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Let’s Talk About Sleep Strategy

I have recently decided that managing sleep is the most dangerous game we play as adventure racers. Unlike most other bodily needs, often there’s no obvious signal that sleep is needed until it is too late. And, by too late, I mean after you realized you missed a CP for instance. (I have a feeling sleep deprivation played a role in Blizzard missing that paddle point, which meant they had to backtrack 12 km to get to it.) Or maybe worse, ‘too late’ could mean after someone has fallen asleep while biking or kayaking. Both of which could be catastrophic. At the very least, sleep deprivation can slow you down to a crawl.

In addition to the obvious physical aspects of sleep deprivation, the mental and emotional side effects are very difficult to recognize and just as difficult to manage. From my experience, sleep deprivation amplifies ALL emotions… the good, the bad and the ugly. Rational thinking gets progressively harder and whatever path your emotions take, they are sure to simulate a roller coaster. The highs are amazing and the lows feel like rock bottom. You might feel like a million bucks and you might not realize that you, in fact, cannot defy gravity. (Looking at you, Chip.) OR, you might feel like your worth has diminished to that of the last mosquito you just slapped away. The key is to recognize that these ranges of emotions will pass, so decisions must be made with more thought than usual. Easier said than done. So much so, that our team now has a ‘safe word’. This will be our way for any teammate to make the call to reassess a situation. It will be our way of pushing the ‘pause’ button. It will be used in utmost seriousness. It might sound dramatic, but rest assured, it’s real. Our lives are in each other’s hands.

So, given serious consequences, teams usually have a plan… AND, like many plans, they go out the window as soon as the race starts. It’s extremely rare when opportunity aligns with the plan. So, it begins to make more sense to sleep whenever it is warm and dry and dark and quiet and when no other teams are on your heels and when there are no cut-offs looming… maybe you get the idea. That time never comes! You’ll be lucky to get two of those, so most teams end up pushing their limits. And, after all, that’s part of the appeal of adventure racing!

So, we’ll see all ranges of actual sleep times in this race. Some will take several hours at once. Some will take the equivalent in cat naps here and there. You’d be surprised at how rejuvenating a 15-minute nap can be! At least one team felt the need to take some time at a hotel during that first very long, cold, wet trek. Whereas, Estonia ACE didn’t get any rest until TA 3 when they had a 2 hour lead over the 2nd team.

Speaking of TA 3, what a beacon of hope that must be for all teams. A hot meal and a hotel room where they can stay for up to 6 hours is nearly unheard of in expedition adventure races. It is ideally timed at mid-race and after the kayak leg. I know that would keep me motivated to push through being tired in order to get there. I’d tell the hallucinations to go back to where they came from. I’d pop a caffeine pill, chew another piece of gum, sing a song, start a conversation about the meaning of life, accept a tow or take a teammate’s pack… In other words, I’d try VERY hard to get there.

Andrea Anderson ARWC 2021 Guest Commentator Team thisABILITY Adventure Racing


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