Who's on Your Team?

Common sense—and expert advice—on choosing the right race partners

When it comes to choosing endurance race partners, there’s no magic formula.   A carefully selected power alliance can be sidelined by bad attitudes and poor team dynamics.   But easy communication and a swell of underdog support can propel a gang of misfits -- maybe your misfits -- into the lead. 

That doesn’t mean assembling a team has to be a complete crapshoot.  In the absence of hard social science, a little pre-planning and common sense can help.  Here’s some expert advice on creating and cultivating healthy partnerships for your next big event.

Foster Good Communication
Mountain bike racer Rachel Bagley says communication is the number-one thing that distinguishes a successful team effort. And she should know—she’s competed in numerous 24-hour races and, most recently, the first Rapha Women’s Prestige race in San Francisco as part of a six-person team.

“Communication is huge,” Bagley says. “Just being able to express what you need—like I’m tired right now, and I just cant be up here pulling, or whatever it is—if one person’s not in the right space communication-wise it throws everything off.”

Make Sure You’re on the Same Page
This applies to both attitude and comparative strength.

First, consider how serious this race is to you: Is this some casual, beer-sponsored alleycat, or are you in it for glory and honor?

“If it’s a big deal to you, you hope it’s a big deal to everyone else,” Bagley says. Particularly if you’ve been training for months and paid a steep entry free.

Second, will you feel held back by much slower teammates or overwhelmed by faster ones? Start with partners at a comparable level to your own. “A little variation is ok, but it needs to be within a range that won’t overwhelm you if they’re faster or annoy you if they’re slower,” Bagley says. “At the same time it’s good to ride with someone who’s a little faster than you so you push yourself.”

Team Up With People You Actually Like
“You’re gonna be going through hard times.” Bagley says. “You want to make sure you like your teammates because when it’s 100 degrees outside, and the team is struggling, the ugly side of people comes out for sure.”

Mix Up Skill Sets
It sounds like a romantic comedy cliché, but you’ll want to find a partner that “completes” you, particularly to round out your training efforts. “One of my training partners is really good at short, fast burst-of-energy-type stuff, and I’m really good at long endurance stuff,” Bagley says. “We were just really good at complementing each other in that way, and it helped us be more fit and well-rounded.”

Know How to Support Each Other
This requires a whole lot of communication, intuition and empathy. Some people thrive on positive affirmations; others would prefer you leave them the hell alone. Pay attention to what your teammates need when they’re suffering, and be sure to clearly communicate your own needs.

Know Your Enemy
Remember who you’re up against. Bagley says it’s good to have teammates that push you, but competition within the group can feel overwhelming on top of the outside race competition. “I did a six-hour race on a team with one girl a few years ago, and we were really competitive with each other,” she says. “We ended up doing really well, but I didn’t enjoy it at all because it felt so stressful.”

Don’t Wear Headphones
This should go without saying, but Bagley says she’s seen it during a team endurance event. If you can’t disconnect from your media long enough to connect to your teammates, consider going it solo next time.