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Practical Guide to Seconding

Practical Guide to Seconding

Seconding starts long before the race day and finishes long after the race ends. You have to be everything to everyone in your team, at the same time.

Your budget is guaranteed to be limited, so plan in advance so that you have enough time to source equipment from friends and relations. You'll need to find enough crates, boxes and waterbottles to fit all your stuff, and just when you thought you were organised, you're going to have to unpack, discard unnecessaries and repack so that everything will fit into your vehicle.

You'll never remember everything and during the race bright ideas will evolve at unexpected times. Invest in a small hardcover notebook for ideas, contact numbers and forgotten equipment that you'd like for the next race.

Are you ready?

You've probably been recruited because:

  • You're a friend or relative of a racer and have been blackmailed into doing this;
  • You've volunteered - a rare individual.

    It is more fun when there are two seconds and more efficient for the team. Recruit, kidnap or blackmail a helper.

    The following series will cover the essentials from pre-race planning & packing your seconding vehicle to cooking for your team and what to do when your team comes in to transition.


    Seconding vehicle, trailer & bike rack
    You'll need a seconding vehicle. Contact the race organiser for information on the terrain that you'll be covering and recommended vehicle. The general rule is a rugged vehicle and perhaps a trailer. You will need enough space for crates, tents, cooking equipment, mountain bikes and other gear.
    Bakkies (US: pick-up truck) work well - especially in good weather. You only need seating space for two seconds and the open back is ideal for crates. Hook up a trailer with bike rack and you're set.

    Bicycles need to be securely transported. Whether on a bicycle rack attached to the tow-hitch, on the roof of your vehicle or on the roof of the trailer, check that the loaded bikes do not obstruct your access to equipment.
    Check the spare tyre and make certain that you are equipped with a jack, spanner, towrope and jumper cables. If you have a trailer, don't forget to check it's tyre and lights. Carry a jerry-can of fuel with you. You may not need it, but then again, you may.

    General equipment (mainly for overnight events)
    If you're a Grade A camper, this isn't the place for you. You need the basics and a few extra bits so that you're suitably prepared for any eventuality. Many transition points won't be located near amenities like taps, showers or loo's, so bear this in mind when preparing your checklists. The easiest way to start planning is to run through the activities you'll be performing.

    • A waterproof shelter: We've found that a big tent attached to the vehicle works well. Make sure you can stand-up in the shelter and that there is enough space for 4 people to sleep. An extra 2/3-man tent will come in handy for the night before the start and should the team come in to transition for a long (3-4hr) sleep, you will have a place to crash. We put the big tent up at every transition - either for shade, or for them to sleep. You never know what may have happened since you last saw them and they may want to rest.
    • Tarpaulins/ground sheets (2): One for inside the shelter and one outside. We use the outside one for every transition. Most transition points don't even have grass, so the ground sheet provides a relatively clean floor. We've also used these to protect the bikes and gear while travelling.
    • Small fold-up table (1): Very useful when preparing meals or just to put things on i.e. maps, drinks, first aid kit.
    • Chairs (4): Stable fold-up chairs/stools are another essential. When the team comes in to transition, they'll sit while they eat and change. You may be waiting for them for a while so you'll use them too.
    • Packing crates (lots): Those plastic/metal crates with lids that can be clipped down make packing and unpacking the vehicle a pleasure. They stack, protect their contents and can be labelled.
    • Racing trunks (4): Make certain that each racer has their own racing trunk. I've got a big green plastic Addis "Roughtote" crate into which I toss everything I'll need during the race. The lid clicks on and stays there. It has my name on the top and on the sides so that my seconds know to whom it belongs.
    • Cadac's (2): Gas cooking is essential. Unless the transition is in an official camping area, you are not permitted to make fires. Two full canisters will cope with all your catering requirements. Bring additional for lighting.
    • Cooler boxes (2): 1 for everyday stuff and 1 for frozen stuff only.
    • Lamps (lots): There is nothing worse than fumbling around looking for something or trying to cook a meal at 2am, in the dark. Just as Impressionism brought light to art, fluorescent globes and gas lamps bring light to camping. Fluorescent globes work really well and can be hooked up to the car lighter. Glowing in the darkness, your team will be able to easily locate you. You can never have too much light.
    • Mattresses (to fit 4): Truth be told, after 36 hrs with no sleep, they'll sleep on any surface - so this isn't an essential. Foam camping mats work well to insulate bodies from the cold ground.
    • Sleeping bags (4): The racing backpacks will be packed with bivvy bags and compact sleeping bags. Never remove these from their packs. Remember to pack their sleeping bags - and yours - from the pre-race night into the seconding vehicle.
    • Water containers (2x25l with taps; empty coke bottles, thermos/airpot): At some transitions you may not have drinkable water. In any event, be prepared. Keep your 25l containers filled at all times and you'll never run out. We keep the coke bottles filled and use them to mix drinks and easily fill hydration bladders. If you haven't got one of those big airpots/thermos flasks, then bring along some regular thermos flasks. Keep them filled with boiling water all the time. You won't know exactly when to expect your team in and since it takes ages to boil water, if you have it prepared, that's one less thing you'll have to worry about.
    • Rope (1 x 20m; 1x 10m): Whether it's used to tie down the tent, string up a washing line or tie up the other second after 4 days together, rope is always useful.
    • Cooking stuff: Here are the basics. Add what you will but remember, your Kenwood Chef isn't really going to come in handy on this outing. Kettle, 1x medium pot, 1x big pot (remember you're cooking for 6 people), wooden spoon, bread knife, sharp knife, breadboard, can opener, big serving spoon, 4 x cutlery sets, 4 x bowls, 4 x mugs. You'll be eating and drinking when the team is out, so you don't need more than 4 of everything.
    • Washing up stuff: You'll be doing dishes and possibly laundry. You'll need a tub, washing cloth/sponge, eco-friendly dish washing liquid, drying cloth and a little washing powder for clothing.
    • Medical kit (big one): The team will be carrying a small emergency kit with them. You need a well-stocked kit in the vehicle. Here's a couple of essentials: anti-inflammatory cream (Voltaren/Reparil Gel), anti-inflammatory tablets (Besemax), stretch fabric plasters (all shapes and sizes and strips), arnica oil for quick massages, disinfectant (Detol/Savlon), cotton wool, gauze, Transact, second-skin, headache tablets, eye-drops, scissors, tweezers, anti-bacterial cream (Betadine), tape for strapping knees and ankles, knee guard (2), earbuds, sunblock, aqueous cream, vaseline and last, but not least, gentian violet (it made everything thing better when I was little and still does).
    • Bicycle spares (per team): Speak to your local bicycle shop about making up a spares box. You pay for what you use and return the rest. You may need things like: chunky tyres (2), inner tubes (6), tyreliners, puncture repair kits, brake pads (2), spoke spanner, alen-key set, brake cables (2), gear cables (2), spare spokes (4), chain (2), chain-breaker, chain lubricant, Q-20, insulation tape and cable ties.
    • Navigation: As a second, another of your roles is navigator. Besides locating transitions, plotting the next points for the team and identifying route options saves the team time. Ensure that you order an extra set of maps when you fill in your entry form and keep a nav-set in the vehicle: compass, pens, pencils, calculator, ruler and highlighters.
    Other bits:
    • Toilet paper aka fax paper. After a day or two, they'll need to send a fax. Nothing beats catching up with correspondence. Keep a couple of rolls within easy access.
    • Lots of boxes of matches - assign each second a box and have a reserve stash. They're like cello-tape and scissors they disappear.
    • Clothes pegs - useful but not essential.
    • Binoculars - fun for spotting your team approaching.
    • Black garbage bags - Essential for wet, dirty laundry and trash.
    • Plastic shoping bags - useful for wrapping up stuff & trash.
    • Solar shower (available from camping shops) - after 3 days, they may want a quick warm rinse.
    Pack everything thing related i.e. bicycle stuff, cooking stuff etc. into crates, and label them.

    By now you should have the necessary gear methodically packed into crates. The next part will teach you the basics of what to buy, planning meals and preparing food.

    Cooking for adventure racers is easy. If it grows or moves, they'll probably eat it. If you haven't yet gotten the hang of sculpting a tomato into a rose, this is the place for you.

    My new take on food, particularly for single day or 24hr races, is to get the racers to prepare all their own food and own goodie bags, pack the food into a labelled crate and to give their seconds written instructions.

    On short races, there is no need - or time - for the seconds to prepare anything. This method can also be applied to the first day of a multi-day event. It gives the seconds a chance to settle in and find their feet before they have to begin making sandwiches and meals.

    The following applies when the seconds have to prepare meals.

    Start your food planning by methodically going through the stages of the race. You'll need dinner for the night before the race, a snack before the race start, snack-pack goodies, one main meal for each day of the race and a celebratory meal for after the race. You'll need liquids - water, energy drinks, juice, tea, coffee & hot chocolate - and possibly supplements.

    Get the team together and discuss likes, dislikes, allergies and any other dietary peculiarities. Get their consensus on the important things like proteins (red meat, chicken, fish, vegetable protein, eggs), carbs (white/brown bread, rice, potato, sweet potato, pasta), fruits, vegetables and sandwich fillings (cheese, egg mayo, peanut butter & syrup, tuna mayo, jam).

    Take their meal suggestions for breakfasts, sandwiches and hot meals into consideration but go for whatever is logistically the easiest. What can you pre-cook at home and what can be cooked on the cadac in a single pot? Keep your meals simple. You may need to remind them that this is an adventure race and not the Sandton Sun.

    Find out who drinks coffee, tea or hot chocolate. Who has milk? Sugar? Does anyone want fruit juice? Get the racers to supply their own energy drinks i.e. Cytomax, FastFuel etc.

    Also ask them to provide their supplements and to give you written instructions.

    Plan your meals and write a list of goods and quantities to buy before you go shopping so that you don't forget anything. Consider the "hidden" ingredients you'll need i.e. sugar, salt, pepper and herbs.

    Then, go shopping by yourself or with your other second. Adventure racers in a supermarket are like kids in a toy shop - they're compulsive.

    Plan the quantities you'll need for each meal. If you will only need 500g of rice for a meal, only take along 500g. Include one extra cooked meal. Teams have been known to finish a day or two later than expected. Use your first race as a learning experience and streamline for future events. It is better to cook too much than too little.

    Pack your groceries into containers - with lids - instead of leaving them in their original packaging i.e. sugar. Keep your "kitchen" tidy and organised.

    You're going to need some good cooler boxes - one for frozen foods and one for everyday foods), which double-up as tables and chairs, and a good supply of ice - or one of those fancy camping fridges you can hook up to your car battery (especially for multi-day events).



    • Tasty Wheat porridge - cooks in a few minutes and is great with sugar or honey.
    • Yoghurt, muesli & fruit salad
    • Muffins - they keep well for about 3 days and are perfect for the pre-race snack
    • Fruit - bananas are a necessity. They contain magnesium, which prevents cramping. Don't go for soft fruits like nectarines and peaches because they will get bashed and bruised during transport. Stick with apples and oranges.
    • Cereals e.g. cornflakes, rice crispies, wheatbix, Pronutro, oats.
    Hot meals
  • Butternut soup (freezes and keeps well) - good as a hot snack if they're only planning on a big meal later in the day
  • Chicken stew with veggies. Serve with a mashed potato and sweet potato mix. The chicken stew can be frozen and then heated in a pot on the Cadac. Boil the potatoes at home. They will keep for a few days.
  • Pasta with chicken and veggies - freezes well. In general, during the first few transitions your team should only make quick stops to change equipment, refresh snack-packs and fill hydration bladders. You should not need to prepare a cooked meal for the first 20hrs and thereafter only one cooked meal a day.

    I've found that pig-slop type meals are the best. The last thing I want to do is balance peas on a fork. Stews with rice, mash or pasta can be thrown together, scooped up with a spoon and downed. Don't make spicy food. Although bland is boring, that is what they will feel like and it won't upset any stomachs.

    Wrapping the pot in towels will keep the food warm until the team comes into transition. Remember not to heat the food up too much. They'll be eating fast and won't want to burn their mouths.

    Non-cooked meals (quickly prepared)

    • Tuna and salad (cucumber and tomato) rolls (with or without mayo)
    • Cold meat, cheese, tomato, chutney & lettuce roll (lettuce keeps the bread fresh)
    Snacks (available all the time)
    • Fruit
    • Rusks, biscuits
    Your racers probably won't feel hungry - make them eat.

    Liquids (available all the time)

    • Water
    • Tea, coffee, hot chocolate
    • Juice
    Race liquids for hydration bladders and water bottles.
    Powerade/Energade/Fast Fuel - Add powder to water in the 2l coke bottles to fill up bladders. Don't premix the Cytomax too early - particularly during the day when it is hot - as it ferments. Remember to pack a small funnel to get the powder into the bottle.

    You may have to ask each team-member, in each transition, what they'd like in their bladders and bottles. They'll probably vary the dilutions each time. Energy drinks get sickly-sweet after a day.
    Straight water gets a bit boring so I add a drop of juice to flavour it and have a stronger drink in my bottle for variety.

    It is very important that you take note of how much each person is drinking. They should always come in to transitions with empty hydration bladders. You have every right to give them a lecture on the importance of keeping hydrated.

    Snack-packs (grab bags) really make racing fun. Make certain that your team always leaves transition with sufficient food in their packs. On a long leg, they may not meet up with you for over 16 hours. There is also the distinct possibility that they could get lost.

    This is the only item that you need to remove or add to their packs each time they come in to transition. Check the pack you've removed to see how much the person has eaten. It is your responsibility to make sure that they are eating a sufficient amount.

    The sweets can be prepared in big ziploc bags before you even start the race. Sandwiches must be fresh so make them between transitions. Don't get too creative - they'll eat whatever you give them. Tomato makes the bread go soggy and cheese goes waxy if it's hot. Wax-wrap does keep the sandwiches fresher for longer, especially over a long leg.

    Keep a stack of sticky name-tags to label snack-packs. Besides marking specific packs for each person, you can easily check who has and who hasn't grabbed their grub.

    To make up a grab-bag: Pack sandwiches into sandwich bags and then place in a bigger ziploc bag, which already contains an assortment of sweets and goodies (see below).

    Snack-pack suggestions

    • Sweets: Go wild in Pick 'n Pay. If your trolley looks like you're catering a kiddies party, you're on the right track. Jelly beans, jelly babies, wine gums, fruit jubes, sparkles, frutus.
    • Dried-fruit: doesn't agree with everyone, check first.
    • Peanuts: keep them separate from the sweet stuff. Salted jelly babies taste vile.
    • Energy Bars & health bars
    • Chocolates (make sure they're in wrappers i.e. mini BarOne
    • Sandwiches (peanut butter & honey, tuna mayo, jam)
    Before the start of the race, go through the route with your team so that you have a rough idea of their ETA (Expected Time of Arrival) at each transition. Check the duration of legs and the type of discipline before the transition. If they come in cold and wet from a water leg, hot chocolate and a hot meal will go down well. If they arrive in the afternoon from a long hot ride in the sun, they'll go for cold juice and a scrumptious sandwich.

    Although you should ask them what they'd prefer, more often than not you'll have to improvise since their ETA can be way-off their actual arrival time.

    Draw-up a laminated check-list, which you can tape to the inside of each racer's racing trunk. After they've left each transition, mark down what they've eaten, how much they drank from their hydration packs during the previous leg, whether they've eaten from their grab-bags and what they drank in transition. This way you can monitor their hydration and food consumption levels.

    You and your team have finally agreed on the menu - you've done the shopping - twice. The stuff they were supposed to organised didn't happen, so you've had to go out again... and race day is just around the corner...

    A week before the race, while you're making food, accumulating gear and packing crates, start catching-up on sleep. Even though you're getting excited and your mind is buzzing with all the things you still have to do, make sure you get to sleep at a reasonable time. And, more importantly, make sure that your team is doing the same.

    You can't bank sleep, but you can make certain that you're well rested. Inevitably, from the day before the race till you're back home again, you're not likely to get more than 4hrs sleep a day.

    When you get told your race venue, calculate your travelling time. My preference is to get to the registration location really early so we can check the bikes incase there was any damage during transport, get dinner organised, set-up camp for the night, finalise the packing of the seconding vehicle and to do the social thing.

    I never count on getting any sleep in the afternoon when we arrive - even if I've been up and travelling since 5 that morning. You're on an adrenaline high already and you'll feel the buzz.

    Even before you leave home, check the time of registration, gear inspection and the pre-race briefing. At the venue, while you're sorting out the vehicle and making grab-bags, the racers will prepare their packs and get their gear inspected.

    If you prepare while you still have light then, after registration and the pre-race briefing, all you have to do is check the route with the racers, send them off to sleep, set your alarm and snuggle in for some shut-eye.

    Before going to sleep, make sure the racers are 100% ready and the vehicle is 99% packed. In the morning you need only pack away tents and overnight equipment.

    Take along a pen and paper to the briefing. You may have to note down changes to the route or co-ordinates. As seconds, you'll be briefed on your route, when you have to leave the start and what the conditions are going to be like on the roads and at the transitions - always assume the worst.

    Make certain that you collect your own set of maps, which you may have been able to order when the team entry was submitted.

    You may have to leave 15mins before the race start. This means that you need to prepare drinks and a snack, wake-up the team, feed them, pack the vehicle and leave.

    From the start to the first transition you'll probably travel in convoy. LISTEN to instructions and don't be impatient. You'll get there.

    Although the organisers will always try to put you on routes different to those taken by the teams, you may drive past racers. Give them the right of way, slow down as you pass - especially on dirt roads, don't stop and do not give your team (or any other team) any help. You are not allowed to assist your team (food, water, first-aid, clothing) unless you're in a transition area. This doesn't prevent you from shouting encouragement out the window and taking action shots as you drive past.

    Once in the transition area, setup camp. As soon as your team leaves, pack-up and move to the next transition. You can wash dishes and tidy up when you get there. You'll feel more chilled-out getting to the next transition early. If you get a flat tyre or get lost, you'll have enough time to deal with problems and locate the transition in time to meet your team.

    I've only had one major panic...

    At the 500km final in 2000 we had to get through to a transition and had heard that the team would be pretty quick along the route. We didn't have a map and didn't really have directions. Luckily we had a GPS. To cut a long and tense story short, we took a wrong road and at our closest point were about 3m from the site - according to the GPS - and couldn't see a thing. We had come out on the opposite side of the valley! So, we backtracked, corrected, found the site, setup camp and, as luck would have it, we were left with a few hours to wait. Our team took a while longer than expected.

    Lastly, make sure you know where you're going before you leave transition. There was a case where a seconding team got really lost. Their tired team arrived before their seconds so we fed them while they waited for their support.

    NEVER, EVER let your team down through a mistake that could be easily avoided.

    All the preparation and planning are the 'grind' aspects of seconding. The transition area is where it all happens, the adrenalin flows and your heart goes out to your team each time they come-in and leave transition.

    When packing your vehicle, remember that what needs to come out first must be packed into the vehicle last.

    First, get the bikes out of the way - assuming that the team isn't riding them. Roll-out a big tarpaulin/ground sheet. This is to setup an area where the team can sit, change gear, eat, drink etc.

    If you've got a big free standing tent, now's the time to put it up. Use the other tarp for inside your big tent/shelter, if it doesn't have its own groundsheet.

    While you're battling with poles, pegs, ropes and canvas, get a pot of water boiling on the Cadac if you don't have any prepared, or need to fill up your thermos'.

    Unload the racing trunks and a chair for each racer. "Seat" each person at a corner, giving them plenty of space and leave the centre of the tarp open (see adjacent diagram). Keep the layout of their chairs and gear exactly the same for each transition. Creatures-of-habit, they'll go to the same place automatically each time.

    After day 1, ask your team when they are planning on sleeping. In general, teams will push on during the day, not wanting to waste valuable daylight. Take it as a given that after day 1, they'll probably sleep for an hour or three each night - and may want a hot meal. For night transitions setup pillows, mattresses and sleeping bags in the big shelter - keeping the "people order" identical each time. Put their crates at their feet so that they can rummage when they wake-up without having to go outside.

    Next, get your kitchen organised. Put up the drink's and snack's table. Set out coffee, tea, hot choc, juice, sugar, teaspoons and mugs (you can get the milk out when they arrive).

    Stash the water drum under the vehicle, out of the sun, where it is accessible but out of the way. The cooler boxes either get stashed with the water or end up being used as tables and chairs. Hang up a black garbage bag for trash.

    Fill-up the empty coke bottles with water for filling bladders efficiently. Make the carbo liquids when they come in. They will tell you how diluted to make their mix.

    Put loo paper and the first-aid kit on the front seat of the vehicle or any accessible place.

    While you're waiting for your team you can cook meals, prepare snacks and make sandwiches to add to your already prepared & labelled grab-bags. Toss these into the centre of the racing tarp so the team can pack their backpacks. You can easily see if anyone has forgotten to reload.

    If their next leg is a cycle leg, check their bicycles, tighten brake cables (warn them about this!) & gear cables, lube chains and pump types. Make sure that their cycle gear is in their crate or next to their chair.

    If they're going in for kloofing, hang out their wetsuits. If they're coming in from a water leg, have towels available and a spare crate for wet gear, which you can dry later. If their previous leg was on water, string up a washing line to dry their soaked clothes.

    Get the next set of co-ordinates from the race officials (if the team didn't receive the whole route at the briefing). Plot the coming PC and transition points - don't draw in routes. Study the map and assess all the route alternatives - without drawing in the options.

    Then, only once all this is done, can you wait, feed yourself and rest. It's a perfect opportunity for meeting other seconds, laughing, swapping tales and just having a good time. Later in the race you can catch some shut-eye.

    There is always a lot of excitement when teams start arriving. When your team arrives, usher them to their seats, take their backpacks to remove old food bags, add new food bags and fill bladders. Do not remove anything else.

    The compulsory equipment must remain in their backpacks at all times. If you unpack these things, in all the excitement something could get left behind. Check with the racer before adding or removing clothing.

    If they're stopping for a meal, hand them a plate to start working on while they're sitting down and getting their gear organised.

    Once the navigator/s are ready, show them the next points and indicate the various route options. They will make the final decision.

    Remember to question the team before they leave transition i.e. have you got batteries torches, warm clothing, food, water, maps, passport etc.

    After the team has left to start their next leg and the clapping, cheering and well-wishing has finished, you'll turn around to face a camp that looks like a tornado has passed over it. Don't panic!

    Collect up the trash and reverse your unpacking process. Make for the next transition and prepare to start all over again.
    By the end of the event you'll have a smoothly operating, streamlined production - and then it will be time to go back home.

    Remember that you are a vital part of the team and have a huge responsibility.


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