With Mitch back in town this race was to be our first full team race down in Clyde. It was Show day in Christchurch so luckily for us we had the whole day on Friday to get down to race headquarters in preparation for the Midnight start! Dave and I had raced at this event last year while for Mitch and Hilary it was going to be their longest race to date with the addition of a bit of sleep deprivation, some good practice for Godzone next year. I had grand plans to be much more organised than last year but as it turned out I was able to lie down for a grand total of 8mins before we all had to get up again to head to the race start!
Friday had been fairly warm all day so although we knew that there was a cold front coming we were perhaps a little under prepared for the weather when it started to rain on the start line… There was a little twist to the race start with two of the team members having to remove their front wheels and head down the road about 100m while the other two had to keep guard of the bikes. Dave and Mitch took their tyres off while Hilary and I waited with the bikes back at Base Camp, there was no restriction on us moving forward with the bikes after the start gun but we thought it would be best to wait and let them come to us with the wheels.
Midnight hit and the shotgun went off to start, Dave and Mitch were pretty quick in getting back but it took a little fiddling to get the wheels in and underway. Perhaps it would have been better for Hilary and I to run to them as well with the bikes but I don’t think it cost us too much in the end. The howling tail wind down the road in a bunch was pretty exciting and I managed to top out on my gears and couldn’t ride any faster.
Once off the main road it was a long slog up the hill so it wasn’t too long before some of the guys needed to take some clothes off. We were fairly strong climbing up the hill and settled into a nice position coming into the first control. The hill climb out was tough and technical but we were able to ride some of it. When we got to the top of the hill though the combination of both wind and rain was cooling us all down and not making things all that pleasant. I got quite cold during the next 20mins and eventually I had to stop and get basically all my compulsory gear on. I was shocked to find out how useless at navigating I had become by being so cold too, but luckily Dave was on form and knew where we needed to go.
The road down the hill was probably a nice dry dirt road earlier in the day, but add a whole lot of water in a short space of time and it was a total mud bath. Dave was the first to go down hard, losing a bit of control and ending up in a bit of road washout with a damaged helmet and ripped pants, along with being a bit shaken up. Hilary was next to try some acrobatics, riding with one hand at one point and losing control in the process. She was back on her bike quite quickly but it put us all on edge for the rest of the descent. Once on the sealed road we were hoping that a bit of fast riding would be enough to warm us up…. unfortunately the damage had been done and we were all still super cold. We made some good time back into transition and found out that the Kayak section which was to be next had been postponed to later in the day and we were going to be trekking.
No one really said anything at this transition but I think we were all wondering whether we could make it through another 15hours of this kind of weather! It was a full change of clothes for most of us but I was the only one silly enough to think that I could get away with just shorts….not for too long though. The first hour or so was spent walking straight up hill but even that was not enough to get us warmed up. Once on the tops the rain had stopped but the cold wind was freezing cold coming in from the south so we resorted to jogging to try and keep us warm. This allowed us to put a little bit of distance on the team behind which happened to leave transition about the same time as us. We picked up the first checkpoint just as the light was breaking and by the time we had made it to the next one down in the valley the day had rolled around. There was still another hour or so for us to push through the cold wind and even a very small amount of snow for a brief moment too. Eventually it was time to come down off the hill and head back to base camp. As we descended down we rapidly all started to warm up so it became quite necessary to now take some layers off, such a contrast to the previous 6 hours!
As we came closer to base camp again it was clear that we had caught quite some time on what turned out to be Flavio’s New World team. We transitioned with them but they were much more efficient and managed to slip back in front of us on the bikes. It was only 8am as we left base camp but it felt much later in the day having gone right through the night. At the very beginning of the bike leg I thought Dave was navigating and had everything under control and I think he thought I had it all sorted…. whoops! we lost a little bit of efficiency getting onto the track, not disastrous but a little wasted time none the less! We followed the river track from Clyde down to Alexandra and then on the new Clutha river track down towards Roxburgh. It was fast, flowing and a fun ride down. We opted to take the optional checkpoint for the bonus 30mins, which took about 20mins to get so definitely worth it, although it just delayed the inevitable climb up the river bank of around 300m vertical! Everyone did it tough going up there, it was hot, steep and hard work, but at the top we got a little bit of a break with an Abseil off the side of one of the rock tors. As were went into the abseil, New World was heading out, leaving the gap at about 10mins or so.
The abseil itself was not quite as exciting at at Red Bull Defiance a few weeks ago and the rope didn’t flow quite as freely either, but none the less it was good interlude in the middle of a tough bike ride. Once we got moving again the Murray family team was just arriving to start the abseil, they must have made up some good time along the river bank track. I struggled a bit as we moved across the top, it was tough riding on a hardtail, it just felt like it was difficult to get some momentum up, plus I think I was suffering a bit from a lack of food the last 30mins or so. Soon enough we came to a point on the track where things just didn’t add up quite right so we came to a stop, had to do a bit of back tracking and then after some discussion climbed up and over a fence and onto a very indistinct track. I went into hunter/killer mode on the navigation and managed to pick up a track soon enough much to my relief and we were back in business. A much better way of dealing with a problem than at the Next Generation race…
At the bottom of the hill the Murray’s had caught right up to us and it looked like they were going to pass. We held off a bit though, I towed Hilary as we played to our hill climbing strength and maintained the gap. Eventually the tough climbing had started to take its toll, Hilary was fading a bit, Dave and Mitch seemed to have slipped off the boil a bit too. After I had just gone through a dark patch myself, I was feeling alright again and starting to come out the other side. In fact I was feeling pretty strong so once we had got the control I decided that we needed to keep the gap to the Murray’s as minimal as possible. We got towing again and then for the final little bit of climb pushed as hard as I could hoping to inspire them into action! It seemed to work and once we had got through our final bit of climb there was a long fast descent down the other side. At the bottom we were into a head wind which was not very fun. We were down to about 23km/hr on a fast flat road and the going was tough! A slight hesitation on the final bike control gave us a bit of a rest, but there was certainly no plain sailing into Base Camp for a final transition.
Hilary took charge at this transition, making sure we were going to do a quick one as New World was getting on the water when we arrived and the Murray’s were still transitioning too. We did well to sort ourselves out quickly and although New World were out of sight once we got on the water we had overtaken the Murray’s.
So we thought the headwind on the bike that we had just coming in from was hard…but lake Dunstan had something special in store for us! I think it was probably about 25kts, gusting to 35 at a guess and it was a head wind. It was a real grind uphill, against the flow and into the headwind and we all went from being quite warm on the bikes to freezing cold again as we arrived about and hour and a half later at the Kayak to trek transition most of the way up the gorge to Cromwell. Every time the paddle went around the wind would catch it making getting a good tempo difficult and frustrating. Despite the cold and the ferocious headwind we seemed to have made good ground, about 12mins behind New World and the Murray’s were well behind by the time we started up the hill on the trek.
The first section up the hill, Dave didn’t seem all that excited about but luckily Mitch seemed in a good place and was able to keep the chat up and us all moving together, Hilary was cold and insisted on running and I had the map which was keeping my mind occupied, so we were still all moving together and quickly. One control down and Dave was not looking forward to what he saw ahead of us on the map, little did he know where he thought we were going is not exactly where I was intending on going! The orienteer within came out and I was pretty keen to go straight and off track so we didn’t do an extra 120-150m of unnecessary climb. I was feeling good and we charged up the hill, spotted exactly where we needed to go to get the control and nailed it 🙂 As we were coming up to the checkpoint we could see a team coming down from the pylon track and it looked like the New World Team and I think unfortunately for us they spotted me run right up to it! This kicked us into action though, we broke into a jog and quickly high-tailed it away from the checkpoint as fast as we could. We made good progress on our lead and jogged into the transition knowing that it was all downwind from here.
There was one final checkpoint to get on the paddle and by the time we got there we were well out of sight of the others. Once we picked up the checkpoint it was a matter of surfing the waves all the remaining 5kms back to base camp. It dragged on a bit but the sun was out and we were wishing we had a camera as it was a pretty awesome sigh looking across at the other boat skimming along through the water. It was a fantastic way to finish and we were all in high spirits (from what I could tell!) as we crossed the finish line.
We finished in 5th place overall and were the 3rd four person mixed team. We all worked well together and for once it seemed like everything went right for us. There is always room for improvement but on the whole we had a great race together, looked after each other well and had a really great time out on the race course! a fantastic race all around, so now we are looking forward to some cool summer training missions and then the big one come February/March next year!
Thanks to Osprey Packs (Rev 24, Talon 9 and 11), Bivouac/Outdoor, Inov8 (Roclite 243, Trailroc 245), Pure Sports Nutrition, and Hilary’s Aunt for the use of her place in Cromwell!
You are nuts!