Adventurous alternative

This ‘report’ was written by Nick Cowley for the newsletter of his running club, Varsity Kudus, in an attempt to “woo my hardcore fanatical road-running clubmates into trying alternative stuff like AR’s”. He adds, “It’s based mainly on the Kinetic race at Pelindaba last weekend, but is a bit of a composite, as some elements like the ‘tight-rope walk’ are actually derived from the only two other AR’s I have done”.

The Willy Wonka’s stood on one side of me and my partner, the Speedy Sluts on another, all shivering as we waited for the action to erupt. No, I wasn’t taking part in some group activity at an Adult World, but what is known as an Adventure Race. We were shivering because the venue was Paddle Power, the people who run trips on the Crocodile River close to Necsa’s site at Pelindaba – and that close to the river on a winter’s Sunday morning, it was distinctly nippy.

Some 90 teams of 2 or 3, uni-gender or mixed – with self-chosen and rather colourful names – set off at the gun along the first of seven legs, a trail run through the thorny bushveld of the Magaliesberg foothills. We had to punch cards at Control Points, as in Orienteering – the difference being that when you reached the right area as per your map, the C.P. is highly visible and obvious, whereas the Orienteering people often tend to hide it frustratingly out of sight.

The running leg was followed by a cycle on undulating dirt roads or single tracks in the foothills, with much use of your MTB’s gears required. My partner’s chain broke, which meant I had to do this leg alone – luckily the navigation was straightforward, although there were clearly some teams with little knowledge of how maps and terrain correlate.

Bikes were left at the start, which also served as a transition area, and then there was a quick paddle on plastic kayaks (supplied by the organisers) across the Croc, another trail along its banks, and a re-crossing. After that came the most ‘fun’ leg – a cycle on dirt roads and a brief bit of tar to the grounds of Amazingwe Lodge, where we embarked on a Zipline’. This is really a glorified version of the ‘foefie-slides’ of our youth.  

You climb a high tower, and helpers harness to one of a set of double cables sloping down the valley below. You don a large glove suitable for falconry (and there are large raptor birds sharing the sky with you), which is used for braking yourself on the other line – though the idea, of course, is to brake as little as possible. Then away you go, whizzing exhilaratingly down the valley, with a bit of forest canopy below- and as with a bungee jump, it ends just when all fear is gone and you’re really enjoying it.

 Then came more cycling back to Paddle Power, a longer kayak trip for a kay up a very cold Croc and then back with the current, (canoeists would have liked this to be longer), and finally an obstacle course. This first involved a tightrope-style walk along a pole suspended a meter off the ground. The majority of athletes were too balance challenged to walk upright, and preferred to crouch and use their hands – palaeontologist Kris could have reached some interesting conclusions about the tenuousness of our advance from primate quadripedalism. A last rope-climb up a three-metre wall and jump off it – luckily on a soft inflatable jumping castle-like structure where you couldn’t get hurt – and we were done. My partner and I had taken some 3 1/2 hours to do the 25-km course of assorted disciplines, about double the time of the winners, and we were far from last.

They do have other disciplines – short abseiling and, in summer, swimming or rock-hopping on a river. All in all,  Aventure Racing or ‘AR’ is great fun if you want a change from mindless plodding of the tar. I didn’t see many familiar faces, only our old clubmate Amy, but runners should try it. And I’m sure we could come it with a better team name – the organiser almost choked when he had to present a women’s team prize to the Speedy Sluts, and appealed for more dignified and inventive choices suitable to the sport – how about the Kudu Klamberers? 

Author: Nick Cowley