It All Comes Down to the Girl (or Does it?)
It all comes down to the girl. A buddy of mine once uttered this statement while we were commiserating about our competition before an upcoming race. Thinking back on this statement, I realize how ridiculous it is. Just as whether an adventure race is won or lost does not come down to any one decision, the potential of a team cannot be predicted on the basis of one member. If anything general can be said about the success or failure of a team, I think it would be safer to say it rests on the ability of each of the team members to focus on the goals of the team, as opposed to their own personal goals. A winning team has to be seamless and perfectly meshed. When one of my teammates bonks, it is my duty to the team to give up that last cookie I have in my pack even though I might suffer for it 10 km down the trail. If you really think about it, a lot of hurdles we face out there on course can be overcome by always thinking about our team FIRST before ourselves.
This being said, I want to share with you from a woman's perspective some tricks I have learned over the years about how to put your team FIRST... both in your mind's eye and on the podium. These are techniques which you should use to manage strengths and weaknesses on the team. Many of these points may come across as 'female management' strategies, but think of them as 'team management techniques'. The sooner everyone on the team accepts Ms. X as a useful part of the team's engine, and not as mandatory gear, the faster you will see results. The underlying goal here is to try and achieve the same output level for each teammate ALL the time. In order to do this, you have to vary their input - because no two racers are created equal, regardless of whether they are male or female.
Co-ed teams: an integral part of Adventure racing
So, here "she" be:
Don't distribute weight evenly. Distribute weight based on body size and perceived output.
Generally, the lighter members should not haul the same weight as the team's packhorses. Don't wait until you have destroyed your lightest racer before you offer to take off some of the load ñ redistribute the weight before the gun goes off. It's simple really, all else being equal, if two racers are carrying the same load, the lighter racer will fatigue faster.
Put your slowest moving member up close to the front (except if on tow).
This serves a number of purposes: you can keep a better eye on the person if they are having 'issues'; they feel empowered and will probably move faster; there will be no chance in them falling of the back which is completely demoralizing, and they will set a pace they can sustain. I say 'up close to the front' because if it is windy or you are breaking trail, the leader has a tougher job.
Tow, push, pull and carry - all the time if necessary.
It may be true that the team moves at the rate of the slowest member, but that does not mean you don't do everything humanly possible to get that slower body to move faster. Do whatever it takes ALL the time. For example, on a trek it is tempting to think of our own comfort and slow the team's pace down if someone else wants to walk. We kid ourselves that the 'walker' is to blame for the slower pace, but ask yourself - did you put the team first and do everything you could to keep the pace up?
Pushing teammates up a hill
Draft. Let me say that again. . . D-R-A-F-T.
This concept is not just for the bikes. Use it everywhere -on foot, in the boat, swimming, rollerblading, scootering, whatever. This is the easiest way to help someone else without adding any more work for everyone else. It keeps you connected and focused.
Baby steps through snow and sand.
If you are towing one of your mates through tough terrain who is in feeling rough and has shorter legs ñ take shorter steps for them to follow.
Pack your food in someone else's pack.
We all use packs with some sort of mesh on the back. Any excess food you can't put on your front, is better served on the back of your buddies. It will keep you together, you can reach it quicker when you need it because you don't have to take off your pack, you can window shop and see what treats you have to choose from, and it doesn't matter as much when someone takes your pack.
Racing with a ladden pack
Involve all members in route choices if time allows. If not, keep everyone's strengths in mind when selecting the route. When selecting the route try and present the options to all team members if possible. For example, on mountain bike sections, shorter technical routes may not be great if you are going to need to tow someone. To be time efficient, as the navigator, find all the options and then lay them out to the team. Find out what motivates and de-motivates everyone.
We are all unique. Take the time to appreciate that before the race. Some people shine when the chips are down, some race better when out in front. Figure out how to help each other out of the tough times and don't assume everyone will react the same to: "C'mon guys! We need to stop f*#@ín around and race harder!"
These are the basics which we all could stand to practice - male, female, elite, first timers and weekend warriors alike. Say it with me now: Success does "not all come down to the girl." If it did, then why would we ladies even bother with you boys?