Wild NZ: Adventure racing for dummies

Wild NZ: Adventure racing for dummies

Went for two 3km runs this week. Feeling like a true athlete. Sure, my 11-year-old son is much faster than me, but I’m beginning to sense there are great things ahead. Planted a couple of trees, which is pretty similar to going for a 40km bike ride, so will flag that part of my training. I read somewhere that rest is really important, so I rested for the rest of the week.

by Mike Cooney

Adventure race. To the uninitiated, those two words sound like a bit of fun. I mean, everyone likes adventure, right? It’s part of our DNA! Most humans I know find ‘new and exciting experiences’ enjoyable. And by adding a race component to it … well, it sounds like the perfect way to spend a few hours (or days) of your time …

Doesn’t it?

When my mate, Ryan Thompson, convinced me to enter the annual Whangamata Adventure Race, I thought that it did sound like fun – which he assured me it would be. I should’ve paid more attention though, because Ryan is a part of Team Bivouac/Inov8 – one of New Zealand’s top adventure racing teams – and his idea of fun is a 700km run/bike/kayak over seven days with a total of 27 minutes sleep ... nothing but raisins to eat … in the desert.

Thankfully, along with 450 other entrants, we only had the choice of a three, six or 12-hour event. So we chose the six – knowing we’d be home in a comfortable bed later that night.

Kiwis are some of the best adventure racers in the world – with some of the best races as well, like the infamous Coast-to-Coast and GODZone. They typically contain run/bike/kayak components, and can last from a few hours to a few days. Being a good navigator is key, because your skill with a map and compass can be the difference between winning and losing … badly.

With Ryan promising me my very own personal training programme, I figured I’d be in good hands. At this point, we had around 10 weeks before the race – which was plenty of time to organise a team, get in shape, and make the appropriate mental preparations. 

The team part of the equation came together easily enough. ‘Team Wildman’ was the concept, so a couple of the Wildman crew (Crafty & Codes) joined the line-up, along with my son Trae. Our sponsor, Huntech Clothing, came to the party with a uniform – so we not only sounded good, we looked good, too! 

Now we just needed to perform …

Getting in Shape. This was probably the most important part of the race preparation. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in my usual peak physical condition due to … um … laziness. So my personal training programme was going to be vital for a successful outcome. We were in it to win it! 

Anyway, to help other budding adventure racers, I thought I’d share some of my training diary. This will hopefully offer valuable insights into Team Wildman’s approach – which may give you the edge, come race day. 

Week Eight:
Don’t actually have my programme yet. But I’m thinking about adventure racing, which is helping my mental preparation.

Week Seven:
Still don’t have my programme. I think Ryan has forgotten. Still thinking about racing and can feel my mental fitness improving.

Week Six – Five:
No programme. I wonder if Ryan remembered that he was going to do one for me? Actually, did I even ask him? Better ring him this weekend. Mentally, I’m feeling as tough as nails.

Week Four:
Finally got my training programme off Ryan. It looks great, and will give me a real edge. Ryan reckons four weeks should be okay – and I agree. Unfortunately, I can feel the flu coming on. And it’s raining. Should probably stay inside this week, get over my cold, and work on my mental game.

Week Three:
Three weeks to go … oh boy! Convinced my youngest son, Hunter, to help me train. I need a bit of motivation. Cold and wet on Monday, so watched some mountain biking on Redbull TV. Ran my first 3km run on Tuesday. Ryan said to run this as fast as I could. Hunter was wondering why I was breathing so heavily and couldn’t talk. And why I was so slow. When my breathing returned to normal, and I was able to stand unsupported, I jumped on my mountain bike to warm down. I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone here so I didn’t need to ride on Wednesday. A five-minute ride is good training, right? I think I’ll use this technique from now on.

Rested on Wednesday and Thursday. I heard it’s important to listen to your body. It also told me to rest on Friday, so I did.

Another 3km run on Saturday. Managed to do the whole thing without collapsing at the end. Beat my last time by 30 seconds! Seeing some big improvements!

Week Two:
Went for two 3km runs this week. Feeling like a true athlete. Sure, my 11-year-old son is much faster than me, but I’m beginning to sense there are great things ahead. Planted a couple of trees, which is pretty similar to going for a 40km bike ride, so will flag that part of my training. I read somewhere that rest is really important, so I rested for the rest of the week. (Wow, there are lots of ‘rests’ in that sentence!)

Week One – race week!
Monday went for another 3km run and felt my right calf tighten up. I hope I haven’t done any damage. Trae ran with us this time. He absolutely blitzed me. Hunter also ran a lot faster. It seems he was cruising this whole time just so I wouldn’t feel so bad for being slow. Had a look at the programme Ryan did for me and realised I hadn’t really followed it. Anyway, it’s all in the mind – and in my mind, I’m as fit as Steve Gurney! Thought I should take the rest of the week off and let my calf mend. 

Spoke to other teammates this week. Crafty had done a couple of runs and bike rides, and Codes ran a quick 27km loop last weekend. Crap!

After a week of torrential rain, race day dawned reasonably fine – which was a welcome change. I’d pretty much come to the realisation that my pre-race preparation had been less than ideal. I also realised that you should pick up your race-packs as early as possible. They contain instructions, stage info, maps, bonus and checkpoint co-ordinates etc. As adventure racing has a strategic element to it, it helps to sit down as a team in advance to figure out navigation routes and team tactics. Unfortunately for us, we had five minutes before the race started …

We made the start just as the horn sounded for the stage one beach run. About 50m into the race, I realised that the next five hours and 59 minutes were going to be all about my mental toughness. I was glad I spent so much time thinking about the race.

There were four stages in total – a mix of running/trekking and mountain-biking, with the final three based in the surrounding forests. Crafty soon had the team functioning like a tight unit, and we were doing okay … until we stopped to help someone with a snapped chain. (Yes, it’s true. Us Wildmen are softies at heart!)

We flew through the second stage, and despite the ‘Good Samaritan’ blip on our otherwise clear radar, we were making good time as we came into the transition area for stage three. From here things got progressively worse. For me. A bit of cramping started to find its way into my quads – and no matter how much water I drank or gel shots I sucked, they refused to leave me alone. They were my constant companion as we climbed our way to the top of Rangipo, the world’s highest mountain. This is where all my mental training started to pay off …

By the end of the trek/slow-crippling-jog section, I’d beaten my body back into submission. The lads were powering through it, making it seem like a walk-in-the-park. We hit the final stage with speed and determination – leapt on our mountain bikes, and disappeared into the forest for our final push. 

My cramps were constantly reminding me of their presence, but I just laughed in their faces. I had reached mental nirvana …  until both thighs locked up and I fell off my bike shrieking in pain. I’d just suffered the most powerful double quad cramp, ever! After writhing around in agony, I finally managed to bend one knee, and then I cramped up in my hamstring! 

Words were said that aren’t fit for print …

Luckily, I still had some Steve Gurney mental reserve, pulling myself together and remounting my bike for the last leg. The team, blissfully unaware of my plight, were waiting ahead. We soon exited the forest and hit the road for the final few kilometres. 

The sight of that finish line was like a vision of glory – we’d done it! And as we crossed over, race finished, I wondered if this was what heaven would be like – family waiting, good mates around, and a sausage sizzle.

It doesn’t get much better than that!