One of my favourite things is when a stranger (or sometimes friend) pops me an email or PM on Facebook and says “I am thinking about applying to (or have been accepted to) the Mongol Derby or Race the Wild Coast. Where do I even begin?”
I love sharing the spirit of adventure with like-minded, or at least equally crazy folks from near and far. But an open ended question like this…. how do I even begin to tell you what an amazing experience it is, what you are about to get yourself into, and even worse, what should you do? I never like to give finite plans because everyone is different in the way they do things, everyone has different goals, everyone will have a different experience, and there is never just one right thing to do. I can however give you my opinions to consider and help shape your plan to the best ride of your life!
1. Start talking to people
If you aren’t one of the people who have already dropped a line in my inbox, why not? I am happy to chat about my experiences as are a lot of other race veterans. Chances are you have someone within your extended network that has done it. Suss them out and start talking! If all else fails, email the race organizers directly and find out more about the races. They may even be able to point you in the direction of a veteran in your area. Why do this now? It will help decide which race to shoot for – which one suits you the best and hopefully land you a mentor for the rest of the process.
2. Just apply, say yes, and sort out the details later
Usually I would never recommend this to anyone. I am a meticulous planner and this could land you in some deep dog doo, but when it comes to your dreams sometimes you have to take the leap. Signing up and having the end goal will help you mentally get your shit in order. It is going to make you accountable for everything you do in the next 6-12 months before the race start because everything will merit a question “does this get me closer to my goal?” Its a huge undertaking, bigger than most people will ever take on – and that’s before the race even starts. Being a little afraid of the enormity of this challenge is going to give you some serious perspective but you will get there.
3. Budget Budget Budget
These adventures don’t come cheap, in fact that’s probably the part that scares off 99% of riders considering these adventures and probably accounts for at least half of the conversations I have with starry eyed riders. At the top end Mongol Derby will set you back about $30,000 CAD, with the more recently introduced races coming in much cheaper, but still in the range of a half decent car. You need to find a plan to raise this kind of money for your entry fees, flights, equipment, local travel, accommodation and food, day trips, gifts for family and sponsors, training costs. You need to think of everything ahead of time and get your dollar value. Here is where having a mentor can help you. What you need to do yourself is have a plan – whether its build your savings (or back to the KD diet), take out a loan, or trade your future wedding for it (yes, I know riders who negotiated this with their family!). Unless you are a big name rider already with big name sponsors, expect to foot the bill yourself and maybe you will be lucky enough to get a few product sponsors to help with your gear.
4. Get fit – off the horse!
These are grueling races and you are going to need to be in the best shape of your life if you want to be successful. Start with a personal trainer, I used Heather at Equifitt before the Mongol Derby and highly recommend her. She gave me a plan and exercises to prepare me, and I have used these lessons ever since. A few major tips that you might not have thought of? Build up your shoulders so your backpack won’t kill you after one day of riding. Stretch… a LOT – before and after every ride and at the end of each day. Lastly, hike or trail run… a LOT as well. Depending on what race you pick and your luck, you may be spending a lot of time running or walking on your own 2 feet. Be prepared!
5. Get fit – on the horse
Something that makes me cringe is when I hear riders say “I am going to ride all the naughty ponies, the worse the better” when referring to their riding program for Mongol Derby. Eek! This is the worst idea ever! Seriously, if you can’t yet sit a buck or rear or runaway, you have no business applying for these races. Putting yourself on the worst horses is only going to put you in danger of hurting yourself before the start of the race – having invested that $30,000, do you really want to risk that? Better idea, start volunteering at and riding in endurance rides. Get on decent horses and get used to the feeling of riding all day. Your muscle memory and mental strength will develop – this will be far more beneficial in the long run. Added bonus, if you compete in endurance, you will have a better understanding of basic endurance rules and the required horsemanship that comes along with managing yourself and a horse over long distances.
6. Get your gear in order
Start this early. Way earlier than you think you need to start it. Lots of riders have shown up to the start camp having never tested critical components of their kit. If you can sort this out early, you will have a lot of advantages. First being peace of mind. Second, you will never just look in your closet and pick out a perfect kit (and if you can… please call me, I want to know your secrets!) so you will have time to get it right. You are going to go through several backpacks, pants, shoes and who knows what else trying to perfect your kit (but you will always bring stuff you don’t need and need stuff you forgot so relax just a little bit!) Use your mentor to get suggestions, then put everything to the test. What works for them may not work for you. Work through equipment issues early then start riding in full kit. Know exactly which pocket you have put each item in, become a pro at rolling up your bed roll before riding every morning, know how to program and reprogram your bloody GPS. Use the last few months of your training not testing out new shoes or messing with how to tie your equipment to yourself… but riding every ride as you would when the big day comes.
7. Connect with other riders
In our year of the Mongol Derby, winner Sam Jones made a facebook group well in advance for all of us to connect and plan day trips. It was the best thing we could have done, because we could share our training stories, meet before the race, and just get really comfortable with everyone. It took a lot of pressure off and most of us are still great friends (as evidenced in my post Mongol Derby adventures!) who see each other on a regular basis.
8. Enjoy the ride
Accept early on that there are things you can perfect, and then there are things that you will never ever be prepared for. The task ahead is daunting but no matter what happens, you are going to cherish the memory. Allow yourself to be happy and excited, don’t fear the challenge, but embrace it!
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