As important as reflection is, I find it hard to achieve without stopping and I don’t seem to have done much stopping in recent weeks. It is only now, after missing the connections to Australia to race Red Bull Defiance in China with Simone and as I sit in my hotel room in Shenzhen that I find myself in reflection mode.
It has been a crazy few weeks after leaving NZ on August 5th and flying to Europe to race the famous Embrunman extreme triathlon in the French Alps. My 5th placing came as a result of a calmly executed race plan that prioritised consistency across 10 brutal hours but also left me contemplating a return to the event next year with a tad more aggression and risk placed on the first half of the day (damn athlete brain!). It was also a result that reflected the support and friendship of Andy, my brother-in-law who came to Europe with me and kept me in good spirits in the lead up to the race. For a summary of my race check out my video on YouTube.
From Europe I flew onwards to China to join Team Privateer Adventure with Sam Manson and Sam Clark and Simone Maier. We have had a good run with team events this year, but this was the one that counted most to us. It is considered the world championship of stage racing in the adventure racing world and I cannot argue. It attracts the best teams from around the world and is one of the hardest events I have done.
The event starts with a prologue day then continues with three more days of hard slog, usually producing a fastest overall time each day of 5-6 hours. For us it was important to understand each stage and look to play to our strengths where possible while minimising the damage on stages that wouldn’t be our forte.
The prologue was horrendous. It took most teams around quarter of an hour to complete but was in team time trial format meaning we wasted an entire day waiting to get all the teams through. We were forth at the end, but it didn’t really mean anything. I am not sure dragging boats upstream and climbing wooden ladders are necessarily skills I will go away and work harder at for next time.
Day one was more like us. A river paddle followed by a solid mountain bike and mountain run. A highlight of the river paddle was having some solid wave trains to contend with which were great fun, except if you were Alex Hunt and Dan Jones who somehow ended up falling in. Their team were our main competition in my mind so although we didn’t see them fall in as they were behind us, it probably worked in our favour for the race for the overall. The mountain bike was hot and arduous with 1400m of climbing in two hours. Manson struggled a little here but toughed it out and we went into the run with a lead, but with no idea of what it was.
The run was hot and hard. Some great trails that demanded attention and created some spills, but the biggest challenge was the heat and the fact the stage took much longer than predicted. We focused on trying to keep the fluids and Skybright electrolytes going in, but by the finish of the run we still collapsed into the nearest shade and went to work trying to rehydrate and cool our bodies as the mercury hit 40. It would eventuate that out on course other teams were having much more trouble with several athletes suffering heat stroke and our friend Oliver Thompson being rushed to hospital for life-saving treatment. It led to a very long night as I lay awake literally wondering if Oliver was going to live or die. As it turned out he pulled through, but only just and thanks to the quick actions of his team mates to get him from his unconscious state out on course to medical treatment in the nearest city. You can help support his family as he fights his way back to health here.
We had a slim lead heading into day three, but we were licking our lips. It involved a 1500m swim, 22km kayak and 40km mountain bike, which were three sports we fancy ourselves at. Manson was back in form and we managed to build a lead of over twenty minutes relatively effortlessly thanks to a bit of luck (you always need this in China) where nothing major went wrong, plus a full roster of strong team members. The only drama came in the paddle when two women in a boat screamed at us that we were paddling in the wrong direction. The team asked me to triple check the bearing on my GPS which I did. It continued to point us in the direction we were going so we had to commit to it. Meanwhile the women continued to wave their arms wildly at us and scream at the top of their lungs to paddle up a different channel. Thankfully we backed ourselves and were rewarded a few nervous kilometres later when we found the checkpoint we needed to find. We scorned the ladies on our way back as they hid in their boat behind a rock. They responded with laughter. Not that we could see the funny side ourselves. We celebrated our stage win with a few Radix meals at the finish line.
The final day was going to be tough for us. It involved two solid running stages with a solid mountain bike between them. We had a 39 minute lead so had the relative luxury of being able to take less risks and look after ourselves. Just as well because despite taking our CurraNZ every day to improve blood flow and recovery, we were starting to show signs of the accumulated fatigue of racing hard on the preceding days. Plus, we knew the top performing Chinese teams would be chomping at the bit to get into the run stages on the last day.
As it turned out we did lose ground on the first run, but not by much, thanks largely to Sam Clark who was moving super well and making it quite hard work to keep up. The mountain bike stage gave us a chance to get back into the race and we moved from 5th to 2nd on this stage without too much extra effort, knowing the last run would cap off a total of 32km of mountain running for the day and avoiding catastrophe was our sole purpose. Once again Clark was showing immense strength and while we dropped a couple of places to finish the day 4th, our overall lead was still very much intact, and we had won the 2019 Wulong Mountain Quest!
I have raced this event about eight times and for me it was just my second victory here (my last was in 2014 with Jess Simson, Braden and Glen Currie). This shows how hard it is to win and how much you need things to go right across the four days to make the top step of the podium. I think the key to our success this year was largely our level effort throughout the race, where we never felt we had to push extra hard, rather we just focused on being efficient, consistent and relentless. We have a lot of collective experience in China now too which I am sure helps a lot.
Simone and I were supposed to race the Red Bull Defiance on the weekend, but our delayed flights meant we missed our connection to Cairns. While it was disappointing, we have quickly switched our focus to Sunday and our final race back in China for this trip, the Suqian Eco Quadrathlon. It involves swimming, biking, kayaking and around 56km of running within one continuous day of racing. We are expecting some very tough competition there again and look forward to another showdown. One thing I love about this team is that whether we are winning or losing, we are enjoying ourselves, looking after each other and giving it our very best.
Keep you posted.