This is the most frequent question I get in running a support vehicle. Why would you choose to do this task because it is a lot of work and sometimes it’s a little bit miserable.
I started doing trail driving because I happened to marry a crazy idiot that loved endurance running. My concern for him on the trail and his deep desire to not be “concerned for” made me have to have a new relationship with people who are going to test their body to limits that are medically questionable.
After you get about five endurance events under your belt you start to realize that the support that you give to athletes is sometimes the missing tool that they need to be able to reach new limits. Having support while you are doing a crazy stunt or a physically intolerable task will be the difference between a victory, not even trying, or a DNF ticket home.
I have never had an athlete NOT tell me that they weren’t glad to see my tires pulling past them on the trail.
My inner secret is that it is downright impressive to watch people take on physical tasks and mental challenges like this. It is inspiring and downright humbling to see humans achieve in very physical ways.
I am not an endurance athlete but I am an excellent chaos manager. And with great management, athletes can perform in ways that they themselves did not know was possible.
There is never a night that I go back to my hotel room that I am not just downright impressed with the strength of humanity.
I could live without the stink though.
When you are trail driving in areas that have high elevation and a lot of sun you’ll want to watch out for elevation burning.
It is also called sun poisoning, but it’s where you see (usually on the arms of an athlete) what looks like sunburn but has teeny white dots in it. Those white dots will be right underneath the skin and may have a little bit of topographical texture to them. Traditionally I see this in higher elevations, but it means that the athlete needs immediate complete sunblock and burn treatment.
I have a tool that I use that is in a tube form called “Rescue Remedy.” It is available at Whole Foods everywhere, or multiple places online. It is a homeopathic treatment that is especially good for burns. If you are taking notes, buy some and keep it in your medic kit at home for burns that happen on the stove. I am not kidding, this stuff is magic!
You want to slather it on that burn as soon as you see it and let it do its job. It will be the difference between blistering and not blistering.
If you have Rescue Remedy, I would apply it immediately and let it soak into that skin as many times as it can. The first application will melt into the skin. You want to apply it until it doesn’t immediately melt anymore and it’s got a white top finish. As soon as that slow sinking white top layer gets melted in (it may take about a minute) then you want to apply sunblock over that.
That should do the trick for the rest of the day, unless they are sweating off their sun block. Be very gentle when touching this area and remind them to not scratch. Scratching will make those white bumps that are actually a kind of blister pop up to the top.
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!
No I am not yelling at you in a foreign language. I am telling you to check yourself off on the roster.
Nobody wants to be forgotten on the trail.
If you are trail driving for a large group it is nearly impossible to remember who you have seen and when was the last time you saw them. That is why we create a “groupcheck” point. If you are moving with a new team, remind them the night before that they will need to check in for their own safety. As they are running, and you will literally be yelling at them and pointing towards the clipboard “groupcheck,” I often remind people it’s spelled as one word because every ONE needs to do it in the group.
There are no exceptions – everyone in the group has to check in on a tally board before they sit down. This is usually a pre-made roster on a clipboard that also has the check point number on it. If I have 10 checkpoints I will make 10 rosters.
I will frequently set a watch or some other time mechanism so they can see the time that they passed on that checkpoint. If you have a specifically spirited crew it will also let them know how far ahead or behind they are of another team member. At the end of the day that team will want to look at their checkpoint times because it is also a fairly rudimentary way to track their time. And we all know athletes have a specifically intimate relationship with time.
If you have teams that are large you will also need a Lag Driver that works the rear of the athletes to make sure that no one is left behind.
If you are lucky enough to be able to have your team all together, you will get to have more time on the trail, and less time searching and managing the trail.
By the way “groupcheck” is best yelled, and even better when it’s yelled in a foreign dialect.
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.