TransRockies Running with Max King, part 2

Partner dynamics

The amount of fun that an individual has at TransRockies is greatly determined by the team dynamics throughout the race. Remember, this is a team race, and we don’t mean no sissy relay race. Partners run the whole race, together. That means a lot of time to get to know each other. Not to say that TransRockies will be a letdown if you have the wrong partner, but as the two of you will most likely spend an inordinate amount of time together for about 7 days, it’s important to get along.

Teamwork to the extreme

For example, Andy Martin and I spent 18hrs in a car driving to TransRockies last year, we then spent the next 7 days running together, sitting by the fire together, sleeping in the same tent together, eating breakfast, lunch and dinner together, and so on. So you can see how having a partner you enjoy being around is pretty important. The last couple of days we were trying to run with some other teams just to mix it up a bit. Nobody wanted to run with us.

The first and most important piece of advice I can give is that you need to remember that there are two important pieces: your partner, and you. Knowing your partner beforehand helps, but this isn’t always possible, either because you get paired up with them through the Teammate Finder, or because they’re some other crazy runner you just kinda know that talked you into the race. In the end though, even if they are your best friend, it may not guarantee a successful partnership because when the going gets tough, neither of you know how you’ll react. And in the end, you don’t have control over your partner anyway. That’s why it’s important to know yourself as well as your partner.

You can control yourself and what you do out on the trail, whether you’re the person bouncing along or the one slogging through a death march, that control will set the tone when you get back to camp. There will be more than a few mismatched pairs out on the trail come August, with one person out for a stroll, while the other is straining through every step. A small amount of support from the team’s faster half will go a long way in diffusing frustration from the slower half. Offering to take a backpack, staying close to give verbal support, offering food and water, even hooking up to a tow-line, are all great ways to show both partners and other competitors how a great team works together. The support goes both ways. The slower partner must communicate with the other person to let them know how you’re feeling. Do you need water? Can they take your pack for you? Let them know you’re in good spirits and that you’re going as fast as you can. There’s no shame in letting someone help you. After all, it’s a team effort, and it’s about how fast the two of you can get to the finish line.

Chances are, both teammates will have ups and downs during the race, and not at the same time. It’s important that the stronger person help the weaker person with whatever they can at the time, because an hour later the tables may turn. In 2007, I was partnered with Erik Skaggs. Erik and I are somewhat mismatched in the sense that I’m good on the flats and Erik can cruise uphill with relative ease. We were great teammates though because both of us are laid back, we worked together by roping each other up, and we kept a positive attitude when we were both tired. There were times when I had him roped up on a flat section and we were flying trying to make up time, then a bit later we’d be going up a hill and he’d rope me up and pull me up the hill. It is that type of teamwork that helps to ensure a solid race and great week.

Towing can be part of a successful team strategy

Before the race, talk to your partner. Get to know them better by going for some runs together (if possible). Discuss your goals for the race. A big part of getting along during the race is to have the same goal in mind before you start. Also, try to get to know what type of person your partner is and what type of person you are when you’re really tired, your feet hurt and you’ve still got 2000 vertical feet and a couple of miles to go to the finish.

Remember, the race is against everyone else, not against your partner. The 2009 edition saw a young talented ultrarunner teamed up with an experienced veteran. The young stud seemed determined to prove himself . . . to his teammate. Early on in each stage he’d be pushing the pace, getting a gap on his teammate, and then yell for his partner to, “Pick it up!” The veteran knew that the only way he’d be able to go faster was if he got a tow, but the stud refused. Each night at camp he’d make sure all the other runners knew that he was a lot faster than his partner and openly expressed his frustration that his partner was “slow.” Well, you probably know where this is going… As day 5 and 6 came along the young stud was a dead man walking. His partner, on the other hand, who had paced himself all week long, was feeling better and better each day. Of course the young stud was too proud to ask for a tow and by this point the veteran couldn’t be expected to provide it. The team had the physical ability to conquer the challenge, but the unique aspect of the TransRockies is that the team dynamics can be just as significant as physical abilities.

It’s important to always stay positive on the trail and never get frustrated with your partner. Here’s an example of how the same conversation can lead to either a great day on the trail or someone getting kicked out of the tent at night.

“Why are you going so slow? We’re never going to win our division if you don’t hurry up. “
“I could probably go faster if I had a little help.”
“I’ll give you some help in the form of a swift kick in the rear.”
“Can you at least take my pack.”
“No way, you think I’m not tired of carrying my own stuff. I’m not carrying yours too. Should’ve thought of that when you packed this morning. Come on, lets run.”
“I can’t. I’m done. I’m just walking the rest. You can go if you want.”
“Ok, see ya at the finish then.”
Grumble, grumble.
“How are you doing? Need anything? Food? Water?”
“I’m hurting but I’m doing the best I can.”
“What can I take to ease the load?”
“You can take my back pack and I might be able to go a little faster.”
“Ok, got it. Ok, lets try to jog a little, up to the next tree then take a break.”
“Ok, I’ll try. If you want to go ahead to the finish that’s fine.”
“No way, we’re here as a team, we stay together.”
“Ok, I can do this then.”

If you can go with the flow and your partner can go with the flow, then I guarantee you’ll finish the race as a team, have a great time, and be even better friends after it’s over.

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