7 Tips For Surviving a Death Race

Following my post on ‘What To Pack For A Death Race‘ I thought I’d write a few more tips on how to survive a ‘Death Race.’

These kind of events are growing in popularity as those crazy enough to sign up look to push themselves further and further. There’s Judgement Day The Unknown, Spartan Agoge, GORUCK, ROOTS Adventure Training, Fuego Y Agua Survival Run to name a few, with more coming out each year.

Having taken part 12, 24, and 48 hour endurance events I feel I’ve made enough mistakes and gained enough knowledge and experience to be able to offer advice.

Some of what I recommend may seem a little over the top.  I know some people who’ve gone into an event with no preparation and still finished. I have also seen those people have doubts throughout the event to whether they are going to finish.
The doubts are poisonous.
I have never had doubts because I knew I was prepared.  
Don’t leave it to chance.  
You have entered the event because you want to finish.


1. Be Prepared

  • Know your kit.
    Test your kit.
    It’s not good going into a multi-day event wearing a new kit, shoes, bag etc, when you haven’t trained with it.  Put it all on and go for your usual run. You’ll feel like a plonker running around in full adventure kit but how else are you meant to know how it feels if you haven’t tested it?
  • How long does it take changed from a wet outfit into a dry outfit?  
    You don’t know?  You best try it.
  • Know where your kit is packed. Practise unpacking your bag and repacking it in a rush.
    If you can’t locate what you need, when you need, you’ll get caught out and likely fail a task.
  • Study the location of the event. Print off a map if you haven’t already and look at the surrounding terrain.
    Look at local landmarks and learn some local history.
    Maybe you won’t need the information, but if you do, you’ll be laughing (and winning).  Maybe you’ll get a half an hour break whilst everyone else works out the answer. Maybe you’ll get a prize ready for your next task. Who knows?  So many times, the research I have done prior to the event has lead me (and my team) to win a task.


2. Clothing

  • This isn’t an OCR (obstacle course race).
    I’ve seen people at the start line of an adventure race dressed in running gear.  One guy was even wrapped in a DryRobe! Maybe that has come across a little unkind, I don’t mean it like that. If you’re going to be on the move for 24+ hours, you’ll be cold, wet and exhausted and your body temperature is going to drop! Even in the summer.
  • Do your research and see what people have worn during that event in the past.
  • Think hiking. Think top of a mountain.  Layers you can take off and put back on.  Merino wool is great when wet as it still keeps you warm.  Goretex and Windstopper clothing is glorious to retain body heat (please refer to What To Pack For A Death Race).
    It’s better to be too warm than too cold.  Once you’re cold and tired, it’s difficult to come back from that. Referring back to the point above – how quickly can you get undressed and re-dressed? Think easy layers.
  • At times the race directors will be kind and give you a ‘rest.’  But it’s not them being nice, most of the time it’s done with intention.  You’ll relax, you’ll get cosy under a tree (yes, that happened to me), your body temperature will rapidly drop and then you’ll feel like shit.  Sometimes it is best to keep moving or doing something. Anything. Never fully relax.
  • Take a spare pair of socks for every 8 hours of the event. See point 7 for more info.
  • AND put all your spare clothes in dry bags!


3. Food & Hydration

  • Food and hydration are 2 key factors that will keep your internal fire burning.
  • Constantly drink water.  Encourage your teammates to do the same.  You’ll unlikely feel thirsty because you’ll be so switched on to the tasks but keep drinking!
  • Eat every 2-4 hours, even when you’re not hungry.  Once again, you’ll be so focused on tasks that you could go hours before realising you’re hungry.  If you get hungry, its too late. Take the time to eat something.  Keep that fire burning slowly.
  • I like to package individual food bags with 200-300 calories of food and eat every 2-4 hours, alternating savoury with sweet.  Eat too much sweet stuff and your blood sugar levels will trip out and you’ll crash and burn. Don’t forget the savoury stuff!  (check out the ‘Pantry’ list in What To Pack For A Death Race)
11143453_10206705600829405_8550780387937814016_n
  • Avoid caffeinated food, drink and supplements for the first 24 hours.  There’s no need to rely on these so early on.  Save them for later in the event when times are really hard and then you’ll notice the difference. If you use them, be prepared for the crash.  I usually open up my emergency stash of chocolate covered coffee beans around 3am on the second morning to get me through.  Go easy on them and share them out to boost morale.
  • Designate a morale-boosting snack, something you’ll only eat once you are REALLY feeling shit (mine is chocolate covered brazils or peanut M & M’s)- usually after the first 24 hours.  This will not only be a great physical boost as it tastes delicious but a psychological boost as you know you have worked hard for it.  Stash it at the bottom of your food bag so it isn’t easy to get when you are feeling vulnerable early on.  Use it as a reward.


4. Conserve Energy

  • One thing I’ve learnt over the years is to conserve my energy efficiently. This begins as soon as I get in the car to travel to the event.
  • Getting nervous, excited and chatting to fellow participants will all use physical, mental and emotional energy.  I’m such a chatterbox in normal life but when it comes to the start of an endurance event, I’m quiet.  I gather my thoughts and energy and focus on the task ahead. Nothing else can be done once you are at the start line, there’s no point in worrying.
  • In fact ( I wasn’t going to write this but) I take myself off and meditate for 10 minutes in order to calm my mind, relax and visualise the end of the event, receiving my medal/trophy/whatever. I think this is the best way to start an endurance event.
  • Throughout the event, rest when possible.  If you are waiting for instructions or another team is getting instructions, rest.  Every minute and second counts.
  • Whilst you rest, you are able to observe and listen. Watch what is going on. Listen to what is being said.  What are the race directors saying? How are your teammates feeling and acting? Are your feet ok?
    Rest and observe. You don’t know what you might learn. BUT, stay warm! Don’t get cold.

5. Chunk Your Time

  • You’ll be so up for it at the start of the event, buzzing and excited.  After 12 hours, you’ll start feeling rubbish.  Never think ‘I have X amount of hours left,’ it will make you miserable realising you are not even part of the way through.
    Instead, work towards your next snack break or completing the next task. Break the event down into manageable chunks of time, 2 and 3 hours at a time.
    Is the sun going to rise in 2 hours? Work towards that.  Never think ‘I have 24 (or whatever) hours left.’ That thought is like poison and will destroy your morale. It can then leak over to your teammates.


6. Use Positive Affirmations

  • Sometimes I write affirmations on my forearm in permanent marker before heading to the event.  It might sound a bit weird, but it helps me.
    When I start to struggle I’ll give it a read and it’ll give me a boost reminding me why I signed up.
    My favourites are: Ask. Believe. Receive. Think of Winning. Strong Legs & Feet. Stay Calm and Relaxed.
    Sometimes I write other stuff, sometimes I write nothing at all.
  • If you do this, make sure to write positive affirmations. No negative words like “Don’t quit” otherwise it doesn’t work. Both those words are negative.
  • You can also say these out loud in the latter stage of the event to cement your wishes about completing the event. You’ll have to trust me on this. It works.

7. Foot Care

I’ve saved one of the best ’til last.

  • Possibly as important as eating and hydrating.
    One of the most common reasons people drop out of endurance events is because of their feet.  With food and drink, if your blood sugar drops or you get dehydrated you can eat and drink to resolve it. But if your feet go bad, there is absolutely NOTHING that you can do to reverse it.  And you’ll be forced to quit!
10433317_10205262510433047_2402889442890688309_n

You’re going to get wet in these events (at least I hope so). If you race directors are mean it will be early on.  In which case, your feet may stay wet for 24+ hours and you’ll need to have done some good prep to keep your feet in good condition.

  • The winning product to save you and your feet is Gurney’s Goo, a magical silicone formula enriched with tea tree to (almost) waterproof your feet, helping prevent trench foot, blisters and nasty foot infections.

Apply a generous layer of Gurney Goo the evening before the event and go to bed with a pair of socks on.  Before the event, apply another layer then keep applying every 4 hours (or as close too) after the first 8 hours, even if your feet don’t get wet.  I’ve seen someone’s little toe literally split in half from having wet feet and blisters as big as the sole of their foot and it’s not nice.
Gurney’s Goo has seen me through hundreds of miles with no blisters, and no trench foot and I wouldn’t go to a single event without it.

  • Use Gurney’s Goo with pre-talced merino wool socks and your feet will be in heaven.
    Shake a generous amount of talcum powder in to your spare socks prior to the event.  Fold/tuck the socks together and store in a dry bag along with Gurney’s Goo, Compeed blister plasters and a small bottle of talc. That’s everything you need for ‘foot admin’ in one place.
  • On every opportunity after 8 hours, even when you don’t think you need to (like eating and drinking) stop for ‘foot admin.’  If you get a pocket of time to swap your socks and take care of your feet, then do it!  You do not know when the next opportunity might be. Encourage your teammates to do the same.
  • If you think you have a blister coming, Compeed it IMMEDIATELY! Don’t risk it. Get it early before it gets you.

MOST IMPORTANT

  • If in doubt, drink water and do foot admin!

I hope you find this useful and that it helps you get to the end of your event.

Just remember to smile and enjoy it, even when times are tough and that you can finish. That’s why you signed up to it, right?

If you have any questions, head over to Twitter and ask away. I’d love to know what endurance event you’ve signed up to.

.

.

.

.

.

.


Are you still here? Good on you! You passed my little test.

I am adding a bonus tip for you…..

8. ALWAYS READ THE SMALL PRINT, or in this case, keep looking and reading.
Most events will start planting clues and tips about tasks and challenges long before the event starts. This is a way of the race directors fucking with you before the event begins.
The event starts the minute you sign up, it will have started before you even signed up.
Do your research, look at previous events, read blogs, regularly check the event website, Facebook and Twitter page and look for hints to suggest what might be involved. It may be a waste of time, but for the time it takes, I only ever see the benefit.
At one event, our team was given a challenge that should have taken hours. As soon as the task was issued, I knew exactly what to do and where to look given my previous Facebook stalking. 10 minutes on and the task was complete. We felt like the champs.

Stay on the ball.
Listen to everything.
Read everything.
And pay attention!