This fall I learned how running makes you a better communicator.
In September, I ran a 24-hour relay race called “Reach the Beach.” It starts in the White Mountains of northern New Hampshire and ends 24 hours and 250 miles later on the New Hampshire seacoast. It’s a crazy event – you laugh a lot, sleep very little, eat, drink caffeinated beverages (and yes, sometimes a beer or glass of wine) and run. This was the 5th year I ran with a 12-woman team called the Sole Sistahs. The key is teamwork and communication.
Here’s what I learned during those sleep-deprived 24 hours:
Plan, Plan, Plan
There are plenty of challenges in an overnight relay race: darkness; injury; running on rural roads where there may not be other runners. Your team is your lifeline. They provide food, water, moral support when the run is long, and laughs when necessary. Running teams rent large, white cargo vans that are distinguished by goofy slogans on the windows or wacky objects taped to their sides. In the past, we’ve taped high heels to our vans; this year, each of our two vans had a giant red shoe on top (Sole Sistas – get it?). After six years, we know how to pack and pick each other up when someone is down. Planning is key.
Expect the Unexpected
Trite but true. For the first time since I’ve run the race, we “lost” one of our runners on the course because our van wasn’t at the designated area to meet her. It was dark and she was running on a rural road where there weren’t many runners. She got scared, so she kept running until she got almost to the next race stop – 4 miles further than she needed to run.
How did we miss her? Everyone in the van was chatting and socializing and no one was paying attention to where we were going. We lost focus. When we showed up at the spot where she was supposed to hand off to the next runner, we realized we were in the wrong place. So we backtracked 6 miles to find her. Fortunately she was OK, but she had a near panic-attack.
This year we had a new van driver. Drivers are expected to maneuver the ridiculously large vans up and down mountain roads, dodging runners and race officials, as well as stop on a dime if a runner needs something. Plus, they drive for 6-10 hours straight. Our driver hadn’t driven the race route before; she needed someone helping her with directions. We didn’t discuss her needs and she didn’t speak up. After we lost our runner, one of us made sure to sit up front and help the driver with directions. And she became more vocal.
There’s No “Me” in Teamwork
Remember that saying “there’s no ‘me’ in teamwork”? You have to roll with the unpredictable nature of Reach the Beach (it might be raining, snowing, cold, hot, whatever). You sleep where/when you can. At one point, we had two hours to sleep before running again yet one of the women was rummaging around the van trying to find food. As we finally settled to sleep, she got up to use the bathroom. Then she couldn’t sleep because she’d forgotten her sleeping bag. Every time we stopped during the race route, she’d wander off and we had to track her down. She also expected us to cheer and take photos of her during her run. The race became mostly about her needs. We not only lost precious sleep time, we expended a lot of needless energy.
Ultimately, we finished the race – and managed to have fun! But many team members aren’t sure they’re running the race next year, a testament to just how “off” we were. One thing’s for sure: if I run again next year, speaking up will be as important as remembering my running shoes.