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The Benefits of Competing with a Friend

They say that a problem shared is a problem halved. And there are bound to be a few problems that arise when you’re tackling some of the world’s toughest terrain on foot in events like the RacingThePlanet / 4 Deserts ones.

Whether it’s for the emotional or physical support, or just to have someone to share the experience with, more and more people are choosing to partner-up to tackle the 4 Deserts. Couples come in all shapes and sizes, and we’ll now meet five pairs who have undertaken RacingThePlanet events together.

Married couple Billy and Maya Restis undertook the Atacama Crossing together in 2010, but only after some initial reticence on Billy’s part. “I think he really thought I had lost my mind, but after doing some sweet talk I was able to get him on board,” Maya recalls. “Plus, this is an experience that you can never adequately describe to someone who has not done it. Billy said something like: ‘If you do it, then I have to. I can't let you have such an incredible experience, hear about it at the end and not know what you're talking about. I want to understand’.”

The pair worked out in the gym together in the mornings and hiked on the weekends, but did all their running training separately. Despite not being an official team, they agreed from the outset to race together, but also made a pact that if one of them dropped out the other would continue. “I was Billy's rock when he was at his worst, and he was my rock when I was at my worst,” Maya says. “Even though we hardly spoke to each other during each stage and did on rare occasions get on each other’s nerves, it was nice having my best friend by my side. But the best part was having the memory of finishing such an adventure together - it's an experience we'll never forget. If you're going to sign up with a friend, family member or spouse, you’ll enjoy the experience of a lifetime together.”

Brandon Lee undertook the Gobi March in 2010 with friend Steven Quigley. They were initially keen to form an official team but ended up with just the two of them, training together and then completing every stage of the event together. Among the many benefits of competing alongside a friend, Brandon lists having someone to tie your shoelaces when you’re too tired to do it yourself! “I haven't done a race as an individual yet,” he says. “If you were alone you would still have people to talk with during the race, but itwas good having someone you already knew well - you could complain for 20 hours straight.”

“If you can convince someone to go with you, by all means do it. It would be a great time alone but was definitely fun with a friend. As an added bonus you'll later have someone who will understand your pain when you fondly remember what a bad plan it was to buy 10 freeze-dried beef stews for dinner!”

At the other end of the spectrum of experience, David Pearse and Diana Hogan-Murphy are close friends who have now completed seven stage races together, with no plans to end their partnership any time soon. After running some marathons and ultramarathons together they recognised that not only did they enjoy one another’s company, but were also of similar abilities and competitive spirit. Living a 12-hour plane flight apart, they don’t get the chance to train together but enjoy discussing strategy.  “(The benefit is) having a running partner throughout to discuss target times, the route and to share a tent and a few laughs with,” David says. “The excitement beforehand of comparing gear and planning a few days of a holiday together is also beneficial.  I can highly recommend it (racing with a partner), but it is absolutely essential that if you decide to run the race together you are totally compatible as running companions as there is no more stressful environment to truly test a friendship.”

A different kind of partnership for RacingThePlanet is mother and son duo Gary and Ellen Chu who took to the desert for the Gobi March 2010. Gary says Ellen had been wanting to race for a while but it took some time for them to both be available to share the experience. “It was important to do the race together to help support each other along the way,” Gary says. “We both knew the race was going to be very difficult so it was very important for us to have someone by our side at all times. The race was very challenging both mentally and physically. Having someone by your side supporting and encouraging you along the way is extremely helpful, especially during the more difficult portions of the race. It is always comforting knowing that you will be with each other throughout the race.”

Gary gained a new-found respect for his mother by racing alongside her, describing her as “the strongest person in the world”. “Racingas a duo is something you can share with each other for a lifetime,” he says. “No pictures can describe the breathtaking scenery or the feeling of crossing the finish line - it is nice to have someone who can share the same feelings.”

Rod Bovee and Kent Gikas have been friends and workmates for more than 20 years, live just a few kilometers apart and have embarked on many an adventure together, including three of the 4 Deserts events. “There are a number of reasons (why we race together), but the most important is that I trust him,” Kent says of Rod.  “And, funny stuff happens when we are together. Really funny stuff … with a good teammate, you can turn almost anything into a great adventure, or in our case, a comedy act. Going it alone for me would only be done as a personal challenge, but not one I would enjoy. For some the race is a competitive event. For me the race is just part of the experience … having the right partner heightens every moment.”

And for Rod, it’s also a matter of trust: “I have no other friend in whom I can trust as I do him. If advising someone considering taking on an endurance event such as one of the 4 Deserts, find the person in your life who is willing and able to put forth the commitment necessary to fairly compete and whom you trust with your life. During the training, we would share what was going on with our bodies, our heads, our work, and other parts of our lives. We would share our thoughts about what we expect would happen during the event and whether we were going to compete well without too much embarrassment. We came to intimately understand one another’s strengths so that we would tier off of those strengths when the experience began to feel overwhelming.”

Having listened to the stories of five pairs who have raced or trained together, the summary is, to go it alone will be an amazing experience, but to go with a friend can make the experience better and easier. None of these people competed as a team, but you can read the article “Team Trifecta and Why it Works” to find more about actually competing as a team.

by Simon Penn

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