With Race2 right around the corner, I managed to pull the busy Emma Robertson, Race2 Coordinator, aside for a few minutes to ask her a few questions about the race. Not only was she gracious enough to give me the time, but gave me some wonderful answers that were full of excitement. Curious about Race2? Racing yourself? Read on and get your fundraising pages ready.
Have you ever done Race2 yourself?
Unfortunately, no, I haven’t! I tried to go to Barcelona in my first year, however it sold out before I got a place – a lesson for all future racers! I guess I must have been suffering from what we now refer to as FOMO because I then got more involved with the Charities Campaign and have been on the Race2/Jailbreak Safety Team ever since. I even joined the team in Berlin last year from my year abroad!
I have hitchhiked before though, both in Malawi and in the South of France. It’s such a great experience and you will meet a lot of really interesting people that you wouldn’t otherwise come across.
How was the location for this year’s Race2 chosen?
When you apply to be Race2 coordinator you have to propose different possible locations for future races. This proposal has to cover the logistics of getting there, different routes, and possible hostels. This is presented to the Executive Committee and, as well as an interview, it is one of the deciding factors in whether or not you are selected.
Apart from the fact that it’s an amazing city, the main reason I chose Madrid was because I really wanted Race2 to be bigger than ever before. Numbering restrictions mean that increasing participants just isn’t possible yet here, so I started looking at the possibility of something slightly further away. Also, following two years of going east (Prague 2013 and Berlin 2014), I thought we should try a different direction.
I actually worked in Madrid for three months one summer as well and so knew it was an exciting place to be for students. Basically, I thought it would be a good way to get that little bit further and still ensure that all participants have a great time when they arrive.
What’s also exciting is that we have a few other people on the Race2 Committee that have lived or worked in Madrid and our Social and Events team are working with the hostel to plan some great activities once hitchers start to arrive in Spain. Our Spanish speaker is also an incoming Erasmus student from a Madrid university which is proving very useful!
What kinds of safety measures are implemented?
I’m never going to say to participants that hitchhiking isn’t a challenge – Race2 may be one of the toughest travelling experiences they will ever come across! We always stress, however, that it is also one of the most exciting and unique events that they will ever participate in at university and, of course, that we do everything in our power to keep students as safe as possible.
We will have fully trained safety teams in both St Andrews and Madrid who are on call 24/7 for the duration of the race. All teams must check in by text every 4 hours, updating us of their location and any developments. We have a very serious and stringent set of measures which are implemented in the event that a team does not check in and these have been developed over a number of years with the support of Student Services and the Students’ Association Health and Safety team. At a compulsory full briefing before the race, these rules are emphasised to all participants. They also check in whenever they change vehicle, cross a border, or if they go to sleep/wake up and there is an emergency telephone number available as well. We are also kindly supported by Nightline who are on hand to answer non emergency queries, such as helping racers find the nearest petrol station or transport link in their current location.
Racers are also provided with a ‘Survival Pack’ which contains items that could help (giant foam thumbs, torches) or even just entertain (playing cards) while hitchhiking.
All that said, on the road safety often boils down to resilience and common sense and we are lucky to have such a dedicated and determined bunch of participants again this year.
How many students have signed up this year?
Sign ups were extremely popular again this year and we sold out very quickly, within a matter of hours! We now have over 200 students signed up to race and are working with a significant reserve list! It’s going to be very full and it’s going to be great!
How do you feel this race will compare with past races?
It will be the best!
Seriously though, we have so many racers that have already started fundraising, and so many people have been throwing around amazing ideas for raising money – I’m just so excited at the prospect of how much everyone could do for our three nominated charities. I think we’re definitely on target to have the most worthwhile race yet.
Also, in terms of the location and the racer experience, I’m so enthusiastic about Madrid and our hostel partner, Cat’s Hostel. Our contact there, Macarena, is looking at putting on loads of fun day and evening events for the racers when they arrive. We really wanted to make the destination a reward this year, something to really look forward to after all the hard work of fundraising and travelling across Europe.
What can racers expect once they arrive at the destination?
Without giving too much away, there will be Spanish culture, food, drink and nightlife – not forgetting of course the build up to the famous racer party of the final night! I can’t give out too many details yet, but we’ve booked out the entirety of Cat’s Hostel for the final nights which should be an amazing way for all the racers to meet each other and create a real buzz which continues after they arrive in Madrid. Cat’s is a really central hostel and is really cool inside with great facilities. They have also promised every racer a free sangria or beer on arrival to “help them recuperate from their long journey”, which I thought was just great – surely a sign of things to come!
What do you say to those racers who oppose the requirement of a male team member?
I completely understand this predicament and I would love to say that any group of girls could race as a pair or tiro of responsible and capable adult women. However, the Students’ Association have ruled that the 1 male per team rule is non-negotiable for reasons of safety and the whole team at Race2 fully support them in this decision. Sadly, we just cannot budge on this and, having hitchhiked in these areas myself, I definitely do agree with the reasoning behind it.
Do you have any advice for hitchhikers?
Number one is a small word of warning to all racers: bring your own gloves! A few years ago, I ended up handing out pairs of gloves to people at 5am before the start of the race because a few teams hadn’t brought their own and it was freezing!
Also, make sure to look into different ways attracting attention, different ways of reaching the location and even different means of transport. In the past, racers have successfully managed to get rides on ferries from a range of different ports or blagged free buses, trains and even flights (though hanging around airports isn’t recommended!). Explore your options and definitely don’t be afraid to ask people for help anywhere you go. Even if they just give you a free coffee, every little helps. Oh and use social media as much as possible too – the more people that know about us, they more likely it is that someone will pick you up. Lots of racers have been picked up by alumni via twitter, for example!
We have sent out a packing list this year and I really recommend that the racers follow it. There is a tendency to think that Spain and the south of France will be really warm even in the winter, however it’s not what you’d expect and you will need layers in the UK for sure!
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
From personal experience, I think that, on the whole, people who sign up for these things (whether they be hitchhiking, car-sharing, Couchsurfing) generally just have more open outlook on life. Put it this way, you have to believe that most people you encounter are going to be generous and great and that they will help you, and you have to be generous and great yourself. It sounds cliché but getting involved in something like this really restores your faith in humanity. It shows you a world beyond St Andrews where it isn’t all about reaching the end or getting a result: it’s about enjoying the journey too.
If you weren’t able to race this year but would like to get involved, please look out for racer fundraising events and JustGiving pages if you would like to support them. If you’re a racer who hasn’t yet created a page, you can do so here.
Photography by Alexandra Williams