How do you train for an expedition? Expeditions are tough. They are big physical beasts where the ability to take knocks is often as important as fitness. You can train to repeatedly perform and action, to run, to cycle, to swim, to climb, to haul a sled; but this isn’t the challenge of big expeditions. Last week we touched a bit on the mental side of things and the importance of training your mind to boss your body-this week it’s about the hard knocks.
No matter how careful you are you get knocked about on these trips, from crashes to falls to bumps and scrapes; from tropical diseases to flu and fatigue-you’re going to feel it at some point or another. So how do you train for it? There’s a big trend these days in England for races like Tough Guy and for paying former soldiers to shout at you in public parks. There’s no need for either of these things we are lucky to have the ideal sport played across the country by men and women where getting knocked down and getting back up again IS the game, where you go out in any weather come what may and where hardwork and effort can overcome talent.
That sport is rugby.
Now I know lots of you out there will laugh and see rugby as a game played by oafs and bullys who can’t play football but bare with me. Rugby is an all weather game played in sweltering heat and icy cold days alike. Come wind or shine you turn up and head out with your mates to do battle. Training is uniformly on cold wind swept evenings usually served up with lashings of drizzle!
It’s a contact game and the ability to be battered and bruised and to be able to carry on is prized above all else. It’s the only sport where the if one player doesn’t do their job properly then their team mate will get hurt-be it a back row forward not being quick enough to a break down and the winger getting trampled on or a fly half giving a lofted hospital pass to a second row and him getting clattered-everyone matters, everyone’s decisions have direct and immediate consequences.
It’s a game where enthusiasm and dogged stubborness can come out on top of skill and talent. It’s a game for all shapes imaginable to the orges and orcs up front to the flyers and fairys out back. It’s a game that teaches you leadership and how to follow, teaches you about strength and the importance of technique and about how brains will always beat brawn.
The most important thing about rugby and team sport in general is that when you mess up you get told off. Now this doesn’t sound like a plus but we live in such a mediocre tolerant society that sport is the only arena that truly persues excellence. If you’re screwing up at work or in life and noone comments on it then it tells you that they have given up on you. Don’t give up on yourself and don’t let those around you accept being average.
The great lessons I’ve learnt from rugby aren’t the direct skills, (although being able to lift someone in a lineout is an asset and a life skill!) it’s the attitudes and personal social skills it conveys that are the most useful on expeditions. A team mate of mine, Junior, who I’d played rugby with in Korea joined me from Spain to Morocco on my last bike ride. He turned up with a bright yellow bike with racing tyres-he flew down the clat roads of north Africa but crashed and fell countless times on the muddy tracks in west Africa. Some of the wipeouts were incredible and yet everytime he fell he got up and carried on-rugby gives you this great ability to take hard knocks and continue with an endurance activity. I doubt many of the top elite cyclists, marathon runners and triathletes have this ability to perform after impacts. Junior actually endured alot more than me in west Africa-I had thich tyres and a trailer and the one time I did fall over I nearly threw all the toys out the pram!
So my advice to anyone thinking about setting off on an expedition? Take a few hours out of your week to go down to your local rugby club and get smashed about!
Here’s some highlights of the ‘Greatest Game Ever Played’: