Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Indispensable Sherpa

In the endurance world, there are a few critical components of going long. We have training. Without training, we can't compete.

We have nutrition. Without proper nutrition, we can't compete well.

We have mental toughness. Without mental toughness, nothing will happen. We won't make any attempt to get up early to get in a 4 hour ride. Mental toughness is what carries us through pain. Mental toughness is that thing that pushes us beyond what we think we are capable of.

Here's the BUT, you were waiting for it weren't you?

I have never read an article in any sports magazine that stresses the importance of the Sherpa in endurance racing.

If you are new to the endurance world, let me explain the Sherpa.

Unlike the athlete, the Sherpa doesn't register to become a Sherpa. It just happens. The Sherpa is the person that provides the athlete with support. Complete unyielding, unquestioning support.

The Sherpa knows the athlete inside-out. The Sherpa offers advice. The Sherpa wakes up at 4am to drive to a race to support their athlete. They cheer on the athlete at the start. Then they sit and wait for a few hours, just so they can scream and yell and cheer again during that brief 5 minutes that they get to see their athlete again. Then they wait again.

The Sherpa is a "coach". The Sherpa is the person that knows the times of every race the athlete has competed in. The Sherpa knows when a race is going well or not just by looking at their athlete's face. The Sherpa is a cheerleader. The Sherpa is a photographer. The Sherpa is a medic. The Sherpa knows the best way to handle cuts, blisters, and chafing. They know how to handle dehydration.

The know every aspect of the athlete's race strategy.

The Sherpa might not understand the athlete's desire to go long. The Sherpa might worry about the athlete, but they never question the desire. They are accepting. They always know what to say, what piece of advice to offer, what words of encouragement to say. They also know that sometimes words can't heal disappointment, but a warm hug can.

During training, the Sherpa will drop everything when they receive the "rescue call" and drive out to help their athlete. The Sherpa will have every piece of a long run or long ride mapped out and will wait at a meeting place for their athlete, so the athlete can reload on snacks or drinks.

The Sherpa does all of the work and receives none of the glory. The Sherpa isn't the one crossing the finish line, but they put in much of the work. They are at the finish line snapping pictures, screaming, and waving the cowbell.

They don't receive a medal at the finish, but they seem absolutely genuinely happy when their athlete finishes.

Without our Sherpas, we couldn't do what we do.