Another weekend, another adventure race… Well actually the first race since our ill-fated Alpine Quest in the January furnace. Life got busy. More busy than I thought possible. Full-time work + business + study. I’ve never put training so far down my priority list. Commuting to the office and trying to do some intervals on the way. Creeping home at night astounded at how tired you can get from sitting on your arse all day. Working after work. More study. I started to realise I didn’t even get into the forest during the week and I needed this desperately. For my soul, not just my legs. Then suddenly it was time to pack for the race. And another 6am flight. Argh.
This isn’t going to be about Geoquest. Well not mainly. It’s about the meaning we, I, attach to these events. I’ve had some close friends – mountain bikers and adventure racers – seek my counsel lately. They had the same question – what’s it all about? Why do we do this? Why do we keep doing this? I don’t know why they thought I had any answers. I’ve been asking myself the same questions a lot lately. And not just about racing.
|So clean and uninjured.|
One thing is certain – it’s not for the fame or money. As I sat at my desk the day after the race, my body was littered with bruises and cuts. The dark circles under my eyes suggested that an extra couple of hours shut eye doesn’t make up for missing an entire night’s sleep. “You look tired!” Yeah, 33 hours of racing will do that. Just touching things hurt from all the splinters and thorns in my hands. Everything in Yamba was covered in thorns – vines, palm trees, shrubs. I wore gloves the whole race but it didn’t seem to matter.
“What did you get up to on the weekend?”
“Not much. Did a race”
“250km. 33 hours.”
I’ve stopped telling people now. My battle scars are evidence of a secret life. There used to be some perverse pride in watching them try to comprehend. But now it’s just frustration. When telling people you ran 15kms to work it gets the same response as 250k. They wonder how I could do these things. I wonder how they can’t. From what I can tell, any able-bodied human can do these events – and they do. They’re not especially gifted. They just want to challenge themselves to the extra-ordinary. And feel pain.
|River crossing with bike. Best bit of the race happened straight after this. John back-stroking after returning the boat. It's a Scottish thing I think.|
That cleansing pain. The type that centres you and focuses you on the task at hand like we’re rarely focused in this world of distraction. When your body screams ‘pay attention’ and you can’t ignore it. There is always pain somewhere – the burning calves on a steep hill, screaming abs while paddling, the sensation as the skin on your scrotum is slowly rubbed raw because you forgot lube (obviously this one wasn’t MY pain). There’s the ‘normal’ expected pain. Then there’s the ‘what the hell is that?’ pain. Which, for me, was the tendons in the front of my ankles filling with fluid and making every metre of the last 27 kilometre beach run pure agony.
Facing your fears. Coming off a night paddle and shivering so much you can’t dress yourself for the bike leg to come. Being wet ALL. THE. TIME. Afraid you’ll crack before the job is finished. But mainly the fear of not being good enough – being the weak link. Gritting your teeth and facing the fear. No high ropes for me this race. Just the pounding ocean. The big swell. How big? So big that the organisers have to wait until the last hours before the race to tell you if they’ll let you paddle in it (or, more accurately, their insurance company will let you). The fear won with some with a team forfeiting the paddle to run to the first transition. That’s where trust comes in. Trust in your team mates. Gary wouldn’t let me die. Hopefully. He doesn’t look worried so I’m sure the big waves are fine. But then Andy didn’t look worried during that Geoquest ocean paddle in 2015 either. Afterwards he said “yeah I was pretty worried…”
Bliss. The quiet of sunrise on the river. Carefully picking our way through small creeks on to small rivers on to the mighty Clarence. Driving past it so many times I’ve always wanted to be in it. And now we were. Micro-sleeps. When half the team is having them on the paddle and the other half of the team is feeling their double No Doze kick in. Sometimes the enemy isn’t pain and the hardest parts of the race aren’t the most physical.
|It rained. A lot.|
Monotony. Is it 38 hours a week at an unfulfilling job? Or running in sand toward a headland that doesn’t look any closer than it did 2 hours ago. Which is the more pointless? Does the race monotony prepare you better for life-monotony, or vice versa? Data-entry workers may make the best adventure racers. There’s a school of thought that says adventure racing makes you more resilient.
Resilience – the ability to tolerate discomfort. That certainly is REQUIRED for racing. Can you learn it while racing? Does this have cross-over benefits to ‘normal life’? In my experience, racing makes day to day existence and routines seem infuriatingly mundane and pointless. The discomfort of a six hour trek is understandable. The pain caused by clicking a mouse repetitively is unfathomable because, on its own, it’s such an inconsequential action. After each race associating with ‘normal people’ (who stand still on escalators to avoid effort when the whole point is to get where you’re going faster) more isolating. Like standing in a crowd of people with ear muffs on.
Understanding. Being with our own tribe. That’s why we race. Because the only people who really understand you are the other crazy nut-jobs on the beach thinking ‘this is going to be a long day…’. The ones who are taking nervous pre-race poos in the park gardens because the organisers have chosen a start line with a solitary toilet with zero understanding (or fucks given) of the effect of adrenaline on the gastrointestinal tract. Your family, friends and probably your partner have no idea what drives you to do these things. But everyone else who’s paid crazy amounts of money to do the event is at least as close to the truth as you are. Let’s face it, none of us REALLY know why we’re doing it. It just feels…right. More right than many other things in life right now.
|Waiting for gear, but we did get coffee. Not a bad spot to wait with 'my tribe'.|
And sometimes your work colleagues, who really have no clue, ask you questions about how you train, what trails you explore and they write that down. And the next weekend they go out and do something. Not 250 kms, but something more than nothing. And that’s pretty cool.
RACE IN A NUTSHELL
The actual race in a nutshell – lots of running on beaches. This shit has to be seriously curtailed because I think I’ve run the entirety of the New South Wales coast now. Find some mountains please. Some good mountain biking – no single track but enough technical, raw descending to be fun. Rogaine was tops, even with all the spiky things. Great game of strategy – take the long safe road or straight line through the bush? We did fairly well here but lingered too long at the Tiger Adventure transition area eating snags and sipping warm, sweet coffee. Comfort is a trap. Thumbs up to the sunrise paddle but major flaws in the logistics plan for this race with teams waiting up to 2 hours at TA for their gear. We ended up tied for 3rd after the racing was too close to rely on vollies wrist watches for time deducted for waiting for equipment.
I like to reflect on stuff that served me well (or not) during each race. Injinji socks were great – no blisters or numb feet. They can get a bit warm in races but are brilliant when stuff is wet and cold. My $50 pack I bought in 2015 finally died so I’ve invested in a new Salomon Skin Pro 15 (wildearth.com.au) and will review this after Hell’s Bells. Salomon S-Lab SGs were very confident over the wet rocks. I wore the more flexible Inov8s in the soft ground sections and the lugs were good but they are useless on rocks and tree roots.
I second guessed my food and paid the price. Too much sweet, processed garbage. I barely touched my Infinit because the weather was so cold I wasn’t drinking much of anything. Must make more of an effort next time. Back to basics for solids with sandwiches and dried fruit. Creamed rice and weetbix in a bag were solid, as always.
Truly horrendous conditions for the bikes. Ride Mechanic Bike Mix showed its superiority in keeping the chain clean and turning. The Liv Lust also has great clearance around the wheels (and RS1 fork) so they keep turning when mud starts to accumulate. Keep this in mind before buying that fancy Specialized. Just sayin…
Thanks to Flight Centre for getting my there and home.