An Epic GODZone 

I was pretty excited heading into this GODZone, we had a team that was well balanced, with a good amount of experience, probably our only collective weakness was we were all small and light so if it got cold it was going to be rough! We went into the race as relative unknowns, no mention of us was made in the pre-race predictions, complete underdogs. But that’s how we liked it.

This year the logistics planner was released early and coupled with that the maps were made available the day before. This took quite a bit of stress out of the pre race planning so sleep the night before was easy. Eventually we found ourselves milling around in the dark with 70 other teams pre start. Nervous chatter was exchanged and then finally it was time for us to start.

The pace was hot, sort of as expected to start with. We all ran at a quick pace along the foreshore before beginning the charge up the hill. My first navigational mistake came out of a lack of local knowledge, luckily we recovered ok, but it got stressful for a moment. A little bit further up the trail it was time for the leading teams to panic a bit as the control appeared to be placed differently in reality to on the map. I think here we did a good job in figuring what to do quickly which put us into good stead in 5th place.

Transition at the gondola to mountain bikes, was quick and efficient, 1.5mins down on the lead 4 teams. The bike trails were quite cool and a good bit of fun, little bit stressful navigating down through the trees as I was pretty scared about overshooting the checkpoint! Then it was onwards navigating the urban streets of Queenstown so we could get out and away as fast a possible. Mitch set the tone for the whole race with the team at this point too, “we have got a good gap on those teams behind us now, lets make it difficult for them to catch us”. Queenstown hill was a bit of a grind on the bikes, I’m not sure we made the best routechoice but we got up onto the tops without giving up any distance on those trailing. In what felt like no time at all we were back in transition, this time packing our bikes away and onto the water in 1 double kayak and 1 inflatable canoe between us. We went with the tactic of the two stronger paddlers in the slow boat and the other two in the kayak, which evened things out quite nicely when the tow line was attached.

The hardest part of this section was at the very end. We had to get everything, 30kg or gear plus a kayak and an inflatable canoe up a steep little goat track up to the main road. It was by far the toughest section of the race looking back now! Once it was done it was onto the gorgering section. For somewhere so close to Queenstown you could have mistaken it as anywhere in the country. It was not a place that there was much evidence of tourists at all… for good reason too, it was not the most spectacular place I’ve been been either, anyway we were just glad to be out of there and into transition with AMK (Team Adventure Medical kits) in the race for 5th place still.

Grabbing that full pack and running out of transition was hard work (we were not required to carry as much gear for the first Multisport stage) but it was a relief to actually feel like we were into the race now. There was a 45km Trek ahead of us and if we made good time we would be getting some sleep tonight at the start of the Darkzoned river. Our first route choice turned out to be a good one I think, Tiki Tour gained ground on Yealands taking a different route but our one meant that we caught Torpedo 7 at the first checkpoint. We stuck with them for a while as the walked fast down the valley. We then made a break when the going got a bit slow. This seemed to kick them into action and they took a different line through an ugly gully and the race was back on. I was pretty happy to get to the next checkpoint in the day light as it was surrounded by bluffs, but in my opinion we spent too much time mucking around in the creek before getting going again. This resulted in us seeing a rather gleeful looking Mrs Forne and her boys going down where we were coming back up from. This in turned spurred us into a bit of action and we were soon jogging again. From here our route over the top seemed more sensible than the river gorge but on further anaylsis it was apparently slower. No worries for us though as we had a similar route to those in front and behind.

We hit the skippers bridge around nightfall, just enough light to see the abseil that we were going to have to make tomorrow though! A little bit scary! At the lights on stage we were back together with our old mates T7. After some light issues, I had a dead extension cable, the gap had opened again. There was a long track follow through the cold stream so I kept the pace going to make sure we were kept warm. We arrived at the checkpoint around midnight and knew we were going to make that darkzone sleep. However there was a big hill in between us and it, the spur up provided us with a nice goat track, complete with an actual goat! The way down provided challenging, and we had to negotiate some quite steep terrain, avoiding bluffs and sliding too far on the slippery grass. T7 had got out of our sights on the way down but as we wandered into transition we saw them leaving with their gear bags, heading back to the put in point to catch some sleep. We followed suit, finding enough space in a gazebo to avoid having to pitch the tent for something like 3 hours of broken sleep.

Several teams made it though the night getting anywhere between 6hours to 45minutes of sleep, so there was a hive of activity at 6am as we all prepared to hit the river bang on 6:45am, when the darkzone opened. We didn’t make the best start on the river, better than Mrs Forne’s boys but our lead evaporated somehow on the abseil section and we found ourselves at the back of the darkzone pack. Mitch did a pretty stella job of steering us down the rapids, which was  a pretty fun way to start the day. Unfortunately We had a bit of a mix up out the front, mistaking one of the bivouac boats for Stru and Isla, and had spaced ourselves a bit far ahead at one point. We were back together for the abseil, which got very cold standing around waiting for our turn as it was one rope per team. Once over the edge it wasnt as scary as I thought it might be and I was down quickly as I could hopefully not holding proceedings up too much.

Carrying the kayaks and the canoes up the hill on day 1 was pretty bad bad but almost just as bad was the up-down scrub bash of 7kms to get to the start of the rafting section. We opted for wetsuits on, the majority decision, as there was way too much gear for us to carry comfortably. Starting from the back of the pack, we worked our way back up the field, making good route choices and following the right people when it counted. We all felt this was the worst section and really struggled to find the best way down to the rafts, especially carrying a whole lot of extra gear. Its quite hard negotiating death defying cliffs while carrying packs, drybags, pumps, 3 lifejackets and a drink bottle in one hand!

Such a relief if was to get off that horrible trek. No rest for the wicked as our raft guide, the infamous “Chief” had us hurrying to get on the river (I think the guides must have been racing each other too!) The raft section was quite fun and exciting, I enjoyed it for the most part as I didn’t have to think too much and was able to recharge the navigation brain. The others didn’t have much to say either so hopefully we didn’t upset Chief too much by being so quiet as he was very the legend on the river he was portrayed to be. At the very end were steered through the tunnel, which was quite pleasant, but holy crap the staircase we dropped down was a surprise and a thrill all rolled into one, quite a nice way to finish the raft!

Talk about dusty transition at the end, everything that was wet got coated in sand! My bike box ended up with a whole heap of sand after everything was chucked in there. It was super hot leaving on the bikes, and straight up the hill we made a very small error, just by not having someone to navigate out the front. Once corrected and switched on we sorted our shit out and proceeded forwards! I found the first bit of single track hard, because it was hot, because I was riding with my pack and because there was quite a bit of false flat riding. I sensed Isla was struggling a bit too, Mitch was out the front paving the trail, and there wasn’t much navigation required for a while so I let him and Stru go for it, and I was keen to sit at the back and blob out a bit to warm myself into things. I started to feel a bit better once we caught up to Mrs Forne’s Boys again, it felt like they were a bit slower than us, and after a successful checkpoint, Isla got us motivated to put some distance into them. This was all going well until we hit the Mountain Bike orienteering, I took a wrong turn somewhere and got a bit confused with where the Eagles nest actually was.

Unfortunately for us we got to the Eagles nest right as our rivals we had just gaped caught up. Annoyed about the situation, we were back into a full-on battle. The pace got a bit crazy and by about the 3rd loop we managed to open the smallest of margins. It was about here that Bivouac and AMK? turned up at the eagles nest to find a full on test match to rival the All Blacks vs Wallabies in full force! They all looked a bit perplexed as to what was happening, as there was some intense faces and a small amount of yelling going on too! Eventually we broke away and calmed down a bit, settled into the repetitive pattern of going round and round in circles… then somehow we had some issues and were suddenly passed . A bit dejected we finished the loops and finally got out. Escaping the forest, out onto the road and into transition, surprisingly in 5th place with no one else around? A little bit confused we found out they had also made a mistake and had to fix it up before moving forwards.

Onto the trek, almost dark and into night 2, we made for some quick pace walking and eating, loading up after a day of not having much solid food at all. A little bit complacent, too involved in discussion and we overshot the first control, hidden down a silly little “track” that was all over grown and hard to see in the dark. So back we were we Mrs Forne’s Boys…. this time everything was a bit more civil and we wandered around the next control with them too. This one was pretty hard to find too so we eventually had to round up the troops and redirected them, another 20mins or so wasted. The final checkpoint on that little loop was also down a faint disused track, but we were honed in for them now. At the checkpoint we split away from the others, we knew they were planning to stay in the hut, but we were also battling and in need of some sleep so we headed straight there. We were alone when we arrived so we made a call to sleep in the hut too…knowing this might upset Tim a bit but really you cant “bags” a hut in a race. When they eventually turned up ( not such a great route choice…) we let them in and managed to fit 7 onto 3 mattresses! A tight fit. Having had an extra hour sleep the first night out we opted for 2 and them 3 hours.

Once up and away we never saw them again. It was good to finally get a break but the next few hours were quite challenging bashing our way along a series of contours in the dark hoping not to get bluffed out. With some joy I finally spotted lake Isobel and I knew we had the crux of this stage complete just before sunrise. Several teams were camped up at the lake, my guess was that they were all pursuit teams, but as we found the gap in the ridge at the top of Mt Crichton, T7 came barreling down firing off rocks as we descended the narrow little gut section. We were not that impressed and told them so, not realising they were probably annoyed we had just passed them again. So back together with our old trekking rivals we made reasonable time down the ridge line in good spirits as the sun came up, for our paddle up to Glenorchy.

We might have had T7 under a bit of stress in the transition as we jumped in our kayaks not long after them. It was a pleasant paddle in very nice flat water, and what was shaping up to be an awesome day in a very cool place. For some reason T7 had a complete mare at the control, we punched first and got ahead of them again.

Transition we were a little slow, and T7 leapfrogged us yet again. The pace was hot on the bike to begin with, too hot for Viv’s pursuit team, well all except one who rode of the front of our bunch with an excitable Stru for a moment. After knocking off the sealed section we consolodated our position and just rode at a comfortable pace for a while. This seemed to work for us and before long we were back neck and neck with our old mates T7. We were pestering them and I think they might have been getting sick of it. All along the lake it was like that, backwards forwards, backwards forwards, then again up the road to Afton saddle. Here we were unaware of what was going on in front of us but, Swordfox apparently looked down and saw us and T7, getting a little bit of a fright! We had a break at the saddle, T7 were well down the road when we got there. Finally getting away from us I guess.

After food in we decided and talked about going fast but sensibly on down the hill. So that what we started out doing… then Isla caught her front wheel on a rock that it just didnt roll over, the back wheel flicked up and she went over the handlebars, the bike still attached landing upside down and partially on top of her. Mitch and I were first on the scene, Isla doesn’t make much noise, pretty much never complains but was clearly immediately unhappy. Mitch and I freed her from her bike, realised quickly that we needed the team medic Stru, as there was a big cut in her arm, through which there was a bit of blood and some white stuff? maybe bone?

Isla was most concerned about her bike while Stru set about patching her up, Mitch and I were thinking that this was potentially race ending and now a battle of survival. Testament to her toughness Isla got up and got going again, a little slower and a little hesitant with some guidance. The race went out of us guys for a while I think, but Isla was storming on. I’m not sure when her adrenaline kicked in but we were up an racing, and racing hard not so long after! It was clear she was using some of the pain and frustration to drive her, as she just started smashing it up the hills towards the transition.  Not a lot was said about what was going to happen once we got to transition, so I figured we had to make it clear so that when we got there we were not going to sit down and have a picnic. Before I asked the question I expected the answer but not quite the delivery as I was definitely told in no uncertain terms that she was good to keep racing! Sweet, game on them one tough team mate!

At Transition there was a medic waiting for Isla, he was pretty impressed by the seriousness of the cut, the best one of the race so far! We transitioned almost with a new lease on life, we could see the finishline again and still right up there as the wet tyre tracks we had been seeing were those of Torpedo 7. Indecently still in transition when we arrived.

Out of transition it was good to be moving again, I was feeling better as the route had now been suggested to us through the bluffs as the organisers had a change of plans. Im not sure what Greig and our old mates T7 were up to but again we were back in a tit for tat battle up the track. They gave in for a bit and followed us as we picked our way across the scree. Mitch and I scouted some tracks through the traverse that got us a good way through but eventually we reached an impass of sorts and we took the option to sleep, Stru was pretty much dead on his feet. We found a nice flat spot, pulled the sleeping bags out and got a couple of hours of quick sleep. It was hard getting up again, into the third night it gets harder and harder to get up from sleep, but we were moving again and rejuvenated. From Wards creek we climbed and then began our massive siddle. In the dark I felt like we were going further than we actually were and encounted some pretty difficult terrain. About 30mins before daylight my confidence was low on where we needed to go up. I had been struggling on the bike a bit to concentrate and now this was beginning to exacerbate things.

As things were not going well we took the option to stop, catch a little sleep and then get going again when it was light. This technique worked well, however all it really did was confirm where we actually were and had we have just kept going we would have been fine anyway. Thats what you pay for a piece of mind anyway. We got up on the ridge early on in the day, the team was feeling a bit down again, convincing ourselves that we had been passed in the night and probably lost more than 1 or 2 places. We were brave enough to talk out loud about it and realised we probably were not as bad off as we thought. Stru was starting to struggle now, his feet had him in a bit of pain and who knows how much pain Isla was in but you wouldnt know it.

We reached the ridge line and again to there dismay T7 were not that far in front of us again, clearly we took a more optimal route at some point along the way as they seemed to be moving faster. Stopping was becoming a bit more frequent today, and after killing off all of our hard earned climb for a checkpoint we were on the uphill again. I took some of Stru’s gear, had some food, and bashed a path up the hill in front. I took an alternate route, keeping us from T7’s view and our view of them so we could see no one behind or in front for quite a while.

Eventually after and agonising climb and siddle we started to make our way down the spur. My feet started to ache and I was struggling to concentrate but Mitch seemed in good condition so pack carrying and map reading became his job as us zombies followed him down through yet more bluff’s in the forest. No sighting behind and only one brief glimpse of those in front started to play on my mind at least and once we got down to the flat, we even broke out into a jog just to make sure the gap was maintained behind us.

At Kingston there was a doctor waiting for Isla to stitch her up but we knew there Mrs Forne’s Boys were hot on our tails so she refused to let the doctor touch her. We were on a mission to get on that water and bring it home fast. Once again we were treated with the most perfect conditions you could imagine possible, a far cry from GZ2015 when we were paddling in the opposite direction. There was a fair amount of support out there for us to keep us awake, several kayakers came out and paddled near by  for a while. Darkness hit us right at the final checkpoint on the lake, a good stress relief for me. All that was left now was to skirt around the bay and up Frankton arm. Longer than it looked like especially in the dark, but we had a good chance to have a good chat about the race, about what we had achieved and how excited we were about it all. Eventually it started to get cold, and Isla called for us to paddle hard for the final few kms to keep warm. The power went on, there was a little hesitation about where exactly the finishline was, the closer we got the further it actually felt but then finally it was all coming to an end. Getting out of that kayak seat was a little difficult but it was so good to walk across that finishline with three of the best team mates. We all worked hard together, we all helped each other, we all had the same focus, the same drive and it all fell into place so well.  In a fast and furious Godzone, the underdogs, mixing it with the big names and Sneaking our way into the top 5!

Looking online afterwards it looks like we got some good coverage during the race, the Sneaky Weasel Gang definitely has some name appeal I think! But I think those we impressed the most was the Race organisers, and much to our surprise we were awarded the “Young Guns” trophy. We were out there with the aim to challenge for the win and thought that this award was set in stone for a team which has a total age of under 100  (we were 108) but as explained by the prizegiving it is open to some subjectiveness, so it was a special honour to be recongnised for our efforts with this trophy!

Thanks to Bivouac Outdoor, Inov8 and Cycleways, for helping with gear, shoes and bikes!

All images from godzoneadventure.com, sleepmonsters.com or the Sneaky Weasel Facebook page and maybe subject to copyright

Not much noise…

When things have gone quiet here it probably means there’s some other things brewing in the background….. Since bombing some training with the weasels it’s been full steam ahead with Godzone training…. and I’ve recently started a new job! So here is a quick summary of what’s gone on:

Just after New Year I was up in Reefton for some Mountain Biking with Hilary and Isla. It rained the entire time we were there, but there was a Mecca of bike trails in and around the area. It was really cool, not without drama however as Hilary managed have a bit of a crash and rip her arm open requiring me to pull out some first aid skills!

Riding in the rain

Nothing to do but stand around and take pictures

Not long after returning to Christchurch it was back out into the hills with Isla for some Coast to Coast training. We did the ‘double’ as it’s known, the run and paddle sections on a sunny Sunday before heading back to my old job the next day.

Two weeks back at Tait to tidy up and off I was to start the next week at Enphase Energy. A bit of a change but refreshing and something I probably needed to do to advance that part of my career.

In between switching jobs I also managed a Kayak run kayak mission with Flavio, Sam, Sam, and Sam. Across the harbour and up mt herbert return. Then a Bike/trek through Craigieburn with Georgia and Stru. Somehow in all of that I upgraded my Mountain Bike, planned an Orienteering course with Georgia on Quail Island (yes, logistically difficult) and… then did a quick trip down to Dunedin with Riki for Dad’s 65th birthday party…. I’m tired just from writing that all down…

Some gorge exploration in the Cragieburn area

Crazy summer sunset

Evening flight to Dunedin

New bike, thanks Cycleways!

Evening orienteering planning!

Waitangi weekend allowed for some team training  (not Isla… coast to coast tapering) where we bashed up a valley onto the tops, then followed a well warn path through a couple of passes in the dark. Since we were practically back to the car by that point we kept going. And were treated to the rear sight of an actual kiwi! Pretty exciting, but I guess not many people are fastpacking around in the hills at 2:30am.

Up high above Mt White bridge

Next weekend was Coast to Coast. I helped Isla as support crew which was fairly exciting as she did really well coming in 4th, very close behind 3rd!
Now its the final packing stages before GODZone. We have a few things left to do tomorrow then it’s all business. So look out for team 34 the Sneaky Weasel Gang!

Isla on her way down the Waimak in Coast to Coast

The Weasels bomb down Snake ridge

The last weekend before Christmas last year we thought it was about time to get together for a team training session. Friday afternoon Isla and I were picked up by a very excited Stru (and Nat) and we headed for Tekapo to ready ourselves for a classic Mitch training mission in his wider backyard.

We hit the road on our bikes after a leisurely start on Saturday morning, up the lake towards Roundhill. Gravel turned to single track, and eventually bike carrying terrain as we made our way to Camp stream hut. From Camp stream hut we were able to bike again and were at Rex Simpson hut in no time. Here we filled with water from the nearby stream and began the long uphill ride/push on a well worn horse trekking path up Snake ridge. Unfortunately it didn’t seem to be a free flowing and as ride-able as it appeared, never the less we were able to make it up to about 1700m. We ditched the bikes and headed out for a bit of a trek.

We headed along the ridge to the top of the range and then ducked down to the east side to avoid the wind. Once in the lee of the wind, we descended down to Royal hut for some late lunch in the tussocks. There was not much mucking around before we were going back up again, via part of the Te Araroa trail, then cut across a Boulder field round the side of Mt Hope. Mitch had a bit of a run in with a rock which sliced quite a deep cut in his shin that needed some attention. Stru came to the rescue with his company issued first aid kit and patched him up best he could.

Daylight was now starting to become an issue, and we quickly made tracks to our bikes for the crux of our mission, biking down snake ridge! It was definitely worth the push up, it was almost all ride-able, quick, interesting and fairly spectacular with a good view of the lake as we cruised down the hill. There was just enough daylight left for us to drop in and visit Mitch’s Dad with some tramping clients at Rex Simpson hut for cup of tea. Then a short hike over the hill to Camp Stream hut where we met the girls (Nat, Anna and Rachel) who had tramped into to meet us. Nat set about work on Mitch’s leg (she is a doctor) which provided much entertainment to all those that were camping out at the hut.

It wasn’t the warmest of nights, especially for summer, but we all survived ready for the bike/walk out the next morning. The walk back up the hill definitely felt worth it for the ride down the Richmond trail in the tailwind, the precursor of some bad weather making its way down the lake. It was this ride back into town that made me realize the the hard tail was not going to cut it for Godzone and I think I need to go to Full Sus!

Second time, not so lucky…

Well actually luck doesn’t have much to do with it really, I was fairly well prepared for the Luxmore Grunt, I would say even better prepared than last year, but things just didn’t go quite the way I planned when it came to the race on Saturday. I was feeling ready when the time came to hit the start line and as expected Jack took off to the front. I followed at my own pace leading the charge of the chasing pack. I could tell after about 10 minutes into the race this group had reduced to just two behind me and by the time we hit the drink station Jack was barely within sight. Unfortunately for me, hitting the drink station is were things started to sour for me.

The stitch, an old friend that sometimes comes to visit, showed up. Funnily enough I only ever seem to battle with the stitch during running races but never during orienteering. Great, just before the hill and I was going to have to push through this rubbish. Usually when I get to a hill I feel like I can just pound away, eating it up one little chunk at a time, but today for some reason life was all just a bit harder. Jonah decided I was going to slow for him so he finally pulled out and passed me, and then away, while Ryan was still sitting right in behind me. Eventually 10 or so minutes into the climb I started to feel a bit stronger, the stitch was going away a bit and Ryan had dropped behind and from the brief glimpses I caught of him he was walking sections of the track. I forced myself to run all of the hill still with the hope of being in contact with the other two in front.

Into the open the wind was howling, it was tough work into the cold headwind up the final part of the climb. I managed to spot Jonah but no Jack as I hit the boardwalks. This is were it got pretty tricky to negotiate as the tail end Kepler runners were taking up most of the track and possibly didn’t hear me coming. Unfortunately running turned into a contact sport for a small majority, for which I apologise for now, if I brushed past anyone too vigorously.

When Jack came back on the return I could see he had a good lead, probably unattainable, Jonah however was closer. But the biggest fright for me was how close Ryan was now behind me at the turn. Running back down hill I went to put the accelerator down and there was just nothing there. The harder I pushed the more prevalent the stitch (which had evolved into stomach cramps) was and it was now clear I was in trouble. Ryan must have sensed this, he pulled out and went for it on a mission to run down Jack.

Left in no mans land I tried my very best to push through the pain, hoping that the by pushing through the bad I was going to get to some good but it just wasn’t happening. As well as the intense stomach pain, was the intense frustration of not being able to run as hard as I could down hill  I knew the gap was getting bigger and the pain wasn’t going away. I think maybe the stress of it all probably made it worse too and there was still 5.5km of flat to go….

It was a lonely, painful run back to the finish. All I could do was focus on getting to the end, which actually worked quite well at distracting me from the pain. I knew vaguely what time I was on target for and aimed to keep it under that two hour mark. I crossed the finish line 13 seconds under that mark, stayed around long enough to congratulate the winner and place getters then went to crawl under a rock….tail between my legs a bit. Jack ran a really good race to take out the race with the second fastest time ever, not too far off the legendary Phil Costly record of 1:52, Jonah took second place about 30 seconds faster than me last year and Ryan about 1 minute ahead of me. Really cool to see 4 of us go under the 2 hour mark, a club of only something like 13 members over the 29 times the race has been run. And now I have the illustrious title of the first person to go under two hours and not get on the podium!

Yeah...not quite satisfied...

Yeah…not quite satisfied…

After last year having a perfect or close to perfect race, I was keen to come back this year and be one of those challenging the records. I think I even said after last time round, more satisfying than winning was achieving my goal, which is not something I can say this time around. I was targeting this race for a long time and its frustrating not to deliver to what I believed my potential was. In hindsight I may have had this goal hijacked by the trip to China, and I peaked too early, and potentially picked up the stomach issues there as well. But these are all convenient excuses, and in reality so much comes down to what goes down on the day and I am happy that I at least tried my best, and didn’t give up either when the going got tough, and if anything I can walk away knowing that ready for the next race! (after a little break for summer of course)

Apart from my average race, I am super proud of Hilary, who had a really good race! She had a pretty rough time last year, and has come back from back surgery in March to smash her goal on the day at the Luxmore Grunt. She was targeting this race as a goal to return to running and to raise money for the Methven Care trust which you can read about it and donate here!

As always, thanks Bivouac Outdoor and Inov8 for supporting me!

Looking bac

Looking bac

Adventure in Zunyi

Late on a Sunday afternoon as I was out kayaking in the Estuary with Lara who was training for the World Adventure Racing Champs and I missed a phone call from Flavio. Damn better call him back… maybe I’d left something behind at his place the previous day?

Flavio cut to the chase pretty quickly: ” Would you like to come and race in China next month?”

There was no hesitation at all from me: “Yes! I’m definitely keen!!”

I would be lying if I said I hadn’t been hanging out to be invited to go to one of these adventure races in China. I had previously had to turn down one offer as it was really close to the World Mountain Running champs and in a relatively slack year (overseas racing wise) I was pretty keen for something adventurous to round out the year. This opportunity ticked that box!

In our team of four there was the experienced Flavio, Myself and two other China first timers, Julia Grant and Sam Bell. Flavio, I have raced with and against before, the other two however I had never really met before but I knew both of them were top class athletes in Ironman and Duathlon. The team strength had been built on a foundation of running strength so it sounded like we had the makings for a pretty strong team!

It was only in the airport late on a Wednesday Night we finally assembled as a team to travel over to China. The plane coming in was pretty late and this meant a pretty late get away time for us, 2am I think! The long flight was followed by a short connection and then a bus ride of around 5 hours to get us to Zunyi, South of Chongqing (in Central, sort of South East China).

After a good sleep we were ready to start getting ready ahead of the race, building bikes and preparing gear. Once the bikes were built up we took them out for a little ride on the city streets with a quick side trip to the local bike shop…. bike shop Number 1 turned out to be a pet shop and then Number 2 was gone so it was back to bike shop Number 3 to get a couple of the guys bent discs sorted out. Traffic on the city streets was an experience in itself, everyone tries to avoid hitting everyone else unlike New Zealand where everyone tries to follow the rules…

Day 1 of the race was upon us with the first stage of the race consisting of just a 30km Mountain Run. We thought we had things all sorted, meeting down at the bus on time, only to find we were missing our Bike Helmets-a strange rule in China that we had to follow even though we were only going to be running today! After some stressful moments going up and down elevators to collect our helmets we made it onto the bus, which left 20mins late anyway…

We arrived at the start with plenty of time to spare, although we were told to hurry and assemble in various places while they organised the opening ceremony. The cameras all came out from the crowd, everyone wanting their photos taken with us, the TV reporters asking questions and the obligatory drones buzzing around capturing it all on video. Finally after about an hour of this we were underway, jostling for position on the gentle uphill road run.

We stuck together as a team really well in all the chaos, then we hit the stairs China is so famous for. My first impression was that they were super slippery, and just about arsed over several times! As the stairs rose, the teams gradually seeded themselves, the Chinese out the front and us and a bunch of other Kiwis at the head of the main pack. The slippery uphill was followed by a bunch of slippery stairs down too, then some proper off track running in the cut bamboo forest…try not to slip over and skewer yourself! The legendary descent lived up to its reputation (this section had been a part of other races in the area previously) and was quite steep, muddy and slippery, my favorite part of the race!

A lake on day 1

A lake on day 1

This section was followed by some real running, and pretty much the make and break point for most of the teams. I think this is were our strength shone through as a team of strong runners we worked really well together and managed a consistent pace all the way to the finish. The last 2kms on the false flat road was an absolute slog feast however and I’m pretty sure everyone of us was happy to cross the finish line. Happy with our first race together as a team we finished in 5th place, about 20mins behind the first place team. Our split times showed just what we thought, we lost a all of our time on the up and technical running but maintained a good pace through the rest of the course, not losing any time at the end.

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Attending to the Media

Back at the hotel we prepared ourselves for Day 2. The next and final day was to be what I would call an actual adventure race, starting with a 2km run, 27km Mountain Bike, 2-3km Orienteering stage, 7km further Mountain Bike, Archery section, then a 21km “Pavement trails” run ending in town with a Building abseil and then a vertical ramp obstacle to get over before the finish line. I was pretty excited and looking forward to what lay ahead!

The start in Day 2 was slightly less chaotic as there was a no “Public race” runners with us today. Quickly the fast Chinese runners were off at high speed, while we stuck to our consistent pace attitude that was working well for us. Finally we transitioned to our bikes and got to work speeding through the little town, then grinding up the paved roads we had run down the previous day. We slotted nicely into 4th spot as we climbed the roads and eventually got onto a muddy trail for some “real” mountain biking! Here we gained quite a bit of distance on our rivals ahead, for a relatively inexperienced Mountain Biker Julia did a pretty good job. Eventually we caught the Chinese team in 3rd place, passed them and just when we thought we had seen the last of them they rallied and came back at us. There was a bit of jockeying for position, but in the end they managed to get a very small gap in front of us going into the orienteering section.

In a way this was tactical, it had occurred to me and maybe Flavio that if we were in transition together they may pick up on the fact that we could actually navigate and that they would be best just to follow us around. Things were going to plan just how we wanted it really until we rocked up to transition. We came through the gate expecting to find our gear bag but it was nowhere to be seen. After some stern words and some frantic backwards and forwards action, the shoes were on and I was about to step into my element!

I was fairly nervous about the orienteering section, there was a bit of pressure on me to perform, but as soon as I got that map in my hand I switched on and it was all go. Flavio described the look on my face like a little kid with a great big lollypop! I was so excited to be orienteering in a pretty cool area, an old medieval castle. There was lots of steps and quite a bit of route choice/room for errors. This played into our hands well as we caught and passed two of the Chinese teams ahead of us. I even caught a glimpse of the NZ team in the lead at one point, and had to ignore a mashall trying to point us in a less and efficient direction! To come back to the transition having made up ground was a thrill in itself, unfortunately they would let me keep the map at the end though.

Back on the bikes everyone in the team was feeling good. We had worked hard to get ourselves into a good position and things were looking good. The short bike to the Archery went pretty quickly, and then it was Sam’s turn to shine with the bow and arrow. The target looked fairly difficult to hit, slightly lower than the shooting spot and a good 30-40m away. Sam quickly took aim with his 5 arrows but unfortunately was unable to hit the target. Tough luck under pressure! This meant that we had an agonising wait of 10 minutes to serve out as our penalty. About 2mins into the wait Chinese team number 1 arrived, hit the target and were off. Then 8mins in another international team arrived, hitting the target just as we left the penalty box.

Having a bit of a rest may have been a blessing in disguise in someways as we were now eager to get out on those pavement trails to the finish. I was confident we could hold 3rd position at least, and maybe we could get closer to that Chinese team too which could mean 3rd place overall. I was still fizzing from the orienteering and took the tow rope on one of the steep hills, setting a solid pace. The tow rope was really good at keeping us altogether, cranking out the kilometers through the steep hill section.

Cruising up the hills, Julia is hidden perfectly behind FlavioCruising up the hills, Julia is hidden perfectly behind Flavio

Eventually it was time to go downhill, then uphill again, down some more and then up again! I’m pretty sure the elevation profile they showed us a the briefing did not have this much climb at the end. About 3.5 to 4 hours in our real strength started shine in the run, Julia was cranking along, with Flavio and I sharing the towing while Sam, even after his biggest run ever the day before still keeping pace. It was great, we were one big(?) unit, and didn’t even pause to take a breath when we went past the Chinese team in 2nd place. The morale lifted a notch when they dropped behind us and were out of sight.

On the final leg home

On the final leg home

Eventually the massively long bike path we had been following came to an end, descending into town. All along the bike path there was spectators videoing, watching, cheering but in town there was huge crowds of people lining the streets. It got me quite excited and an excited Tane corresponds to a fast running Tane, so probably a good thing I was the tow master at that point. As we made our way through town we approached the abseil, first we had to get to the top of the building, all crowds disappeared replaced by some concrete walls. And then Darkness as we hit the stairwell.

The auto lights had switched off, and it took movement to set them off so I lead the way using my hand as a guide on the wall. Memories of the Skytower Challenge came flooding back to me as I ran up the first two flights a bit fast, then settled down wondering just how many flights of stairs we had to go up. Thankfully the light from the top floor was shining through the stairwell about 5 stories up, signalling the top. Harnesses on and then it was business time. There was a frame overhanging the building and by the quick look I had it wasn’t too high but it still looked quite far down. I tried not to think too much, sorted my harness out and was ready. I abseiled in tandem with Julia who was initially sounding pretty terrified but once we were over the edge the terror disappeared and was replaced with enjoyment as we made our way to the ground and waited for the other two. Sam, as Flavio described him, was as white as a sheet before they edged out and hung over the edge!

Abseil done and another short run to the stadium to the end, but first one short obstacle to get over, the ramp and vertical wall. Sam and Flavio sprinted ahead straight for it, grabbed the ropes hanging down and pulled themselves up first time. Then it was our turn, I sprinted forward, grabbed rope then as I was pulling myself up got a massive attack of cramp, luckily Sam was able to give me a hand otherwise I think I might have fallen back. All up in a matter of a minute or two, and only 100 slippery meters to the finish.

We crossed the line together as we had raced all day in second place, an awesome team performance to end to a great race. For myself I had a really good time out there and I think they others were pretty happy too. To place second on Day 2 as well as finish comfortably in third place over the two days was just so satisfying especially from a bunch of first timers in China! We were rewarded with a trip to the podium, some prizes and some celebratory champagne spraying afterwards!

The Escaping wall!

The Escaping wall!

No time for too much rest once we were back at the hotel, the bikes needed to be cleaned and packed, key for getting back into NZ smoothly. Then it was back on the bus early the next morning, headed back to Chongqing where we had a few hours to have a look around. Some more waiting and shopping around in Guangzhou before the late night flight back home. The Biosecurity team was ready and waiting for us at the border, along with a camera crew from the Border Patrol TV program. They were fairly impressed with most of our gear, all but Julia who needed her bag vacuumed apparently, so watch this space we may make an appearance on TV sometime in the near future!

Team New World!

Team New World!

All told a pretty awesome trip, great team mates, really good time, great result, really keen to go back and do it all over again on another trip or two next year, but for now the next few months the “China” switch is set to off!

Special thanks to St Martins New World, Bivouac Outdoor, Inov8 Shoes

Mission Mt Somers Half 2016

A couple weeks ago I went for a training run around Mt Somers in preparation for this race with some good friends. It would be fair to say that the conditions were quite a contrast to what we experienced in the race last Saturday…. a Southerly front rolled on through on Friday night while we were all tucked up in bed and left us with a bit of a winter wonderland to race through.

The training run through the course was one of the first weekends in a while that I hadn’t been full on racing or training, and I was just starting to feel strong again, so I knew I was starting to get back into some good shape. I was confident, but also nervous which is a good sign heading into the race. Also the conditions played into my hands a little bit I felt, knowing that if the course was rougher it was going to suit me better. All this pre-race confidence will get yourself in a good place, but when you are standing there on the start line, there is little that you can do to prepare yourself for what everyone is about to do, so you just have to go out and do it!

Being single track and a reasonably steep incline to start with, I knew that if I could get a break on the field early I could stretch this out on the tough uphill and then further again on the technical descent. Straight of the start line, was one guy who rocketed out the front, smashing along at a horrendous pace. I slipped into second place just behind, wary of going too fast too early but also concerned that if I didn’t go with the leaders early then I might get quickly out of touch and my day would pretty much be over. As it turned out there was a little hesitation about 2mins in from the man in front and I squeezed past and into first place. From here I went with my plan to get up and away as fast as I could. The faster up the hill you can get I reckon the less painful it is and once you have crested that hill the gap in front can be deceptive enough to demoralise those behind you.

The first chance at a slight downhill, I allowed myself to glance back, the gap was a good minute, enough to relax a little bit before heading back up the hill. Then it was back to the game plan of ticking the legs over and grinding my way up the hill. It was at this point that it became evident how much snow there was going to be on the course and all that snow made for a pretty cold (but fast!) crossing of Woolshed creek!

On the way up to the saddle there was a couple of set of foot prints which made the steepest climb a little bit easier through the snow. Upon creasting the saddle I spotted the footprint makers, a couple of marshals, standing there looking quite cheery but a little cold. Just beyond them, and with a crazy view out onto the plains, the foot prints abruptly stopped. Everything in front of me was white and only the orange poles gave any indication as to how to follow the trail. The further into it, the deeper the snow got, right up to knee deep. Luckily the snow was still quite powdery and made for easy footing as I plowed my way through.  Not knowing quite where to put my feet made the descent quite tricky! In some places the wet snow had bunched up on the overhanging branches which meant I was getting covered in wet snow as I pushed my way through too. Despite all this it I was really enjoying it, blazing the trail, excited that I was treated to this snowy untouched trail (and partly ruining it for those following!) with just the most amazing conditions. I really did wish I had a camera, not that I would have had time to take any photos but its something that I wont forget for a very long time.

I was slammed back to reality coming down the ridge, almost panicking that I had taken a wrong turn, then before I knew it I was slipping and sliding in the trees, battling with some minor snow-blindness! The hut came up really fast, the trees got wetter and the descent got more intense. Here and on this section I was all alone, I was fairly confident no one would catch me now. I took a few “hot” lines, not super high risk but definitely pushed it to the edge. I was pretty proud of myself to only have one small section I walked, a steep muddy and slippery bank. At Dukes knob I knew I was making good time and had just over 5km to go once I was at the end of the track, but descending the slippery tree branches to the carpark slowed me down. By the time I hot the stairs I’d already calculated that a sub two hour run was more than likely not going to happen today, so the focus went back to winning, and running as strongly as possible.

Once into the carpark I found myself surrounded by runners on the 5 and 10km courses. It was nice to have a few people around again. I really enjoyed the cross country style finish up and down the foothills, I could definitely feel my strength coming through driving me up the hill. When it came time to start descending into the finish I was met with a bit of relief to be in sight of the finish, still just under two hours. Unfortunately with 1.5kms to go the 2 hour mark ticked over. However, I stuck to my guns, striving for a fast finish and crossed the finish just over 2.05, bang on target with my predicted time.

I had a much faster time than the winner last year in much more testing conditions, but definitely more epic, and highly enjoyable! This has to be one of my favorite Mountain Races to date! Bring on the Luxmore Grunt, I’m starting to feel ready and hungry to go fast!

Check out some photos!

Salmon Run #2

Its now gone 6 months since my Wrist surgery, I’ve been back in my kayak for around two months now, so just enough time to get some kayak training in before the Second edition on the Salmon Run. However as it turns out the conditions for the race this time around were less than ideal, and my prep wasn’t all that great either. Unfortunately there was a howling Nor-wester blowing across the plains, and although we were starting early in the day this meant that the paddle ended up being cancelled….

The race was still going to go ahead however with us (multisporters) put into the Duathlon category. As expected in the wind it was going to be a full on bunch ride, especially with a now quite large group of Multi-sporters and Duathletes. The bunch quickly sorted itself out and it was pretty hard going to begin with along the first straight into the wind. No one as too keen to spend much time up front and on more than one occasion in the first few minutes I found myself a bit stranded at the front. I eventually ran out of steam a bit and must have been going so slow that someone felt they needed to take over and I all to willingly drifted to the back with my tail between my legs. I was still recovering towards the back of the bunch when we rounded the first corner, unfortunately the guy directly in front of me didn’t anticipate a split happening and I all too quickly found myself behind the eightball and losing the bunch.

I sprinted hard to try and catch hoping someone would come with me. I gained some ground but just couldn’t bridge that final few meters  as it got eternally tougher. With that bunch my hopes faded a bit. I was now in for a long battle in the wind without much help. Eventually two guys did arrive, but having given it a good push moments earlier, my legs just had nothing in them. The downwind straight provided a little bit of recovery, but I still had to keep pushing hard, utilising the now tailwind to minimise the gap ahead….which wasn’t working all that well.

Back into the wind I found myself again in the front of my small bunch. I had recovered a bit and was now starting to feel my strength coming through. The other guys obviously didnt have much else to give as when we hit the back straight and the tailwind again we had one fall off the back. Into the home straight, and the wind had decided to change right then, so what was a nice headwind out was now a stiff headwind back! Some days you just cant win!

Cancelling the paddle had meant that the bike to run transition place had changed, so mentally I wasnt prepared as well as I could have been. Anyhow being an Orienteer, where you sometimes never know whats waiting for you I adapted well and was out and running before I knew it. Unfortuantely the couple of solid efforts on the bike I had to endure had left their mark on my running capacity. The initial bunch was well out of sight so it was just me all by myself for a long while. I found a good rhythm, a little slow but had a great time suffering round.

I was looking forward to our obstacle course around the pony club, here I could also catch a glimpse of those guys in front and see if they were within reach. But much to my dismay they had cancelled that too. Oh well…. and oh crap now I have even shorter distance to make up. Eventually I was gaining and I could see two guys in front. I figured it was too late by now, but as we rounded the next few corners I could actually see myself starting to claw back heaps of distance. In the last 300m, there happened to be a bend with a bit of gravel on it and as I skipped across it, it made a little bit of noise, just enough for Sam to look back and see me bearing down on him. Fortunately for him it was just enough distance under a bit of a sprint to hold me off as I closed within 10 seconds of 4th and 3 of 5th place to finish 6th.

I was happy that I had redeemed myself a little bit on the run a obviously quite gutted and a bit disappointed, not to have followed up last years race with another good performance. Apart from that it was good to have a challenging day out racing round, hopefully Ill be back next year with a kayak and a point to prove!