Updated: Sep 28, 2018
I’m not one to say no, so three years ago when I was asked to join two friends in a team to do the 12-hour Spring Challenge race based around Motueka I jumped at the chance. I didn’t own a mountain bike (that had more than one speed) and I had never done an adventure race before but surely I would be fine. I knew people who had done it the year before and raved about it, it sounded like a great event.
While I look back on it with fond memories, I can tell you when we were lost at 2am many miles from the finish line they were anything but pleasant! It was a massive wakeup call for me. I was extremely grateful for compulsory gear (we’re never going to have to use this right?!?) and amazed how much of a mental game it became. Your body will keep going as long as your mind does. And this was only a 12-hour challenge; I’m in absolute awe of people who do these 5-day adventure races with limited sleep and challenging weather conditions. It’s definitely on my list.
As I head into my second Spring Challenge race in three weeks time I hope these following tips I have learnt will help you get the most out of this awesome race.
Navigation! I can’t stress this one enough. Before you even begin you need to decide who is in charge of what. Someone needs to be head navigator who will have the final say on route choices and navigation. When things get low, you’re lost and there isn’t a clear solution this is so important, one of you needs to be comfortable enough taking the map and making decisions for the team. I was given a compass the following Christmas after my first Spring Challenge (let’s no get into why I didn’t have one before!), while it was amusing at the time it was one of the best presents. I’m pleased to say I can now use it and hopefully get myself out of an interesting situation! Our very limited navigation skills cost us dearly in the last race. It was just on dark as we entered the trees heading down a hill on the run section. We relied on gut feeling rather than using the compass which resulted in some serious backtracking. It turned out we were one too many ridges east and spent a lot of time walking and crawling aimlessly around! Welcome to adventure racing.
Nutrition. Keeping the motor running is so important, get this wrong early on in the race and you will seriously be feeling the effects later on. It’s much better to keep the body topped up than let it run out. A general rule is 1 gram of carbohydrate per body weight per hour. I have my watch set to beep every 15 mins when I race to take a sip of water, then every 30 mins I eat something. I have only started doing this recently and can’t believe how long it has taken me to learn this lesson. Don’t wait until you start to feel hungry, by then it’s too late.
Make sure what you put in is quality too, you don’t need all the latest gels and bars, nothing beats a good honey sandwich and banana! Don’t try anything new on race day either, it’s very easy to get freebies in the race pack that seems like a good idea at the time but if you haven’t already trained with them I wouldn’t advise starting now. Stick with what you know.
Support Crew. Never underestimate the importance of your support crew. It’s a massive day for them as well as they wait for you and follow you around. They play an important role, not only getting all your gear from A to B, but just to offer you advice and keep your spirits up. Buddy each team member with one support crew so that you have someone who’s in charge of your gear, makes sure you eat and checks you have everything you need to carry on to the next stage. Derek and Jane Milton were my parents for the last spring challenge and I don’t think they know how fantastic they were to me. It’s amazing how far a hug and words of encouragement can go, especially at midnight with only half the course completed!! Needless to say (and luckily for them) we ended up with DNF alongside our names!
Equipment. Never compromise safety by going cheap on your gear. Compulsory gear is there for a very good reason, you never know when you are going to have to pull it out and use it. Put it in a dry-bag inside your pack, wet gear is no use to anyone. We were lucky and didn’t have to end up using ours, but one team spent the night in their sleeping bag and were found the next day by a local pig hunter who drove them out! Never underestimate the weather as it can turn on you in an instant, especially around Arrowtown where more than likely we will be encountering snow.
So as the race draws closer, make sure you are all set and ready to go. Preparing for an adventure race is so much more than just being fit. So many factors come into on the day that are out of your control; the weather, the course, unexpected gear failure or emotional meltdowns. The best you can do is set yourself up as best you can to handle these and just enjoy it. It’s a fantastic race and I am sure this year will be no different.