What is a SAG Wagon?

As someone who has been supporting athletes while they create some of the greatest triumphs of their lives, I will tell you the SAG wagon is not for those who are sagging behind – it is short for “Supply and Gear” or internationally, “Support Aid Group.”

We are seeing a huge increase in those who choose to serve as Trail Drivers – those who actually mange and drive the trail alongside endurance athletes. Because there are more and more people who are choosing to push their bodies further and further in the exploration of endurance activities, we are seeing the support systems around those athletes really get better.

bmw-1216469_1920Having a support system is absolutely crucial for athletes to achieve many of their hardest fought victories.

The supply and gear needed for tours of athletes to move on a journey is one of the most critical mental and physical supports that you can put with a team. A great Trail Driver can give information, manage medical issues, offer trail support (including nutrition), review gear, and snub disasters off before they start.

Leading a team from behind takes a continuous amount of planning and great leadership upfront. Those that choose that role choose to be thoughtful, ever ready, and are there to support endurance athletes through the worst times.

As Master Trail Driver I can tell you that you will sit through some of an athlete’s worst times the longer you trail drive.

I have been the support for all of my husband’s crazy endeavors, and if you are trail driving for someone you love, you will have to trust that they can make their own decisions about their body.

If you are trail driving for a team you can be the difference between an athlete completing a race or not by having the right amount of fuel, keeping track of time, watching over the weather, managing small injuries so they don’t increase, and more.

You also have a chance at being the voice that assures the athlete that they can meet their own goals.

Out of all the crazy events that I have been on there has never been a time I wasn’t in awe of the endurance and dedication that an athlete puts into reaching their goals.

Trail well.

Blood on the Trail: The Ins and Outs of Latex

Supporting an ultra athlete is a sometimes thankless, often tireless, and forever rewarding job, and that goes double for when you’re out on the trail. You, and you alone, will inevitably find yourself serving as not just cheerleader but makeshift medic, slapdash sports therapist, and ad hoc nutritionist — or at least lunch lady (and for those of the male persuasion, lunch lad).

That’s why there’s a piece of gear I never leave home without: latex gloves.Industrial-latex-gloves

And I’m not just talking about that prissy little pair in your handy-dandy medical kit. What I’m getting at is industrial-strength, properly fitted gloves, and a giant box of ‘em at that.

For the quick-and-dirty doc, there’s nothing worse than trying to take care of a little road rash without a pair. Trust me, there’ll be road rash…and a bloody nose or two…and some ungodly chafing…and a fair share of blisters to pop. Yeah, I think you get where I’m headed. Ultra athletes have a habit of getting bloody.

But the necessity of latex gloves doesn’t stop at blood.

They can be super helpful for putting on waterproofing after bandaging up even the nastiest of wounds. And in a pinch, they can sure substitute for a traditional tourniquet…though you’d probably need to be a nudist or something because an article of clothing can always do the trick.

Besides medical emergencies, latex gloves can also help with food and beverage duties, like serving up veggies or chips and dredging out the bottom of that disgusting cooler — not to mention, cleaning up the occasional vomit off your new pair of shoes (it’s been known to happen to me on more than one occasion).

And let’s not forget one of the more important uses, especially for those female road warriors like myself. Latex gloves ain’t half bad for touching up your roots while out on the road.

Buy a box or two before the next race or marathon. Better yet, buy a whole bunch when they go on sale. You won’t be sorry. And the next time you glove up, think of me. I may just be down the road, doing the same.

Trail well.

Blowing Chunks: A Trail Driver’s Guide to Managing Pukers

When trail driving in the heat, in the humidity, and for trails of great distance, someone will inevitably throw up, and, nine times out of ten, they will do it right in front of your supply station.

It’s as if the act of stopping is such a shock to the system that the body responds by ridding the stomach of all its contents.

Unfortunately, few (if any) warning signs exist. Most athletes look hot and tired anyway, so you can’t really use either as indicators. What’s more, you never know how fast that vomit will fly out of a person’s mouth (or nose, for that matter). You’ll always be caught unawares.

In other words, don’t wear your favorite shoes — unless, of course, you’re looking for a reason to buy a new pair. Then, more power to ya!mabel amber

If you find yourself dealing with a puker, and you eventually will, I recommend doing the following:

1. Let ‘em blow. When someone has to puke, there’s not much you can do about it. Just let the person puke until he gets it all out of his system.

2. Hydrate. As soon as he throws up, he’ll likely start feeling better. It’s at this time when you can start managing hydration.

3. Move the truck. You don’t want make everyone else stand in someone else’s vomit, so move the truck and supply station at least a good six feet forward.

Before attending to the location of your supply station, pay attention for any symptoms that may indicate a serious problem. And though most athletes will know whether they’ve passed the point of no return, so to speak, it never hurts to have an extra set of eyes.

If the athlete’s pupils are highly dilated, he’s experiencing abdominal cramping, or can’t manage his body temperature, pull him off the course. It’s more serious than just being a puker.

That’s pretty much it. Enjoy your next trail drive!

Trail well.

Man-Sweat Unattended (or the Benefit of Gigantic Towels for a Trail Driver)

Until I had to manage an ultra athlete other than my husband, Mark, I never quite grasped the pungent, repugnant power of man-sweat. I’m not talking about your garden-variety perspiration that a quick swipe of the shirtsleeve can bring to an end, but that funky man-sweat that only crops up after an athlete stops moving.

It’s like the body just decides that it’s going to let go of all its fluids at once just to cool the person down (as a side note, I now can totally see why you risk dehydration after a marathon, but that’s a conversation for another day).

The turning point for me with the odiferous world of man-sweat came when we were running a two-person relay. I let an athlete sit in my seat to transport him. It had much more legroom, and we were managing an injury.unsplash

I put the athlete in the front seat, moved to the backseat, and took maybe an eight-minute journey to the hotel. It was a choice that has forever and hellaciously changed my life —or at least my attitude about letting someone use my seat.

I hopped back into the passenger side to head back to the race and suddenly felt as if I’d just taken the ALS ice bucket challenge. Honestly, I’ve never been so completely soaked in another person’s sweat in a more disgusting way.

It’s not that the wetness bothered me. If I’d spilled a drink, drying off would’ve been the only thing necessary. But funky man-sweat? Two “Silkwood” showers and change of wardrobe wouldn’t come close to ridding the memory of what was now seeping into my skin.

Needless to say, I’ve now added gigantic beach towels to my trail driver kit from that day forward. They’re more than a necessity; they’re a requirement.

Actually, I’m also debating about investing in a small tarp for an added layer. And I recommend you do the same — otherwise your life won’t be all that dry or happy.

Trail well.

Rain Management: A Trail Driver’s Best Friend

Rain, rain, go away. Come again another day…because you just make a nasty, muddy mess of the athletes and the trails.

Normally, I’m pretty indifferent about rain. It is what it is. But on the trail? That’s another story. It makes everything not only dirty but smelly. And if you’re at a multi-day event, that smelliness is coming right with you to the hotel room. Not the most desirable sleeping conditions if you ask me.pezibear

But that’s not necessarily the point of this post. The reason I bring up rain is you need to develop a management plan for inclement weather as a trail driver, and this often includes:

1. Discuss in advance. If rain is in the forecast, decide what severity in weather conditions to pull your athletes off the trail. This’ll make cutting the team simple and is actually the easiest thing that could happen to you.

2. Equip the support vehicle. Water spreads misery and stink in support vehicles, so you’ll need supplies to manage the rain. Don’t just bring an extra set of clothes for each athlete — or a stack of towels. Bring a whole roll of garbage bags to contain the dirt and stench of wet, muddy clothing.

3. Monitor your athletes’ feet. Repeatedly moving in wet shoes makes everything blister. Pack moleskin or other protective measures to buffer the friction points between shoes and feet.

4. Take care of their shoes. There will come a point in the race when athletes will want to change their shoes. As soon as they pass them to you, wash off the mud. Then, just leave them open and loose to dry.

5. Buy stock in paper towels. Even though athletes don’t obviously run on their hands, everywhere they touch will get mud on it. Wipe down areas that the team comes in contact with regularly with moist paper towels.

6. Kick up the heat. Rain can make everyone cold and grouchy, including athletes, so let the vehicle heat up to high heat. They can warm their hands and take the chill off of the bones.

7. Slow down. You’re not part of the race, so take it slow. You’ll absolutely slip and slide right under the supply vehicle if you’re moving too fast (and I’ll give you one guess on how I know).

8. Monitor weather patterns. You may already know it’s raining, but you’ll want to keep track of its progress. Knowing this is critical to managing the direction of those athletes, and you may have to pull them to a different trail to keep them on higher ground.

Rain is always a drag on the trail. But when it’s managed, everything will go smoothly. Plus, it comes with an added bonus. The team will inevitably move slower, and there’s nothing better than having a minute to sit back, watch the rain, and think.

Trail well.

Heat Exhaustion: Do You Know the Warning Signs?

As a trail driver, I like to joke about all the crazy and funny things that athletes do on and off the trail. Band-Aids on the nipples, wearable tech on almost every appendage, and something called the runner’s trots — not to mention the shoes. My husband has more shoes than me, and don’t get me started on the socks. I swear he’s got like 30 pair.

greenfingerThat said, I do want to remind you that the person managing athletes has one very important responsibility: to watch over them. While heat exhaustion is a beast that we all hope to tame, the fact of the matter is it can be deadly.

Recognizing Heat Exhaustion

Obviously, it’s up to you as a trail driver to recognize the signs of exhaustion in your athletes.

These signs can vary, but some of the most common include:

  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Pale skin
  • Fatigue
  • Profuse sweating
  • Muscle cramping
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

Some athletes may also experience rapid heartbeat, dark-colored urine, fainting, or a lack of sweat. If you notice any one or more of these symptoms, the responsibility rests on your shoulders to pull them off the trail. Be the voice of reason.

Treating Heat Exhaustion

If exhaustion is related to heat, cool them off as fast and as furiously as possible. I traditionally have a towel that I put on the very bottom of the cooler for just this time. It’s wet, dripping, and frosty, but it does the trick. A portable fan can also help the situation.

It’s also important to get fluids into their system. Water or sports drinks are your best options.

Avoid alcohol and caffeine. It’s also not a bad idea to get some food into their system, especially salty foods, like crackers or pretzels.

From there, remove any and all tight fitting or unnecessary clothing. If these measures don’t improve symptoms or provide relief within 15 minutes, make sure they get emergency medical attention.

Trail well.

Understanding How Athletes Can Thrive in Pain

If you’ve never seen someone push his or her body to the absolute limit for personal satisfaction, you’ve never been a trail driver. Not familiar with the name? We’re the ones that run the supply in gear wagons. We’re also the ones who make sure endurance athletes get to their destination, managing all the details along that lengthy, winding road.  

If you’re choosing to volunteer for this unpaid pastime, understand that you’re a critical member of the team — not an added benefit.

Simply being available at an aid station is actually the smallest part of your job. Besides handing them their next glass of water, trail drivers are really the lifelines to keeping athletes healthy and moving toward their goal. You serve as the voice of reason. You also act as cheerleader, tour guide, photographer, statistician, reporter, admin, medic, and even savior.

Told ya! There’s a lot resting on your shoulders.

Veterans to the trail may not get a lot out of the rest of this post, but those new to the world of trail driving will find it useful and could prove to be an epic warning of things to come.

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Endurance athletes have a weird, twisted sense of what’s doable when in pain, and this mindset doesn’t come close to matching that of normal humanity. I’ve watched people literally run with broken bones, blown-out knees, and blisters the size of New Hampshire.

To them, the largest monster to overcome is the mind. If they’re able to conquer the mind, they often believe they can do anything.

Because of this, endurance athletes make a habit of tricking their bodies into moving forward when it looks like it shouldn’t.  Every time they push though and overcome awful obstacles, they get some sort of mental merit badge. Just make sure you let them win it (and wear it, for that matter).

But this badge doesn’t mean they’re not thinking about the pain and tiredness — as well as that pesky little word that often comes with both: NO.

Whenever interacting with athletes, you want to tell them more good news. Anything that’s good news will help get them to the next place. Look for anything positive to tell them, like the trail is clear, the wind is at your back, or the like.

As athletes close in on the finish line, they’ll put up with insanely miserable physical and mental conditions just to reach that goal. Give them the tools to live through it. It’s part of the job.

Trail well.