Who is your seconder?

This year I ran my second UTD160, a 100-mile trail run which spans across two countries (Lesotho and South Africa) and includes summiting the highest peak in Southern Africa, Thabana Ntlenyana. It’s an experience which is hard to put into words and one which will see you navigate extreme highs and lows to reach the finish.

If you do reach the finish (this year’s withdrawal rate was 40%), you receive a medal and the coveted cowbell. All the finishers join together under the finish line to ‘ring their bells’ in celebration of what they went through collectively to stand there. It’s downright emotional and exceptionally satisfying.


Whilst reaching the finish requires training, gear, mental prep, nutrition and a race plan, the one element which adds the most value in my opinion is your seconder. Your seconder (or team of seconders) are allowed to be at the various aid stations on route fuelling you with your needed race nutrition, changing out your pack, treating your blisters or offering you a dry pair of socks. They are in essence your tribe, tasked with ensuring you do what you came out there to do.

My wife, Toni, is my seconder. She has been there through the four that I have completed over the past two years. It’s a relentless task!

On day 1 she woke at 04h30 to help prep breakfast, get changed and drive me to the start. She got word that I was struggling at 32km. At 44km she received a call from me in a broken state, talking me off the ledge emotionally. She stayed up until late watching my GPS dot summit Thabana Ntlenyana, making sure I did so safely before trying to get some ‘sleep’. Then she ‘slept’ on and off waiting until I reached the end of the Lesotho leg at 73km, soon after midnight. A little more ‘sleep’ followed before an early wake up to prep my nutrition for the day. She then headed to Sani Pass Hotel before sunrise, carried gear along a dark muddy path to the aid station at 100km. Upon receiving me she dealt with my muddy feat, gear changes, nutrition requirements and listened to me unpack my various ailments. Then she kicked me back onto the course. She did that on repeat at every aid station to follow, even tackling the dodgy dirt road to Cobham which sits at 152km at dusk on a hunch I would need some solid food. Then she drove to the finish to watch me come in, hand me a beer and sort out some food for me.

And all of this to watch me, with absolute satisfaction, get a medal and ring the bell. 

Who ensures that you realise your potential and achieve your goals? Because it is not a random task reserved for those who are simply organized and good at admin. Our seconders have to deal with a whole bunch more, including our emotions.  Toni had to deal with whatever comes out my mouth when I am feeling weary, under pressure, disappointed or depleted. As do all of those who second you through everything you go through. She had to discern when to say and how to say it.  Toni was able to listen to me sincerely, acknowledge what I was feeling, but balance that with keeping my focus and perspective in the right place. She would call out how strong I was looking, remind me of how far I had come, compare me to last year and talk about what was left to do. She would never let me slip into a downward spiral. She was able to let me rest but at the same time maintain a sense of momentum, knowing stagnancy, apathy and slumping onto the ground was the enemy of progress. Then at the right time, she was able to kick me out the aid station and send me on my way.

It’s a mammoth task full of preparation, admin, handling emotions and dealing with pressure and pain. Think about what your seconders do for you. Think about how they handle your emotional and mental state of mind. Think about the nuances they have to deal with, the good, bad and ugly that they get to see. Think about the balancing act that they have to handle and the skills they deploy in keeping you going. To all the seconders out there you have my respect. It truly is a critical role and one that so many fulfil with very little gratitude from those in the limelight.

So as you continue to navigate toward the finish consider the following questions:

  • Who is seconding you today?
  • How can you show them sincere and genuine appreciation for what they do?
  • How can you acknowledge and label the skills that they bring to the table in doing what they do?
  • How can you encourage and enable your seconder to grow in their gifting?
  • How can you support them to reach their goals? Often their goals are seeing others successful. But there will be something that they are aiming for. Find out what it is and get behind it.
  • How can you share your success with them?
  • Lastly, who is out there who needs a seconder and how could you second them?

Then keep going, knowing that everything you do is product of not just what you put in, but who you surround yourself with. Nothing significant is achieved in isolation.


Article written by: Travis Gale

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