With the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge 3 weeks behind us and the Wenger Patagonia Expedition a month ahead of us, we don't know if the hardest is ahead of us.... or behind. We are extremely blessed to have the opportunity to travel and explore both places, and in all actuality- the two races couldn't be more different from each other. However, in every race we do, we always learn a lesson (or five or six) that can be easily translated to future races (and very often life in general!). In Abu Dhabi, we learned how much the mind comes into play. As a slackline and acroyoga teacher, I am constantly trying to wipe fear out my students psyche. I find myself telling them that the reason they are falling off the slack line or can't “get that pose” is because of the way they approach it- with fear and doubt in themselves, or an ego that needs the validation (I know this all to well from my personal experiences). Once fear and lack of confidence gets into my psyche, it is hard to push past it. In many ways this is what happened to our team during this race. We lost confidence in ourselves.
Luckily we didn't experience this feeling all at once, but I saw it happen to myself and some of the guys at different times throughout the race.
As Jason mentioned in an earlier post, depression and doubt hit Daniel and I at the same time. At the end of the first day of racing, we found ourselves in 30th place. After having such an awesome season back in the states, we came to Abu Dhabi feeling pretty prepared and I was personally extremely ready to unleash some fury! All this deflated that first night. I wasn't hungry despite the long day, I was too full of fear and doubt to gorge myself on all the good food. Daniel didn't have this problem (he will probably eat even when he is dead), but I could sense his disappointment during his very quiet dinner.
The next day we had a mountain run into a long bike up to the top of the famous mountain - Jebel Heifet. Once there, an even longer mountain run/climb section would take us the 3000 ft back down to the valley and then all the way back up to the top. Despite this sort of technical terrain being one of our major strengths, I was not excited. Andy was excited enough for both of us, hooking me on a bungee tow system and setting a blistering pace across the jagged terrain. When we got to the bikes- our beast of a biker Daniel was not feeling it. Usually we can all count on him to be the pace setter/motivator and even help tow the slowest of us up the hill. “It's all in your head Daniel, you got this, ” I said. “Yeah, well, in my head you are a bad ass too.” Ouch.
We got up the hill, at what seemed like a snails pace - but by the time we got into the mountains, it seemed like our spirits and legs were back. We struggled in frustration to pass many of slower teams during the tricky sections, and when our chance finally came our team motivated as one. Calling on our years of experience in the mountains we made a bold route choice and bounded and climbed down a steep section, passing 7 full teams in under a two minutes. We ended that day with a much better time and attitude.
Andy's breakdown came in the desert. He was convinced that we were not going to make it to the last mandatory checkpoint in time. He had hit his wall and didn't see the point of going on. It was a difficult scene as Andy, a brilliant physics grad student lost the ability to do simple math and swore over and over again that given our current pace there was no possible way to reach the end before the cutoff. We had a bit of a team blow out in the shade of a tiny bush, and never came to a consensus, but we had no choice but to continue on. We kept on in silence, pushing the pace as hard as we could and made it to the finish line with 2 hours to spare.
It wasn't until hours later, that Andy even realized that he had been so far off in his simple calculations.
We ended up finishing the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge in 14th place. We were the top American team. Our goal was top ten, but it's just another reason to make an appearance next year. Even though stage racing isn't our teams strong point- we have come to realize that competing in them only makes us stronger, smarter and more humble- which is always a good thing.
In the end, one of the most powerful lessons I learned (again) was how important communication is – especially with people that are the closest to me. Being able to say sorry, being open with one another and most importantly- being able to laugh at myself and the others makes a strong foundation for relationships to grow on. We have seen teams crumble over the simplest arguments, and always thought we were beyond that. Not so. We nearly imploded several times, and it was due to fear, ego, mis-communication, and taking our closest friends/teammates for granted.
Back in the hotel (fed and rested), we took the time to have an honest shakedown – talking openly with constructive feedback for each other and the team. We plan to try to make it a regular discussion, but on the off chance that we forget, no worries. In a month, we'd be in the Patagonian wilderness, and these big races tend to force a lot of honesty...