I love to sleep! July 24-30th, I participated in Raid the North Extreme, a 6 day non-stop Adventure Race (AR) located in the Kootenay Rockies. My team and I raced for 126 hours (Sunday 10am until Friday late afternoon) on about 12 hours of restless sleep. When the sleep monsters hit or the bushwhacking became impossible to navigate at night we hunkered down and slept in the frigid wet mountains wrapped in emergency space blankets and e-bivy sacks.
The only reason we slept so much (10-15 hours is a lot to sleep in an AR race) was due to a major navigational error. On day 5, Thursday, step kicking and using our poles as a brace (held the poles horizontally, hands tightly gripped on each end, punched both fist into the snow -not looking up and not looking down-fully concentrating-heart pounding-Jude in front kicking the vertical ladder) we summited Mt. Dorval @ 8,000 feet (near dusk). We should have known we were on the wrong knife-edge ridge because it was straight the hell up and there were no tracks. We looked down at the route we came up -it was straight down (super steep, super scary) and the other side was scree straight the hell down into an alpine lake.
It wasn’t in our best interest to navigate either section at night and it wasn’t safe to downclimb without crampons or an ice axe. At this point, one team member is very adamant that she is NOT going to downclimb without a rescue crew; she has lost all trust and confidence in our navigator. She is also aware that most deaths occur while downclimbing. After her tantrum, (a direct quote from her blog (http://judeultra.blogspot.com/2011/08/part-three-raid-north-extreme-reality.html ) “‘i wont do it, you have no idea the risk, i wont go down that way, no race is that important… I HAVE A BOY Who needs a MOmmy!” She started digging for the emergency radio which is wrapped excessively in duct tape and once opened means instant disqualification from the race. No one tried to talk her out of it. Our race was over! We called for assistance on the emergency radio but no one responded. We tried every station, re-read the instructions, and still no response. We did not know if the race director or race organization knew we were on top of the wrong mountain.
We took off our wet clothes, put on all our warm clothes, down jackets, hats, and gloves and climbed into our space blankets and our e-bivy’s. After a few minutes of silence, Michelle being confident in Erik’s climbing skills and Erik being the only one with crampons suggested he downclimb back to Ice Creek Lodge for help. With hesitation in his voice (and for good reason), he agreed. Erik made it to Ice Creek Lodge after dark and explained the situation to the rescue crew. (The only way out from Ice Creek Lodge, which is located in the Selkirk range, is by helicopter or to hike for 4 plus hours over a mountain pass. www.icecreeklodge.com) The rescue crew made an unanimous decision to wait until morning because of the information they received from Erik –we were well prepared, had water and the forecast for the night was in our favor. Their game plan was to leave at 3am and hit the steep section at sunrise.
It was a restless and challenging benightment (an unscheduled overnight bivouac often due to an epic). Challenging due to the fact we were disqualified from the race. And, restless because Michelle and I squeezed into my e-bivy sack (see below) and then proceeded to stuff ourselves with emergency space blankets while trying to dodge rocks on the main parts of our body. We eventually drifted in and out of sleep. We woke up numerous times to move a rock, to shift positions, to reposition our packs that protected us from the snow, to scoot closer to Jude, and/or to take-in the lightning that struck in the distance.
(Deb and Michelle below -Jude taking the photo)
(Erik -taking a snooze before downclimbing. If you look closely you can see how steep the other side is)
We were woken at 5:30am by three mountain rescue guides; they popped over the ridge with big smiles and greeted us “Good Morning Ladies!” John instantly fired up his stove to make tea, Chris tossed us down jackets and sleeping bags and Andrew immediately scouted a route off the mountain. Andrew’s route was a traverse rock scramble over a few other ridges into the “correct” col, called Big Daddy. During the traverse the rescue crew was in touch with the lodge via radio –the lodge volunteers woke Erik and told him he had five minutes to be out the door to meet his team. A guide showed him the correct route and a few hours later Erik met the team.
We said thank you to the rescue crew and took off on the correct route and trekked up and over some amazing terrain and eventually ended at CP 10 (Friday afternoon). At this point, we were in good spirits because we thought we were going to be able to mountain bike the Epic Seven Summits Trail. (http://www.imba.com/epics/seven-summits-trail-epic) However, when we arrived at CP10 we noticed four or five other teams just hanging out! At that point, we knew our race was over.
Uneventful & anticlimactic. We were done! 5 months of preparation, 5 days of bushwhacking, 126 hours of racing, and that is it…..no finish line, no cheering, complete disappointment, complete disbelief – done!
Overall, 3 teams finished the regular full course and six teams skipped the epic hike into Valhalla which for most teams was a 36 hour trek. The first part of the trek was a bushwhacking nightmare and the second half of the trek was a breathtaking adventure.
This post, the importance of sleep, is for all my adventure racing friends who raced in Raid the North Extreme!
Here are some race videos:
Sleep is just as important as nutrition, stress management, and exercise. Sleep allows our bodies to repair and recuperate. According to Harvard School of Public Health 40% of Americans sleep less than five hours a night and 75% suffer from sleep difficulties each night. Lack of sleep changes hormone chemistry which can lead to all kinds of health issues ranging from high blood pressure to diabetes.
The Benefits of Sleep
- Weight Management (lack of sleep can cause a disruption in glucose metabolism)
- Growth Hormone (GH) is an “antiaging” hormone, stimulates tissue & liver regeneration, muscle building, breakdown of fat stores, and normalization of blood sugar regulation.
- Plenty of sleep allows our hormones leptin and ghrelin to work properly. Lack of sleep can have a negative effect on leptin and grehlin levels leading to weight gain. (Leptin, is a hormone that stimulates you are full; and ghrelin is a hormone that stimulates appetite)
- To reduce catabolic hormones especially cortisol. (Cortisol can prohibit your body from fully recovering)
- Sleep functions as an antioxidant in the brain; free radicals are removed during sleep.
- Mood & Concentration (lack of sleep can cause irritability, impatience, moodiness & inability to focus)
- A good night sleep allows the mind to store and categorize memories.
- A healthy immune system (sleep deprivation alters immune function)
- Cardiovascular Health (sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension & irregular heartbeat)
- Provides energy to function throughout the day & ultimately make better decisions.
- Safety: fatigue driving, medical errors, and air traffic mishaps
- Limit alcohol “night cap” before bed. Although alcohol can work as a depressant and may help you fall asleep, the impact on your metabolism will most likely result in a withdrawal syndrome a few hours later and cause you to awake again.
- Maintain a regular sleep/wake schedule even on weekends.
- Limit stress (learn stress management techniques)
- Try to exercise earlier in the evening than right before bed.
- Avoid Caffeine after 3pm.
- Take time for an afternoon nap (a.k.a. “siesta”) provided you don’t have problems falling asleep at night. Daytime rests, however, should be kept short and not exceed 30 minutes.
- Create an ideal sleeping environment e.g., no television, no computer, dark room, quiet, and cool room and no clutter.
- 7-9 hours is recommended
- Avoid sugary foods before bed.
- Avoid going to be on a full stomach because you don’t want your body to waste time on digesting your food, you want your body to
concentrate on repairing itself.
Tips for a better night sleep
- Take a warm bath
- Listen to soft music
- Read a light, entertaining book
- Do some easy stretches