twilight and shadow

Challenging autumn in pink

In my family, we seem to have a tortured history of not saying what we ought to and not meaning what we do. Kate covers her mouth with her hand. She backs out of the kitchen door, bumping into my father, who fumbles by cannot catch her as she scrambles upstairs. I hear the door to our room slam shut. My mother, of course, goes after her.
So I do what I do best. I move in the opposite direction.
- My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult

I've done quite a few different sporting events in my time: orienteering of all descriptions (even relays in the dark!), rogaining and both road and off road running races but up until recently I'd never tried my hand at adventure racing. The Macpac Autumn Challenge Women’s Adventure Race seemed like the perfect place to start. You compete in teams of 3 and the race involves rafting, hiking/running and mountain biking all the while navigating where you are supposed to go. Well, I’m terrified of falling into the water (I’m fine if I’m swimming in it) and I truly suck at biking, let alone mountain biking. But hey, I can run and I sure can navigate so there was nothing really to lose.After a 2 hour crash course in mountain biking with J and his friends at the Woodhill Bike Park (as well as a bit of road cycling and spin class) I was fairly confident that I could get round without too much disaster. After all, the event info had said that limited experience was fine as it wouldn't be too tricky. Little did I know what was ahead...but hindsight is a wonderful thing!

The race was based in Taupo and the night before involved a crash course in rafting followed by race briefing and the handing out of maps. At briefing we also got our race packs which, for once, contained something I could actually eat, mini Lara bars!! I managed to score 3 different types: pistachio, cashew cookie and cherry pie.J and my friend from Palmerston North were on support crew duty which basically meant making sure everything was ready for us at transition points like moving the bikes (and pumping tires, testing gears and any other bike maintenance between thrashings), lining up clothing or footwear changes, and making sure liquid and food were waiting ready for us at each transition. Oh, and taking photos of us looking rather the worse for wear!!

The race started at the Taupo equestrian centre with a 1.5km run to the rafts (over some equestrian water jumps!) where you then paddled 8km down the Waikato River to the next transition point. You then hopped onto your bike for a 15km mountain bike back to the start area. Here you dumped your bikes and set off on an 11km run along the edge of the river up to the Huka Falls to the third transition area. Here you jumped back on your bike and headed up into the Craters of the Moon (Wairakei Forest) single track mountain bike trails. Once at the Craters of the Moon car park you ran round the boardwalk to collect clues then picked up your bike again and rode back to the transition area again where you then navigated your way to Spa Park where there would be a short orienteering course leading to the finish. Confused yet? Exhausted?!

I could give you a run down of the event but that would take ages (well, it was a LONG race…we finished in about 8 hours 54 minutes) so I’ll give you some highlights (or lowlights depending on the angle you’re standing at!).

  • the weather was not exactly pretty but not awful. It mostly drizzled all day. At least it wasn’t too cold though.
  • wetsuits are not flattering on ANYONE but for some reason J enjoyed taking photos of us waddling around in them. They are also hellishly difficult to run in.
  • the water level of the Waikato River was down quite a lot which meant not many rapids and therefore a whole lot more paddling to keep the raft moving. But I didn’t fall in so it was all good!

  • getting out of wetsuits and wet socks in a hurry is no easy task especially when your arms are dead from paddling hard out for an hour.
  • my first fall from the bike came in the first section where I arrived at CP1 and skidded round the corner in the gravel right in front of one of our top adventure racers (and orienteers). I felt pretty embarrassed.
  • somehow my tyre managed to be a bit flat by the end of the first mountain bike stage despite checking everything before the race. Lucky for support crews I guess (thanks J) so I didn’t have to fix anything!
  • the first running leg was along the edge of the Waikato River (after a brief struggle through some blackberry). One of our team members was struggling a bit so we just took it nice and easy (that’s what happens when you head out madly at the start).
  • we crossed the Huka Falls (always an impressive sight) twice – once during the first running leg when it was nice and quiet, and one on the last leg to the finish when it was covered in tourists and their umbrellas oblivious to the fact that we were in a race and therefore in a hurry to cross the bridge.
  • I don’t think I ate very much at all during the race; just drunk water and Mizone Rapid and ate a little bit of Whittakers dark Ghana chocolate and a couple of mini lara bars. You don’t really seem to feel like eating, just quick bursts of energy to keep you going. The main thing is not to get dehydrated which is where the Mizone comes in.
  • the second mountain bike leg was an absolute killer. Not only are the tracks in there rough, narrow, incredibly windy and steep but the map we were given of the tracks was not particularly accurate.

  • I had a few impressive falls off my bike in the forest during the second mountain bike leg. One of my team mates was not so lucky as she came off in the gravel and ended up with blood everywhere.
  • my other team member had her bike break on her about two thirds of the way through the second mountain bike leg! The back gear thingy (see, I know heaps about bikes!!) broke and we had to break the chain off so she could wheel it out.
  • by the time the chain on my bike came off and got stuck I was too weak to tip my bike over to fix it but the spirit out there was amazing as another team stopped to help me. Luckily it was fixable (but took some serious work).
  • I had no idea there were places in Taupo like Craters of the Moon (the board walk we had to run around after the second mountain bike leg). It’s a highly active geothermal area NW of Taupo and really awesome.
  • we finished the third leg of the mountain bike just slightly too late to do the orienteering section.
  • Ironic really since this was going to be the part I was going to (finally) excel in!
  • the final run to the finish was beautiful. There are parts of the Waikato River which are so clear you can see right down to the rocks at the bottom.
  • our support crew were asleep in the car by the finish line when we came in…
  • even my jaw was weak by the time we finished ‘cause I was exhausted just trying to chew through my dinner!
  • we all got a free lunch the following day! Which we followed up by eating copious amounts of sorbet!!

So after all that will I do another adventure race? Hell yes. But next time I will do a whole lot more mountain bike training!