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How do you Eat an Elephant?

There comes a time in the race when dot watchers and racers alike wonder how the top teams can be so far ahead. Teams coming into the TAs usually figure out their standings and word seems to travel who’s in the lead and where they are along the course. How can it take the top teams half the time or less than the back of the pack teams? How can the front teams be essentially a full day ahead? We all start to speculate. Is there something going wrong with the teams at the back or are they pacing themselves and “racing their own race” as most of us usually strive to do? Essentially, this is just a math equation.

I compared a front team who got to CP 4 in 8 1/2 hours and a back of the pack team that got to CP 4 in 15 hours. That’s 76 % faster. The top teams got to TA 1 in 24 hours which is roughly 12 min per km. If you add 76%, that’s about 21 min per km. That’s a difference of 9 min per km. So, if you do the math, 9 times 122 km adds a whopping 18+ hours to the difference between the front and the back teams. We haven’t even accounted for teams getting progressively just a little bit slower as the hours pass. So, with front teams more than 18 hours ahead of MANY teams, it’s hard to understand just how they do it.

From what I have seen, the top teams are faster at EVERYTHING. Their pace is no doubt faster, but their navigation is faster, too. Not many decisions are worthy of team discussion and, while nav errors happen, they correct quickly. Not only that, but they rarely if ever take a break, they eat on the go, they choose to change their layers less frequently and they do it all while moving. In fact stopping is done strategically. If one person needs to pee, guess what? Everyone pees. If one person needs to check their feet, they all do something productive that means they don’t have to stop again any time soon. Even more amazing is they are able to maintain a sense of urgency that is extremely difficult to maintain as the hours pass and fatigue tries to hijack the will to keep pushing your limit.

So, as back pack teams continue to make progress, the answer to the question of how do the tops teams do it? They do it just like the rest of us… How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Top teams seem to stave off feeling full and keep chomping away like they’ve never tasted anything better. Back of the pack teams, while amazing athletes in their own right, seem to chew a little longer and try to make sure it all stays down.

Andrea Anderson ARWC 2021 Guest Commentator Team thisABILITY Adventure Racing


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