a long time.
Yes, being flexible with your sleeping strategy and adapt it to the race conditions is important but, and here comes my most important advice:
To win it don’t wing it!!
Not having a sleep strategy and not talking about it before hand will ultimately waste time, cause frustration and possibly friction.
Adventure Races are won and lost in transitions! – Old AR-wisdom
The clock does not stop when you arrive at a transition point. Nevertheless, you will see people sprinting into transition and all the sudden transform into a sociable sloth. Transition points often feel way to cosy and can seduce you to indulge in some rest time, enjoy the good old chat and persuade you to think of it as a timeout.
However, I would advise you to view transitions as a stage of the race. Have your gear organised in advance. When you see your box, you know where everything is and what you need for the next leg. Move efficiently! It might be helpful to have a checklist written on the inside of your box. Try to adopt a routine or ritual so you don’t forget anything.
Usually, around 10 minutes before we arrive at transition, I ask everyone on the team what they need to do. It’s a good strategy to jump start everyone’s brain and moves the focus to getting in and out as efficiently as possible.
After an event, it is nice to meet up and have a chat about the experience you all went through together. Don’t miss out on a chance to reminisce about the crazy stories. Life-long bonds were created when you all slept in a hay shed, took an exceptionally long short cut, or found the absolute best curry chips in a small village in the middle of nowhere.
It can then be a good idea to follow up with a team email and note down what went well and what needs to improve or change for the next challenge. This could be anything from gear choices, nutrition, fitness, communication, sleep strategy etc. Write down whatever comes to mind as soon as possible – your future self will thank you.
Looking for more communication and logistic tips for Adventure Racing?
Let me know what your thoughts are on this topic and if my blog was helpful for you. Is there anything else you wonder about? Leave a comment or pop me an e-mail if you have any feedback or questions. Life is a journey of learnings and I will expand my list of communication and logistic tips for Adventure Racing whenever I make some new discoveries.
If you fancy some light reading in the meantime feel free to check out my personal race reports.