Humor on the Trail

ryan mcguire emotions

This is a personal requirement, because sometimes it’s really tense for the athletes and humor is a delicate but helpful tool.

I remind people the reason I use humor is because it’s going to give them a shot of dopamine to laugh. A little bit of laughter on that trail can give them a punch that can help them get through times that are strenuous or mentally challenging. I will frequently add this in my night-before Trail Driver meeting. I also invite them to make me laugh.

I also remind them about how to use humor on the course. Nothing can be more irritating than a clown when you are crashing mentally, so I remind people to use humor in ways that are thoughtful and not demeaning.

Just sending a smile to someone who is crashing will sometimes force them to smile back at you. Even that smile will help them come out of what may be depression on the trail.

A kind word and a big smile can go a long way, but a fairly awful joke that makes you laugh can stick with you for miles.

Laughter is medicine and it’s also a fabulous painkilling drug.

Trail well.

The Mind is Medicine


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.

Trail well.

Scratches and Brush Bites


If your team is moving through a terrain that has a lot of vegetation you will sometimes have to manage brush bites. 

That is when the vegetation itself sticks to or bites the athlete themselves. I see this a lot when an athlete is in a hurry to go to the restroom and gets a little too focused on relieving themselves, ignoring or being oblivious to their real surroundings.

Brush bites can be from anything, they can be poisonous, they can bleed and swell, they can also be a gourmet invitation for every biting fly known to mankind. 

As soon as I see that there is going to be biting brush on a terrain I will remind people of the importance of not letting vegetation touch them. Falling or getting scraped up from the terrain in an area where there are flies can make for a miserable existence when the trail is going slow. 

Your basic first aid will be extremely helpful for brush bites, look to see if anything has punctured or entered the skin and remove it, washing the area, covering it from further exposure. If there’s no cover available for the scrape then a topical ointment with petroleum base may be your only bandage (Neosporin, Vaseline).

Continue to check brush bites for swelling and itching. That will let you know if you’re going to need to use some Benadryl. 

If itching is going to make that athlete crazy you will want to give them a tool to divert their thoughts away from the itching. A simple mind tool where they focus on something else will help make the itch go away.  

So far I have seen no one who has thrown their time or had to quit from a brush bite but it sure has annoyed them. 

Trail well.

The Brain Game of Catchy Tunes

heissenstein ghettoblaster-1225920A trail driver has many unique roles on the trail and one of them is being an infectious DJ.

And I mean that word infectious. Arm yourself with a diverse playlist that is filled with songs that will roll around in those athletes’ heads for miles and miles. If you’ve ever tried to get “Eye of the Tiger” or “We are the Champions” out of your head, you know that sometimes it stays for days.

A great song at a rest stop can invite that athlete to go further. I will often drive up next to the team with the windows down and music blazing to let them know how far up the trail I will be. Music that’s catchy can give them some mental bonus points while they are refreshing, and it will infect them with positive brain chatter for the miles to come.

Now I will warn you upfront that the gender of the athlete will decide whether or not your playlist is great.  Men have a very different playlist than women do. Know your team and know their favorites. You’re always looking for songs that have a hook that will keep replaying in their mind with positive anthems i.e. “We are the Champions,” “I’m a MF Beast,” “I’m Too Sexy,” “Pour Some Sugar on Me”… You know the list.

Rock on Trail Driver.

Trail well.

Good Clean Fun!

public domain water

Let me introduce you to the beloved “Squirt Shower.”

Outdoor athletic activities can be messy and dirty. A great trail driver will do everything in their power to keep their athletes feeling like they can do the impossible, and sometimes that’s all about being squeaky clean.

Grizzled endurance athletes absolutely want you to think that they don’t want to be babied, but they really do.  So when they’re coming in for a rest stop be sure to offer a way to clean them up.

When an athlete is out on the trail and sweating, every disgusting bit of the world is going to stick to them: everything from pollen, cotton, dirt, rocks, sap, hay, sand, clay, and gnats will adhere itself to legs, necks, backs and arms.  And if you’ve ever done a road trip across the country and looked at your windshield, you can imagine how many bugs hit athletes.

That’s why I always keep about six squirt showers ready for athletes during a rest stop. Make sure the bottles are easy to squeeze because athletes will have a difficult time squeezing hard because of the nature of how the body is going to move blood flow during athletic performance. Fingers don’t get as much good blood flow as hearts and lungs do. Have squirt top bottles that are filled with 99.5% water and a little bit of unscented dish soap.

Now if you’ve never had somebody wash you off I’m going to tell you right now, I am brutally serious about the NO scent part. Nobody wants to smell like a Hawaiian vacation on the road and it will make them hate you, PLUS it can make them nauseous (and for those of you who have read my blog over time there’s nothing more disgusting to manage than chow blowing).

It really is a quick and easy love-up by lightly squirting down a towel and wiping them off, or having them sit with feet raised so they don’t get their shoes wet while you squirt directly on their legs or arms. That will clean off the environmental goo that has attached to them. The goal is to just get the road debris off of them and get them back on the road.

If you’ve ever gone into the shower as a disgusting, grunting, dirt pile in bad mood and come out a refreshed and a boldly better human being, you will completely understand the power of the squirt shower.

Trail well.

Choosing and Plot Pointing Where to Meet Up with Endurance Athletes on a Trail

When choosing to meet athletes on an endurance trail, the first thing to do is get as detailed of a paper map as you possibly can to chart the course out on a physical piece of paper. A GPS is not going to work in all areas. Cell phones fail and so do GPS systems on cars.

When plotting out the spaces, the first 10 miles of the trail do not rmap-455769_1280equire as
many trail stops as the distances will over 20 miles. From 20 miles forward, the SAG (Support and Gear wagon) should plan on an appearance every 3 to 4 miles.

That distance is going to depend on the safety of the athletes and where they can physically pull off away from traffic, or where a car can meet them.

Great places to stop are also places that have facilities like gas stations or parks with portable bathrooms.

If you are doing a road race that is going to put you against the freeway, then you are always looking to pull those athletes off the freeway into safety zones. Do not just stop on the side of the road or in a ditch with your emergency blinkers on. Look for places that you can turn the car off of the main road that is very light with travel – a dirt road is perfect, and will give that runner enough space where they can see oncoming traffic and spot the vehicle.

One of the things that I will frequently do is post a paper version of the road map on top of one of the coolers so that the athletes can track exactly where they are on the course, and they can have a mental image of when they will see the SAG again next.

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.


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.