It’s Way Too Far on Your Own: The Making of an Odyssey Relay Team – by Eric Sikorski

01Getting a team together for the American Odyssey Relay is no small feat. Trying to find runners with agreeable personalities, not an issue. Trying to find runners willing to take precious leave time from work to spend approximately 24 hours in a van full of other sweaty runners and run up hills in complete darkness at 2:00 AM, only to get up in the morning and run again…that’s a tougher sell. The promise of beer at the end helps. Taking time to assemble the right Odyssey team is well worth it, since your team members can make the difference between a good time and a great time (there are no bad times at the Odyssey). With the 2016 American Odyssey quickly approaching, this post provides some insight into assembling, developing, and managing an Odyssey team.

Assembling the Team

Coworker 1: “What did you do this weekend”. Coworker 2: “Ran a team relay race of over 200 miles from Gettysburg to D.C.”. Coworker 1: “You RAN 200 miles?”.  Coworker 2: “Well, not exactly, but…”.

We have all had this conversation with coworkers, friends, and family and most of the time it is very apparent from the glazed look in their eyes or their scrunched faces that they just don’t understand. From an objective standpoint, running a 200+ mile relay does sound a bit ridiculous, so we can’t really blame people for not wanting to join our team.  Here are some guidelines for team assembly:

  • Start the recruitment process early – just after the Holiday Season
  • Over recruit to account for negative responses and attrition
  • Determine key team member characteristics, such as regular runner, easy-going personality, organized, reliable, previous participation in a relay
  • Identify potential obstacles to commitment – work leave policy, travel schedule, family commitments
  • Provide potential team members with clear and consistent race information or direct them to the race website

Motivate, but be honest and only slightly pushy. Show a race video or have one-on-one conversations – “it will be fun, but it will be challenging.”

Developing the Team

Now that you have used all of your top sales tricks to recruit the best darn American Odyssey Relay team, they still need some…refinement. Here are just a few of the many possible team-development strategies:

  • Establish goals together, as a team – finish in under 30 hours, avoid brawls in the van, etc.
  • Determine leg assignments early and ensure appropriateness in terms of team strategy, difficulty and distance 02preferences, and relationships
  • Train together by getting off the treadmill and running outside, mimicking relay conditions, sharing training
    information, and encouraging progress via fitness apps
  • Participate in team-building activities such as running a local race as a team, pizza-and-beer nights, watching a running-themed movie together, and designing team shirts
  • Establish ground rules that the entire team agrees on such as inspiring and motivating vs. criticizing, sharing responsibility, giving it your all, HAVING FUN

Managing the Team

If you have recruited properly and developed the team adequately, team management should be fairly easy. Even the best, most motivated and cohesive groups, however, sometimes need some management.

  • Before the Race
    • Develop and disseminate the logistics plan
    • Address questions and anxieties early
    • Engage in team tasks such as decorating the van and the grocery shopping trip
    • Revisit team goals, leg assignments and packing list
  • During the Race
    • Observe and address issues early and consistently
    • Encourage and give emotional rewards such as cheering on a runner and greeting them at the finish with positive comments and refreshments
    • Lead by example by staying positive and running strong
    • Manage the highs and lows, promoting high energy but incorporating some downtime
    • Promote health maintenance through fluid and food intake, sleep, and stretching
  • After the Race
    • Take time to celebrate as a team at the finish
    • Provide rewards and recognition – identify and celebrate a van MVP
    • Clean up together to promote closure and continued shared responsibility
    • Reflect on the good moments from the road then look ahead to next year, but only in the abstract

08After crossing the finish line, the weeks go by quickly, the real world takes over, and the Odyssey memories fade. Team camaraderie does not need to stop, however, so take time to reach out to the team members (e.g. see how their running is going) and participate in some events together when you can (e.g. a fall race, beer tasting, etc.). Of course, buying them that drink can help your cause when trying to convince them to do the American Odyssey again next year. “No way man, TOO MANY HILLS”.

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