The Speed Project; Risks and Research

It’s been a little while since I shared an update on my training for The Speed Project, life has been so full on lately between uni assignments, training and getting all the logistics for the race sorted and blogging fell right down my list of priorities.

It is crazy how close we are to stepping out on this massive adventure through the desert. It feels like just yesterday I was chatting to Rosh about perhaps maybe joining her team for The Speed Project and now we’re counting down the days until we fly to LA. I can’t quite believe it’s happening.

I don’t feel any fear about what’s coming. I thought so hard about taking on this challenge and have always been utterly realistic about the risks and realities involved. Not least because I had to write a risk assessment for my university setting everything out in detail!

One of the first things I did once I’d made up my mind to run across Death Valley was to tell my phd supervisor Rich. For someone who’s research is all about ultra running the opportunity to go out and experience a race is just too good to turn down, it’s an opportunity to get closer to understanding the experiences of women in the sport and bring that insight in my research. For a professional geek that is about as exciting as it gets, and thankfully Rich was onboard (and in fact suggested it’s make good field work before I even had a chance to say anything!) and fully supported turning this exploit into research.

The Speed Project; Risks - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

The thing is though carrying out field work isn’t quite as simple as just going out and doing it. You need to get ethical approval, a process that’s all about making sure you don’t do any harm, mostly to other people but also to yourself. It’s a big deal and something universities take really seriously, and if you do research that involves people in situations where they might be vulnerable (like when they’re running across the desert and haven’t slept in awhile) then they really up the ante. I completed pages and pages of forms where I carefully set out what I wanted to achieve from my research and how I would safeguard everyone involved, including me, because although I reckon this is a fun weekend away my university has other ideas. You see they have a responsibility to me as one of their students, and if things go wrong while I’m in the field then they have a responsibility to show that everything was done to protect me as far as practically possible. Which means I had to do a pretty involved risk assessment.

It was an intense experience, and the first time I met with my departmental ethics officer the intake of breath was audible. What I was proposing was like nothing anyone in my department had done before (it’s not exactly common for management academics to want to go for really long runs in the name of research!) and there were understandably a few concerns. Injury, dehydration, snakes, road traffic collisions were starters for 10 in the list of things that could happen and my job was to set out how I planned to mitigate each risk so that the university could feel a little more confident I wouldn’t kill myself. It was a painstaking process, but it also means I am brutally aware of what I’m taking on and that I am confident I’ve done as much as I can to look after myself and my team in the field.

The Speed Project; Risks - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

We have an awesome crew who are supporting us through this thing and will be playing a major role when it comes to our safety. Driving the RV alongside us when we need to run on busy sections of road, running with us through shady neighbourhoods, making sure we’ve eaten and are staying hydrated, generally having our backs.

Tech will also play a big role. Strava Summit will help us keep tabs on each other when we’re running stretches alone. Files uploaded to our watches will keep us on track along a route none of us know and walkie talkies will keep us connected when we’re all in different places.

Although there are so many unknowns in a race like this, and that’s part of the appeal, knowledge is power. We’re working with Precision Hydration to work out our exact hydration needs and reduce the risk of dehydration. Likewise we know what nutrition works for each of us, we have an amazing massage therapist called Michael to keep our muscles in check and we’re learning more about how each of us reacts in stressful situations so we can manage them better. This doesn’t eliminate risk, but it does mean that we can keep more of a grip on the things that are within our control.

One of the most important elements of risk management is our training. I am crazy proud of how hard the whole team has worked to get ready for this event. Everyone has trained in their own way, but we’ve all been through the hard yards. We’ve had good runs and bad runs, injuries, sickness, days when things have been amazing and others where we’ve doubted everything. We are all stronger than we’ve ever been, individually and as a team, and that shows in our shared philosophy that our priority right now is to get to the race in one piece.

There’s an amazing camaraderie that’s developed between us over the last few months and the bonds we’ve built as a team have helped us all develop the mental strength we need to go into this challenge. We all know this isn’t going to be easy. We know that there’s going to be times when we each find things really hard, and we’re learning how to support each other through those tricky moments. I know this team have my back, and i’ve got theirs.

*images: Anna Rachel Photography