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.

Add the Magical Power of Cracked Pepper to Chow Bags

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We will frequently have chow bags ready for athletes at a chow station, and this is an important message: we ALWAYS use a coarsely ground pepper and not a fine pepper, because fine pepper actually can irritate the throat or create a sneezing or coughing episode. 

But the healing powers of cracked pepper are so important to endurance athletes that we want to give you a couple of ideas so that you can add them into your everyday life and not just in Trail Driving.

Here are 10 of the best ideas for using cracked pepper:

1) Toss white ground pepper in fruity trail mix to give depth of flavor. The crunch of the other things and trail mix also hide coarse ground pepper. 

2) Add to brewed tea to get a nice “bite” and drink on the route, and if you’re adding other nutritious benefits it will help the body absorb those too. Double win! 

3) Pizza is delicious at any temperature and adding some into a rucksack is a nice change. Pepper will help keep burping to a minimum. 

4) Morning salad is a real thing! Just twist some pepper on the top to get those nutrients working faster into the bloodstream and not burden the body trying to break down a heavy protein.

5) Sandwiches are always a delicious treat and adding cracked pepper as you would any condiment also hides the coarse grit. 

6) Cracked pepper plays well with brown sugar, so it is a great extra dash to put into oatmeal clusters or homemade granola bars.

7) Molasses cookies have such a tasty buzz, and a little bit of cracked pepper will give a calming on the sweetness of the cookie and meld it with a darker, deeper taste. 

8)  Dehydrated meats and jerky are cosmic alliances with cracked pepper. 

9) Oddly, black pepper goes great with strawberries! Add strawberries to a salad with a dash of pepper – that travels well! 

10) Edamame is lovesick for cracked pepper, and that goes well as a snack on the trail.

Be sure to share with us any of your sacred pepper tricks for fueling yourself or other athletes.  

Trail well!

 

 

Using Pepper as a Tool

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I add pepper to as many items as my athletes will agree to, usually making it a nighttime event, but I will add flecks of it throughout their endurance activities.

The key in this bit of advice is “fresh ground peppercorns.” Just plain pepper can lose its potency very quickly – most people have a can of pepper on their shelf for more than three months.

Whole peppercorns can store indefinitely, and it’s the hard kernel part of the pepper that has the most benefit.

No matter the color of the peppercorn they all will have the same benefits, it just depends on what flavor that you want. Peppercorns are actually a fruit that grows on a vine, and all colors have the same health benefits…green, black or white.

I do want to put a health alert out there for pink peppercorns – they are actually a NUT and will cause a nut allergic reaction. White, green and black peppercorns are my recommendation.

You don’t need to start eating handfuls of pepper, a pinch is enough as a serving. If you’re controlling what an athlete eats for a 24-hour period, it’s easy to get a BIG pinch into their diet.

Pepper is not only an anti-inflammatory but a carminative and what is impressive about that is that it pushes gas DOWN, not up. And that is critical if you have an athlete that gets nauseous, or does not enjoy fueling right away in the morning. An evening meal with fresh pepper will have beneficial agents the next day.

The number one reason I like it on the trail is that it increases bioavailability, AKA the ability for nutrients to get absorbed.  So, it’s a standard add on to salads, greens, veggie smoothies, and even a sandwich.

When athletes are craving salt I just need to add a little pepper and I’ll get a double dose of support. White cracked pepper is especially fantastic on nuts and trail mix.

A little known fact is that pepper also promotes sweating, which is a crucial tool for an endurance athlete.

If I have intrigued you in any way on the topic of pepper, I encourage you to read this link written by the masters of pepper at the Spice Jungle. Spices in general are actually quite interesting.

Trail well.

Finish Line Carbohydrates

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The 30 to 60 minutes after an athlete finishes a course are really important, and many athletes actually feel ill at that point.

When taking care of your athletes, I often give them information before I start trying to shove nutrition down their throat. When I know that we are on our second to the last stop of the day, I traditionally remind people that we will have a recovery tool available for them to eat at the very end and that it’s important for them to try to eat it, even if they are not feeling particularly great.

It is the carbohydrate and protein combination that is truly the elixir of rapid recovery.

Even a small amount of carbohydrates will aid their ability to recover immensely. The rules are fairly easy, you’re going to want about a gram of carbs per 2 pounds of body weight.

The addition of protein will really allow those muscles to start healing. An athlete can take in anywhere from 10 to 20 g of protein at the end of their event.

This is absolutely not the time that you want to try to give them something fatty. The body will not know what to do with that and it can actually make them feel sick.

The fastest way to get all of that in is as simple as a glass of skim milk. My secret weapon is to house a delicious smoothie in the coolers.

They don’t need to slam that beverage, they can just take a cup and sip on it slowly. If they are eligible to eat a cracker that’s great, but just slowly sipping that recovery elixir will really improve their strength immediately.

One of my fondest memories is handing my husband a glass of chocolate milk at a forced rest time at mile 54. He got slaphappy and almost looked drunk from how happy his body was to get protein and carbs. He was only going to mile 60 but it had been a really long day. And in the 30 minutes after getting protein and carbs in, we watched all of his body really start to come alive and his muscles were already starting to utilize that fuel.

For those of you who are managing athletes on a regular basis, you will get to know how their minds work and you will start to put in tools that will help them achieve their final goals.

My point in taking care of the athlete after they finish the finish line is that it is still part of the race. Recovery is as critical as any others set point on the course. They must be able to play again.

Trail well.

Extreme Events

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I have been at a good many extreme events but I do want to give a shout out to the Deadman Peaks Trail Run – if you are planning an event go check it out – I watched that team do a miraculous job on extreme SAG (Supply and Gear) stations!

When you are picking an event one of the things that the athlete is responsible to do is to know who is running that event and to find as many race reports as they can. Extreme events take a ton of training mentally, physically, and sometimes will involve climate training. Even a veteran athlete can crush under courses that they don’t know. 

You should be looking for courses that the leadership team knows very well, an event where dedicated athletes go year after year, and ones that have trained aid workers. 

The reason I give such a huge Kudos to the ENTIRE team at the Deadman Peaks event is that they had thought the whole course through very deeply, right down to a night-before report on where rattlesnakes and cougars were. They had aid stations to manage athletes who were in difficult terrain, climate, and different physical levels. They were also able to manage cuts and scrapes that occurred from difficult terrain. 

The course itself was very difficult and had a lot of elevation changes in it. The team had to manage many different items that were going to come up for those athletes. One of the things that allowed them to be so great at delivering in extreme circumstances was how well they had packed for their athletes. 

Salt pills, electrolytes, pickle juice, chips and every resource imaginable was available, including sunblock! 

They also kept track of the athletes, and these are athletes that had only the aid stations as a way to get off of the course. If they were going to be ill on the course they had to walk it out to get to an aid station.  The aid stations were stacked with multiple people who had a range of skills. 

For those of you who consistently do extreme events you know the value of a great aid station. For those of you who are learning how to support athletes in extreme circumstances I do want to say thank you, because every time you help those athletes move further into their own goals you help someone change their life. You may think you’re just handing them a Coca-Cola but you also are giving them the tools they need to keep going on. 

Congratulations to that event and congratulations to all the finishers. 

Trail Well.

We Love Pie!

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The ability to keep your team wanting to consume fuel is always difficult in long trail activities. So many foods become dicey when the body is in constant distress.

That means a trail driver has to have a few small items that will override their team’s desire to eat.  And I will tell you nothing has made the “Thank Sweet Heaven” list more often than pie.

Now the key is to have a really good looking pie, one that will override any other message that their body is getting. Yes, I am talking about food porn.

Key lime pie can turn the tide on a hot afternoon, plus the few bites they will accept will have a tremendous amount of pure fuel to delight the gut into delivering happy things to the bloodstream as quickly as possible. Tummies like food, and actual food will keep your athletes healthier on the trail.

Over the years we’ve had some other winners – fresh cherry pie in fall, and in cold harsh climates a hot apple pie or oatmeal will win them over.  I absolutely will try to make sure they smell that delicious cinnamon to get them to crave food.  (We will talk about cold trail running in a different blog.)

My advice is to showcase using the powers of sight and smell.  If you have ever smelled a great breakfast that made you hungry, you know exactly what I mean.

Take a minute and set up shop – a bigger pie with smaller takeaway bites so they can choose to just take one bite or pilot an entire piece into the pie hole and settle in with a few extra recovery minutes to sit and enjoy a sweet guilty pleasure.

Pie is your friend.

Trail well.

Heat Cramps

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When you are managing athletes that are possibly in danger of heat exhaustion you want to really ask about how their muscles feel and look for cramping.

Muscles are SUPER particular about how much hydration and salt they have when they are being exerted. When they are out of whack many athletes will get heat cramps, and those cramps can happen in any of their legs or arms. Being hot and tired for an extended period can induce cramps.

Here’s the phrase I will burn forever into your brain :

“It’s time to switch when you see the twitch.”

The earliest sign of heat cramps is a slight little tremor twitch on a muscle, and sometimes the eyeball will give you that first indication. The “switch” part means that you have to switch what the athlete is taking in for beverages – specifically electrolytes and sugars. Six to 12 ounces of sports drinks at a rest stop may not be enough to combat what the body is consuming; 400-800 ML/hour is the optimum rate of liquid intake for an athlete on the trail.

They don’t need just more liquid- they need fuel. Look to salty broth mixtures with heavy carbohydrates to aide the body’s consumption. Over hydration will exasperate the problem plus lead to rapid nausea, and nothing is more disgusting than a surprise liquid splashing chow-blowing. If they get dizzy and blow, they have too much water and not enough fuel.

A heat cramp later on (from over extension) can be signaled when an athlete lilts, weaves, or changes gait without even knowing it because they are hyper focused on their endurance goal.

Heat cramps also come in the abdomen but we will cover those in a different blog because abdomen cramps can mean a lot of things.  FYI parents – I see abdominal heat cramps a lot more in younger athletes (pre-teen/high school) and it is misdiagnosed on the sports field frequently. “My stomach hurts” is usually a common heat cramp from overexertion in youth.

Most cramps come from muscle tightness, but heat cramps are actually easy to identify. Tension cramps are from a type of tightness, and in the onset a tension cramp will “snap” in and feel like a knot. The biggest way to know if it is heat related or tension related is when rubbing doesn’t actually help and the larger muscle is having spasms. Heat cramps will NOT subside until the body has been cooled and the correct amount of water and salt is replaced into the muscle. That can take more than 30 minutes, so trail drivers will have to pay attention to early onset and keeping athletes regularly cooled down.

Heat cramps are a warning sign that the athlete is approaching heat exhaustion, so it’s a really good idea to use an external cool down method as well as an internal hydration method.

Immediately get out of direct sunlight.
Try to cool the entire body.
Give clear juice like apple.
Give sports drink with electrolytes.
Broth mixtures (with marrow) are also good.

Wrapping athletes in ice soaked towels will help manage core temperature, but the relief won’t come until the muscle has been put back in equilibrium.

If an athlete is going to try to run through heat cramps they absolutely need to be taking in sports liquids with heavy carbs, but if those cramps are more than an hour long they will have to shut down and rest in order to get relief.

To keep them on the trail remember “It’s time to switch when you see the twitch.”

Trail well.