Spine Race Hints: #1 – Ask, visualize, memorize

When starting this series of Spine Race hints, I was wondering: Where do I start? What is the most important aspect? Apart from a maxim “Keep it simple” [and a towel of course] what is the most important aspect of preparation for Spine Race? However strange and/or cliché it may sound, the most important is to prepare your mind. This can be summarized as the heading says “Ask, Visualize, Memorize”.

  1. Spine is a hell of race. 430 km in the dark and winter. When you are going into this race, everyone, regardless of your ambitions, you have to have a clear perspective, why are you going to the race? Yes, why? This may seem as a silly question, but you should have an answer ready. The answer can be silly the same way, but you should have one. What is your goal? It can be winning, it can any other position in the ranking, it can be finishing in a certain time, or simply finishing. This is still a feat in itself, but the point it is to have a simple answer ready. And any answer is as good as another, as long as it is something particular. If you arrive at the answer, hold it, keep it, repeat it for a few times and memorize it [we can skip the visualization for a moment].
  2. Now try to think of the race ahead. What is awaiting you? What can you go through? Well, all the racing situations cannot be foreseen. I personally did not expect to run in such a strong wind that I could not stay upright and it happened in 2015. There is always an element of surprise and in general I think it is a good thing, which makes the racing more interesting. But, there are some situation, that happen regularly in almost every race and it is vital to have your answer ready. What will you do if.. it gets dark, you feel cold, you run out of food, start falling asleep in the middle of nowhere? Try to answer yourself. Visualize yourself in that situation doing this. Then memorize your response. The more possibilities you can think of, the more prepared you will be. Just don’t go to far, you do not need complex answers, action trees or whatnot. Be moderately lazy and remember, keep it simple. You need a few simple instructions and directions what to do in the most probable situations, not a tome called “The Spine Race Bible”.
  3. Do this preparation when you are feeling good, you are in a nice and warm place and your mind is clear. It can involve drinking a tea, beer [not too many], wine OR whiskey [pick one of these, not all of them!]. What is the benefit of this preparation? There is nothing spiritual in this, no ghosts, soul, chakras, energies, vibrations or some transcendetal mumbo jumbo. It just helps you keep focused and keep track of your motivation. Once out there on the course, with race clock going, sleep-deprived and exposed to the elements – your thinking is not very clear. Something between a 5 year old kid and a politician evading a question on taxes. But if you have an answer ready, it is sort of an anchor or a reference point. And even though during the race you cannot grasp, why you had arrived at such a strange answer as “keep going”, “speed up”, “or use your towel”, it probably had some reason. It did make sense, when your mind ws clear, right? Do you think you are smarter now? No. If it did make sense at that time, you’d better stick to it.

Example? Here we go. Below you can see images of our team taken during Adventure Racing European Championship 2015 in Ireland. It is 60 hours into the race, after one hour of sleep. Each of us seems to respond to this condition differently, but none of us looked very smart at that point and not surprisingly we are not able to think crystal clear. But there was still 15 more hours to go, including Galtee Mountains on the third night of racing.

Dan - 60 hours into a race.

Dan – 60 hours into a race.

Filip - Ready for the third night?

Filip – Ready for the third night?

Pavel - navigation on the third night? Challenge accepted.

Pavel – navigation on the third night? Challenge accepted.

Kristyna - just go. It is all that matters now.

Kristyna – go! It is all that matters now.


Well, we definitely are not the smartest guys here. And that’s it. That’s the trick. Think with your mind clear what you should do and what you would do and save it into your memory. Then, when you are biased by your fingers freezing or you are not capable of clear thinking – you don’t have to. Bypass your immediate thoughts and take the ready-made answer from your memory. If you try to think at a different time at a different place, with different race bib on your chest, can you think as a different person? It seems so. Save/load, copy&paste, we use it every day in front of your computers, now use it for real. And use your towel.

Next time we will discuss some navigation and related matters.

Photos by Andrea Nogova (http://andreanogova.photo)

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