Behind the Scenes: Kaikoura Adventure Race 2019

Not long after Godzone last year an email popped up in my inbox from Bin Kennedy in Kaikoura, who arranged for me to come up and teach some navigation skills at the High School back in 2018. This time Bin had another idea, an event that involved running or biking and using some farms local to the Kaikoura Area as a fundraiser. I have a bit of a background in organising large Orienteering events… but nothing as diverse as an Adventure Race. I knew Tim was keen to organise another race and was on the look out for an opportunity  so I got in touch with him and the idea of an Adventure Race was born.

Soon after committing to holding something, we went on a trip up there and scouted out some areas and roughly designed a bit of a rough outline before we rushed overseas to the World Rogaine Champs. In the mean time, Stephanie manned the website and entries while Bin went on a massive and very successful sponsorship hunt, as well as sorting out the permissions for the various blocks of land we were interested in using. Once back in the country, it was time to get down to business with the course planning… However a lot of other stuff went on in the background, my Oma (Grandmother) passed away and I had to make a short notice trip to China for work (as well as breaking some ribs the weekend before the event). The in the intervening weeks we made something like 5 or 6 trips up to Kaikoura to finalise and plan the course.

I think we over committed a bit with the Mapping side of things because in the last two weeks Tim and I both spent almost all of our evenings mapping until the early hour of the morning. We felt it was important for the course to have a more detailed map than just a Topographical map, especially so as we wanted to add in some tight navigation stages.

As with just about every trip up there it was raining, and raining pretty solidly so we managed to sneek under the radar of scouting eyes, but were not able to take many photos either. One day in particular we spent 9 hours on the bike riding the course entirely in the rain…. It was ok, for most of it but it got very cold. The 12 hour ride section up into Waikene was an epic challenge as the newly bulldozed track was super sticky and super muddy. It reminded me a lot of both the Whangamata race and the World Champs in Wyoming, so sticky that the mud built up to the point where it was impossible for the wheels to turn.

Race day came around fast, it was pretty exciting for everything to finally fall into place, and the weather forecast was looking fairly settled which was an added bonus! My biggest concern was being able to safely hold the kayaking stage in the 12 hour race, so with some relative relief it looked like it was going to happen. There was a massive map bagging session on the Friday evening and we were all set to go early on Saturday. Tim and I headed out to put the final controls out, while Bin and her helpers got the registration set and ready.

Maps all set and ready to be bagged

As people started to arrive at registration it all started to become a bit more real. From and organiser point of view we also overloaded the Saturday afternoon with activities, so it was a bit stressful to get everything to fall into the right place at the right time. Luckily Dad was able to help me put out the final controls on the prologue, while Tim and Bin could oversee the race registration. The Welcome turned out to be pretty good, and then the dreaded prologue (which didn’t have much good feedback beforehand…) started. We coped a bit of flak beforehand for holding it but everyone who took part looked pretty enthusiastic and some teams even stayed out longer than 90mins which was good value for money for the 3hour teams.

The Kaikoura waterfront

When briefing time came around Tim seemed to have lost his voice and was busy sorting out the mess of the prologue results plus trying to get the start times up and running so I had to step up to three race briefings. Public speaking is definitely not my idea of fun… but with a few nerves and as loud a voice as I could muster I did my best to get the idea of the course across. It wasn’t until briefing that I really realised how confusing we managed to make the numbering system on the maps, too much was our focus on Rogaine’s in the months leading up that we forgot how numbering typically works in an Adventure race!

With all three Briefings and questions sorted, it was time to rush around and put some more controls out before it got dark…. again I have to thank my Dad for having his truck to help out! One control site in particular required us to drive across the Kowhai River and with the hot day behind us, the little river had turned into quite a torrent with the snow melt filling it up. The last one of the evening went out just as it got properly dark, next mission was to find dinner and hopefully find somewhere to watch the Rugby.

The All Blacks vs England at the world cup turned out to be a bit of a nightmare straight out of the 2000’s… and we all went to bed a bit disappointed. The next morning it was an early start, and a pretty stunning morning. I made a call with Matt at Kaikoura Kayaks and we confirmed we were all go for the Kayak stage to go ahead as planned. That was a huge relief and a bit of weight off the shoulders! Then I just had to get the final few controls out!

Dawn light on a still morning in South Bay

At 8am the 12 hour teams got underway and it was already t-shirt weather. Everything was going to plan so far, I had enough time to spot the teams heading out and around the headland before getting back to see them all transition. Dad rushed off to man his road crossing, and Tim, Bin and I rushed around setting up for the 6 hour start at 10am, which came and went without too many drama’s. The event centre then went quiet for a while, but it still appeared that we had one team not returned from the Kayak. There was a fair bit of hunting around trying to track them down as the Coast Guard and safety boats had told us that everyone was off the water. Eventually it turned out that they had changed grades to non-kayaking, but some last minute re-jigging of the race numbers meant there was some confusion there, thankfully that is all it was too!

12pm wasn’t far away for the 3 hour teams, but I did manage to call into to Dad’s road crossing to check if the missing team had been through. He had a few stories to tell, including a couple of people that almost didn’t stop despite being told in the briefing, told by the Marshall/traffic controller standing in front of them, a road sign, a checkpoint and oncoming traffic…. if this was one of you reading this, its pretty hard to win if you don’t make it to the finish… so I would hope your own life preservation, should be at the top of the list in all circumstances in any future race!

Unfortunately some spectators inadvertently parked on a front lawn of one of our landowners so we didn’t get off to a great start in the moments preceding the 3 hour start. We did manage to get the race underway on time however.  I rode behind as “tail end charlie” well after the last starters but as I got close to transition I came across a couple of the tail-enders. One team infact came racing down a hill way way off course and proceeded to damage their derailer at the same time….

When I arrived at the transition things were pretty chaotic, all of the teams came through this transition, and they were already out of water. It was 1pm and the temperature had really ramped up it must have been close to 30 degrees. We initially had about 100L of water there for drinking and I think it had gone to be refilled when I got there. Lloyd the man on the motorbike refilling it, spent the rest of the day going backwards and forwards filling up, doing enough trips to cart 500L of water, over 2L for each person. I am told that Lloyd has now sourced a 500L tank for next time! In hind sight, we should have had more water there, so sorry about that if you missed out, next time I think we will be more prepared.

Plenty of bikes in transition

Besides the lack of immediately water available there was a few sickly looking people arriving that were suffering big time in the heat. I don’t think we really ever anticipated it being that hot on race day, and now we are all a bit more attuned to the signs of heat exhaustion. Luckily we had some good marshals on that transition that did a fantastic job of looking after the people in trouble.

View from the top of Trek 2 (Trek 1 3hr)

After sorting a few issues out including someone bike… my next job was to head up to Waikene where we had a cut off for the 12 hour course. Unfortunately for me Tim had taken my car and I was left with just my bike to get up to Waikene, so it was a bit of a long ride. I followed a couple of the competitors for a little while, but just for their sanity (didnt want to be the grim reaper hanging around just behind them) I cut off to the main road and blasted my way uphill into a headwind. Closely looking at my watch I realised I was in a bit of a race to make my own cut off! I did manage to get there just in time. One team arrived very very close to cut off tima dn they were allowed them to go on on the bike at least.

About 10minutes after the cut off, 2 teams, looking a little bit dejected arrived. One guy was not in great looking shape either, he went off to sit down for a bit while his team mates sorted out water and gear for the next bit. A few minutes later his team mate went to check on him, found him lying in the sun looking much much worse. He was picked up and put in the shade immediately. 2 minutes later he pretty much fainted, he was bundled into a truck (there was no phone reception) and driven quickly back into town to the hospital. That drama over it was time for me to head back into town. His team mate did an excellent job of dropping everything and showing us all how true team mates act in an intense situation.

It was almost 6pm by the time I got back onto the course, and one of the Marshalls had managed to find an irrigation tap to get water for everyone to fill up! It was very much appreciated by all that got there. I thought almost all of the teams had gone through by now but as approached one team looked to have just left… I grabbed some water and followed them for a bit. Soon enough I saw a team ahead of them miss a turn, I rode ahead and managed to wave them back. After that I waited a the corner to make sure the previous team made the right turn as well. Satisfied they saw where I went, I rode to the river crossing.

The top ford of the Kowhai river looking much tamer

To my horror, I saw the river had again come up quite a bit with heaps more snow melt and it was quite swift. A nice big log across the river just down from the crossing was also creating a deadly looking strainer. I was surprised there was not more teams there to be honest. But I figured they must have all done some good team work or worked with other teams to get everyone across up to that point.

Anyway, back in the middle of the river was someone holding a bike mid-stream and looking like they were not entirely comfortable. I immediately jumped in and helped out, then helped get the other bike across. Then I waited for the next few teams, making about 3 or four more crossings.

I hoped I waited long enough that all the teams had come through, no one came for 10 mins or so, so I continued to head back to the finish area. It was right about now I realised I had hardly eaten anything all day and I got pretty hungry. Probably about half an hour before sundown I made it into the finish, took take over from Tim for a bit, welcoming people back in.

As it had became evident a bit earlier on, we had overcooked the courses quite a bit…. the first 3 hour team came in in 4:20, the 6 hour was about right, with the winners in around 6 hours, but we knew we were in for a long wait in the dark for the 12 hour team. Thankfully the last 3 and 6 hour teams arrived right on dark, a massive day out for those guys, especially on the back of the prologue the day before!

Luckily most people appeared to be in good spirits and really enjoyed their long hot day (National High of 29degC according to the news) out in the beautiful weather. Soon night fell and the 12 hour teams started to arrive, first it was the short coursed teams, and then the winning team at around 14 hours. Again, close, but still a little bit over cooked.

Finishers in after dark!

At around 10pm we had 5 teams still to come in on the 12 hours course. Tim disappeared for a couple of hours to bank a little bit of sleep while we got word the final team was descending down the razorback. Dad had been up there with a couple of the others now for close to 10 hours (a long day!). As the final team descended they follow behind in the “side-by-side” with the floodlights on to help them out a bit. Unfortunately one of the riders took a bit of a spill at the bottom of the ridge, and cause some heavy bruising and a bit of skin loss…. she promptly got back up and reared her team into action. Finally these guys finished at around 4am. I had disappeared to bed at 2am, while Tim took on the final shift to the end.

Monday morning, we again were treated with a fantastic day, Dad and I collected a few controls, had some breakfast before he headed back to Dunedin. Next item on the agenda was the Prizegiving and by that stage of the weekend, we were all stuffed, luckily the School Principal was able to get up and speak on our behalf! Thanks to everyone that came and helped out, the landowners for the use of their land, and finally all those who came and supported the event!

A whirlwind 5 months and we were already lined up to run the 2020 version at ANZAC day this year. The COVID-19 lockdown has put those plans on hold, so all I can say at this stage is that come 2021 (fingers crossed some sort of normality will have returned by then) we have a really fun course lined up. In the mean time, for 2020 we are going to plan some sort of Virtual/online challenge so keep and eye out and check the website or the Facebook page and you can even sign up for next year if you like!

Kaikoura Adventure Race Facebook Page

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

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