Eishh, ouch and BRRRRR

Compulsory Disclaimer: As requested by the race organisers, this race report is not intended to be empty words of praise nor honey-coated humour – it is intended to provide new-comers to the sport with some good solid AR advice, perhaps long-forgotten tips to experienced racers and also some honest feedback to the race organizers themselves.

So, let’s be honest to ourselves: The thought of paddling in the middle of night, in the middle of winter did not exactly *warm *me up to the prospect of doing this race. But Hardy’s promise of ‘old school adventure racing’ (shudder running down my spine at the prospect of it) reminded a very race-rusty Team A2A that this is exactly the crazy kind of thing that Mr Darron Raw would dream up for Swazi X – which immediately brought us to the conclusion that doing this race should be considered compulsory Swazi race
preparation… and besides – it’s a club race for novices: a mild introduction into the niceties of AR – right? Errr – not quite!

Team A2A had a nightmare of a first paddling leg, with the low levels of visibility not helping one bit – we swam twice on our way to the first transition, ran up and down a mountain soaked to the bone and then took another swim on our way back, with some splendid bush-wacking portages thrown into the mix.

Warning to novices and reminder to experienced racers: Never make any assumptions about the difficulty level of a race based upon ‘subjective’ pre-race perceptions or even advice from experienced AR friends…

For example: Even though the race was said to be geared towards novice racers – if you are not a river-proficient paddler, then paddling at night on a river is going to be extremely tough and probably very dangerous! You should never assume that you will be safe and that it should be reasonably do-able, just because you are in a race environment. Adventure racing is a dangerous sport, and the race organisers cannot watch over your shoulders every second of the race. You are responsible for your own safety,
as well as that of your team mates. This should always be your first consideration. There is also no grading system for the difficulty levels of adventure racing – it is highly subjective.

And this is where my feedback comes in to the race organisers: our team was one of the ‘more experienced’ teams in the field… I am soooo glad this was not my first adventure race, because it was really, really tough. Be careful that your years of experience do not taint your perception of the difficulty level that you’re putting out there into the field.

Adventure racing in Gauteng often becomes glorified off-road duathlons due to our limited access to safe rivers and open water to paddle on. Congratulations and thank you to the race organisers for coming up with a race location that included this into the mix. We are so direly in need of this in Gauteng.

Tip / Reminder nr 2: Paddling is one of the major disciplines in adventure racing – and you cannot afford to neglect it if you
want your team to perform well in a long-distance AR. Strong paddling skills might just give you that competitive edge in a race.

Back in transition, it was nearly daybreak and we realised with dismay that we hadn’t even progressed a third of the length of the race during the course of the night. It took all our will power and determination to motivate us back into the cold for the next leg of the race.

Tip / reminder nr 3: Once you’ve got all the racing disciplines under the belt, you need to realise that you need a seriously strong mindset to succeed in adventure racing. Race leg distances can sometimes be misleading, and when things start to go wrong you need to be able to dig deep and stay focused on the bigger picture. If your 10km hike turns into a 3 hour slog, don’t give up. Support your team mates by staying positive (being especially supportive towards the navigator, even though you think he needs to be sacked). Take time to rest and regroup.

Our perseverance was rewarded by a spectacular sunrise. Ultimately motivated by the heat of the sun and the living sensation returning to our cold limbs, we decided to grab the race by the scruff of its neck and finish it!

Arriving at the bike / paddle transition, we finally figured out what the Hoonatand was all about: having to make the very difficult decision of taking the chicken run to bike back to race start, or facing 15k’s of paddling again. We bravely undertook to face the waters again (with some surprising good luck over the first few rapids – awesome stuff!!) – but after having been spitted out by the river a few times and facing inpenetrable portaging sections, we realised that we would be spending more time hanging on to our capsized boats / or bush-whack portaging – with the prospect of never seeing the river again – than actually paddling down the
river and we reluctantly returned to our bikes (an extra 3k hike) and raced back on our bikes to transition for the final trekking leg.

Final tip / reminder then: Back at race start we learnt that only 3 /4 teams were still doing the official race distance at this point. Had we forced ourselves to finish the paddle and continued into the night with our final trekking leg, we would have probably finished in a good position overall. I’ve learned over the years, and was again reminded of this, that strange things happen in Adventure Races. The race isn’t over until you cross the finish line and despite the fact that you may think that your team isn’t doing too well, you do not know what the others are going through and your team may be doing much better than you thought!

One element that we found lacking though was some good mountain biking sections – especially coming from the Dark n Dirty crowd. but all in all we had some excellent pre-Swazi training. Thanks a million for being out there in the bushes and giving us the  opportunity to have a good time and put in some quality training we wouldn’t otherwise have been able to. So, herewith then congratulations to the Tshwane AR club team for coming up with a race combining some of the tougher elements of AR racing within the confined space of 60km’s of racing! That is quiet an impressive feat. Not to mention the fantastic atmosphere with fires, coffee, welcoming smiles and great sponsors!

Author: Adele Esterhuizen | Team A2A | Ystervark en Hoona Tand | 9-10 July 2010 | Wilge River, near Verena