“Groupcheck” Checkpoint

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“Groupcheck!”

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.

Trail well.

Pulling Athletes Off the Course

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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.

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.

The Mind is Medicine

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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.

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.

Overheating on the Road

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Any time you have an athlete that is competing or participating in an event that is not in their natural climate you have a higher risk of exhaustion. 

Heat exhaustion is probably the most common. The first thing to do when a runner looks like they’re overheating is to have them stop moving, but the minute they stop moving their body may actually become nauseous.

Always put them in a chair that is a little bit distant from where other runners will be passing by. Give them some space in case they have to hurl. The chances of a person hurling when they have heat exhaustion and have been moving for a long time is very high. (FYI very few things leave a more lasting scent than shoes full of someone else’s puke.)

As someone who does support for athletes I always try to keep an extra hat in my medic kit when I can. You want to have one that is made of canvas and that can hold a little bit of water. 

For those of you who are grizzled heat veterans you’re already saying “ahhh, the old hat full of ice trick.”  Icing down the head is a quick tool to get the whole body cooled down. The ice itself will start to cool the head immediately and melt. Plus it will start to melt at a drip rate that isn’t too annoying. 

One of the things that you will want to do at the same time is hand them a damp towel. That way they can manage dripping and perspiration, or it will give them a place to throw up privately.

You will also want to look for the perspiration expression of the athlete. Zero perspiration can be an entirely different problem. 

Depending on how long the athlete has been without aid station, they usually cool down in about 15 minutes and they are free to go on with the rest of the race. I will frequently send them with an additional hat of ice so that they can manage their own temperature for a while. 

The quickest way to create a hat full of ice is to literally dip a hat into a cooler of melted ice from the back of the van. 

It will get immediate relief to the athlete because the ice is already in a high melt/water form and will start dripping immediately.  The drip from that ice on the neck and shoulders is also why you choose this technique. 

When serving athletes who are doing crazy things, you being calm and assessing the situation is critical. Trail drivers are the ones that need to have their heads on straight.

Thank you for all of you who choose to Trail Drive. 

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.