Monday, 18 January 2016

A Question and Answer session with Debbie Chambers from the Girls on Top Adventure racing team

1.       In your blog you mention that your first race was a 24 hour race in 2000. Most of us would be scared to even think about entering a race of that magnitude, what made you think “I can do this”?

I have been pretty active all my life and have done lots of tramping and cycle touring, so I had a reasonable idea about what it takes to keep going for long periods of time. I never questioned whether I could do it or not as I know that the body will pretty much do what the mind tells it to do, as long as it is given food and water. My advice to those doing their first adventure race is to break it down into stages. Just tackle one leg at a time - Do the cycle then worry about the kayak or paddle board, do the paddle board or kayak, then worry about the trek. As my old teammate Ally Davey always used to say "Inch by inch it is a cinch". Don't think ahead and get bogged down with the entire race, just focus on what you are doing at the time and keep drinking and eating. Support your teammates and remain positive. Make sure that noone in the team is over stretched at any one time and that everyone is communicating and involved in what the team is doing.

2.       Which three things would you change in your preparation for the race in 2000 if you could do that one again?

- Have lightweight gear. All our equipment back in 2000 was heavy duty. In my opinion is it better to pay a little more for top quality lightweight gear. It makes everything easier. Not only will you feel more comfortable in adverse conditions but it will also make the whole event easier as you won't be lugging so much weight around. Make sure you pack enough gear in order to be safe in any conditions but don't over pack and carry a lot of extra unnecessary stuff. For longer races we use a carrier on our bikes in order to get the bulk of weight out of our backpacks and off our backs.

- Get more navigation practice in training - spend time going off track and using a map and compass.   I can't emphasize this aspect enough. Going in the right direction and hitting checkpoints efficiently is the key to a stress free race. Wasting time going in the wrong direction makes it hard for everyone. Set up scenarios and then go out and practice. Learn from mistakes in training rather than on the day. Make sure everyone is involve in navigation and scouting to find checkpoints. One person can be on the map but the other three should also be totally focused on the terrain and scouting for features, tracks and checkpoints. A navigation error is a team error a not solely the responsibility of the designated navigator. Take things slowly and make sure you know where you are on the map at ALL times. In some races it is easy to follow others - however if you are following a team and then you lose them you will have NO idea where you are. NEVER follow, USE your compass and map and KNOW where you are at ALL times.

-  Be prepared to let go of mistakes.  During the race whenever we made a navigation error we got extremely frustrated and demotivated as we thought we were in last place. We spent a lot of time and energy during the race saying things like; "I bet other teams took a much faster route", "we wasted so much time on that" , "we must be last", "people will laugh at us". In fact we ended up doing quite well. Support each other, be positive and work together to make a wrong right. Use mistakes to build team moral not tear it apart. You are a team of four out in the wilderness working together to overcome the challenges the course throws at you, embrace this philosophy and your experience will be so much richer.

3.       What training do you normally do to keep your fitness levels up for competing in adventure racing?

I try to get a balance in my training of all disciplines. I do what I can to fit around life and work. I train for enjoyment and relaxation more than anything else. For people building up to their first race my advice is to get time on your feet with a pack on your back, and time on your bike with a pack on. During an adventure race you have to carry compulsory gear and food and water to get you through a stage so training with a pack on is essential. Remember to work on your weaknesses as much as you build on your strengths. Get a balance between working on your fitness and working on your team dynamics, thinking about your food, preparing your support crew, etc is essential. Adventure racing is about so much more than physical fitness.

4.       You have done quite a bit of these races in the past decade, can you tell us about a race where the team has worked well? What made the team work well together?
Teams work well together when everyone has the same goal. A team that is focused on efficiency and helping each other at all times will always perform better than a team made up of individuals trying to race each other. Good communication is essential in an adventure racing team. Of course you can't prepare for what a race may throw at you in terms of course difficulty, weather conditions, gear failure etc, however it is how the team pulls together to manage situations that makes the difference. It is pretty rare to have the perfect adventure race but striving to achieve it is certainly addictive and can lead to some of the most incredible experiences of your life. Respect others, respect the course, respect the environment and you WILL have the time of your lives. :)

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