7 Top Tips from the World Champion Adventure Racer Nick Gracie
When Natalie and I agreed to enter the 2016 Patagonian Expedition Race we thought it prudent to do some research. After scanning the internet and pouring over social media we decided to learn the truth behind the ‘Last Wild Race’ from the person who really knows. Adventure Racing World Champion Nick Gracie, who has won the race three times with his UK Team GodZone (formerly Team Addidas Terrex), and who have collectively won it an incredible four times! We caught up with Nick in his Bristol home where he divulged his top Adventure Racing tips.
Learn the secrets of winning an Expedition Race…
We originally signed up to join the Patagonian Expedition Race (PER) team to help out our friend Steven, who wanted to establish a charity that supported veteran’s suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The Green Sentinels Adventure Team was intended to showcase the fledgling organisation’s work. As time progressed, and things within the Team changed, Natalie and I felt it was also a great opportunity to raise money for three other very worthy charities: Help for Heroes, ShelterBox and The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.
Much is made of sports sponsorship deal, that’s the point! This is a massive topic, with loads of great advice available online. We’ll be sharing our experiences in a future post. But the general idea is that you, and a business with something to promote, enter into a ‘special relationship’ in order to satisfy both parties. Sounds easy, right?
When considering your event, as we found, you are not alone. In fact you are in competition with many other similar worthy individuals/teams/events looking for support. Companies can be very particular about who they support. So you have to understand their demographic, and if possible stand out by offering them something unique. Nick’s advice was that most of his sponsorship comes from personal relationships “through people the team know within organisations; they are key as they’re the ones who can get you in front of the right decision maker.” It’s not easy and as Nick pointed out “you’re almost better off working and buying the equipment yourself”. The key here is to do your research, ask everyone and follow things through.
Again each team is different but so far we have found that through hard work, good research, and sticking to our values, we came up trumps. We’ve built some excellent sponsorship relationships for our race, and for future Adventures.
Whilst it’s easy to think about the kit you need, how fit you need to be, what you’ll eat, “just getting to the start line is an adventure in itself” Nick told us. It takes detailed planning to bring together all the items of equipment and the team to one of the most remote parts of the world. For the Green Sentinels this is still work in progress, as we’re still planning for the race itself. We are working on reporting back after the event to let you know how we got on!
Getting the right people is critical. Luckily I have some experience of this. At the time of writing we have just confirmed our fourth team member, Ben Hill, having unfortunately lost several people along the way, due to work commitments or health issues. Getting the balance of skills, attitude, and fitness is difficult, yet crucial in a race like the PER. Look out for my future post on the 4-7-1 model developed by National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) which I have adapted and applied to ShelterBox Response Team Training and my own consultancy work.
When we met with Nick we had just hit the two months to go mark. “At this stage you are not going to get significantly fitter” he told us. “But you can get out together, which will help enormously” he added. Over the last 18 months, the team have all been maintaining their personal fitness, under the watchful eye of team member and NHS physiotherapist Natalie, whilst undertaken varying team endurance events, led by myself. These events have typically focused on endurance, and more specific skills the team need, such as mountain biking, sea kayaking, long distance walking, and rope skills. Check out our training video below…
Natalie has kindly put together a personal fitness programme which we are happy to forward to you if interested…
Nick’s advice was succinct from the outset “Have a clear objective that all the team buy into”. Whilst discussing tactics with Nick we explained that from our early stages of planning we had decided that as a novice team, going into a race of this nature with the intention to win, was not realistic and potentially dangerous. Experienced teams like Team GodZone aim to complete the race in 5- 6 of the allotted 10 days and plan accordingly. Team members are chosen to fulfil that aim, and expect to win! As this is our first race, and we don’t have the financial backing of the bigger teams, we are planning to complete each stage within the allotted time.
Whilst this may seem uncompetitive, or not aggressive enough, it’s a considered tactical decision, and one that Nick totally agreed with. “Aiming for that top spot, as a novice team, would cause you too many problems, let alone putting some of the team at risk” he explained. We discussed at length the typical terrain, steep heavily foliated scrub/forest and wet bog, which can make progress painfully slow. Nick pointed out that our background in outdoor pursuits, expeditions, and military, will provide a great basis for what is to come. “You’ll have the right skill set, and a good chance of completing it…” Nick joked “…and remember, in 2014 only 3 teams completed the race out of 16. By completing it, teams got placed!”
Food for thought…!
Good nutrition is obviously critical to the success of any adventure, especially an autonomous, unsupported one, like the Patagonian Expedition Race. Carrying sufficient food will contribute considerable weight and bulk to our packs. In addition, having spent plenty of time living on expedition food and Army Ration packs, they are not always the tastiest, especially given Natalie and I are vegetarians!
So to find a healthy, nutritional, and practicable solution Natalie has been developing an innovative race menu for the team. On Nick’s advice we’ll be pre-preparing 24 hour food bags in large zip lock bags, which can be distributed amongst the transition kit. Each bag will contain enough food & snacks for us on the move. Natalie has been working with our partners TentMeals, Up&Go and High5 Nutrition to develop a detailed and well balanced nutritional menu. Specific details of our plan, and the products we will be using during the race, will be contained within a future post.
Having the ‘right’ equipment for your chosen activity is a significant part of planning for any adventure. Whilst being wet, cold, and hungry is often an inevitable part of any trip, having the appropriate equipment to deal with situations as they arise, can make the difference between ‘dealing with things comfortably’ and ‘life and death’. Such an obviously integral part of any adventure warrants the plethora of information and advice available, from product manufacturers, outdoor retailers, brand marketers, online forums and chat rooms, and even enthusiastic adventurers like ourselves. Consequently, making informed decisions regarding the right equipment can become an over whelming factor when planning any adventure. Getting the right balance of factors like cost, quality, weight, and durability can often become an insurmountable barrier to even starting.
Planning what to take on your trip takes a mix of experience, technical know-how, effective research, and a spot of good fortune to prepare successfully for any trip, and the PER is no exception. However on all the trips, including international expeditions I’ve been on, there’s never a perfect solution. Many of the decisions you make as to what to take with you is based upon making well informed compromises. And therefore requires an element of risk.
As with most planned trips the PER Race Organisers have stipulated a mandatory kit list for all teams. The remote wilderness environment of southern Chilean Patagonia is famously unforgiving and so their experience of what is required in that environment has obviously acted as our starting point for equipment selection. However it isn’t comprehensive as it doesn’t include everything we require for an expedition of this nature. So we’ve sought information from friends with experience in the environment including Nick and, Patagonian Kayaking Guide and Scotland’s Young Adventurer of the Year, Will Copestake. We contacted numerous manufacturers directly, as well as various retailers, including Cotswold Outdoor, Sea Kayaking Cornwall and Comrie Croft Bikes.
Our resulting kit list is an interpretation of all that advice and has been influenced by what is available to us through generous donations, borrowing, product sponsorship, but mainly through personal financing. If you would like to assist us then please sponsor the Team below.
Nick will be sharing his rich racing experience on 7th of January, 2016 in Bristol and will be on hand to provide tips on how to prepare for a race in one of the wildest landscapes on earth. Admission is FREE, but places are limited.
RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org to confirm your seat!