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Spring Challenge, Queenstown

Updated: Sep 28, 2018

I’m still buzzing. 12 hours, 23 minutes and 75 km’s of awesomeness (isn’t hindsight a great thing!). The body feels like it’s been put through its paces. I can feel my quads and glutes when walking down the stairs but they’re a good-sore like you’ve achieved something great. And everyone who crossed that finish line had done just that. Based 30-min east of Queenstown in the Gibbston Valley, Spring Challenge 2013 was true to its word – a challenge that definitely didn’t disappoint.

Race briefing was held in Arrowtown the night before where we received our maps and how the 10-hour race was to unfold; Stage 1: Hike 2km, Stage 2: Rafting 9km, Stage 3: Hiking 6km, Stage 4: Mountain Bike 22km, Stage 5: Hiking (Navigation) 11km, Stage 6: Mountain Biking 20km, Stage 7: Hiking 7km. That made a grand total of 75km. Not exactly your typical Sunday stroll. So back to the amazing accommodation in Queenstown for dinner (thanks once again mum for your chicken pie!), we made a plan for the following day and packed the bags ready to go. Our amazing support crew were briefed on how long we thought each stage would take, what food to give us at each transition and what to expect (a lot of downtime!). After a few anxious moments of not being able to squish all our gear into our bags, we got it sorted and headed to bed in an attempt to get some quality sleep.

Team Enduro (I know, I know, what were we thinking!!) consisted of Hilary Totty, Jacqueline Manson and myself. All with similar fitness level, (all three cracking the 2-day Speights Coast to Coast for the first time in 2014) we were quietly confident. We knew we had the fitness level, the mental game, navigation (not so much but hoping we could try to wing it), we were just really looking forward to what lay ahead.

The start began at Chard Farm Winery, with a 2km mad dash to the Kawarau River to jump in the rafts. This meant we were fully kitted out in wetsuits and what we were running in for the first hike. No beauty prizes were won here. I’d pulled out my sisters’ wetsuit from when we were in 12, which I discovered was covered in mould on the inside and so tight I couldn’t do it up all the way, Jacq had a long wetsuit with holes in the knees and I think Hilary actually took the cake with splits in both sides from armpits to hips. More movement to run was her theory. After a very blasé start, we were off and sprinting up a hill and along the river. We managed to get to the third boat but second on the water, so we were off to a good start. The rafting was awesome with a grade 3 rapid at Dog Leg corner to keep us on our toes. We were in the boat with another 10-hour team, so six of us and a guide. Jacq and I were stationed at the front and took the full impact of the rapids. Adrenalin was pumping, people were yelling and smiles were wide. We got through without a tip (five boats in total flipped during the day), up the bank and into TA1 (transition area 1). 53 minutes had passed and we were in good spirits getting on to stage 2, the 6km hike back to our support crew at the Kawarau Bungee Bridge.

Throughout the day there were 20 checkpoints we had to collect which were indicated on our maps, as well as being given clues to help find them. On the first stage, we collected 2 checkpoints before running into TA3 where we met our support crew, got ourselves sorted then headed off for a very long mountain biking and navigation stage. We estimated we would be out there for 8.5-9 hours before we would see our support crew again, so for every hour we needed one food item (sandwich, muesli bar etc) and one gel. This meant a lot of food packed into the bags! And this was all things going to plan too!

I’m not big in stature (let’s say vertically challenged), so mountain biking was never going to be my strong point of the race. I’d never ridden single track before, let alone downhill. The first stage of the mountain biking was awesome (note: first stage). Rabbit Ridge is a Mountain Bike park that has just opened in the Gibbston Valley offering different levels of tracks to ride. We were lucky enough to be able to get on a few of these and I am very keen to head back for more! There were times we got off and pushed both uphill and down, with the rain adding to the experience, but I was proud of how much we managed to ride. Like any true adventure race though, the fun downhill didn’t last forever, so we headed up Resta road with a very big hill ahead of us. Between the short stops and maybe the odd expletive, the general banter thrown around was how nice of us to push our bikes up a hill for approximately 8km. The only comfort was both the teams ahead and behind were doing exactly the same! It was a long, slow slog but we finally made it to the top, before a very technical downhill to the bottom to begin the navigation.

We all had our turns at tumbles; I don’t think any of us had remotely ridden anything this technical before. All I could this was thank goodness I had stayed true to my word and worn sneakers instead of clip-ins! After an extremely unglamorous trip over the handlebars I looked up to see both Jacq and Hils off their bikes too. We had some great laughs and eventually we made it to the bottom.

Fuelled up and glad to be back on foot we set off to collect eight of the 10 markers. Hils was in charge of Navigation until I spotted her with the map upside down. Haha! She got that sorted quickly and did an awesome job of leading us around the course. We surprised ourselves a couple of times of how accurately we found the flags and finished with our 8 markers clicked. We were stoked when we found out that some teams didn’t collect all 8, which meant they would be placed behind the last team to come in with the full set. Timing was going to plan as we wanted to be off our bikes before it was dark. We came into TA3 to the relief of our support crew just as it was starting to get dark, very happy with how we were rolling and looking forward to one more stage until the finish line.

The 10-hour open teams started at 9am, while the 10-hour veterans (average age 40+) started at 6am. It can be argued that the team’s starting at 6am had an advantage with more daylight hours, but if I could have seen the size of the hill we were about to climb I’m not so sure I would have ranked my overall rating at 6. As Jacq said halfway up the hill ‘my score has just been cut in half!!’ Mount Mason (Misery) was steep, a vertical straight up following a fence line, so it was a matter of one foot in front of the other. We were very quiet (unlike a team behind us who we decided had had a can of Red Bull at TA3), but we made it. I don’t know where they found the energy to talk the whole way up! The terrain changed and we were once again up in spaniard country. We found checkpoint 16 fairly easily, while some teams were not so lucky. This is where the teams who started earlier had a very clear advantage by being able to see the checkpoint. It was freezing at the top with a nasty wind, so not a good place to spend for too long. But from here we were on the homeward run, and it’s amazing how the body keeps going, and even steps up a gear with the thought of it soon being over. We could see the lights from the tent as we came down the last zig-zag, with three more checkpoints to collect before crossing the finishing line.

We arrived in 9th place just before 10.30pm. We were stoked! This was far more enjoyable than my first Spring Challenge effort, but in saying that it was a very different race. The warm shower and red wine once we got home went down a treat (rehydrating!) and much deserved. A big congrats to Gina Taylor, Livvy Hutchinson and Kirsty Naish who competed in the 3-hour event, their first adventure race, where they managed a 5th place. Too good ladies, 6-hour next year isn’t it?!

You learn so much from these races, not just how to cope with the conditions and race tactics, but how you personally deal with situations as they arise. Yes, we all had our low points, but you race as a team and get through it together, and sharing those 12.23min with Jacq and Hils was a fantastic experience. A big thanks to Jan, Tom and Ian for being our support crew, you guys rocked and we couldn’t have down it without you!

Bring on Hokitika 2014. Just make sure you pack your raincoat.

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