Basic Headcounts Can Save Lives

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I recently read an article where a group of college students who were cave explorers accidentally left one of their explorers locked in a cave for 60 hours. Really???

Not only is this young explorer lucky to be alive, it was completely avoidable based on some very basic safety measures that need to be in place 100% of the time when you are managing teams.

One of the reasons that there needs to be a check off chart at every stop is so that we can make sure that every athlete has passed through that section. If the Trail Driver has to go back and find someone on a trail or in a very desolate area, they have a much smaller place to have to search for them. Lots of things can happen in endurance events, and they DO happen.

Creating those strategies in advance is crucial:

  • How are you going to get someone out if it’s nasty weather? Rain and wind can be incredibly difficult to get a vehicle through.
  • How are you going to hook an injured athlete up on a trail bike and possibly drag them 15 miles, without further injuring them?
  • How do you manage trail first aid for broken limbs?

The list can go on for days, because there are MANY freak accidents in endurance events and training.

I have had other Trail Drivers push back and let me know that I am a worry wart, that there are too many details that I put into trail driving, but my response back is that we have never lost an athlete, or had an athlete not get off that course with all the limbs they started with. Safety and planning is not an afterthought, it is a tool that allows everyone the chance to play again tomorrow.

As for the adventurer who was lost and locked in to the cave, I completely understand his position (from an interview where he said that he is lucky to be alive), and that he will NOT be exploring caves ever again.

It would be a shame to have talented athletes choose to no longer compete because their safety was not managed appropriately.

Prepare every athlete to check off at every stop so that the Trail Driver knows who they are, and where they are. Plus, it will also help them track their time and have a nice snack in the shade.

Trail well.

Cameras on the Trail Can Cause Injuries

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I am seeing more and more adventure athletes taking technology like a Go Pro or something like that on the trail with them.

I have a lot of problems with anything that is a distraction to what they’re really doing. I have seen many athletes stop to take a selfie, or try to get a panoramic shot and end up falling, or dropping their device.

Having a phone on a long course can be a life saver, and I am actually pro-selfie, when it is appropriate. For the athlete, I ask them to be aware of their surroundings. The others are on the course to test their bodies to the extreme and are not usually able to stop or get out of your way. They WILL hit you if you are in the way, and they will be pissed if they get injured from selfie stupidity.

Having basic rules about devices on the course is a great plan, as is having a simple guide to the rules about exiting the course to take images.

There is also the honest fact that metal objects are slippery when you are sweaty. Lots of things get jostled or dropped when you’re on any course. A thing in motion, likes to stay in motion. If you are jostling a phone that has no power to fly, gravity will connect and smash the shit out of that screen. Ouch!

That phone you are now running with has smashed glass, an irritant that can make you bleed. Not great, and FYI, flies love blood and can outrun even a cheetah.

I will tell the people who are walking or running the course on the very back end to look out for items like this that may have been discarded, dropped, or just flat out lost and we will put them in the lost and found at the end.

Besides, selfies are the BEST when they are at the finish line.

Trail well.

Yes, I Will Open Your Bottle For You – How Support Can Help an Athlete’s State of Mind

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One of the things that I remind people who are dealing with athletes is, that when athletes are stressed, not only are their brains not working, but neither are their little sausage fingers…AT ALL!

Trying to open something that requires grip strength, or a little package, is just insanely impossible. For the athlete, not only are they going to spill it, but it’s just a reminder that their body is NOT working the way it normally does.

Messages of “what is not working” is something that we never want to induce or even allow to come through that athlete’s thought process while they are refueling. They are battling a complete boardroom of ideas that the brain turns on to already stop the madness. The brain turns itself into a diligent reporter on bad news when you get to testing your body to its fullest, and it will find a million ways to tell you that you should stop, that this is going poorly, and that you aren’t strong enough to do this.

And then you pull over to the roadside and your stupid hands don’t work either… damn.

I try to remind those athletes about where their head should be during this time on the trail, and what they should be thinking about.  I will have them notice that their gait is strong, or their form is firm.

Trail Drivers can also help them notice things they DO HAVE power over.

How’s your annoyance, do you think you need some salt? Is your stomach queasy, do you need something to get it to stop rumbling? Try this Papaya it is a super-specific tool to help tummies that feel upset gain calmness. I have used it in every country I have been in. Are you having tension on your shoulders, we can ice that down for immediate relief. The fact is that failure IS part of the endurance training, but it can usually be hacked while on the course.

So, let me open that bottle for you so you can keep your focus on what is our next hack to keep you going.  Trail Drivers can be a superpower to have as a partner.

Trail well.

Great Support Makes Things Better – AKA “I wish Mickey were here!”

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Sometimes being a Trail Driver is like one of my favorite drinking songs,
“Henry the Eighth I am, I am.” 

Ohhhhh, I wish Mickey were here, were here,” would be the chorus sung to the boisterous tone of the famous drinking song.

I had a team once when I was Trail Driving for a large endurance event and, on one of the training days I warned them not to because they would have to do it alone. Now I have eyes that are as big as the entire state of Massachusetts, so when they get bigger it should be a legislative act.  My big eyes warning…”You will have no support for the entire time.”

Like all gut wrenching superstars, the six of them all went “no big deal, we can just bring some water and some block chews.”

Off they went, no money, no resting places, no salt or sugar other than running gummies and a beautiful hot, sticky 90-degree day.

Some of these were new people who had only known race support by yours truly. They had no idea that they were brought up on magic by the person who wrote the Trail Driver protocol for the everyday athlete supporter in the nation.

This little team just thought this was how running groups worked, that someone just wanted to give up their entire day off, shop and pre-package snacks, borrow, pack and clean out a van, have towels and medical kits ready, have a printed map of the route, buy ice, have bathroom options available, and be a new version of an athletic flight attendant.

No, that’s just what they lucked into. But having heat beating down on you for 30 miles makes no one lucky, especially with just one jug of water that gets hotter by the hour.

The grizzled veterans have stories of how they have fainted, maybe gone slightly blind from salt crashes, or limped four miles on a pulled hammie. Those athletes I don’t ever worry about, because they know they are screwed and will just push through it. Those bright fresher faced ones are the ones my heart aches for, they still have fear and worry swaggering all over their determination.

The veteran athletes are just gonna endure the time of having things be hard, awful, or perhaps disorienting, and rack it up to one more story that they’re going to recite while they’re talking to other people about their life in ultra performing.

“We were hot and bothered as sausages in hell, asking for a drink of water from the devil” would become a better story only if they were bleeding.

The people who are new to endurance, those are the people that are learning a ton of new skills. They are learning how to pace themselves, they are learning what to do when their stomach hurts, they are learning to talk their heads into a different direction, understanding how tight their shoes should be, learning how to be uncomfortable in the new shorts that they picked.

There are literally 1,000 different tiny lessons that new endurance athletes are learning. They don’t need to learn how to be hungry and thirsty. One of the things a great Trail Driver will do is to help athletes who are pushing limits have a constant check-in during their process, and one that is there to support them.

So it was no surprise when I heard that lots of times over the 30 miles they lamented about how not having support kinda sucked. Actually, it sucked LOTS of times, so much that one of them called me and told me they needed to take me to dinner (sweet win).

It’s worth the effort to find a great support team and it really important to ASK AND PLAN for support.

And when you are just going to try to hack it out by yourself, it never hurts to just start singing the drinking song.  “I wish Mickey were here, were here!”

Trail well.

Bruises That Worry

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Mountains are dirty and full of rocks. That makes them hard on people who are moving at great speeds to complete a course because any misstep can cause a fall.

When you have athletes that are training in mountainous regions, I always remind people that mountains are made of ROCKS.

Yes ROCKS, and rocks can kill people, even nice, cute people. Depending on if you are in a volcanic mountain or other type of mountain, let’s just agree that all mountains are full of rock.

Rocks get caught up in stuff, they also really hurt and always break skin when you fall on them.  Rocks can cause crazy bruises. Bruises are like a scab on the inside, and you will know instantly when you’re about to bruise the living crap out of your leg, because it will turn color quickly.

If it looks like the bruise on a large muscle group is going to be under the size of a fist, as the Trail Driver I really don’t worry that much. But, if it looks like it is more like the size of my hand if it were open (with all fingers) or larger, I’m definitely going to start to worry.

Bruising that instantly turns black is also not a good sign. Bumps that immediately show a raised “nugget” like a head bump means I will pull the athlete from the course.

It is best to remind all athletes of the rules around safety in advance, so they know IN ADVANCE what accidents will pull them off the course. “Please avoid head injuries” is not enough information…

If your athlete gets injured, ask the person to tell you about the fall and the type of impact. Was it jagged or smooth, was it a deeper punch or just a pancake splat?  Weight falls at 2 ½ times its weight, so a 200-pound male is falling at 500 pounds of force and 500 pounds of force on a spleen is never a good plan.

If you are sending them back, have a medic check them in route and make a back-up plan if the pain gets worse. If they puke after a pancake splat, they need to go right to medical, because this is now a trauma sign.

Best option, pay attention to rocks, tell your team to pay attention to rocks, and NEVER, NEVER trust rocks to stay in place. Nothing outsmarts gravity.

Trail well.

 

Headphones

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Here’s why I don’t appreciate headphones for athletes and events.

One of the items that we have as conversations a lot is about athletes who are wearing headphones while doing an event. Now, I will preface this that it is completely determined on the event that you are Trail Driving as to whether leniency can be brought on. But overall, I just say no.

My biggest reason is safety. While an athlete is doing especially difficult physical things, 100% of their attention needs to be on what they are doing.

Endurance athletes are frequently in challenging circumstances. If that environment has any deadly predators in it like rattlesnakes or pumas, I really need them to pay attention because it could cost them their life. No, I am not being overly dramatic.

Tiny rattlesnakes are extremely dangerous, because they do not have any way to put their venom out in a single bite, they will release as much venom as they can until their fangs are pulled out from your leg. They will also leap from rocks if those rocks are in a descending format, so they can bite at your hand or your face. You are never going to hear that warning rattle with a set of headphones on.

There are many things that can bite that you’re not going to enjoy if you’re an athlete on a mission.

While I understand the power of music as a soundtrack that allows performance, I always invite that athlete to check the box in their head about safety and the safety of those around them. I have had athletes not hear a call for assistance from another athlete because they had headphones on. Part of saving the life of another athlete who is in degradation may be that you actually hear them puking or in a convulsion on the side of the route before you actually SEE them.

So when you’re thinking about headphones on an event that has lots of other people who are trying to do amazing feats, you may want to keep your head on and your headphones off.

Trail well.

The Trail Driver – The Spiritually Driven Athlete – Part 2

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Trail Drivers are those who support athletes so that they can do great things. Trail Drivers allow athletes to be better by helping them have resources while they’re doing things that are incredibly physical. Sometimes that’s logistics, a supply vehicle, or encouragement.

This is a two-part post reviewing how to support those athletes that I call “spiritually driven athletes,” those unique athletes that are called by some special circumstances to do something BIG, like doing a long event to raise awareness for a cause.

These are not the average athletes that are just training to do a specific distance. These are athletes that will be on the road over a series of days doing parts of their challenge over a long part of road. The majority of the time they will be their own support, MacGyver to medic, and they are going to have a ton of time in their own mind. Having a ton of time in your own mind can be great for the first 3 to 5 days, but after 30 days it gets a little dreary and weary.

The role of a Trail Driver, even if they are across the country, is also to make sure that they can help that person manage all of the details that it will take to keep them safe on their journey, supported with the items that they need, and pick them up if there is need. A great Trail Driver can help remove obstacles and put resources to that athlete very quickly.

Mapping is your number one tool. Physical maps are needed on journeys over 50 miles. You will need to see, on one piece of paper, the beginning and the end of that journey, and to be able, long-term, to see how far you’ve traveled. You will need to utilize every form of mapping, Geo location, with a smart phone, and Google maps to identify the physical building that they may need to find. “I’ll meet you at the old post office that’s on the corner of Main and First, and it’s right next to a service station so you “I’ll meet you in the small town.” Mapping does something magical, it allows someone to find out where they are, where they’re going and how much time it will take them, especially when their brain isn’t working right.

Put a map printout at the bottom of their rucksack, and one that they can pull out and use all the time. Losing a single piece of paper is probable. Another tip is to set up the “Find My Phone” application so you can actually Geo locate the phone and you don’t have to call that athlete to be able to find them.

Let someone in that town know you’re coming. Call ahead to either an organization that matches the cause, or a city official. They are going to want to know information; the cause, the name and the information about the person, and approximate times to look out for them. Sometimes I do this so when that day comes, people don’t think this is a crazy vagrant that they have to be fearful of, and sometimes it’s just so they can keep an extra eye out to make sure they don’t get hit on a country road. In small towns across America I have found that having something exciting happen, seeing someone with a dream or that is taking on a challenge to do something greater, is worth coming out for!

Texting is still a tool that allows for people to connect. There will be many times where that person may not be eligible to get that text because of cell service, but at some point they will, and will be glad they have it. If it’s been particularly long and lonely on the road, they’ll gladly interface with it.

Food and types of food matter. You are going to need to have that person focus on anti-inflammatory foods. They, over a series of days will have aches in places they never knew could ache. Orange juice or pineapple juice are foods that they should get to know. There are plenty of menus online that will give you simple items that you can add into their food groups to keep the inflammation down.

Protein is a tool, not just a trend. Having protein to keep muscles building and repairing themselves is going to be critical. A protein-based final meal is going to be a critical tool and how they will recover over the 10-12 hours of being on the road. Their body will want foods that sustain it during the peak hours of exertion, but in their resting state it is going to need all of the energy can get to repair all of the parts of the body that were stressed during the day.

Focus only on the goal for the day. Be the voice of reason. Every day actually has a goal, and every goal has a time that it is completed. When things are feeling boring, overwhelming, or just plain too much, let them know how far they’ve come, how much further they will get in the day, or give them information that will help them locate and find where they’re supposed to be and when in the days going forward.

Editing the rucksack. If they are on a long journey that is over months, you will need to edit the rucksack, and change out any gear that is no longer functional. If that person is a solo athlete, you can actually send gear to a hotel along the way and have it ready for them. I have found that hotels are incredibly helpful, if the athlete is camping and sleeping outside, even the campsite can traditionally get deliveries.

Invite others to the task. If your athlete is covering a lot of physical terrain it is incredibly helpful to invite people to meet them on that terrain at various times and give those people a task. Can you bring extra water? Pack something and meet them there. Those athletes don’t have to have someone with them all the time, but having someone check in with them daily for even as little as 20 minutes will help them keep their sanity on the journey.

In order for people to do great things, they don’t need just courage, they need thoughtful, consistent and persistent support. For those of you who are that support, I personally thank you for making the world a better place.

Trail Well.