PATHFINDER Horizon | What to Do When Things Go Wrong

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In a perfect world, your 50 miler is smooth sailing. Everyone on the team feels great the whole time. Everyone gets along perfectly, with no disagreements. Navigation is perfect. You find all of your waypoints quickly. In less time than expected, your team arrives at the Endex, with exactly 50 miles covered. We don’t live in a perfect world, though, and especially in an event with as many variables as the Star Course, you’re bound to encounter surprises and challenges along the way. You can do all you can to anticipate and mitigate risks by reading AARs, communicating well with your team, and learning through experience in your training. Even so, there will be some aspects of the event that you can’t control. When issues happen, that’s where you have to put on your problem-solving hat, work with your team, adapt, and overcome.

Here are some stories with examples of the types of challenges you might encounter, along with examples of what was done in those cases to try to solve those problems.

STORY 1: Concerns About Meeting the Time Hack

In CLT, my team made two mistakes early on, the consequences of which were felt later in the event. First, we started too fast. I didn’t pay enough attention to our instantaneous pace in the first few miles, and I assumed that because everyone on the team was rucking that fast, that they were comfortable with going that fast for the duration of the event. We got caught up in the excitement of all the teams rushing out to the first waypoint, and I was only thinking about my role as Timekeeper in terms of break timing and not in terms of pace-setting.

The second issue was that we didn’t stick to our plan of taking our first break at mile 8. We were feeling good, so we decided to press on and keep rucking until our next waypoint, which was another 5 or so miles away. This decision resulted in some feet that were hurting by the time we got to that waypoint, and paces that slowed. 

Lessons Learned:

  • Communicate with your teammates when you have issues with the pace or your physical state so that corrections can be made as quickly as possible.
  • Once you have a break and pacing plan that everyone agrees to, stick with it unless there’s a serious need to change the plan. In the fog of war, you sometimes don’t make the best decisions.
  • Don’t go out too fast.

Running some numbers and seeing the trend in our mile splits, I developed concerns about our ability to meet our time hack. It was important that I not keep this concern to myself because I needed to make sure that everyone was aware of this risk so that we could do what we needed to physically and mentally to get back on track. That seemed to help at first, and our pace time improved. The early speed and the skipped break did cause muscle tightness as we continued, though, and paces struggled again later. Our break plan kind of fell apart. Because we skipped the first planned break, we ended with more unplanned breaks and extra pain.

To get back on track with pace, we did a few things.

  • We re-allocated rucks a couple of times so that whoever was struggling the most at the time could get a break, and the team as a whole could move faster.
  • While we don’t generally advocate having the team members separate for any part of the event, we did that when I rushed ahead to a convenience store to pick up some medicine for a teammate, and again when I let my teammates continue while I swapped shoes and caught back up. I was comfortable navigating and getting around in the city, it was a short separation, we had phones to stay in contact, and I felt confident in my ability to catch up, which is why I took this risk.
  • When we heard rumors of a short-cut, we reached out to other teams to ask for tips on where to save some significant steps.

In the end, through the perseverance of my teammates, their problem-solving skills, and a never-give-up mindset, we made it through the 52-mile course with 40 minutes to spare. It’s important to never give up and to focus on solutions, rather than the problem. I even know of some examples from events like San Francisco 2018 or ATL 2019 where the route was more challenging than even the Cadre expected, and modifications to the requirements were made mid-way through the event. Those who continued on despite challenging circumstances were rewarded later on with new hope and a fighting chance. I don’t expect many of those scenarios to happen in the future, now that the event, the apps, and the cities are more familiar to the organizers. However, it’s a good lesson that one should never give up.

STORY 2: Nav App User Errors & Communication

My very first Star Course was the ATL 26.2. I wanted to use it as a low-pressure environment for learning how the event works before I tried going for the longer 50 miler. I was on a team of 3 that I found through the Facebook event page. One would be our Navigator, one would be our Team Leader, and I was the Instagrammer. The Navigator was a local, so he was going to take the primary role. I had read AARs that pointed out how critical the initial waypoint entry and route optimization were, so even though I wasn’t the Navigator, I was going to also put the points into Road Warrior Pro, which I had practiced with on real rucks prior to the event. We came up with the same shape (although opposite directions in the somewhat circular route, which is OK… we just picked a direction, based on whether we wanted to do the city waypoints early in the night or at the end). 

We knocked out our first set of waypoints easily. Our Navigator knew the area really well and was on top of things. After the third waypoint, our Navigator started taking us down a road that wasn’t on the route that I had plotted in Road Warrior or found recommended on Google Maps for point-to-point directions to the next waypoint. I asked him about it then, but in our quick discussion, I accepted that we were fine and that this was a good route to our next destination. 

About a mile and a half of a long walk later, during a pit stop where I had lots of time to think through it some more, I determined that this couldn’t be right. We had gone past some waypoints that would’ve been to our north, and I didn’t see how we could possibly be going the optimal way if we had to somehow come back to this area later on to get those points. I decided to ask the Navigator about it again, and we figured out that he had been re-optimizing the route along the way, and because the Road Warrior setting was on “Round Trip”, it always thought that we’d be coming back to the area. 

I’ll take this moment to point out - there shouldn’t be a need to re-optimize the route once you do the initial optimization at the beginning of the event when you plot your points and get the sequence. You only need to re-optimize if something significant blocks your originally planned route, and if you do re-optimize, make sure you adjust settings like round trip vs. one-way if needed.

Lessons Learned:

  • Speak up as soon as you have concerns about something. The earlier, the better, before you go too far down a bad path. I’m glad I spoke up when I did, the second time. I wish I had questioned a little more the first time the topic came up. It only ended up costing us 0.75 miles extra, so we were fortunate. But, it could’ve been worse, if he had continued re-optimizing the route the whole way. I’m not the best at communicating, so in my next Star Course, I told my DC 50 Team Leader ahead of time that communication was something I was working on, and she encouraged me to not be afraid to speak up if I had any concerns during the event. It can save your team miles, best case. Worst case, you have a discussion, and the team can make a decision with the information available. At the very least, you foster a good team dynamic where people feel open to express concerns and manage risks appropriately.
  • Learn the Nav App inside and out! Understand how all of the key settings and features work.

We hope these two stories of what happens when things go wrong will help you troubleshoot when things start to go sideways in your event. Knowing how to fix a situation beforehand can lead to a better outcome!