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.

Distance for a Cause – The Spiritually Driven Athlete – Part 1

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THANK YOU to all of you who are supporting athletes in their courageous efforts. The world is definitely a healthier and more spirited place because of you.

Many people across the country are choosing to do amazing feats to bring attention to cause, or create a piece of change in the world that they want to see. Many of these are athletes who would not normally take on gigantic physical challenges regularly, but are feeling called to action.

Supporting those I call “spiritually driven athletes” is uniquely different than supporting an athlete who is training every day for a specific distance. Those longer duration athletes are usually participating in multi-day experiences and they are packing rucksack gear on themselves so they can be alone for long periods of time. They will have to be a modern-day MacGyver and medic.

I will break this into a few entries so that I can cover a few different parts of this unique individual path. The first is just a quick list of some backpack items that your athlete will want to add that they may have not thought of, and I did save the weirdest one for the very last, so read them all.

  1. Smart phone and two emergency quick chargers. Phones and chargers do not like extreme weather conditions, be sure to not to store these where they’re going to have the sun beating down on them directly.
  2. Plastic rain poncho that’s really small, really light, and completely effective. It is also a great tool to be able to sit down on something when it’s wet out and be able to keep dry, they look like a giant garbage bag. If you have the space it’s worth having more than one.
  3. Mini umbrella. It is the best thing to make sure you have shade no matter where you are and it can cover your entire body. It is so fantastic to just sit in the shade and have that ability no matter where you are. It will change the temperature around that body by 10° within a few seconds.
  4. Giant safety pins. Things break and you need them to keep working. Nothing works faster than pinning things together. They can also hold little parts that may have fallen off, and they are amazing at picking out thorns, stingers and glass, plus they can even fix a pair of eyeglasses.
  5. Ziploc bag – quart size. You just won’t believe how many things you’ll use that bag for. It can be a trash bag, it can hold wet gear, it can hold rations, it can also be the Holy Grail of keeping clothes dry in torrential rain.
  6. A tiny bottle of high-quality dish soap. It is amazing how much a drop of Dawn dishwashing soap will clean. It’s perfect in a sink at a rest stop to quickly wash up, wash the clothes out in it, tidy up actual dishes, get germs out of water bottles, and it keeps your hair squeaky clean with just two drops.
  7. Extra pens and sticky notes. Everyone is going to need to write something down at some point and a huge notebook is cumbersome, most of the time it’s leaving somebody a piece of information or jotting something down for later.
  8. Hard candy. Many times those athletes will be going on extra long durations but have no access to new water or food, so just having a hard candy can help keep thirst down. Minty is always better than sour, but my recommendation is a wide variety of flavors (but keep the minty ones separate because they will taint all the other flavors). Also it is extremely helpful when you’re going to go a long time without eating or have a nagging cough that won’t let you sleep.
  9. Durable toenail clipper. This can also be used as a scissors in an emergency, it can get packages open, and it’ll actually trim your talons. We prefer the kind that has the tiny nail file that pulls out so you can also use it to dig things out like a stinger, or cut out thorns. It should be able to easily cut through a common kitchen match to be worthy.
  10. Hard box of waxed dental floss, the old-fashioned kind that comes with a cutter built-in. Waxed dental floss can do a multitude of things, like floss your teeth, but it can tie things together, be braided and turned into a stronger rope, it will keep things attached to your bag, and it’s amazing how often you’ll need string. It’s cheap, so get the longest footage.
  11. Portable knife, something that folds up. You can use it to do all sorts of things, but there will be a time when something needs to be cut like a sandwich, stupid things that won’t open when your fingers don’t work, or to alter a piece of clothing because it’s not working. Always opt for a knife over scissors.
  12. Emergency lighter (not for what you think). Emergency lighters are far better than a box of matches because it’s like having 10 boxes of matches. It’s incredibly helpful because they fix frayed ends. A quick light with a small torch will fix all fraying shoelaces, burn wood-ticks, light prayer candles, or they could start an actual fire. Get the full-size.
  13. Small jar of Vaseline. Things rub and it’s a pisser. If you are going to be in a high heat situation make sure you put that in a plastic Ziploc and keep it out of the direct sunlight or it will melt. That said, Vaseline can melt 1000 times and still be good.
  14. Fat piece of sidewalk chalk. It is helpful so that in dry climates you can leave a mark to know that you’ve been on that trail, or to be able to write for help, and to be able to just send a fun message. You can also use this as a way to mark the terrain so that someone in a car can have a clue that you were on that path. Random tip – when leaving a chalk mark for someone to find, also leave the time that you left it. I personally draw a heart with the time in it.
  15. A small compact mirror. Yes you do want to see how pretty you are (I softly imagine that you look into the mirror expecting to see Rapunzel and out comes Rumplestiltskin), but it is extremely helpful to get a vantage point view of places that you can’t normally see (like where the sun doesn’t shine), to get dust or rock out of your eye, but it is also a safety item for someone to be able to find you as you create a lightbeam to show where you are located. So very MacGyver-ish.
  16. Triple antibiotic ointment with pain killer. Things are going to get irritated and the tiny bit of painkiller in there is just enough to stop the mental aggravation. Store with your Vaseline, that way even if they both melt and leak into each other you still have a usable item.
  17. Handkerchief. What an all-around fantastic tool. It will be great for covering nose and mouth when gnats are particularly awful, it also carries things, is a reusable wipe, covers a scrape so that it will stop bleeding (so it won’t attract biting flies), and keeps sun off a specific area like the back of your neck. Plus it can keep your hair from matting down on your forehead.
  18. A teeny tiny spatula for cookies on the trail! That actually was just a lie, but you do need the spatula. It is a crazy thing to have, but you can use it to spread things, put ointment on a large scrape without really touching it a lot, or getting something that is stuck out, like Vaseline. It acts like a stick if you have to get something out of a crevice like the (stupid Apple earbuds), and can also double as an eating utensil.
  19. Something that amplifies sound, like a bell, whistle, or other tool that can help with location identification. But it is also a great tool to keep a dog back (or something else that is bothering or annoying them). Country roads all have dogs who have never seen a leash. Keep it near and easily available.
  20. I did save the weirdest one for the last…polyester pillow batting. It is available in every fabric store, but it can pad a shoe very differently than cheesecloth. It is very helpful to keep some things lifted and away (prevents chafing), so having a little bit of batting will do that. It’s also reusable day after day, and you can wash it out and let it dry and it will fluff up.

Trail Well.

Multi-day Endurance Events: Setting Up Camp for the Hotel

 

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Trail drivers for events that are longer than 50 miles in a day or over a series of days have the extra task of managing morning and evening needs of the athlete on top of managing the endurance part of the athlete’s event.

You will often be working in tandem with two people in the supply gear wagon. To support endurance athletes to get through an event that is multi-day, it really is helpful to have a second person or second vehicle. If you are supporting a team, that can mean preparing for transferring the athletes at the end of day and managing medical needs throughout the day.

When I say managing medical needs, sometimes that is simply having called in advance to the towns that you are moving through and knowing if there’s a massage therapist available, or having one that can be delivered to the hotel at the end of day.

The preparation for the hotel is usually that the trail driver themselves has a larger room where all of the athletes can come to to get needed care either immediately or throughout the evening.

It is also the room that you will prepare for the next day, clean up from the existing day, and make the largest mess in.  You will always need the Trail Driver’s room to have some amenities like a bathtub, be near an ice machine, have extra towels, and an extra trash receptacle. It is also going to be a very good idea to prepare to leave the cleaning staff a cash tip in the morning, because those rooms will take them longer to clean. I would plan on about five dollars per athlete usage.

Ordering ice in advance is the best idea – you will want to order a case of ice prior to 1 PM, because every hotel at 3 PM has rooms that are now checking in and that is when the most ice is pulled out is from 3 to 7 PM. Ordering ice ahead guarantees you will have enough.

Preparing ice baths: I do have a different blog post on just the basics of an ice bath, but you want to prepare for ice cold water, about 50° that the athlete is in and out of in eight minutes.  If you are icing for the purpose of managing muscle tears, then have them come in right off the road and go directly to the ice bath so they can dip in and out multiple times, and have a bed that can manage them cooling down naturally.

You will need about 10 additional towels per athlete if you are ice bathing or soaking over an evening. They will need them to cover the floor, to cover themselves, to lay over the bed. Ten towels is really how much more work you’re leaving for the hotel per athlete. If the hotel does not have a way for you to order additional towels, your next option is to go to the pool area and use pool towels.

Ordering hot food: many times these events are going through small towns and are in hotels that don’t have restaurants attached to them. Someone will have to find out what the dinner plan will be and find out how to pick that food up and have it brought back to the hotel.

Having a nutritious and healthy meal at the end of the day will absolutely make the difference in how the morning is going to go, and it is also your time to pre-order food for the morning trail.

Lights out and lights on, putting those athletes to bed as quickly as possible with a full meal and all their medical needs met will give them more recovery for the next day. The fastest you can get them to bed and into a full body recovery the more they’ll have for the road the next day.

Trail well.

Photographers and Selfies

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This is a time in the world that people want to remember events, and extreme events are specially exciting.

I will tell you that no one looks great while they’re performing strenuous acts. So if you’re going to be taking a lot of photographs on the trail, give people a heads up so they can smile and not look like they’re feeling as awful as they probably are.

I also see a lot of photographers come to events to get endurance imagery. What I will  do for those photographers is let them know the check points that I will be at, give them any tools or tips on the trail that they will want such as lighting and time, and give them my schedule.

If that photographer is going to have many points on the course I will actually send them with a walkie-talkie. That way they can communicate back to the main Trail Driver any information that they are finding out on the trail. They may spot an athlete in trouble, a road that has trouble, or an area that may have been flooded. Giving the photographer permission to be another helpful set of eyes on the trail can be very helpful.

I do remind photographers that they must keep their equipment and themselves out of the way of athletes. I can’t have them interrupting the pattern of an athlete, the course of an athlete, or having an athlete trip to try to get out of their way. I will frequently look them in the eye and remind them that it is dangerous for them on that road, and their safety is also important.

If you’ve ever had a bicyclist going very fast crash into you it’s pretty awful. And it’s definitely going to ruin the mood of the day.

What is a huge win for everyone is that in today’s world photographers are able to get their images back to the athlete as close to real time as possible, and the photographer is able to get the images that they’re looking for. A Trail Driver can not only help the photographer, but can utilize the photographer as another tool on the trail. The Trail Driver will always want to know who is on the trail, why they are there and when they’re going to be there. Frequently photographers are going out ahead of the team so they will actually see details of the trail even before the trail runner does.

And be sure to snap a picture with the photographer – they rarely have pictures of themselves!

Trail well.

Binoculars and Colorful Flag Matter

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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.

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.

Dirty Thirsty – Dusty Roads

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Dust on a trail can do lots of things, it can bring your athletes to a different kind of thirsty. Dirty Thirsty is when you’re in a dusty land that is also thirsty. 

If it’s dirty and hot your breath starts to kind of stick to the back of your mouth and your lips start to crack

The other thing that happens is that athletes start to breathe differently because they’re trying to not cough.

Rule number one when working in dirty thirsty areas is to give those athletes a hard candy or something to suck on so that they don’t breathe through their mouth.

Teach them to practice rinsing their mouth before swallowing, or to rinse out their mouth on the trail regularly. Rinsing will instantly calm them.

Dirty thirst starts to bring on a level of tension in the head area when they are going long distances. If you ever felt like a new human being when you got out of the shower you will understand the need to rinse your mouth in the dusty terrain. 

Remind them that nose breathing is critical to avoid getting dirt thirst. This will be a difficult task if any of those athletes are also trying to manage mild allergies on the terrain. 

At each roadside stop you will want toothbrushes and some sort of mouthwash or toothpaste.  

Remember trail drivers, your job is to support each athlete during what is often the most difficult personal and emotional circumstance that they could put themselves in. Your service to that team or individual will allow them to move farther and faster than they could without you.

Trail well.