Pushin' Through the Pain with Adventure Racing’s Marco Rossini Menichelli Amselem
It was my pleasure to speak with one of the World’s Premiere Adventure Racers Marco Rossini Menichelli Amselem, the Driver for Team Columbia Vidariad. Marco and his team Columbia Vidariad are the current #1 Adventure Race Team in the World. The racing world has not seen Marco since Expedition Alaska where Marco injured his shoulder after falling into the crevasse. So, I want to check back with him on racing, teamwork and find out what keeps him crossing the finish line.
Race Punk: Hey Marco, thank you very much for speaking with me. I am so impressed by all you Adventure Racers who perform at the Professional level. When did you start Adventure Racing? How did you get to this point?
Marco: My start happened very early in my life. I used to study at Fundação Armando Alvares Penteado (FAAP) in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Every year the University put on a race for students, instructors and employees. They use the sport as an analogy for professional and social life. The race is meant to integrate people and teach people how to achieve results through sport. It is a very nice initiative by the University to put on the race every year.
My first race wasn’t with an athlete. My friend said that he was doing a race with his cousin and that they were missing a person. He asked if I would be interested to join their team. I love sports. I was a surfer, played all types of team sports like soccer and volleyball. So when he invited me, I thought, this is awesome. This sounds amazing, count me in.
I did it one time and it was pretty painful. It was an eight hour race, and I had never experienced anything like it. The girl on our team fell from her bike and broke her nose. We had to call the refs to ask if we could continue the race, and my other two teammates and I finished the race. I was fit, but when I crossed the finish line I was exhausted, but I cannot explain the feeling. I felt like crying but I loved it, I wanted to do it again.
Then I started racing outside of University, and put a team together. About eight years ago I started looking for sponsors and in 2009, I did my first Expedition level race. It was a five day race that is a very big deal in Brazil. I did it with two friends and an older girl who was very experienced. We did great.
When I moved to the US I was training very seriously, and I knew that I wanted to compete on a good team. I met Tecnu and raced with them for two years. We competed in many races and started to get really good results. Then we competed in the World Series for the first time and won a couple of the World Series races. After I left, I joined Columbia Vidaraid and it was the best thing that could ever have happen to me. We have been doing amazing. Our team has a lot of fun, and we respect and trust each other very much. After two years of very consistent results, we now hold first place in the World ranking.
Race Punk: When I describe an expedition level race, everyone who I speak with gets so excited. They also feel like Expedition Racers are crazy masochists. How crazy is an Expedition Level race?
Marco: I think it is the type of thing where if you don’t have any experience, then you don’t have any idea of how it is going to make you feel. It just sounds impossible. It sounded impossible to me before I started. Then it went from pretty hard to harder, and the third time I just started to enjoy the race. All the pain and suffering are just part of the race. The sport just gives me so much good stuff that I just forget about the pain and the suffering.
People that are not used to racing those distances. They see the race like an impossible challenge; like you are killing your body. I just see it as a lot of fun. The places you go and the challenges that you go through are so satisfying. Although you feel the pain, you just push through. Plus, your only responsibility is to move fast and get to the finish line. Just focus on the race and enjoy.
Race Punk: I have never heard the perspective that your only concern is the race and you can let your other thoughts go away. It is so true, and I realize there is some relaxation in that escape. Is that how you deal with pain?
Marco: When I am racing I am in another zone. I am in a different type of zone where I just embrace the pain, cross the finish line, win stage by stage. That is all of my worries. I just focus on my teammates, and the stage I am in.
Everyone is suffering, but to get a good result is about the way that you face a race. Think about they way you face the challenge and handle the pain. If you think about the suffering, and let that affect you, then you probably won’t have a good result. Realize that everyone else is experiencing the same pain, and maybe other racers will be able to pass through, handle the pain better, and get a better result.
What I do, and my team does, when we are suffering a lot, is to try and enjoy the pain and make fun of it. Embrace the pain, really. If it is hurting for us then it is hurting for everyone. It is kind of crazy, but that is what makes us forget about the pain.
Race Punk: So much talk of pain. You must live for the stuff. Are you a Professional Adventure Racer?
Marco: I only know of one guy from Sweden who has great sponsors, but I am not sure if even he lives off of Adventure Racing. I am pretty sure he has other stuff as well. You can get as much sponsorship as you like for product, but sponsorship for money is really difficult. It is really hard to find someone who is willing to invest money on a team. Pretty much our entire team has another job. We are professional because we train every day to race at a professional level.
I’m a videographer and an entrepreneur, my company is Blue3 Studio. I just got back from shooting Expedicion Guarani an adventure race in Paraguay. My navigator did the race course and my studio did all the visual communication for the race and we produced a one hour documentary about the race.
Race Punk: Since you have seen so many races you must have a great perspective of what is out there. How do you choose your races every year? Do you have a favorite race?
Marco: Our budget often determines which races we will run. Honestly, I have never run the same race twice if it was not because of the World Championships. I have raced in Costa Rica and Ecuador twice because one race was for a World Series Race and the other was for a World Championships, in both cases. One race that I love to run is in Brazil. It is my home country, and it is a beautiful and friendly environment where I know a lot of the teams. Generally we like to go to places where we have never been. That is part of Adventure Racing, to explore the unknown.
Race Punk: Racing at a professional level and having your own company must be time consuming. I am curious how you fit training into your life. As a busy person myself, can you give me any pointers on how to step up my training?
Marco: How I fit training into my life is to live an Adventure Racing lifestyle. Training is something that I will never stop doing. It makes me feel alive, happier and makes me a better person. Also, I know that I will have less time in the future, so I train as much as I can now.
When you need to put on more miles, just try to find a way to train during your normal activity. For example, in (Expedition) Alaska I knew I would have to carry a heavy backpack. So before the race, I used to go hiking with my wife and friends and I would take a super heavy backpack to turn a social event to a hard training session. Last weekend, I did a trail running race, 80 miles from home, to add more training I just rode my bike home after the race. Whenever I can fit some miles in, I combine it with other activities and get training in that way. It is hard, and sometimes you wake up very early and go to sleep very late.
Also, think about the quality of your training. Instead of five hours, you do one hour speed training. Push yourself as hard as you can for an hour. Try interval training, use a track to push yourself harder and try to keep up with faster athletes.
Race Punk: Adventure Racing requires that you stick with something until you finish. It teaches you to see the hard things through because they eventually get better. How have you seen that persistence translate into other areas of your life?
Marco: I agreed that it translates in many areas of my personal and professional life. I see the work in things such as planning, communication, logistics, and teamwork. Take communication for example. In Adventure Racing, it is very important that you communicate inside your team. If you are feeling sick and you don’t share that with your team, you can break down. If you go out of the race, then your team is compromised, and your team won’t be able to finish. You need to share that information and get help.
Communication is also very important to be efficient in harsh situations. The team should always be very aware of what is going. When you are without sleep and food and you are exhausted, we become very vulnerable and you can’t take things personally. Anything, even the smallest things, can become very big arguments. Imagine this in your daily life. You need to know that everything happening may not be about you especially when you don’t have a chance to digest the situation. You may be vulnerable but you have to absorb what happens and make the best situation possible. If someone is rude to you, if something happens, you can’t live inside. You just need to know that everyone is vulnerable. Think about overcoming the problems and don’t take it personally.
Race Punk: That is interesting. I can see how I can use this at home. My job is to remain calm and help the situation rather than blow it up. Is that how you deal with your teammates?
Marco: Yes, I always try to be always transparent with my teammates and everyone that surrounds me. I try to be very polite, generous and spread the goodness. I believe when you follow this path you will impact anything in a better and a positive way. Communication definitely impacts how people interpret things. There are different ways that you can ask for things. If you ask in a nice way the person will respond much better. That focus can help lead to a good result in so many areas.
Race Punk: What is it that you learned about yourself?
Marco: Our mind is way stronger than our body. It drives you much further and harder than you think you can do. If you mind tells you that you are doing something, then you are doing it.
Race Punk: What gets you across the finish line?
Marco: When you get into a long race you can’t spend the next five days telling yourself that you are not going to quit. That doesn’t work. I use thoughts of my family, my wife, everyone who has done good for me. I just keep thinking about them and how lucky I am to have them. Those thoughts help you, and comfort you, especially when you are hurting. You have to make the time pass and not dwell on the pain and frustration.
I also talk with my team about silly stuff, food, we try to talk to pass the time. We look around and talk about the nature, and really enjoy nature. That is the beauty of the race. It’s not like a triathlon where you race in a straight line on a road. You are always in new places with beautiful scenery. There are so many things that help you cross the finish line, that you just need to find them and use them.
Race Punk: What would you tell to a new racer?
Marco: I would probably tell them not to limit themselves. They may feel that they can only run a four hour race. They shouldn’t limit themselves, and they should focus on what they want to do. If they want to experience a 24 hour race, go for it. If they want to do an expedition race, then go for it. No one can tell you what to do. It happened with me, before people were saying that i would never became a World Champion. I had two choices, accept that or keep fighting and moving towards my dream regardless how it will ends. Two years after that my team became number 1 in the World Ranking and we have two second places at the previous World Championships. A lot of people also put barriers in front of themselves and tell themselves that they cannot do it. You just have to believe and chase whatever you want to accomplish with dignity, ALWAYS respecting others, otherwise It won’t mean anything.