Teaming Up: Selection, Strategy, and Psychology

Team EverymanTri at the start of the 2011 TransRockies Run

With the popularity of adventure- and stage-race formats on the rise, you may find yourself, for the first time, considering a team race experience.  Many of these events require you to complete the entire distance with at least one other person (i.e. not a relay), and finish together.  Here are a few tips on how to team up so that you have a successful race (and still like each other at the end of it).

Dynamic Duo Mike Smith and Jason Wolfe (2011 TRR)

A race is not a Vegas roadtrip.  Don't yell out at your next gathering "who wants to do ___ with me", and pick the person who high-fives you and says "hell yes I'll go".  Your entry fee is much better spent if you choose:

  • someone of similar ability.  Your pace should be within a reasonable range of your partner's, and you should be equally comfortable in the race environment (e.g. terrain).
  • someone who has similar expectations for both the journey and the outcome.  If you are soaking in the scenery, you don't want a Type A partner throwing rocks at you.  In other words, someone who would like to win their age group should not pair with someone who will be happy to finish.  
  • someone you like.  These are long and tight-knit experiences, so you have to be able to stand each other.  You don't have to be best friends (some of the most successful teams were matched shortly before racing), but you should understand each other's temperament well enough to know if you will get along in often tense circumstances.   
If you are interested in a team event, but don't have anyone in your circle to join you, check with the race to see if they help facilitate matching.  The GORE-TEX TransRockies Run has a Teammate Finder function on their website, that strives to bring people of similar ability and objectives together.  Some teams in prior years  have been comprised of people who had not even met in person until the day before the start.
Battle-hardened Max King and Ryan Bak (2011 TRR)
Even if you're not striving for podium, a little joint strategizing will go a long way.  
  • Review the course together.  Note especially challenging sections, aid station locations, etc.  
  • Assess your individual strengths and weaknesses.  No team is so well-matched that they are equals.  One will be stronger than the other in certain segments, so note where you will be leading, and where you will be relying on your partner to lead.  
  • Exchange lists for packing.  One perk of teamwork is that you can share the load, literally.  Your team may be required to carry certain items like first aid kit or compass, so that means you can bring just one and allocate required gear among team members.  You can also share responsibility for bringing other items like spare hydration nozzles, nutrition, or tow line.

He proposed on one knee at the final day finish line.
It's kind of like a marriage.  'Til FINISH (hopefully not death) do us part.  
  • Stay together.  The quickest way to cause tension on the team is for you to sprint off into the sunset, and leave your partner to struggle playing catch-up.  You will psychologically defeat your partner before the first day is through (oh, and other race participants will notice and think you are a supreme jerk.)  You agreed to run the race together, so run the damn race together.  A little separation is perfectly okay (often one is much faster on the downhill) but don't lose sight of one another.  Remember that safety is a key reason teams are required, so if you don't stay within range of your partner, you also can't look out for each other.  
  • Support each other.  A pro told me once that, in a stage race, "you always have at least one bad day.  Just expect it, so that when it happens, it doesn't mentally derail you."  In a team situation, the day you feel like Superman may happen to be your partner's 'off day'.  In that case, be a strong leader and help your partner as much as you can, because guess what.  Tomorrow may be the reverse.  Also be prepared for the reality that one of you may get injured, and a team finish may not be in the cards.  It is unfortunately common, so just agree in advance to enjoy the experience, the environment, and each other, no matter what.   
The GORE-TEX TransRockies Run is a six-day, 120-mile stage race from Buena Vista to Beaver Creek, Colorado.  Paul Shippey and Lori Lyons are teamed up for the 2012 event, which will take place August 14-19.  

--Lori Lyons