Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Dealing with the Mental Challenges

"The WaterTribe Challenges are long, grueling races that are extremely demanding, both physically and mentally."

This is how the WARNING PAGE on the WaterTribe site begins. It's worth following the link and having a quick read, it's really quite interesting. The warnings attempt to list some of the hazards, dangers, or other safety considerations one must prepare for when attempting a WaterTribe Challenge. Some are no different than any paddling consideration, others are specific to the geographical area, and the rest are warnings related to the extreme physical and mental demands of a long endurance challenge. Some are certainly things I'd never thought of when I was considering entering my first WaterTribe Everglades Challenge in March '04.

Yes, this warning page is really about releasing WaterTribe from liability, and forcing the paddler to be responsible. The warning includes " We do not and will not even try to make this event safe for anyone. This event is not safe for anyone. This is no joke." It certainly forces you to think twice about your abilities and why you want to do it, not to mention what it does to your friends and family.

The physical demands are really not so hard to figure out, it's going to be really hard, training for them is just lots of exercise. It's the mental demands that are really the hardest, the hardest to prepare for, and the hardest to deal with during the event.

So how do I prepare for the mental demands, and what am I the most afraid of:

  • I never even consider anything other than finishing, in my head and in my dreams I always finish, sometimes I'm even first. I tell everyone I know about this race, failure is not allowed. And then I ask my husband to do everything he can to talk me into continuing (even if he doesn't want me to) just in case I call and say 'it's too hard'.
  • The hardest for me is the night paddling. My imagination is overly creative (I'm always seeing things that aren't there), distances are hard to judge, it's hard to figure out where you are, hard to find landing places and a place to camp, I always feel cold, and my mind starts screaming 'Why are you doing this'. In training, I try and paddle a regular Friday night 15 miler.
  • Being alone, and often in conditions you would never choose to be in if this was a recreational paddle can be pretty scary. You must use your experience and know your skills to know when you should be off the water. I continually work on my skills, practice rescues, take advanced classes and try and paddle with others more skilled than I, even after 12 years, I'm always learning.
  • One of my fears is not finding a safe landing or possible camp spot when I'm so tired. When you really want to stop, it seems there is no place to land. I spend a lot of time preparing, researching charts, reading trip reports, looking at satellite photo's, using Gazetteer's, everything I can to have options before I even start.
  • This challenge has me particularly worried about the Miami to Ft Lauderdale area, and the inlets on Florida East Coast. I've had many warnings that the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway) is a zoo, too many boats, big ships, confused boat wakes, narrow channels, totally developed with bulkheads, no landing spots, and no camping spots. I'm planning many options including: going ocean side if weather permits, paddling at night and resting during the day, and hooking up with an ad hoc partner during this portion.
  • Yea I'm afraid of sharks, and alligators, and snakes and all that, but, I honestly don't really think too much about that very much

I'm not afraid to work hard, or work through discomfort, I can battle the physical demands very well. Challenges like this are only successful for those who spend time preparing appropriately, having the right equipment and safety gear (thank you sponsors for helping me with this), knowing how to use it, and then spending some time working on how to deal with the mental challenges.

Just having a place like this to think about it and write it down helps :)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great Blog Dawn! I know the Miami area seems like one big problem, but this area will only take one or two days from your entire trip. I think if you enter it rested you won't have any problem just pushing right through.

make sure you are visible and report jerks to the marine patrol on your radio. One nice thing about that area is that the authorities are concentrated there too.