Racing Croatia – post race reflections

Adventure race Croatia left me with an array of intense impressions. My thoughts and reflections point in all kind of directions. It was a nice reminder of the joy of being a rookie, I got to know even more about how I tackle huge challenges and what I’m actually capable off. Emotional pictures fill my mind. Moments of teamwork where we helped each other to keep going, moments of despair and doubt when the mountains showed it’s teeth and of pure happiness and surplus when we concurred it together.  

We managed to get through the course without being cut off. The 5 CP’s we missed did not take the deep feeling of satisfaction and success away. I guess my biggest take away was, that I showed myself that I can do this – and we can do it together. 

Rookie race

Adventure Race Croatia was our first long race. Our rookie race. As with everything else the first time is special as you don’t know what you are entering. There are an array of new things, that you didn’t try before or is unknown to you. The obvious ones when we talk about the world series of adventure racing are lack of sleep, physical movement for up to 72 hours and legs of 14 km with an estimated fastest time of 6,5 hours (this equals a little more than 2 km / hour which is impossible in a Danish context!). 

I learned how to deal with these new conditions. To some extend by talking to people with experience and the rest the hard way – by experience, trial and error. Some new routines contradict what is the old normal (in shorter adventure races). A part of my adventure race training back home was that changing clothes/pants is not an option – everything dries if you just wear a waterproof outer layer so suck it up princess and continue! When you race for three days you have gear and bikeboxes that you meet along the way, and where you can have a set of clean clothing to up motivation and avoid chafing. Also energy and hydration becomes crucial to keep going as you continue for days. 

I have a special love-hate relationship to this “rookie” situation. I hate it because it makes me more scared than I would like to. Scared if I can make it, scared if I have the right gear, scared if I’m able to complete it. On the other hand I love the steep learning curve that is embedded in this position as well as the lack of competitive ambitions that I find difficult to put aside when I know I have a chance to win. I love this discovery process where you have to learn how to make the good choices, where you feel the effect of the race on your body and mind as well as the team. 

The process of jumping into the unknown and exploring what it has to offer has a special thrill to it. Sometimes this is easier to feel after the actual experience, but when it hits it’s a strong drug.  

Is the World Series for me? 

Before arriving in Croatia I was doubtful if the world series of adventure racing was for me. I was worried if I was strong enough. I was worried if I could manage without sleep.  I was worried if our signup would be one of the biggest regrets of my life with 72 hours of pure suffering.  

My reaction was action. I planned throughly, bought all the right gear and trained the best I could with an injured knee and back pain. In my mind I prepared for the absolute worst. Not thinking specifically about what could happen as I had no clue of what we were about to meet. Honestly I did not know what to think prior to the race. Instead I spend quite some time thinking about this huge mountain to climb, and decide that I wanted to do my very best to make it – no matter what. If this were the only time I was going race in the World Series I wanted to make the most of it. I wanted to have the full experience and get through the course knowing that this was going to hurt, and I had to suck it up and continue. 

Right after crossing the finish line I was not in doubt anymore. Niels was smiling, drinking a cold beer and asking whether we would do it again stopping him self in the middle in the sentence saying that he might wait a few hours or days to ask that question. I was not in doubt. This is for me and I’ll do it again. 

Pure focus is a rare thing

Sometimes people ask me if we have time to see the surroundings at all as we race. I think I explore the surroundings even more clearly when I’m racing than any other time I’m in nature. 

To be out there, not only looking at the amazing scenery, crossing through it, climbing over or staying in it is intense. You’re not out for a five hours hike. This is an endeavour much longer. You are not going back to have a nice dinner, to do some extra work or for the next appointment with friends. You have a 100 % focus right there, together with your team in the middle of nature while everything else is put on pause for 72 hours. No phones, no disruptions, no multitasking. That rarely happens in my life, and I guess this is why is makes such a deep impression on me.  

Another perspective might add to this. The fact that you get tired from lack of sleep and physical activities affects me emotionally. It makes my feelings more intense. Not in the sense that I don’t have feelings in my everyday life, but when racing they come closer than normal and the volume is turned up. In everyday life you can hide them inside or strategically show some of them – when you are racing I feel thin – the feelings become more evident and it’s more difficult to control what is displayed. Often you are not in doubt of where your teammates are and if your are, our energy check system quickly reveals it. 

Thorough preparation pays off

We spend a lot of time of practical preparing – and it turned out to be worth it. It was easy to do the right thing in the TA’s – finding the next set of clothing or the right food for the next leg. Everything went smooth and we had the right thing at the right places. I’m sure we saved a lot of time and energy on this as well as a mental preparation inherent in the effort and in the future I would do the same thing. Hopefully it’s a little easier when you’ve tried it before.

I guess I learned something about myself here that applies to more situations in my life than when I’m racing. 

I approach challenges from a cautious angle. Sometimes I wish I would just jump into it with a Pippi attitude of “that I never tried before, so I guess I can do it”. That’s not how it works for me. I’ll find a crazy challenge, but I’ll also spend quite some time wondering if I can do it and prepare the best I can think of.  I’m pretty sure I spend unnecessary time worrying, yet this approach keeps me humble and makes me mentally ready to do my best to succeed. 

My partner in crime Niels reposted my blog stating that it was written by Iben “who is much tougher than she thinks”. That comment meant a lot to me – I guess it made me a little proud. Somehow I like to succeed expectations rather than the other way around. Yet I hope that I can worry a little less and enjoy more next time! 

How succeeding with in adventure racing boost confidence

Every time I take upon myself a huge challenge and succeed it gives me a feeling of capability that by far exceeds the challenge that caused it. Frankly it is weird how succeeding in an adventure race, a physical team challenge under extreme conditions can build confidence that surpasses the very achievement by far. Yet it is a fact that my brain translates the adventure race performance to a higher mental state of confidence than before. Writing this I get to think of Albert Bandura and his theory on self-efficacy. It’s quite fascinating to feel it on my own body and discover how current experiences affect my belief in how capable I’ll be in future situations to face challenges.

The comparison is not fair if you look at the physical challenge, yet the movement of personal capabilities corresponds very well to my first (and only) marathon. I ran it in 2000 when I was fifteen together with 30 classmates as a part of our boarding school program. I performed way better than I expected, and this gave me confidence to do more. Not only within running, but also with regards to all sorts of challenges in life. The feeling of crossing the finish line in Croatia 20 years later was quite similar. I had moved to a new league and showed myself that I was capable in a game only few is in. Writing this makes me a little scared what should be the challenge that could take me to the next level. (Proofreading this after becoming a parent gave me an idea!). 

Accept mistakes – and deal with them

When you race for 69 hours with 3 hours of sleep, you make mistakes. This is inevitably no matter how hard you try. You spend an hours in a dark looking for a CP due to bad navigation, you forget important gear for a leg or a teammember snaps at another teammate. 

Training mistakes is quite healthy for me. Just to make it clear for those not knowing me. I generally hate mistakes.  Like really hate them. I have high expectations – for myself and others. My own mistakes tend to give me physical discomfort at a level far exceeding what’s fair or reasonable. I’s not something I’m always proud of as I know (read learned) that it’s okey to make mistakes. It’s unavoidable. And most times the harm is not too big. Yet I prefer to succeed. 

It sound like a cliché but none the less it not the mistakes you make during the adventure race, but the way you deal with it, that is crucial for your result. Often when we make mistakes, we do not manage to stop and make a good decision. If the CP is not where we expected and everyone suddenly has an opinion of what to do. We keep acting to solve the problem and often in four different directions. Right there we lack a common understanding of the problem and especially the solution. If you manage to acknowledge that you made a mistake and take a two minute team session where you agree on a reasonable next step you can deminish the problems caused by the first problem instead of creating even more problems and frustrations. 

To help actually do that out there on the course we have developed an easy applicable strategy for navigation mistakes. It’s called “the 2 strikes and you’re out navigation rule”. If you make two big navigation errors close to each other the map passes on. Sometimes this works – other times it doesn’t, but it’s an example on an easy way to decide what to do in situations where you need to act to solve a problem, but you are probably too tired to make a great decision.  

Adventure Race Croatia was the peak of my adventure race career to date. It was a true adventure with literally high mountains and huge victories. I learned a lot about myself and I had a fantastic experience with three great guys. I hope to be back, but right now I’ll eat plenty of chocolate and stay on the couch watching netflix while my legs find them selves again.