Expedition Playbook: Team Roles
If you have competed in a 24-hour race, you have likely already identified some of the key roles you should consider when building or developing a team. There is no correct way to manage the question of roles. Some teams like to identify specific tasks that individual racers take responsibility for. Others have multiple people that all can and do serve in each role at any given time. Here are examples of some roles and responsibilities that can help you have a more successful first expedition race.
Many teams identify a team captain, and this role can be the hardest to define. Some teams believe a captain manages the overall strategy but shouldn’t navigate. Some believe the captain should play a primary role in keeping the team engaged, managing the team’s highs and lows. For some teams, the captain is purely a symbolic designation: they are the person who signs papers and goes to the pre-race briefings. Ultimately, captains are leaders, and there are so many ways to lead, especially in an expedition race. The key here is to clearly define as a team what this role should entail, and it is crucial to sort this out before race week. It can be difficult if the team “captain” is soft-spoken, easygoing, and relaxed for eight months leading up to the event but then turns into a drill sergeant in the woods.
There are two primary approaches to navigation in a multi-day race. Neither one is right. Again, clear expectations ahead of time are crucial.
Traditionally, you will hear many adventure racers talking about a team mule (or two). These racers tend to be physically stronger and are generally responsible for carrying extra gear, shouldering a pack when someone might benefit from a break, or towing a teammate who needs some extra power. Be aware that some “mules” tend to overdo it, and regardless of how strong they are, they will have a low moment or three over the course of a multi-day race. Sleep deprivation, elevation change, weather, and nutrition, not to mention injury, can all impact a mule’s ability to haul that extra gear.
You need to keep the big picture in mind and make sure that the team keeps day four in perspective on day one when the mule is thinking about carrying three packs and three bikes while towing the whole team and chopping away thick underbrush with a machete to make up ten minutes of time. Ideally, you are open to everyone on the team muling at some point. It’s a long race, and the best teams (not necessarily the winning teams, but the most experienced, the best racers) know that everyone will shoulder a heavy load at some point in a multi-day race.
Ideally, have someone who will take lead with bike mechanicals. Many teams have one or two people who naturally enjoy tinkering with bikes and can fill this role. If you don’t, think about having someone take some basic bike maintenance and trail repair classes at a local bike shop or REI. Odds are good that you will need to deal with a flat tire, a broken chain, or a malfunctioning brake. Whether it’s the bike mechanic or someone else, make sure you also have some added bike repair tools and parts so they can do their job.
We believe that safety is of the utmost importance at Rootstock Racing, and while many races don’t require any medical training, every racer should recognize that they are thinking about signing up for a race that will have them in wilderness settings for days on end, often with no easy access, and they will be sleep deprived. Things happen, and being able to respond to and stabilize a situation is crucial. While we are requiring a WFA (Wilderness First Aid) certification for at least one team member at the Endless Mountains, WFR (Wilderness First Responder) is even better. Anyone spending significant time in the outdoors should consider such a certification.
Who has an eye for detail? Who are the strongest organizers? Who likes to make spreadsheets with food and gear schedules for each stage of the race? It helps to identify one or two people who can work to assist the team in planning for the race and stay on task in TAs. Of course, sometimes your “logistics planner” is a zombie and can’t stay awake, but ideally someone should coordinate the team to manage TAs efficiently and make sure that the team is carrying the gear and nutrition needed for a given portion of the race.
You will struggle. Sometimes one person will be in a dark place. Sometimes the whole team may be. It helps to have some folks ready to lift the team in those moments - to get them going, keep them going, or boost morale. Songs, stories, riddles, games. This is a tough one as every team and every racer will respond to different efforts. Talk about individual preferences ahead of time. As with the captain's role above, it is useful for the motivator to know what helps each individual team member - or better yet, for everyone on the team to know what helps the other members brighten up!
We've never actually heard or used this term, but it sounds good. So, we will go with it. Expedition races tend to incorporate more challenging paddling. Often times it’s harder, simply due to the sheer length of the stages. But you may encounter more white water, nighttime paddling, or, in some races, ocean paddling. Ideally, you will have one or two teammates more comfortable handling boats, team members who can handle the stern or pick lines through a river. Make sure you read the race website carefully and confirm what paddling skills will be useful for the event.
If you don’t have those skills, make sure at least a couple of teammates invest the time into training and learning proper paddling skills and safety standards for the conditions. And recognize that taking and passing a skills certification is not the same as consistent practice on the water. You can know the theory behind open-water paddling, but being out in five foot swells and dealing with a capsized boat offshore on day three is very different than practicing in calm conditions with an instructor. Make sure at least a couple of people know what they are doing.
There are more nuanced and specific questions you might consider -- whose job is it to pick lines on a technical trail? Who brings up the rear? Who is best at route finding through a dense bushwhack? Who watches the clock to facilitate consistent eating and drinking? Who carries the passport or electronic dipper? But what we've outlined above tend to be the eight primary roles distributed across a team of, at most, four people.
What does that mean?
This is what so many of us adore about AR: it’s a team sport. You have to work together. You don’t necessarily have to do ALL of these things individually, but you need to be able to do multiple things well enough to benefit the team, and you need to be ready to step in and adopt someone else’s role when they no longer can handle it. Chances are good, in a multi-day race, that you will have a turn.
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