Nathan Fa'avae, Team Captain for Team Seagate (and kiwi legend), reports on the latest Adventure Race.
The Team Seagate members emerging from the surf in this years 3rd Godzone Adventure Race.
I’d sum up the 3rd Godzone race as “A classic Kiwi Adventure Race, roast lamb and spuds, no artificial ingredients” A big mountain, big landscape and a big river, very few checkpoints, go for your life. Every stage was unique and the variety of terrain the course covered was about as diverse as one could expect in a race.
After a few disappointing performances in 2013 our team was eager to start the year with a solid performance and welcome Stu Lynch into the team in a positive way.
For me personally, the Godzone crept up quickly and I had some concerns going into the race regarding my fitness. I had a kite boarding accident over Christmas which knocked out nearly all of January nursing an injury. By February I needed to train promptly and decided the Kiwi Brevet bike endurance ride would be a good launch pad to Godzone.
During the 1130km epic I felt it was ideal training and an excellent platform. However, in the recovery days of the Brevet I was diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel syndrome in both hands which severely impacted what training I could so. Biking was ruled out as I hardly had the strength to hold the handle bars and running was even difficult as my hands and forearms didn’t posses enough strength to hold themselves up, I felt quite silly running about with my arms dangling next to me. Surprisingly, easy paddling was fine. As time went by, I started to regret having done the Brevet, the event itself was amazing, but the recovery from it was seriously inhibiting my ability to prepare for Godzone. I couldn’t even play golf properly but I did manage an eagle on a par five at Nelson. Closer to the race Sophie and I did a hiking / canoe training mission and I felt great, believing what I’d done had come together just in time.
We travelled to Kaikoura on the Wednesday, both keen to have some relaxing days before the event got underway. We went for a run around the peninsula when we got there discovering quickly that the coastal trail is also a huge seal colony, it turned into an interval training session with a few sprints away from the ‘anti-runner’ seal protestors.
Chris and Stu arrived the next day and we enjoyed a leisurely build up, made easy by the much appreciated and limited pre race requirements Godzone demand.
We’ve done so many races now we can get ready quickly which allows for a relaxed build up. Once we got the box plan a round of coffees later we knew what needed to go in each box so it was just a matter of fitting things in.
We didn’t do any training in the region pre race and it’s not our style to spend much time trying to guess the course but it’d be fair to say we expected Mount Tapuae-o-Uenuku, the Molesworth Station, Clarence River and some of the Kaikoura Coastline would make up large sections of the race. We felt there was a high chance we’d pass through Hanmer Springs at some stage in the race so we had money (coffee and pie funding) tucked into the first aid kit.
On Saturday morning of race day we were able to get the maps from 6am onwards. With a 1pm start we all agreed we didn’t need to be there at 6am, Chris suggested 8am but I felt that was a little late so we comprised with 7am. It turns out Chris was right, we could have banked an extra hour sleep as we had plenty of time.
The course plotting was easy with only one obvious route through the course that we could see. With Chris, Stu and I all having been lead navigators in World Championship winning races, it was pleasing to see we could all glance at the map and see the same thing, we really didn’t have any discussions over route choices. With maps plotted we cruised about town awaiting the start.
The course was about what we expected with the major surprise being the inclusion of the Hurunui. I was disappointed not to be paddling the Clarence again as it’s such an amazing river journey but the Hurunui was to be an adequate substitute, and better than the Waiau which I thought was the other option.
STRATEGY & COMPETITION
Going into the race we had to be confident of winning the race. Our results and experience can’t be denied plus our major goal for the year is the World Champs, so to have any chance of winning the World Champs in Ecuador we need to be winning races at home.
That said, we saw 4-5 teams all capable of racing close enough to us to be able to snatch a win should the opportunity arise. Our task was to close that window of opportunity.
We each shared our top 5 predictions, these were mine pre race, you can ask the other team members for theirs.
- 1st Seagate (us)
- 2nd Kathmandu XT
- 3rd Vida de Aventura
- 4th Absolute Wilderness
- 5th R&R Sport
I got the top 5 right, just the order wrong. I’d even go as far as say the calibre of athletes in the race was high enough to create a team capable of really pushing us, but they were scattered through a number of teams. New Zealand without a doubt has the talent to construct at least 3-teams of our level but I think Government support will be required to develop the elite end of the sport and ensure the all the top athletes are in teams for Godzone. It’ll be a day of immense celebration when Sport NZ tone down their Olympic Games obsession and acknowledge Adventure Racing, the state of the sport here, the global significance and reach the sport has. We’re one of those sports that has produced multiple World Championship Titles with absolutely zero support from our National Sporting organisation and they claim to be responsible for sport and recreation in New Zealand.
STAGE 1 & 2
The race started with the team splitting into pairs. Chris and Stu began with a 9km run around the Kaikoura Peninsula, the home of 6-million seals. The plan was for Sophie and I to kayak around and then swap with them, the boys to paddle back while we ran. The swell though was a bit lumpy so the kayak stage was shortened to a 6km loop in front of the township. Once off the water Sophie and I did the run and Chris and Stu paddled when they completed the run. Then we could enter the TA and get ready for stage 3. An uneventful stage saw us arrive back at the TA at exactly the same time. I was mildly concerned that the CTS in my arms and hands was not happy, my arms were completely dead after the kayak and the short swim to CP3.
We were first team out onto the 53km bike ride which was expected to take about 6-hours.
I wasn’t at all pleased with how I felt, my arms were so weak just holding the handle bars was challenging and the associated fatigue didn’t help. To make matters worse, the team were on fire and clearly enjoying getting going, suffer I must.
Once into the Puhi Puhi Valley climb I was starting to fall back so Chris took the bulk of gear from my pack and that helped a lot, at least I could keep up now. Expecting to be caught by chasing teams but not concerned by that either, we kept moving forward towards the hike-a-bike section. We stopped briefly to discuss options before committing ourselves to a route. These sections of a race are always a bit of a gamble but we believe if you stand around trying to decide what to do you lose whatever advantage you stood to gain, and if you’re on the shortest most direct line, chances are you’ll be fine. It does help too when one of your team mates gets more motivated when the bush gets densely thicker and visibility diminishes.
After a solid hour of bike carrying with Sophie singing Happy Birthday to herself we reached the top for a brake pad smoldering descent to the Clarence Valley and the TA, cutting it out in under 5-hours. The only delay being when Stu sliced a tyre open on a sharp rock.
Quite possibly the hardest trek I have done in an AR, while only 51km in length, the terrain between TA’s was up there in extremity. A high mountain pass, snow, freezing cold rivers to cross, very broken loose mountain rock to traverse, almost no trails. We were set to do a large part in darkness, wild and wet.
I struggled through most of the stage, having to focus on energy carefully. I needed to keep moving forward and not slow the team. Chris and Sophie had taken all but my essentials and I got down to work enduring a slow slog through some massive country. It clearly reinforced for me the fact my days of racing in a team of this calibre are counting down rapidly. I’m simply not the athlete I used to be (10-years ago) and that can be as much a challenge to digest as much as struggling through the task at hand. There are younger and faster athletes who will speed the team up and it certainly crossed my mind more than once how I might be able to facilitate that change, but there are a few complexities with the sponsorship that don’t allow that just yet. I still love the racing but I don’t want to end my career being a burden on what should be the best team in the world, so in the interim, they’ll have to lug me through a couple more events.
Hodder Hut was somewhat of a saving grace for me as we stopped for an hour sleep and I managed to eat a full meal. As the stage descended and the day came to life I started to pick
up. The closing hours of a long stage are always more pleasurable as the end is near and thoughts of a change of discipline are motivating. I was looking forward to getting on my bike and hoping the Kiwi Brevet training would return some reward.
The team did a great job of getting me through the stage, Chris was flawless in navigation with Stu doing a secure job of back-up navigator, Sophie was ultra strong lugging a huge pack through the stage. We ended the stage with well rationed food supplies all gone and people in high spirits.
We had no real idea how far in front we were but we guessed about 2-3 hours judging by the head lights we’d seen in the mountains in the last hours of darkness.
The Molesworth Station is an area that has always intrigued me. As an 18-year old it was the first place I went wilderness mountain bike touring, exploring some of the hidden valleys on the wide open expansive station. I was happy to be riding the 151km stage through to Hanmer Springs and up the Waiau Valley.
After a hearty resupply of some delicious hot food from the TA staff we started the ride enjoying a tail wind for the first 50km. Our legs were still loaded from the hike so the small but steep climbs on bikes didn’t see any astonishing times being produced. I was feeling good on the bike, Chris was excited and Sophie was riding strongly but yawning frequently. Stu was feeling the pinch a bit and getting sleepy so we decided to ride until dark and grab a sleep somewhere en route. The last of the sun was super hot and on an annoying angle, it seemed to be draining energy from us so when it finally got dark and cooled down our speed picked up. Into the Acheron Valley the scenery was majestic and we ticked the km’s by quickly. I thought this was an excellent stage coming off a long taxing trek. The nature of the riding was more like cycle touring and it allowed some recovery, personally I think this style of mountain biking is the ultimate, versus some epic
bike stage that really is another hike stage disguised as a bike section.
I loaded all my Revelate Bags up so I had all my gear on my bike and it felt superb.
Nearing the Clarence we decided an hour sleep would serve us well. Tent up and sleeping bags out. In an emergency our tent is fine for 4-people but for casual camping it’s really a 3-person tent so I crawled under a Matagouri Bush to sleep. After an hour we woke, everyone was cosy and warm so while we were sleeping well I suggested we grab another 30-60 minutes. We agreed another 30-minutes could be justified. Back to sleep and the bliss of lying down, I could feel the heat of recovery in my legs, ahhh. Minutes later I woke startled upright with Chris yelling “I can’t sleep! I think we should go! Let’s get up! Is anyone else keen to go!”.
Now wide awake we grumpily packed up and started riding. Hanmer passed by quickly and soon we were at the TA, stage complete. We took extra time in the TA to eat a decent amount of food. We had a big trek ahead of us and we knew if we ate a substantial meal before the stage it’d be less food we’d need to carry up onto the range.
The 38km Glynn Wye Range hike looked on the map to be a goodie. We planned an almost
direct route through to the next TA at the Hurunui River. We didn’t have any idea what was
happening behind us but we’d had a good ride and sensed we wouldn’t have conceded
anytime to the chasing teams.
We were aware though that while the teams behind may not be fixated on catching us, they were involved in a close race so their racing each other could be enough to eat into our lead. With a few hours of darkness left we figured we could race on, have the new energy of the day and sunlight get us through to the river. Knowing we had a full night sleep coming up was hugely pleasing. A few hours into the stage though we were jaded so we bunked down for an hour sleep.
This proved to be well worth it as we leapt to our feet and powered consistently to the end. It was a brilliant stage for us, interesting terrain, inspiring views and really different from the first trek. Chris did a smooth job of navigation and route finding. I was simply motivated to be getting a paddle in my hands. It seemed to me like we’d been racing for days hiking and biking and it was definitely time for a different discipline. It’d been a very hot afternoon high on the ridges so we enjoyed a few swims in inviting pools in the Jollie Brook, reaching the Hurunui we were all feeling strong and eager to get on the river.
The staff at the TA suggested to us we had quite a large lead but we could expect it to be reduced significantly overnight as teams would arrive at the darkzone throughout the night.
We had about 4-hours of daylight left so we needed to get as far down the river as possible. Apparently we had an 8-hour lead at that stage of the race but it was cut back to 3-hours by the following morning when the river opened.
We loaded up the boats with our camping gear for our much anticipated overnight stop. Packed into our gear boxes we had four 4-piece kayak paddles. This later created some discussion amongst some teams as to the whether it was within the event rules and the issue also created some dissension in our own team.
My personal view was that it was intended to be a canoe stage but within the context of the sport, taking additional equipment on stages is perfectly normal. Whether it be gaiters on a trek, saddle
bags on a bike stage, tow lines, extra clothing, carrying gear surplus to the mandatory list is common.
A huge part of racing is also dissecting each stage and thinking about how it can be done more efficiently and faster. With this in mind I knew kayak paddles would mean we would travel faster on the river. Don’t get me wrong about single bladed canoe paddling, I like it, in fact, I am one of a very small group of people in NZ who are qualified canoe instructors plus I race outrigger canoes, but the fact is simple, it’s slower so in a race environment it’s not the best option. I was aware though that it’s pushing the rules so I asked the Race Directors if it would be allowed and they said it would be. I also asked if we had our own paddles would we need to take the provided paddles and the answer was no. There was a sacrifice in that we had to leave gear out of our water boxes to fit the four paddles. We did also intend to take the 4-canoe paddles just to be safe but the TA staff made it very clear that we were not required to do that so we didn’t. Technically, we already had 8-canoe paddles on board so there seemed little point taking 12. I know for some people this type of thinking is pushing the rules to the edge but for me it’s more about innovation and a commitment to going fast through a course, it’s that attitude and mindset I believe that has set the Kiwi teams apart from the rest of the world for decades, our ability to think broadly about how something can be done better and quicker. I was pleased to see the other team that had kayak paddles was team Next Generation, it’s great to see a young team thinking that way. I am aware people will have different views on such matters and I respect that.
The upper Hurunui was fantastic and Maori Gully was a major highlight of the whole race, the quality of the whitewater and the scenery in the gorge, incredible.
Despite all getting cold as the sun set we pushed on until 8:30pm and found a serene campsite on an elevated terrace above the river. Soft deep grass under some trees, tents up, dry clothing, hot meals, 100% bliss. My definition from now on of the ultimate adventure race is that it will include a dark zone on a river. After a lovely evening meal (does not need to be said but I will anyway - Absolute Wilderness Freeze Dry) and wind down we soaked up a full 8-hour sleep.
Morning came and back on the river, we still had a good flow in the river but it was noticeably dropping. Hours went by as we paddled to the sea. We had a splendid day on the water but still enjoyed smelling the salty sea air and seeing the finish of the stage.
After a slow and very social transition, the GZ Race Directors were at the TA as well as my wife and children. We spun onto the road for a quick 25km bike stage through Gore Bay, feeling good and appreciating being on the coast. Tempting as it was to detour into Cheviot for a coffee we kept going to the end of the stage, we wanted to get through as much of stage 9 as we could in
daylight and we felt awesome after a full nights sleep.
Lasties! We were excited to be on the final countdown, the last hike. This stage was 25km with a distinct rogaine feel to it, mainly because of the CP placements but also because we have done a number of rogaines on the same land before. Chris was eager and excited about the stage, the navigation was intricate enough for strong navigators to apply their craft. We were all feeling great so we ran as much as we could, getting as much distance done before nightfall. Low fog made the navigation more tricky but Chris welcomed the challenge, he was even hoping the fog would stick around until darkness so visibility would be next to zero. We had fun on this stage and our time a tad over 6-hours reflected that.
The penguin we ran past on the beach watched on with a puzzled look on it’s face. It was really special to be at sea level, it felt like the journey we’d been on for 3-days was completing a whole circuit.
The Spy Glass Point high security poo farm. Electric fences, barbed wire, hundreds of gates and tons of fresh poo. Light rain fell turning the final 38km bike stage to a mud and poo parade. Some tricky navigation, covered head to toe in runny poo (cow poo mainly) we finally exited onto the road for a few final km’s of poo flicking into our faces riding to the TA. We could see the town lights of Kaikoura, the finish was very much in sight and to top off a terrific race, we were about to go paddling.
Only 26km of the 520km trip remained. Another very leisurely transition and we finally got into the kayaks. I think sub consciously we were delaying getting on the water until it was light but that was still a few hours off so in the black of the night we launched the kayaks into the ocean.
Conditions were close to perfect as we paddled to the finish line in Kaikoura. Accompanied by a safety boat wouldn’t go down as a highlight of the race, engine noise and petrol fumes detracting from what was a still and peaceful night paddle, such is the modern era of safety. It did seem ironic given we’d got through the first 494km unaccompanied. That said, amid confused instructions drowned by a jet motor, we did have quite a few laughs with Wayne and Sam on the safety boat as we both negotiated our vessels around the peninsula in the darkness, I reckon they were pleased we were there had they got in trouble. I think we paddled an extra 4km and in the end as we were heading towards Wellington, we pleaded with Wayne, “Can we please go the finish now?”
Much to our delightful surprise quite a crowd of supporters had gathered on the beach, we felt bad for keeping them waiting. Out of the kayaks and over the finish line. All done.
It was now time to watch the clock. Pre race the media had suggested that we would win by over 12-hours, while that wasn’t our view, Chris and I did accept that as a bit of a challenge and quietly kept that in mind. It was time to watch the clock and see if we’d pulled it off. It was equally exciting watching the race for 2nd unfolding.
FISH & CHIPS
A much loved Kiwi delicacy and even more so in Kaikoura with fresh fish caught daily. Our anticipated feed did not disappoint as we sat on the beach enjoying a fry as we watched and celebrated the 2nd, then 3rd and then 4th placed teams, all friends of ours finishing the race. It was great to see them cross the line, the emotion, team spirits, jubilation and some pathetic surf landings.
We had a calm committed race, it wasn’t free of incident but we didn’t have any issues or errors. Chris was spot on with precision navigation (bar one 50-metre back track). Stu fitted in easy with the team and his depth of experience and ability was clearly seen and felt. Equally, we missed Trev from the team who has stepped back from expedition racing for a stint. I have no doubt we would have had the same outcome and result with Trev racing. Sophie had a minimal and comprised build up to Godzone this year but she displayed her mastery of the sport delivering an impeccable performance. Stu commented the sport would have a lot harder racing if every team had a Sophie.
The Godzone race has become a highlight of the year for our team. We like it because it is highly well organised, it runs to time and things (controls) are where they are meant to be. It’s always a well planned and thought out race course, with a high level of expertise working behind the scenes. New Zealand does lend itself exceptionally well to adventure racing so that combined with the sensible decision making from Adam, Ian, Warren and their greater team, the event simply stands heads and shoulders above nearly all events on the calendar, from my experience, only a couple of other event promoters have got close to the level Godzone is operating at.
Kaikoura was a hard course but a very rewarding one. It was a race course that could be enjoyed if one was feeling good. While I was suffering at times, I was never bored, the course was dynamic and engaging, it demanded skill and asked the participants to step up. It was beautiful and rugged.
My mantra in my darkest moments - “don’t wish it were easier - wish you were better”
Round two of the AR World Series. May, South Africa.
I’d like to thank my personal sponsor Bowater Toyota plus team sponsors:
Rocky Mountain Bicycles
Absolute Wilderness Freeze Dry Meals
Nordenmark Map Holders
Louis Garneau Helmets
Platypus Drinking Systems