“You’ve been chosen to compete in a month long adventure race. This will be a multi-million dollar Mark Burnett production to be aired prime time on ABC. Here’s a list of things you’ll need to get done before you leave for an unknown location in seven weeks. Make sure you train really hard, because this expedition is going to be incredibly difficult. Also, your involvement in this show is top secret, so you can’t tell anyone anything about it.”
If you missed Part 1, clic here : Was I Prepared For A Reality TV Adventure Race? Part 1
If you missed Part 2, clic here : Was I Prepared For A Reality TV Adventure Race? Part 2
Was I Prepared?
I trained hard, and I felt strong, but I honestly wasn’t prepared for the grueling schedule of racing 8-12 hours each day, every day. My 5-6 mile power walks with a heavy pack turned out to be just a fraction of an average day in the expedition.
The swim training I did in the pool where I attempted to use perfect form was almost useless during the race. All the swimming in Morocco was done fully clothed, including shoes, while wearing a life vest and pushing our packs in front of us. I found this to be extremely tiring, and I always felt like I was swimming against the current. This was my biggest weakness, and I felt like I slowed my team down.
When it came to the horses, we had trained in Boston on Western horses. But when we got to Morocco, we were faced with Arabian stallions. These high spirited beasts instantly know when a novice gets on their back, and they want you to realize they are in control. Some of them would buck or literally just tip over trying to throw us off. At one point, my horse stepped off a ledge, and I had to dive off to prevent the horse from rolling over me.
Sully’s training was definitely helpful, but in hindsight, I believe the best way to train would have been to actually recreate a typical day of racing. I would climb up and down a mountain for hours, and then paddle a boat for miles. You can sweat your ass off on a piece of cardio equipment in the gym, but it doesn’t compare to actually racing across land and water.
This realization came to me about two weeks into the race, when I noticed a strange phenomenon. Suddenly, my team members and I no longer needed to look down to avoid stepping on every rock in front of us. We could just look forward while running. We developed an intuitive ability to avoid hazards in our path. If we had this skill going into the race, we could have been faster right from the start. As it was, we missed out on qualifying for the finals by seconds and had to settle for fifth place.
I’ve always trained for strength, but there was little heavy lifting involved in any of the stages. The only time strength came in handy was when we needed to carry the various watercraft down to the water. (If you think a white water raft is some rubber tube filled with air, just try lifting one up.) The extra muscle I brought into the race just turned out to be more weight that I had to carry around. After three weeks I had lost 10 pounds, and I felt like a wild animal that could run forever.
Did I ever think of quitting?
For me, the lowest point during the entire expedition was the day we climbed a peak in the High Atlas range. My pack was heavy that day. We camped in the snow at an elevation of 10,000 feet, and I experienced altitude sickness. The injured knee was throbbing, I was nauseated, and I had zero energy and a splitting headache. All I wanted to do was lay down.
To make matters worse, my only boots and socks were soaked, so my teammates took them to the campfire to dry them out. A few hours later, they returned with two pieces of bacon that used to be my socks, along with one melted boot. I was furious at first, but then I realized this was just another challenge I needed to overcome.
I recalled an interview I’d seen with Erik Weihenmayer, who was on another team called “No Limits.” Erik became totally blind by age 13. He told a reporter that if he somehow lost both legs and one arm, he would use his remaining arm to pull himself across the ground so he could finish the race. How could anyone even think about quitting when you’re in the company of a guy like that?
I thought I was strong going in, but I ended up developing a new respect for the strength of the people I saw out there living and traveling the desert, hundreds of miles from a gym. This included my fellow competitors, but even more so, the people who live their lives out in the elements, travel under their own power, and struggle just to survive. Pain is often their daily companion, and energy is a precious commodity that they have to learn to conserve.
After a lifetime in the city, with the comforts of home never too far away, I’m not ready to embrace their type of lifestyle. Just one brutal, beautiful month of it cost me plenty of comfort and a few precious pounds of hard earned muscle. But I wouldn’t give back one second of that incredible adventure I spent with my friends in that mysterious country.
About the Author
Jim Vaglica is a Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Team Labrada Athlete, Jim competed on the Reality TV shows American Grit, hosted by John Cena, and Mark Burnett’s Expedition Impossible. He is a Police Sergeant with 16 yrs on SWAT and the Owner of JimVaglica.com