Red Bull Defiance 2014

When the news broke that something quite different in the Multi-sport/Adventure racing world was coming not only to New Zealand but to Wanaka (my original home town!) I was instantly keen to race. More details came out later relieving a 2 day stage race, consisting of teams of 2, so the next step was to find a team mate. Both Hilary and I contemplated racing with other people but eventually given the fact that we had been training together several times a week for quite some time it seemed quite a simple decision to make to race together. Only thing was we thought that the Mixed category might end up being fairly hotly contested…

Come Thursday night after a pretty quick escape from Christchurch we were surrounded by the best multi-sporters in the country if not the world at registration. We had to decide which category to race in on arrival, either the Elite and have a crack at the prize money on offer or the sport category and a chance to pick up a sporting gear voucher of some description. We had enough trouble deciding while driving down and having to make a decision on the spot was not the best situation to be in…. but when the push came to the shove we opted for the Elite category. There was a bit of organisation with gear set ups, pick ups and drop offs, before we could escape, eat, do some more organisation and then sleep before and early start in the morning.

After a fairly sleepless night had by all due to nerves, we were up and on the bus nice and early for our ride out to the start. We happened to pile into the bus with the camera crew so some of the us on the bus were subjected to interviews while driving out, a somewhat different experience which added to the nerves! The views up the side of lake Hawea on the way out were amazing, something to take our minds off all the pre race hype.

It seemed like no time had passed when we arrived at the barge for the ride across Lake Wanaka to the start. When we stepped off the bus the scene was pretty epic, there was cameras right in your face filming us all coming off the bus, Helicopters flying by, and the barge, parked up on the side of the lake, bikes all laid out on the barge complete with the Red Bull Hummer pumping out some music!

The trip across the lake was quite cool and we were glad we opted for the down jackets. It didn’t take long at all to get across and after a high speed low pass by the camera helicopter we were soon parked up and ready for the short countdown before we were all away in a huge bunch  just outside Minaret Station. I sat in behind Hilary so that we would not get separated in the rush of bikes and people going everywhere for the first 5 or so minutes. Eventually the pack strung out a bit and we were able to have some breathing space. Unfortunately I dropped my chain quite early on and we ended up playing catch up for a while. We quickly got out the tow rope and started to make some good headway, working together to pull a couple of the teams just in front back in close. Not long after the camera helicopter followed us down a pretty exciting downhill I had to stop for our second mechanical issue of the day, my peddle cleat on my shoe had come loose…. it didn’t take too long to fix it and we were back having fun on such a really cool and exciting track.

Race Start

Race Start

Once crossing the Minaret Burn stream there was a fairly long bike push up through the bracken. It was a bit of a trying time for both of us, we were 1hour or so into the race and the excitement of the start had passed and the hard work had begun. The team in front of us pulled away quickly while we really struggled to gain any traction. It felt like we were right near the back of the field too which did not help moral at all. I kept telling myself it was a long race and everyone else would have had the same feelings getting through this bit and I did my best to say this out loud to Hilary too! Anyway as with anything the bad times fade and you start to feel good again, and once we were moving again the team moral picked up as we headed into a pretty exciting downhill. The tow rope got put to some good use where it was a bit flat and as we were going back up hill and into a headwind again. Eventually we made it into transition, such a relief to feel like at least we had achieved something so far.

The next section of the race was a run with an abseil halfway through. Having both come from a running background we took off on this stage confident that we were going to have a strong stage. It was hard work heading straight uphill through the bracken, a little bit like the bracken bash on the biking section. Hilary really dug deep on the end of the tow rope as we pulled back heaps of time on the guys in front of us, passing them right at the top and just in time to disconnect for the downhill. With lots of technical running experience we extended the uphill lead we got on the guys in front and pulled into the abseil section.

At the Abseil section was a number of teams around us we knew and were of a similar ability so this buoyed the team spirits a whole heap. There was a dead time area at the top to allow teams to harness up and get ready before actually attaching to the rope and abseiling off the edge. This gave us a little time to gather our breaths, collect our thoughts eat and toilet before jumping off the edge. We were told the abseil was around 100m so I wasn’t keen to look down! It was set up so that we could go down side by side which was pretty cool as we pushed over the top of the cliff and a little gust of wind blew up right at the moment too adding to the extremeness! We both found the sweet spot once over the edge on the prusik which controlled the speed and were quickly at the bottom. We moved quickly through the bush and into the farm land and in no time we had two teams right in front of us. The tow rope was back out as we were on a mission to get right up there in the mix with the guys in front.



We had a hectic but good transition to kayak, our pre-planning as we were finishing the run was quickly forgotten about but we got it sorted and were on the water fairly quick. We were told that it was cold on the lake and we needed jackets so we did so and even managed to pass one team in the process.  On the short portage we lost a little bit of ground and it wasn’t until we were out of the river and into the lake that it felt like we had  the boat moving up at top speed.  The wind had died a little bit which made the going reasonably easy but with the wind dropping it was a lot warmer and I was quickly sweating away in my paddle jacket and short on food and water. I don’t function too well if I am too hot and I began to felt quite weak and a little sick. Luckily for me, Hilary was up front steering and feeling good while I was suffering away in the back. She was great, kept the stroke rate up and kept me focused and moving the boat forward. I am pretty sure without her I would probably still be out there drifting about!

Soon enough we reached the shore and were on to the final stage of the day, the run into Wanaka. I felt quite ill getting started on the run and the Sugar Free Red Bull was the catalyst that just about had me spewing… A couple of minutes in and I had composed myself and it seemed like Hilary was still going strong behind me. We had a target to get the team in front and it meant running the whole way including the short hill sections of the track. The tow rope was pretty effective and my strength from all my Mountain Running training had us flying along together. We caught the team in front in no time and wasted no time in putting a good gap on them. As we got away from those around us the mental drive to keep pushing to the finish was waning a little bit. I suspect me pushing hard up the hills chasing Jess and Ian down had taken a little bit out of Hilary because the tow rope only helps to an extent, you still have to keep the legs ticking over and she did an amazing job of doing just that. Anyway it seemed like a long slog to get to the finish, made slightly worse knowing that we would have to retrace these steps to the finish of day 2 tomorrow! We worked hard together and got there eventually and finishing strong with the 13th fastest finish time for the run overall and into about 23rd overall and 6th or 7th in the Mixed Elite category.

There wasn’t much time to hang around after the finish, we were both pretty tired from a long day out but we needed to prepare for the next day… so back to the house, to the physio/massage, then the race headquarters to pick up and then back again to drop off our re-organised gear and oil the bike chains. Then back to the house for dinner and more gear mucking about to prepare for the next days racing. Thankfully we had Tori, Flavio’s partner to cook an awesome dinner for us to alleviate some of the stress… Again it was a bit of a sleepless night ahead for both of us with the thought of another even harder day of racing ahead of us.

Getting up at 5am was the worst part, I was already awake but just get up and out of bed felt like the most impossible task. I have no idea how the Two day Coast to Coasters do it! To make matters worse it was a cold morning and the 7am start was pretty hectic with a short run down to the lake front from Oakridge resort. We kept to our own pace as per our plan and were in the Kayak just behind the main bunch. We tried and failed to get on the wake of a couple of the boats in front… Hilary was in fine form again in the boat as we paddled across the lake to the mouth of the Clutha river. I was suffering in the back yet again, I think I was paying the price for taking a month off paddling while I went to Italy!

Kayaks leaving from shoreline, day 2

Kayaks leaving from shoreline, day 2

Once into the river it became easier for me but as I was finding it easier it was Hilary’s turn to feel ill as she got really cold up front. There wasn’t all that much we could do either to make us warmer or get to the end of the paddle quicker. Finally we got there though, it was frezzing cold and Hilary was not in great shape, soon enough we were on the move up the hill which helped a little bit. The clay bird shooting special stage was up on a terrace and in the sun to sort of warm us up!

I had one go at Clay bird shooting at a stag party a few years ago and pretty much sucked, getting 3 out of about 30 shots so I was not looking forward to this task. Hilary was still really cold and we decided that I needed to shoot first. Between us we were allowed 4 shots (2 each, 2 birds) to hit one otherwise it was a 500m penalty run. The briefing for the shooting was pretty quick, so quick I really had no time to think at all, before I knew it the clay was coming out and the first shot missed, quickly enough without initially realising I had another shot and this time I zoned out, focused on the clay and fired, somehow miraculously hitting it and smashing it to pieces! Sweet, Hilary was pretty happy we didn’t need to do the penalty loop and I was in a pretty stunned state that I had somehow managed to hit it!

Moving out of this transition it was cold, we were both pretty excited I had hit the clay bird and in our haste I forgot to pick up the bike tool kit out of our duffel bag. As I was riding out across the main road I suddenly remembered I had missed picking it up… fingers crossed we didn’t need it…as it was too late to go back now. We got quite a good lead on the guys just behind us who had missed the clay birds and had to run the penalty loop and they were not getting any closer at all. We could hear them chatting away behind us for a while, then all went quiet while we cruised up a small hill and down the other side. It wasn’t until after the down hill that they got right up alongside us! Just as they passed us we had to ride through a slightly muddy puddle which I approached with some caution not wanting to get my chain all gunked up before a big climb. Unfortunately after about 50m from the puddle I realised that my tyre was going flat… I had a puncture and we didn’t have a repair kit…shit. Luckily it happened at a reasonably good spot, where there was a marshal and several teams around us that were able to help us out as they prepared themselves at the bottom of the hill climb. Tim and Nick lent us a CO2 canister and with a bit of help from the marshal and the onlookers we got it sorted. As we were fixing it around about 8 or 9 teams passed us but we did get a decent rest with time for Hilary to eat, and me to eat a little bit too.

Once we were going again, I was feeling good, we had the tow rope out and now we were on a mission to pull back some positions lost. It was quite some time before we got near any other teams, but gradually we reeled them in. We were able to ride a fairly steep section where everyone else we could see was pushing which made me us both work harder but boosted our morale quite a bit from our puncture come back. I was working hard and thankfully again I had Hilary there right behind me keeping me going, again I never could have pushed as hard up that hill if she was there spurring me on all the time and riding her heart out too. It was a great team effort, and we were both feeling really good again even after some tough bits where I was puffing hard and she took a couple of tumbles. When we got along the tops there was no need for the tow rope as the tricky single cross terrain trail proved more difficult for some and we claimed back yet another few places. I was fairly focused on the task at hand but Hilary counted something like 8 teams we managed to pass back!

Up on the Criffel range

Up on the Criffel range

Following on from our 1280m of climb was a fairly epic descent into the Cardrona Valley. It was a bit of a brake burner but we managed a glance or two at the amazing views back over Wanaka and the lake. The trail was largely easy going with a lot of grass but near the end was a small gravelly bit which the team behind us warned us about… but it still got the better of both of us. Luckily it all happened at low speed and we were able to walk away and keep riding!

As we rode into the final transition we were both in good spirits but the enormity of the task ahead was hanging over our heads a little bit. The beginning of the run was relatively flat and allowed us to ease into it as we had both suffered a bit from not eating enough on the bike section. Eventually we spotted some teams in front and it felt like we had something to focus on. Before we knew it we were on the ridge line and we could see down to Wanaka and across the lake, there was still a long way to go but the finish was in sight! It was pretty windy along the tops and it went from being quite warm to quite cold, quite quickly.

Growing up in Wanaka, I had looked up at Mt Alpha and Mt Roy almost every single day so it was pretty exciting for there to be a track there now and for the race to go there too! It made this section really awesome and something quite special. The excitement took a little bit of a dive when we got to the saddle before the final climb to the summit of Mt Roy. Some Red Bull helped that situation a little bit as we dug deep to finally get all of the climb in the race behind us. It was all downhill from here,  a little steep and quite technical but downhill none the less. It seemed like an eternity before we got to the bottom.

View from the Skyline track...not too bad

View from the Skyline track…not too bad

On tow on the Skyline track

On tow on the Skyline track

There was still a couple of teams just ahead and within reach and now that we could actually run again it seemed like we were away racing again. Hilary was feeling good and so was I, a little bit of finish line fever maybe! We tested the limits of the tow rope, and when I spotted Sia’s team just in front about 1.5km from the end I said to Hilary, “do you think we can get them?” To which the reply was, “you just run as fast as you can, and Ill just follow along on the tow” So I did just that! I pushed as hard as I could comfortably, a little bit worried that Hilary might not be able to keep up, but it seemed like it was no problem for her at all. We stormed into the finish looking, feeling strong and relieved to get there knowing that we had both pushed ourselves as hard as we could for the entirety or the two days of racing.

We finished in 22nd overall, 6th in the Mixed Elite teams, maybe not quite as well as we had hoped but compared to the star studded line up we racing against I don’t think we could be too disappointed! We achieved our goal of putting in our best effort, racing hard and most importantly enjoying ourselves. I couldn’t have raced any harder or better or had more fun racing with anyone else, Hilary was an awesome team mate. The race itself was heaps of fun, really cool terrain and most importantly tough. The two person teams concept was really cool too, it added an extra element to the race and it meant that you were not suffering away by yourself when things got a bit rough! Sounds like it will all be on again next year so might have start thinking already about next years race 🙂

Red Bull highlights of the race

Thanks Osprey Packs (Talon 11 & 9) Pure Sports Nutrition (Pineapple and Beetroot!) and Bivouac/Outdoor (Inov8 Roclite 243 & Trailroc 245)

Categories: Adventure racing, Kayaking, Mountain Biking, Multisport, RunningTags: ,

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