I have mentioned my friends in the US Navy a few times. I feel humbled that a member of the team wrote the foreword to my book, Sickbed To Summits. But SEALs seem to hold some sort of secret to success. From BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) training with its infamous hell week, to high profile missions, there are lessons in there for the rest of us.
“Two is one and one is none” is just one of them, and one that has been invaluable to me in recent weeks.
This idea simply emphasises the importance of having a backup plan. Having one of something is like having none at all and having two of anything is the same as just having one. This concept is applied to everything in a Navy SEAL’s world, from weapons and other supplies, to gear and even clothing.
Most importantly, it applies to their mission planning. One plan means no plan. Two plans? Well that’s only as good as one. SEAL mission planning is legendary. Their lives revolve around a war clock with the tasks they will complete each day – each with its own allotted timescale. They use detailed battle maps with mission briefs in even greater detail. Their missions are rehearsed over and over and over again, with models that play out every conceivable scenario. By doing this, whatever obstacles these guys face whilst out on a mission they are not ruffled, because they have encountered it already and know exactly how to react, each member of the team knowing the part they will play.
One of them recently told me, “It is the same for every mission we have here. If the price in human life can be high, we need to rethink the mission details or objective. If they are critical, then we can accept the potential risk or loss, but if it can be changed, sometimes we do that.”
Speaking with the team guys I know, I get the impression that as well as being proficient with their weapons, they are equally proficient in using PowerPoint for the numerous mission plans they present. Whenever I come up with a theme for a talk I’m going to give, or an idea I want to share, one of the first things they ask is, “Where’s the PowerPoint so we can look it over?” They then go on to address all the “What-ifs?”
The two is one and one is none way of thinking has somewhat rubbed off on me, which has proved to be invaluable in recent months with my own LEJOG (Land’s End to John O’Groats) mission planning.
A recent ultra marathon highlighted a number of problematic issues, which have since been addressed; I struggled to take my planned fuel on board. Thankfully, being fat adapted saved me from hitting the wall and becoming a DNF statistic. Looking forward, I now have various sources of fuel, solids, liquids, extra carbs and calories. I have trained using them all and practiced eating and drinking on the go. Not as easy as you might think! Nutrition issues could unravel my run at any point. And who knew palate fatigue was a thing? I am grateful to those who have shared their knowledge on this with me.
I never use new kit for a race. As the saying goes, “Nothing new on race day!” During LEJOG I’ll need a few sets of kit, and certainly a few pairs of running shoes. Giving more consideration to this and the different circumstances I might face on the road (lack of laundry facilities, wet weather, hot weather…) I soon realised that I needed spares. On top of the spares I now have two additional kits which will be stashed in the camper van just in case. The same goes for tech – I have batteries, rechargeable batteries and good old ordinary, non-rechargeable batteries, for heart rate monitors, head torches, torches, hearing aids, cameras… I have leads for phones, satellite tracking, headphones… I know how each bit of kit works – with my eyes closed!
Speaking of the camper van, we were fortunate enough to be able to take it out for a trial run for a few days. That was certainly eye opening and highlighted a number of issues which could cause problems, not least how I’ll get in and out of the roof space with 100+ miles in my stiff legs! I went out and trained hard whilst feeling fatigued after sleeping in an unfamiliar setting, during what has to have been the hottest days of the year. Remember those models I mentioned earlier? This was my coach’s brilliant idea and we certainly encountered a few scenarios we’d not thought of.
From the outset, this was a big worry. I had planned on having just one driver, my friend Sharon, who would support me for the duration of the journey. Unfortunately, due to serious illness in the family, she had to withdraw. She was my Plan A. I had a back up plan for the ‘what if’ scenario, which indeed played out. So, with just a few weeks to spare, Plan B was put into play but has since morphed into Plan C, with which there have also been issues!! I’ve taken plenty of deep breaths over this situation, and thankfully it appears that all is now good.
So the two is one and one is none thought process really has been worth its weight in gold, and I’m grateful for those who instilled it into me, as well as those who help me put it into practice, particularly when my brain isn’t working 100%.
In the world of adventure and endurance, there is no room for ‘grey areas’ that haven’t been thought through. I’m fortunate enough to have a great team around me who have got my back, but imagine if instead of road running, supported, in the UK, I was on an unsupported polar adventure? With limited means of communication with the outside world? Not having a plan B, C or even D could very easily become a matter of life and death.
Now I need to work on the next little pearl of wisdom, remaining calm under pressure!