For endurance athletes and teams that are putting themselves in conditions that are personally and medically pushing boundaries, the last thing they will want is to be pulled off the course.
One of the things that I remind all trail drivers when they are servicing endurance athletes is that if it looks painful to you it’s probably not painful enough for that athlete to quit. They are out there to push their limits to places that most people would not consider.
You are there to make sure that they come out alive. And I mean that literally.
For these athletes, before we even set foot on the trail, we come up with a code word or someway in advance to agree when they have lost their mind, or when they are medically unable to continue.
There also has to be an agreement in advance that they will trust you that when you “call it” that they have to stop. And you will have to trust that athlete to know what their personal boundary is and that they can recognize it when they need to pull out. During that agreement time I will usually give a list of items that will make me immediately pull them from the course and those are traditionally the signs of a heart attack, stoke, or medical emergency.
Many times simply resting, or managing water, or a nutrient review will give that athlete enough to continue forward. I never threaten to pull someone from the course, I only invite the idea of rest so they don’t have to get pulled from the course. I also, during times of complete fatigue, give them a time limit that tells them when I will be managing their health check points. “If you’re still listing sideways or unable to keep your balance I need you to just sit down and I’ll come get you. I will be watching you in three minute intervals.”
What that simple piece of information does for the athlete is it also lets them know within three minutes if they’re getting better. That sometimes is all the help they need to keep going forward. It only takes about three minutes for food, hydration, or rest to start working for that athlete.
It also gives you a short enough time for the athlete to work out in their head that we have to go for medical.
If you are trail driving on a terrain that has limited road access, you will want to be sure to pack a set of binoculars and flag-pack your athletes. That means putting a square that is at least 12″ x 12″ on them to use in an emergency situation.
It has to be large enough to see it through binoculars with them waving it. I try to make them a color that is so unique that I will see it against the terrain. If you’re in a desert bloom, yellow is a terrible idea. If you’re in a red rock canyon the color red is also a terrible idea. So my advice to trail drivers is to know your terrain color, and then look for a completely different color for the flags.
No matter what the athletes are doing in that terrain – mountain biking, hiking, climbing and/or running – you will need to put on the athlete a single flag that will allow you to see them through a set of binoculars to send them help. Sometimes I will tie this on a bike, put it in their rucksack, or let them use it as a headband.
If the trail driver will not have access to them with a vehicle, or have very limited access, you will want to have a secondary trail driver there with some sort of bike or small motorized vehicle to be able to get to them on the trail. Always pack the main vehicle with everything that you need. That gives any additional trail support a central location that they can gravitate towards to get any additional supplies that they need .
On particularly rough terrains we will often send a trail runner on the trail with all of the medical needs and sometimes tools, and have a roadside team awaiting at specific areas. This is where walkie-talkies can be a magical addition to binoculars.
Be sure to send a set of binoculars with anyone who is going to have to search for an athlete on a trail that is more than a mile away. In a pinch I have watched people use an iPhone camera to take a picture of an area, then zoom in with their fingers so they can visually search the area that way.
Trail drivers should be scanning the terrain every few minutes depending on how difficult the terrain itself is.
I was talking to an athlete and asking him how they get through extreme events when suffering with pain.
What I got back was something I hadn’t expected – the use of imaginary medicine!
The athlete had a mind technique that is really quite good, and I’m going to share it with all of you. They prepare an imaginary stash of mental painkiller that is located in their body and that does not run out. When they feel pain they start to identify if they need their body to send pain killer to that area. And then they just start imagining pain killer from their body being sent to that area.
Sometimes they imagine a few drops, sometimes it’s multiple doses over miles.
“Does that work?” I ask in astonishment. The response I got back was a gigantic smile and a YES head shake.
What I love about this technique is it gives the mind a chance to check in with the body and work together to get through extreme circumstances. It also helps the body know that this pain does not have to stay, it’s been noticed and it should settle down because much more will be required.
Using mind techniques to manage pain has been used for millennia. Using the power of the body and mind connection is a quick tool that every athlete can take with them, wherever they go.
When you are pushing your body to new limits it IS a brain game, and having as many tools as you can to use when you need them is not just a good idea, it is sometimes the only way to finish.
Plus in this case there’s no prescription refill needed, it never runs out!
If you have other mind tricks to manage pain while on the trail please leave them in the comments section so everyone can pick them up.