Explorers Connect

Lessons learned. Things that can go wrong on a 1140km triathlon!

Adventure RevolutionJames Hipkiss

I am passionate about life, learning and travelling, hence my lifestyle has always been very creative: finding ways to combine work, challenge and 'something new' I went from studying Biochemistry in Australia over being a journalist for a German newspaper to working at the BBC studios in London - oh yes, I dipped into the corporate world once or twice as well.

I realised that I would never fit 'one' job-description and decided it was time to filter-out the elements that are making my day and a difference in my life. The result: discovery, endurance, outdoor and learning by doing the idea of simply being an adventurer was born. Besides coming up with random adventures such as walking the Grand-Union Canal from Birmingham as far as I could get with a couple of pounds in my pocket, I made it my quest last year to create an adventure within 29 days including sponsorship: Mission Spain was born, cycling 4000km solo around Spain as free-cycle courier learning fluent Spanish on the way. What followed was the urge to digest of what happened and actually remind myself of 'the how' I made it happen. I self-published the book:

Don't just talk, do it first draft written in 30 days, another 30 days to get it up online. I was stunned about the evolution of a simple idea to the actual creation of an amazing life-changing project including the people and teams you build around you during this time. Knowing what I loved I was unstoppable to come up with the next idea: How to prepare better for a half-ironman than being adventurous and discovering new territories cultures at the same time? With this my Three Border Triathlon was born, a solo triathlon crossing 3 countries in just a month and a bit: 680km across Switzerland by bike, over 200km swimming along the Danube in Germany, finishing off with a 260km run traversing Austria. It took me a month to come up with the concept, another one to develop and organise it to then actually do it. The initial idea looked different: 550km swimming along the Danube and running 320km across Austria what went wrong? Let's have a look of what I have done? What went wrong and how I would do it differently next time? This can be useful for your adventure to prevent some good learning-mistakes Equipment transport: Bike Leg 1. Don't rely on the post-office I first went by bike, starting out from Geneva. All the equipment for my individual legs was packed in my rear panniers, such as the triathlon wetsuit, one pair of running shoes and other things I would need.

Everything except one item my lightweight tent. What went wrong here? I agreed with a friend in London that he would sponsor my 1.7kg Jack Wolfskin Gossamer tent (you know the lighter, the better). I had 10 days in Geneva before starting the journey. He bought the tent in London and sent it over via royal mail. It never arrived for some reason it was stuck in Zurich. One day before I was due to start, still nothing and no explanation from the post-office what happened: was it lost? Not allowed to pass? Or already been sent back? Only assumptions, no clear answers and no one in charge to solve this matter. The last thing you like to deal on your adventure is time-/energy-wasting administration. As there are not many good outdoor ships in Geneva, I couldn't even buy a tent with blowing my budget I was lucky that I had the chance to borrow one: instead of my expected 1.7kg lightweight tent I was now carrying a tent that weighed 3.7kg. Not good. I later bought the right one myself and spent money that was not accounted for. Lesson learned: Don't rely on the post (even if someone tells you the amount of time it will take) make sure you have the main equipment ready. Or check the stores you are travelling to and reserve the equipment you require to prevent extra costs, time-delay or simply giving up the control over your journey.

Equipment back-up: 2. When the equipment gives in I trusted that one set of equipment would do the job. So I had only one pair of running-shoes and one wetsuit. I had faith in the quality and did not even consider back-ups. What happened?: Have you ever swam 200km in a river on successive days?Before my last adventure, me neither and I think equipment companies don't test their items up to this endurance. For some reason my wetsuit became more porous with every day and more susceptible towards nail bits until it ripped trying to glue it did not work really. I was standing there with no back-up. Buying another one cost a hell of a lot. I had a great sponsor who sent out a second one, it only took days until it arrived cause it was coming from the US. I also had a bright buoy that not only kept my daily supplies dry but also acted as security hook just in case. After more than 10 days, it ripped my food and camera equipment soaked. For the run I thought one pair of shoes would do, everything was fine up to KM 240, then all of the sudden my Achilles were swelling, running turned into walking and walking into hopping.

The intended 320km across Austria turned to 260km. It changes your adventure completely if you trust on equipment that has not been tested under this circumstances. Lesson learned: There are two things I have learned 1. Evaluate the dependence on the set of equipment you take with you and see if you have the budget to buy yourself a second one if things go wrong. I was dependent on the wetsuit to keep away the cold and as for the safety swimmer to provide security during my solo swim-stages. Agree on a potential back-up with your sponsor or have two pairs. 2. When it comes to sports and you do something you have never done before, such as myself doing a 260km run, keep in mind that items such as shoes can cause a repetitive frictions on your muscles or ligaments see that you have two different pairs to reduce this as they will surrounds your body in a different way. Sponsors 2. Make sure you have a set agreement with your sponsor I was very lucky to have a Sponsor for the bike on board. I picked it up in Geneva and we agreed that once I would hit the Swiss border to send it back via train. No problem. He even provided me with a train ticket that you have to show at the station so they assume that you are going back as well and will pick up your bike from the train storage.

What happened? The train station did not allow to leave the rear panniers on the bike, nor the helmet. So I had to send them back via mail additional costs. Also in order for the station to take the bike you have to pay a small fee as well. Mentioning this to the sponsor he simply said it was my duty to pay for it. Ups. Lesson learned: I don't like unexpected costs on my adventure as everything is budgeted. Make an agreement with your sponsor if logistics are involved that he is taking over any unexpected costs that require the equipment to transport from A to B. It was not much that I had to pay but you know if you are on a longer trip, every penny you spent more is a penny spent less on food or things that might be necessary. If he disagrees from the start at least you know that a little buffer is required in this area, just in case. Independence 3. Don't give up control. I was very lucky that one day before I started my swim-leg, a local radio station sent me an email, saying: 'One of our reporters is going to accompany you'.

My first response: Great. My second one: Can I put my luggage in his car? The intention was to carry my luggage in a 80L dry-bag around my ankle while swimming the river. I tried it out, but when I got the offer from the station, I was just thinking of how to conquer the swim so if I can make it easier, why not taking the opportunity. What went wrong? The radio station said they would be with me up to a certain town. Great. It only happened that short-noticed their plans changed, and it turned into 10 days. So I was missing the logistics to transport my luggage up to the point they mentioned.

The weather was unusual cold for May, and it was a hardship to convince myself to step into this cold water, day after day to tick of the 20km stages. You spent the time and energy looking after yourself to be ready for the next day listening to your body to keep out of the danger zone, such as hypothermia. I had given up the organisational side of the project, got used to it and wasn't ready for plan B when it happened. I did manage on a daily basis, but it simply added 'stress' and organisation to actually doing the challenge. Lesson learned: If you are offered company to support you on the project, make sure you are prepared to take over it yourself again at any point. As for media, it is invaluable to have them on board, capturing your adventure in amazing perspectives and helping you to spread the word just make sure that they don't become involved in other aspects of your journey, such as equipment transport. Only if you have made a set agreement. Team 4. Have a team you can count on Before I started the journey I contacted all the canoe clubs along the Danube to look-out for support. It was great how many replied and offered their help for a day or two. I nearly had all the distance covered it gave me back-up for my luggage transport in case I had problems with pulling my equipment behind me.

What went wrong? 1. Don't underestimate how exhausting it can be to arrange and introduce new team-members on a daily or weekly basis. I thought it would be great to have different people for different stages on board, I simply made it too flexible, trying to hold everything together simply put me under pressure to arrive at certain points in a certain time. 2. I didn't know the people beforehand and for me it was a bonus to have someone on board. It turned out that some decided short-noticed to pull out, such as sending me an SMS at 11pm leaving me behind to sort out the next bit. It was a volunteering team not a set support team, there is a difference. 3. When people are involved that don't understand the adventure, it can be quiet irritating if they recommend you to stop and keep mentioning what is not working or bombard you with negative input. You know what you are doing, and you know that it can be tough you don't need someone put doubts in your head and actually recommending to stop.

It drains and most of all if you are exposed to hardship you are more sensitive and even may think about it. Lesson learned: I have learned that there is a difference with having extra people on board or having a good support team that stays with you. If you are in a medium you cannot escape, such as cold water and have dependence on aspects like luggage transport you need a set team to support you with and things you can delegate to, so you can keep the focus on the challenge. Next time I am out with a bunch of people that are going to support me and I have not really spent a lot of time with them beforehand, I will make the agreement that there is no room for negative advice, such as giving up. It's always your own choice. 

This adventure has been a great learning curve, I combined three different things without having tested them individually and thought that a preparation time of 30 days similar to Mission Spain would do. I had to realize that adventures have a different dynamic, different dependence and different requirements, so it is good to keep this in mind when preparing the next one.

If you have more specific questions, ideas or like to give your feedback just comment below or visit me on my site: www.nadinehorn.com

Written by Nadine Horn