People Power

Whether pairs, trios or four-person teams, it’s the ‘other person’ thing that makes team events more challenging emotionally and mentally than the event you’re entering. Yet, the person – or people – out there with you often prove to be brighter than the sun, more uplifting than a sports bra and as wonderfully surprising as finding a packet of your favourite snack at the bottom of your backpack on a cold, dark night.

You raise me up

Carel van Heerden went into the last 250km Swazi Xtreme with a friend and a husband-and-wife pair that he’d only briefly chatted to online two weeks before the race. This unknown pair “turned out to be the most wonderful people to race with. They were friendly and fun, full of spirit and tough,” he says.

On an uphill hike, after a long paddle and only 30 minutes of sleep in 30 hours of racing, van Heerden was flagging. “My personal state of mind was in the dumps and I was the team navigator,” he recalls.

“Tracey got up, grabbed my wrist and pulled me up. She said something like, ‘Come on Mr Super-Iron-Man, show me which way to go and I will pull the team’. That gave me hope and I got up and had a look at the map. While Ian was covering me with our dodgy shelter Russell got his video camera out and started doing a comical interview, which really got me going. These three team mates instinctively knew that I was in the dumps and that they needed to pick me up to lead the way.”

An easy-going guy, Van Heerden’s experiences have taught him that having people in a team who can keep you going when you are weak is what counts. “They create camaraderie, which is needed in a team to enjoy and to endure and to finish the race. AR tests the mind and body, your team mates are the ones who can make or break the mind. The body follows the mind.”

Accept that invitation

Francis Rogan too has had positive experiences from racing with last-minute recruits. “Two weeks prior to the race a guy responded to my request posted on the web. Recovering from an injury he was a back-of-the-pack player, which suited us. He joined our all-girls team and fit right in. We came last but he was still excited just because we had finished; he’d had a couple of DNFs prior to this race.”

Rogan has learned that it really is worth it to put out a public post to recruit teammates because the right person will fill the gap. “Now I just need to take the bold step to be that person who joins another team looking for a person,” she adds.

The best human beings

“I have raced with some of the best human beings I have ever met in my life,” says Mark Goulding, “and my life has improved because of them.”

What keeps Goulding coming back for more is when his team really ‘clicks’.

“It’s when you know each person’s strengths and weaknesses and work together as a unit to use these to make the team stronger,” he explains.

Goulding recalls ‘small things’ like they how they approach fence crossings to make the team faster and more efficient, or the sharing of the mandatory equipment load and how each team member fulfils a valued role in situations that arise during races.

All’s well doesn’t always end well

A recent race didn’t go as well as hoped for a coastal racer. “Each of my teammates had their own legitimate reason (sickness, knee injury, motivation) for pulling out and there was little resistance or arguing when this happened. But I was quite taken aback that not one of my team members had any remorse for ending our – and my – race!”

When the decision was initially made he thought he’d made peace but post-race his mind kept returning to how their withdrawal from the race unfolded.

“I think the anger built up, especially as not one of my teammates has ever said that they were sorry for cutting our team’s race short. I’d like to think that I would have been very apologetic, even if I had something serious that took me out of the race like a broken collarbone.”

He was also surprised at himself. “I’m obviously still not over the race and I feel let down by my team for pulling out. But I was also surprised at my lack of compassion and inability to understand why other racers, with worse afflictions, were able to push through ‘pain-and-suffering’ to complete the race and my teammates were not.”

Self discovery

Just as other people may disappoint us, so we may disappoint ourselves too. “I was so nasty to some guy (twice) during a race, because he wasn’t as strong as me and I didn’t think he was making good decisions. Inexcusable!” writes a female racer.

“After the race I tried to figure out what set me off and I think that when the going gets tough and there is stress and tiredness involved, it is harder to control ones’ emotions. This is my weak point and one that hopefully I can work on and improve.”

Everybody has gotta train

Disparities do not only arise during events. A runner entering a staged run with a friend has a dilemma. “My running partner is currently injured and she is not motivated to train. It’s hard to know what to do and how to deal with this situation,” she wonders.

The two evidently have different goals. “I want to improve on my results from other events and she is just happy to finish. I have been disappointed by her lack of commitment to training and I’m finding it hard not to ruin our friendship over this.”

The partner for sure knows that she’s not in the game but may not want to let this runner down. Whether my suggestion of a cup of coffee to say, “I need to find another partner for this
race and you need to recover properly from this injury so that you can race with me in the future” works, remains to be seen. This is a difficult conversation to initiate but would worth it for both runners.

What happens in Vegas…

“Race mates are just that. You are usually mates for the race but outside of that, in a social day-to-day situation, you may not be drawn to these same people. Conversely, you wouldn’t want to race with people who you are friends with socially,” says Grant Frewen.

“What happens in a team stays there; like the private jokes and little sayings, which are not relevant in our daily lives. These are the things that make the miles go by with ease and when you are on that cold, tiny, tired mental island they lift you up and bring out a smile.  That’s what camaraderie is about. Your team mates have got your back. This is very much what draws the line in the sand between individualist pursuits and the multi-day social cohesion that is adventure racing.”

Frewen doesn’t care to dwell on the negatives. “They’re by far eclipsed by the laughs and smiles I’ve been given by my team mates,” he adds.

Where the multi-day race environment can bring out the worst in people participating in teams, it more often brings out the best. Van Heerden neatly sums up team relationships when he says, “Be the person that you would like to race with”.

Author: Lisa de Speville | Originally published in Go Multi magazine, July/Aug 2013