Monday, January 11, 2016

ADVENTURETHON - ALBANY (16k paddle, 22k MTB, 15k run)

I’ll start by telling you what Adventurethon is NOT. It’s not one of those namby-pamby ‘lite’, ego-enhancing outdoor events, where you can do zero preparation and still feel like a hero at the end because you’ve ‘done’ adventure racing. Adventurethon (especially the Ultra version) is a serious challenge that will find your weakness and grind you down. When I first scoped out the MTB course with legend racer Jarad Kohler I thought “whoa, this is a pretty techy course to be sending jo-average down”. It made me happier as this would be the one leg when I actually got to pass other competitors and felt completely in my element, but I was predicting a long day of walking for some of the other less confident riders. 

MTB course has some pretty cool features

 Organiser Joel Savage, is not a complete sadist though, which is why he invited Jarad and I to run skills sessions for the Adventurethon-ers in the days leading up to the event. Busy with my MTB sessions I did manage to fit in my second ever solo ski paddle under the expert tuition of Jarad. It went reasonable well until I fell off, climbed back on, immediately fell of the other side, rinse and repeat, while getting uncomfortably close to the rocks. It was about this time that I started getting quite worried about completing the Ultra event the next day which involved heading out of the protected bay and into the open ocean.

Walking is the default option for many things. If you’re running and get tired, you walk. If you’re mountain biking and it’s too technical, you walk. There is no ‘walking’ option for paddling in the ocean, unless you class coastguard rescue as the default. The race paddle start was very relaxed and we headed out to round the SS Cheynes II shipwreck. Only falling off twice (I was not the only one) it was the getting back in that I was having trouble with and I figured I only had a few of those in me before I couldn’t hoist myself back on again. After rounding the wreck it became delightfully calm-ish and I started to enjoy the ski for the first time.

First turning buoy on the paddle leg (credit Lex Porebski)

Following the crowd I pulled onto a beach for a 2k run around the headland. During the run we passed another beach where competitors were coming in, with large waves and sideways / upside-down boats. Feeling lucky to not be them I quickly worked out that I was supposed to be them and I’d landed on the beach for the Enduro (shorter) course! What to do? I jumped back on my ski and headed out into the channel to complete the longer course, spent 20 mins being tossed around by the open ocean swell, assessed my chances of survival at less than 50% and headed back to transition.

Still having fun on the first run leg (Credit Lex Porebski)

Feeling a little despondent to be out of the race so soon, there was still no question of pulling out and I figured I’d just do the Enduro + the bit of extra kayak time.

One of aspects of adventure racing I had to learn is the logistics of what equipment I needed to take on what legs. Violating all transition-zone etiquette, I had gels, shoes, towels and compulsory first aid equipment strewn everywhere. Having rubbed the skin off my feet in a previous off-road triathlon, I was very meticulous in wiping down before putting socks on for the bike and run leg.

Using a combinations of walking tracks, the Albany downhill course and taking in various monuments to Albany’s military and whaling past, the mountain bike course would satisfy any red-blooded rider. The athlete who podiumed at this race would have to be the complete package and not just a road rider who dabbled on fire breaks. As a MTB specialist I looked forward to smashing this leg, but my quads were absolutely shot from tensing up for two hours on the ski.

The bike leg was over far too quickly and I found myself back in transition staring at a rat’s nest of gear, know that I had to take some things off, and put some things on, but not really making the connections. I didn’t leave for the run leg wearing my bike helmet and my life jacket so I must have sorted myself out eventually.

When I race MTB, my Garmin and heart monitor are my tools. They allow me to monitor what my body is doing and pace my effort. Not possessing a multisport version I was racing unencumbered by either heart beats or time. I had no way of knowing if it was time to take a gel or how far I had to go or who I was racing. It was quite liberating at first but I was almost ready to make a sundial at the end just to figure out how long I’d been out suffering.

Having 3 weeks notice that I would be competing, I’d only managed a handful of training runs with the longest at 8k. Completing a 13k mountain run including 3ks of rock-hopping Albany’s rugged coastline would be about putting one foot in front of the other.  The bouldering section was when I felt like a true adventure racer. Negotiating towering rocks smattered with ocean spray, clambering on all fours like the numerous local skinks, focusing on shreds of blue tape while avoiding plunging to a painful end.  I’ve always enjoyed to simplicity of the outdoors with just a pair of running shoes.  This is where I had some of those bonding conversations with fellow fatigued and cramping competitors.

Not looking down and Shotz bottle between the teeth. All limbs needed to hang on. Guy behind me was have a cramp-fest. Not sure how he made it up! (Credit Lex Porebski)

Cresting the summit and looking across the town, it was literally ‘all downhill from here’. But, unlike cycling, running downhill doesn’t seem that much easier than running uphill and my thoughts turned to next week when walking down stairs would become a form of torture.

Crossing the line was a bit of an anticlimax. Yes, I had my medal, but I’d set out to do the Ultra course and didn’t quite make it. Was it ambitious with my complete lack of preparation? Absolutely. I used to shake my head at people who entered MTB events obviously undertrained. For me, the challenge is in the training while the event is the execution of those hours of commitment. Racing is the reward. So I guess it’s time to earn it and teach this highly specialized pedaling machine to adapt. I’m sure it will be quite frustrating at first (as riding used to be), but it’s also a bit exciting.  Now I just need to make room in my garage for a couple of new toys….

Massive thanks to Joel Savage and Adventurethon for having me over for the event. We got great feedback on the skills sessions and hopefully it made the race more enjoyable and achievable for some. Albany is a stunning location and Adventurethon is the perfect excuse to come over and check it out. Jarad Kholer – what a great instructor and top bloke. I have a lot of tips to work on over the next 12 months. Check out Peak Adventure’s sessions if you need to upskill for any of the multisport legs. Liv Cycling, For The Riders, Shotz nutrition and Ride Mechanic – without these sponsors I wouldn't be able to have these adventures.

Jarad Kohler being at 'one with nature' at Bluff Knoll 'recovery' hike