While it was the 10th anniversary of the Zunyi Mountain Quest Adventure Race and I have competed here before, it wouldn’t usually be the sort of event that would provoke me to write a blog. However, this race was different and special for no other reason than it was my team mate Marcel Hagener’s last in China.
If you are not familiar with who Marcel is, you either do not follow adventure racing or he has slipped under your radar by being the unassuming, humble, relatively non-prolific athlete that he has always been. But here is the thing, at the age of 51 (sorry mate, was that not supposed to be public knowledge?), he is one of the most successful adventure racers the sport has ever seen. While he had been competing prior to 2005, it was that year when I first became aware of him. I can still remember the incredible image of team Seagate running along the beach on the West Coast of the South Island towards the world adventure racing championship title. My idol of that time Nathan Faavae, Richard Uusher and Kristina Anglem were running alongside a German born kiwi who looked to be running on springs with lean looking muscles, long blonde hair and a great big smile. Marcel became a champion then and here in China, 13 years later, he became one again in his last competitive race.
Zunyi is a two day, three person team adventure race involving mountain biking, running and orienteering (no kayaking) and a selection of activities that generally reflect the local cultures and way of life. Amongst lung bursting climbs on bike and foot we were required to throw spears, build fires, string chilli peppers, archery, walk on stilts and slack lines and do a flying fox. At times these activities and their unique regulations were immensely challenging and frustrating, but ultimately we were competent enough to remain competitive and keep us in a position to do what we do best – bike and run for the win.
It must be said, I have been incredibly fortunate in my own career to race with some of the best female athletes in the sport. Women like Jess Simpson, Sophie Hart and Fleur Pawsey. Spending the last couple of months racing with Simone has reinforced to me that she is easily one of the best in the sport. There were times in Zunyi where instead of worrying about what the other teams around us were doing, Marcel and I had to simply focus on trying to keep up with our own female team mate! Simone is not only strong and incredibly fit, she is also one of the most determined, brave and fearless athletes I have ever seen. No wonder her and Marcel saw a sparkle in each others eyes. Perhaps they found some common ground while suffering together in an endurance race somewhere. It seems to be their happy place a lot of the time. Although they seem equally content relaxing and watching a movie together in the comfort of a hotel room.
Anyway, back to Zunyi. We managed a 10-minute lead on day one and thankfully were able to extend it on day two to take a hugely satisfying and slightly emotional overall victory. Actually, I am not sure if Marcel felt much emotion, he is such a team man he was probably just pleased we’d got the job done. But I could feel a touch of emotion knowing I may not get to experience another race with Marcel again. Given I first convinced him to let me race with him in 2011, it is fair to say we have had plenty of adventures together. I am just so happy that Simone and I could not only share his last one with him but send him off with a victory salute.
I would sum Marcel up as someone who lives and eats cleanly, has a moral compass that always points north, sees the good in everyone and everything and never stays away from hard work. I enjoyed every race we did together and particularly admired his problem-solving skills along with his ever-present awareness of his team mates welfare and best interests. Looking forward to doing some more relaxed bike rides and adventures with him in the future.
As for me, I am on a plane and on the first leg of my journey to Western Australia for this upcoming weekends Augusta Adventure Fest. I have been involved with this event in years gone by and have been drawn back by the incredible setting and a new event format that involves standalone ocean swim, ocean kayak, trail run and mountain bike events on Saturday, then a continuous multisport format across the same four disciplines on the Sunday. Given I am still a bit confused about what sports I enjoy the most, this form suits me perfectly and I hope to recover enough from the racing and traveling in China to be competitive. It is a long time to be away from my family, so I hope not to be traveling all this way to make up numbers. I’ll keep you posted!