Can I do it? FAQ’s
"The word ‘impossible’ has now been seemingly lost from my inner monologue’s vocabulary. Dreams are no longer far-fetched fantasies that bumble around in my brain never coming to fruition."
Like many people, you have watched an expedition adventure race like Primal Quest or GODZone on Live Coverage and have been blown away by the exploits of the teams, the beauty of the terrain and the prospect of racing non-stop for days.
How do you know if you can make it to the finish? How do you get started? What are the compromises that you will have to make in an already busy life? What’s the best way to prepare for an event of this magnitude? Race Director, Maria Burton, gives his personal insights into some of the common questions for those aspiring to take on Primal Quest.
In an event as long as Primal Quest, strength and speed are much less important than would otherwise be the case in events that typically last a few hours. Mental strength, good planning and team work are much more important than in other more traditional endurance events. Good planning means not only arriving at the event with your kit and mind in good order. It also means making sure that you plan your training and preparation smartly in the months leading up to the event.
Whether you end up completing the full course or short course does not really matter for the first timer. What matters is that you are out there doing it, taking in the amazing experience of racing in North America's wilderness. For many people, the journey and the process of getting prepared for the event is equally (if not more so) important than the event itself. Don't get too hung up on the end result, think about the experience and the positive rewards it will bring. If you are motivated, intelligent about your training, have an open mind and the drive, you can do it, regardless of your sporting pedigree.
Primal Quest appeals to a wide range of different age groups and across the employment spectrum. However, working professionals aged between 30 and 45 make up the significant bulk of our competitors. These people, like many busy people around the world, are time short and faced with multiple commitments. But, as Benjamin Franklin said, if you want to get something done, ask a busy person and these busy people are just the types to appear at Primal Quest. You might be under the illusion that the teams at the front of the field do nothing but train or are full time athletes. This is simply not the case and there are no full time adventure racing athletes who make a living out of this sport – they all work, in some form, to pay the bills. Many of the very best racers live robust, rich family lives and manage to combine their love of the outdoors and training with their partners in a very positive way. The secret seems to be the holy trinity of communication, compromise and commitment.
First of all you need to tell your partner/family what you want to do and why. You need to spell out what it involves and be honest about the positive and negative impacts it may have on your established lifestyle. If you can clearly communicate the commitment you need to make it can help to get your family on board and supportive. This line of communication needs to continue for the duration and you should ensure that you invite your friends, family and supporters to the event so they can truly feel part of your experience rather than a remote spectator. The team dynamic in an adventure race can be a hugely rewarding one for a team of four but for your partner, looking in from the outside, it can seem quite intimidating or exclusive. Make them feel part of it.
Compromise is vital for balance in all aspects of life and it’s no different at Primal Quest. If you’re going to dedicate 10hrs or more of your life each week to training then there logically needs to be some kick back in terms of investing time with the family, during the training phase, in the aftermath or ideally both. Think carefully about when you allocate your training times. It might be a challenge to get up and do that 5hr bike ride at 5am on a Sunday morning but its good mental training and leaves plenty of time in the day for all the other things.
Once you embark on the journey to Primal Quest you are going to have to be committed. If you are going to sacrifice your family life, ask for time off from work and spend money on the way, then the last thing you want to do is reflect at the end of it all on a job half done. You owe it to your family, your team mates and yourself to give it a proper go. You don’t want to have to explain to your partner that the reason that you pulled out on Day 2, having trained for 6 months, was that your feet fell apart because you’d neglected to get them into shape.
Simply to finish. It doesn’t matter whether you do that via the full course or the short course but your lazer-guided attention should be on getting to the finish line in the time allowed; usually 7-10 days. It is entirely impractical for us to leave the course open for the length of time it would take every team to finish the full course which is why we employ a short course option. This in no way diminishes the achievement of those who complete the short course – in fact, the opposite is probably true. We're of the opinion that it’s mentally a lot tougher (and impressive) to be a team at the back doing a short course over 7 days than it is to be fast team and be out there for just 3 and half days, even if they do the full course. The odd person seems to think that a person who only completes the short course is less of an achiever at Primal Quest but these people don’t really understand the sport and have probably never done anything like it before.
It’s important that the team is collectively on the same page when it comes to your race expectations and a bit of honesty goes a long way in this regard. If your team is just focusing on getting to the finish and you wish to place on the podium then it’s best to get that out in the open as soon as possible. It doesn’t mean that the team dynamic is set to fail but at least you can work out some common ground and nobody is left under any illusion. The worst place to find these sorts of things out is during the race. But, it happens and we see the odd team, every Edition, dealing with personnel issues – normally as a result of poor pre-race communications and expectations.
You can see an outline of the basic Mandatory Gear List under the Resources tab. The gear list is pretty long compared to most other sports but then again, you are out on your own for up to 7 days so it’s not that surprising. Many of the items are standard things that you would carry if you were tramping in your local hills so you are likely to have them anyway. As an event we realise the benefits of us providing as much quality specialist equipment for the teams as possible. We provide double sea kayaks, inflatable canoes and paddles, spray decks, some climbing equipment and even gear boxes if you need them.
Depending on the race location you may be required to bring specific items relevant to a particular stage. For example, crampons, ice axes, harnesses and climbing helmet. You will be given ample warning in advance, via the regular Newsletters, about the inclusion of these items to give you the time to acquire them and learn how to use them correctly.
One key point to remember as a first timer at Primal Quest is that acquiring equipment is the easy bit. Acquiring the skills to use that piece of equipment is not so easy. Furthermore, whether that item of equipment, which fitted like a velvet glove in the shop, works after 5 days in the heat of the event is another matter too. The best investment you will make in any piece of equipment is the time you put into using it and we whole heartedly recommend that you get outside and thrash your equipment wherever possible – particularly on the water (it’s the area where most skill shortfalls are apparent).
This is an incredibly subjective area and really depends on the person or team involved. Some people thrive on the structure of plans and guidance. Others wilt under the demands of a coach and can even find them demotivating in the long term. The physical training required to give you a realistic chance of finishing Primal Quest is not rocket science. It is all pretty straight forward and based on common sense. In this regard we don’t think that a coach adds a lot to the aspirational athlete at Primal Quest. However, the big caveat to this general conclusion is ensuring that you arrive at the event with the requisite skills to ensure your success and safety.
One area we constantly highlight for teams to pay attention to is in skill development in kayaks and canoes. As stated elsewhere on this website, you need to ensure that you have sufficient skills to look after yourself and your team mates. Just completing a Grade 2 certificate over a weekend does not mean you are skilled enough to cope in the challenging water conditions at an expedition adventure race. If you can join a local club and make the most of the coaching facilities to pick up crucial skills over the medium to long term then you are far less likely to come up against the unexpected at Primal Quest. Likewise, if you are unsure how to cross big rivers as a group of 4 safely; or, if you navigation falls apart at the seams at night; or, you struggle with huge blisters every time you do a long mission on foot; or, your gear always seems to be a mess and disorganised – then it might make sense to get an outside expert or coach to set you on the right track.
It all depends on the person providing the answer. Some people are predisposed to be strong physically; others seem to deal with mental challenges without blinking. A few very lucky individuals are blessed both mentally and physically and they will often make good adventure racers. There is no doubt that the psychological effects of racing over many days, with little sleep, can have a debilitating effect on even the most hardy souls and we have seen elite athletes from other sports reduced to sobs, tears and a whole lot more. The team aspect of the race can provide valuable support to certain individuals but for others it can be a lightning rod for discord.
From the moment you enter Primal Quest you can view every part of your experience as part of your mental training. You will sometimes experience doubts about your ability or whether you have prepared enough. Some mornings you will look out of the window, see the rain and try to persuade yourself not to head out on that 5hr bike ride you had planned through Muddy Valley. There will be times when you and your team will disagree about a piece of equipment and you will have to decide whether to let it go or fight your corner. Mental strength comes from understanding how you deal with physical and social challenges day in and day out. If you can become mentally strong in the months leading up to the event than there is little doubt that your experience at Primal Quest will be improved. The reality is that most people who have retired from an Edition of Primal Quest have done so because they are mentally not willing or capable of carrying on, rather than injured to the point where they can’t continue.
This very much depends on your current level of fitness, strength in the key disciplines of trekking, biking, kayaking and canoeing , the amount of time you want to dedicate to training each week and your race expectations. The obvious answer is straight away and if you feel you have the mental and physical stamina to go the distance then why not? For most people though, 6 months is ample and the next few weeks might be a good time to chat to the family about your rough plans, talk to your team mates about a common goal and then working out the best way to spend those all-important 6 months.
If you are gifted (trusted) enough to be the team navigator then you don’t need to wait for the 6 month mark to start your training. Nope, you can start working on that navigation straight away and pretty much keep going – forever. It’s a skill that you can never have enough of in an expedition race and most training sessions would ideally have a navigational element to them.
There are number of adventure races in North America and overseas that will give you a good introduction to the basic dynamics of Primal Quest. Any adventure race which includes real navigation and time outdoors will be beneficial to do. The best options are the 12hr and 24hr versions which introduce elements of strategy, navigation, team work, a small amount of sleep deprivation and the all-important transitions. Any single discipline events with a navigational or skill elements are also a fantastic way to improve your skills. If you can do these events with your team mates and learn some of their idiosyncrasies, all the better.
That said, don't fall into the trap of thinking that just because you have done an 'easy' expedition race in another country or a 24hr race that you have the skills to canter through Primal Quest. The event is long, tough and requires skills that are a step up from more general events.
Generally speaking it’s difficult to replicate the efforts you put into a race in training so lots of racing should lead to rapid improvements in performance. However, you need to remember that your race pace during Primal Quest is likely to be considerably less than what you might do in a traditional endurance event over a few hours. Sure, use all types of races for getting fit, keeping things fresh and for enjoyment but please don't assume that running a fast marathon or two will suddenly mean that you’ll be running all the time at Primal Quest – you won’t.
Navigation, navigation, navigation (with a healthy dollop of mental toughness thrown in). These are the most important factor in a successful outcome at Primal Quest. If you are the team navigator then you will have a disproportionate input into the eventual outcome of the team. Get outdoors and practice whenever you can. If you are not the team navigator then your job is simple. Either, get better and become the team navigator or suck up the navigators mistakes without negative comment.
Condition your body and mind to the rigours of Primal Quest. Take a look at the History section of the event, read race reports from teams who took part and try to build a picture of what you are going to come against – then emulate that in training. I like a 6-8 week conditioning period in the last couple of months before a race like Primal Quest. In this period I will drop nearly all general ‘fitness’ training and focus on long missions that condition my feet, backside, hands, etc. All the areas that you never think about when normally training but can’t stop thinking about in an expedition adventure race as they usually cause most pain.
Be realistic about your personal and team aspirations. Too many first time participants aim for a placing when they should just aim to finish either the full or short course in the time allowed.
Try and get organised as soon as possible. It is always amazing how many questions we get about kit and logistics in the last couple of weeks before the event starts. Get your bike box built well in advance. Use it, abuse it, pack it and unpack it. Take it away with you on your training trips and learn to love its frustratingly small capacity.
It might sound like stating the obvious but the slow teams lose the most time when they are not moving. Put it another way, when the slow teams are moving they are usually moving at a speed that is not too different from the fast teams. However, it is the repetitive stops to check they are going the right way, the time spent lost, the faffing, the idling in transition and the long sleeps, that really make all the difference. If you want to give yourself the best chance of completing the course you don’t need to be a sporting monster. You need to be well prepared, you need to go the right way and you need to move forward steadily and not succumb to the temptation to stop at every opportunity.
Some of you will already have made the decision to compete at Primal Quest despite never having done anything quite like it before. Bravo. Some of you will be wondering whether you have it in you to complete something so demanding. Truth be known we don't know if you do or if you don't. What we do know, however, is that spending the next few years wondering about it will prove nothing and you'll miss out on a truly unique experience.
We're not so deluded to claim that you'll all come through with flying colours. That you'll sprint through the finish tape carrying your 3 wrecked team mates, kiss your biceps and salute the cheering crowd who are spellbound by your awesomeness. Or, that every single one of you will reach the finish. That's just not the way of things in this sport and, besides, reaching the finish is just one of the reasons for doing Primal Quest. If you do take the plunge we have no doubt that you'll become utterly immersed in the nature of adventure racing. You'll seek out new pastures in your home town and further afield, you'll polish or learn new skills, you'll develop friendships and, perhaps most importantly, you'll reconnect with the great outdoors and the skills required to spend time in the wilderness.