Two consecutive weekends, two consecutive crossings of the Pailolo Channel and 54 miles of racing from the islands of Maui to Molokai.
Two very different races, two very different conditions and one consistent result.
Self supported, aiming for the an outline in the distance these races are as much an exercise in skill and navigation as they are athletic prowess.
For those that are not from these shores, these channel crossings requiring a mix of navigation, surfing skills and fitness are where the real challenge lies.
As we formed the start line between the official boat and a buoy anchored in the water in the sheltered emerald waters of Honolua Bay on Maui’s western shores we could see the wind line forming in front of us.
Having been across this channel last weekend and had one of the best downwind runs in memory I was excited for another chance to surf my way from one island to another.
With two events crossing two weekends, many had opted to do the latter of the two. Those that had raced the previous weekend were the lucky ones, treated to an epic crossing and an equally epic welcoming party and hospitality on the other side.
With a big field and the Aussie invasion of Maui in full effect, the pace was on from the gun. It’s also where the fields split in these events – typically right from the gun as some choose to take a high line, others choosing to go more south to get into the bump sooner. One way or another, all roads lead to Rome and it’s crazy how after not seeing anyone for miles you all converge on the same place to finish.
If last weekend was a hero run, this week you had to work for it. The wind had a lot of north in it, the tidal variation was small and going against us which meant the water was really sticky.
The first 10 miles were great and then the hard stuff started. It was hot, it was sticky and the water was in a confused state. As the miles clicked over and we wrapped around the eastern side of Molokai the wind lined up, the swells stacked up and the bump started to run again. It was good but each time my watch beeped to say another mile had passed it was definitely running slower than the previous week.
Without doubt the hardest part of these races is the navigation. Picking your line and trying to pick the fastest line is the make or break when all other things are equal. Should you go a little further south, should you stay inside? It’s a hard question to answer when you have no idea if there are other people around as the swells are higher than a lot of houses so seeing a glimpse of anyone is nigh on impossible at times.
As the long rectangular roof of the wharf building at Kaunakakai Harbour came into view I hotted up my line to skip over the reef to the finish off the end of the pier. In so many sports you know if you won or not, but races like this, if you’ve been separated from your competition you really have no idea. If you can’t see anyone or haven’t seen anyone – you’re either a hero or a total flunk. As I crossed the line I was pleasantly surprised to be advised that my efforts had been enough to win, although I was fast debriefing on what I needed to do differently if I were to do it over again. As always it was less about the result and more about the outcomes to learn and gain from.
It’s not a lie that these events are somewhat of a logistical nightmare. Starting and finishing on different islands brings it’s own unique set of challenges. You need to have a boat ride back to the start for both you and your board, you’ll get dropped at the wharf which is about 20minutes from where you started, so you needed have thought through how you’re going to shuttle cars. Anything you want at the finish (which needs to be minimal) needs to be on a dry bag and paddled out to a boat before the start.
In many ways, this jigsaw puzzle of logistics and organisation is half the fun and twice the appeal. If it were easy everyone would do it right?
So there we have it. Two weekends, two crossings of the Pailolo Channel, two wins, but two very different races.
And if you’re wondering why there’s been two races from Maui to Molokai in two weeks, I’ll give you the short hand version. The organisers of the two events used to work together to produce one event. There was a falling out and one event is now run by Molokai and one event is now run from the Maui side. Regardless of who’s running what, the athletes and paddlers are the winners. The Pailolo Channel is possibly the best downwind channel crossing in the world period. And now there’s two races in two consecutive weekends. I’d say that’s a winner straight out of the gate.
You can read about this year’s Maui2Molokai event in the Maui News here and on SupRacer.com here
Two days, 37 miles of racing. It sounds a lot doesn’t it?
Add deep blue Hawaiian waters, warmth and 20 knots of trade winds blowing from behind.
Yes, it’s officially downwind season in Hawaii, the trade winds are blowing and one huge month of downwind racing kicked off with the M2Molokai Challenge this past weekend.
Two days of racing, one channel crossing and one of the all time classic downwind runs in Hawaii.
July normally sees one crossing of the Pailolo Channel that runs between the west side of Maui and the east side of Molokai. It’s known as the best downwind run in the Hawaiian chain and this month we get two cracks at this all time classic crossing.
Channel crossings are synonymous with all paddle sports in the Pacific. From Tahiti to Hawaii, people have been crossing oceans and channels harnessing the power of the trades and riding their swells to get from one place to another.
Navigation on these channel crossings is as big a part as downwind surfing skills, preparation and fitness. I’ve done this run once before and while it’s an epic run, due to the lay of the land it’s easy to get somewhat disoriented and easily end up off course.
Add in coming to grips with 18′ of board, self supporting yourself across (with no escort boat) and navigating your own line, it’s a true test of the downwind athlete.
The real story of the M2Molokai Challenge didn’t lie in the hosting of an all time epic channel crossing, but the chance to truly experience just what it means to spend a weekend on Molokai.
In what was likely one of the most memorable greetings in recent times, I crossed the finish line, paddled over to the wharf to be greeted by the young girls of the local canoe club jumping off the wharf and into the water to greet me. From that point, only one thing was appropriate – jumping off the dock hand in hand.
But the action was not contained to one day. M2Molokai was staged as a two day event to give people the opportunity to paddle their world famous Kamalo Bouy run, one of the most perfectly lined up downwind runs anywhere in the world and 10 miles of surfing down the eastern coast of Molokai.
Sure it’s a race, but weekends like this (and downwind season in general) are about so much more than the result. It’s about the sharing of experiences. It’s about getting back to the roots of why you do things and sharing it with others.
It brings together a bunch of people that may otherwise never meet, to experience places they may never visit. For many, it’s the culmination of months of preparation and the realisation of a long held dream. It’s a special bond and one that is shared by many.
With weekend 1 in the bag, we now look forward to the next three consecutive weekends of downwind racing with another crossing of the Pailolo Channel in the Maui 2 Molokai Race , the Poi Bowl (down Maui’s infamous Maliko Run) all culminating in Molokai 2 Oahu across the Kaiwi Channel between the island of Molokai and Oahu.
This month everyone has their own journey. Many people will have travelled from all over the world. Months of preparation, sacrifice and dedication have gone in prior to making it to Hawaii. It’s a month that will humble you to the core. It’s a month of respect for the elements, the ocean, all your competition and all the athletes who have embarked on this undertaking.
You can find all the photos, videos and happenings of the M2Molokai Challenge here
You can follow the day to day happenings downwind month on my Instagram
At the risk of sounding cliche, there’s something about hitting the mid point in the year.
Wind the clock back six months and I was in a state of confusion and frustration.
The only thing I committed to was to live by the mantra of ‘Do Epic Shit’.
It’s been six months of rolling with the punches, diving into the unknown, embracing challenge, finding solutions and hustling like no tomorrow.
I took the leap of faith to go it alone, to live to my own set of rules – a stoically entrenched set of values that I knew I couldn’t deviate from.
If I was to continue to put my heart and body on the line, I had to be ALL IN. I had to back myself as how could I expect anyone else to have confidence in me if I didn’t have confidence in myself.
As today marks my kiwi birthday, the 4th of July celebrations in the United States and poignantly sits just after the mid point in the year, it’s fitting to cast a look back to see how taking the leap of faith and throwing myself in the deep end has paid off.
It’s challenged my like you have no idea. I’ve destroyed a shoulder, broken some ribs and had to suck it up. Like a bugger for punishment I decided to race my bike and throw my self into multisport as well as racing on the water. At the same time I’ve been neck deep in building a house at home and managing that from afar.
There have been more than a few moments of holy shit and hesitation. That feeling of having a lump in your throat wondering if you’re making the right decision to do or not to do. It’s pushed me, it’s challenged me and I’ve found a few new boundaries in the process that I didn’t know I had.
As America celebrates it’s birthday of independence on July 4th, it also signifies my kiwi birthday falling on the other side of the date line.
Ever guilty of being focussed on the future at the expense of celebrating the small things along the way, here’s a few moments and memories to celebrate one fine day in America and reaching another year older. Here’s a few of the many moments that have made 2017 a year that I know I’ll never forget
Big days out in the hills running the dates with mates programme
3 Weeks Notice Before 2 Days of Hell around the mountains of Wanaka, NZ at Red Bull Defiance
Red Bull Defiance in Wanaka, NZ on January 21st, 2017
Red Bull Defiance in Wanaka, NZ on January 21st, 2017
Red Bull Defiance in Wanaka, NZ on January 22nd, 2017
Team Stand Up Chance, Annabel Anderson and Sam Thompson perform at Red Bull Defiance in Wanaka, New Zealand on January 21, 2017
Red Bull Defiance in the Wanaka, NZ on January 22, 2017
Red Bull Defiance in Wanaka, NZ on January 22nd, 2017
7x Consecutive NZ National SUP Titles – and a cyclone to boot
Did someone say #raceface? Any excuse to chew some dirt and throw some dust
Red Bull Defiance in Wanaka, NZ on January 21st, 2017
5x Consecutive Carolina Cup Victories
The year of events in extreme weather continued with the added bonus of a win at the Olukai on Maui
Last minute trips to paddle 30 miles around Bermuda and another win over the boys
The infamous Davenport Downwinder & a victory over the boys
A first trip to the Go Pro Mountain Games in Vail, Co. 11x events, 4 days, 2nd in the Ultimate Mountain Challenge and being sent to some very dark places on repeat to find some new depths that I didn’t know existed
A chance to celebrate everything that is Live Like Jay at the Jay Moriarty Memorial Race in Santa Cruz, Ca with the one and only Kim Moriarty
While the first half of 2017 may be in the bag, there’s a monster of a second half of 2017 to contend with.
The month of July sees me in Maui, HI taking on four consecutive weekends of downwind races including three channel crossings culminating in Molokai 2 Oahu on July 30.
Looking ahead to September I have finally (for the first time in 5 years) said yes to taking up my position on the NZ SUP team to compete in the ISA SUP & Prone World Champs in Denmark from September 1-10. After turning down my place on the team in previous years for various different reasons, this year I have said yes. Like the rest of my year, this is also a self funded trip. If anyone would like to support in any kind of way, please get in touch.
To everyone who has supported, helped and assisted so far – THANK YOU. It takes a VILLAGE and it’s a village I’m proud to have behind me.
I was quoted last week as saying “to win once is hard”, “to win consistently is just plain tough”.
Life is cyclical and throws many curve balls at us when we least expect them.
In Olympic sports, athletes peak mentally and physically in a four year cycle, allowing a period of recovery at the end of each cycle before gathering themselves towards the next olympiad.
When you compete in non-Olympic sports which don’t operate on a four cycle, we don’t have the same space to recover and recharge. Everything is condensed and the expectation of delivering year upon year is real and it’s tough.
This past week was my fifth trip to the island of Wrightsville Beach on the coast of North Carolina.
For the past 5 years every Easter has signalled the end of the kiwi summer and flying half way around the world on countless flights bound to kick off my international season at the Carolina Cup.
How this small outpost on the Atlantic Coast came to be home to the largest annual gathering of stand up paddling is testimony to a small group of passionate locals who decided to invite the world to their waters to test them on what is possibly the toughest and most technically demanding course of the year.
The end of April signals the start of Spring in the northern hemisphere, but if the north winds are blowing the winds are chilling and the waters still frigid. If the south winds have been prominent the weather is considerable more temperate.
In my five trips to North Carolina, I think I’ve now experienced every possible mood of weather and as such come prepared for anything and everything.
If it’s your first year at ‘the Cup’, you have next to know idea what to expect other than the stories you’ve been told, the footage you’ve seen and what you’ve read, but nothing really prepares you for that first experience.
Unless you’re a local who boats, surfs and paddles these waters year round it’s nigh on impossible to truly understand the course and the affects of the weather in this part of the world.
The wind is fickle, Masonborough Inlet is notorious, the currents are strong and well….let’s just say that you’re going to quickly love to hate the grind of Intra Coastal Waterways (ICWW).
In all five editions that I’ve done, each year has been different. The first two years went South first meaning that we had to punch out through an incoming inlet to get the open ocean, the past three years we’ve gone north and surfed our way through.
But if I’m to make a call on what year the conditions have been the hardest, it would likely be 2017.
Saturday morning greeted us with a howling southerly blowing up the beach. As is the case with this race, they will send you in the direction that the wind is blowing on the ocean side to maximise a downwind portion of the race. While this might seem fun, the stronger the wind blows, the stronger that wind is to bash into up the back waters of the ICWW.
It’s the type of course that the conditions dictate how your going to play out your race. Regardless of if you’re starting to finish, to starting with the aim of finishing at the pointy end, the conditions will dictate how the race will play out. And this year, as I suspected, that is exactly what happened.
Coming into a race, I don’t think I’ve ever been so relaxed. I’m not sure why, but for some reason I was overcome with a sense of calm.
I’d arrived a couple of days early to catch up with good friends, to share laughter and reminisce. I had little expectation other than to have funned to enjoy.
As the first major of the international season this event comes with a lot of external expectations for many from supporters, sponsors and an industry.
Having paid my way, I felt significantly lightened from some of the burden of expectations to deliver what has become an expected result in previous years.
Walking the beach early on Saturday morning, I could feel the wind building and the intensity of the weather increasing.
No one could ever call a year at Carolina Cup ‘normal’, but these conditions were definitely the most extreme that I’d experienced and I knew that this would play a significant factor into how the race played out.
As the outriggers and surf skis, prone paddlers and elite men tore downwind, I quickly changed my position on the start line sighting what I saw was a more direct route to the turning buoy sitting just past the breakers.
If there was a day that playing your game to the conditions would reign, this year was it.
The end of the outgoing tide made getting in through the inlet far slower than previous years and based on my calculations, I knew that we were going to get slammed head on against the incoming tide as we made our way up the ICWW.
20-25 knots on the nose against the tide for the best part of 7-8 miles is probably not your idea of weekend fun. Judging by the failing form of the draft trains of guys I made ground on and passed, they weren’t finding it much fun either (as girls we paddle a shorter board than the men).
There was the odd moment of reprieve from the wind as the course wound around the waterways, but never from the incoming tide.
If the first part of the ICWW broke people, the second half destroyed them. Making our way past the Sound side of the Blocade Runner Hotel and past the welcome cheers of everyone watching from bridges and docks the wind and currents intensified.
Being shown the footage of what it looked like from a drone, it looked like we were creeping against an escalator moving in the opposite direction.
Having towed talented young hitter Fiona Wylde past trains of men for over an hour with a couple of moments of reprieve, I knew that I wanted to keep the pace on as I didn’t have a time gap as to where the next girls were behind us.
Having bided my time, just past the crowds I decided it was time to go. Within moments I’d broken, blown past the men in front and put daylight on them.
But this is where this race gets interesting and likely acquired it’s name ‘The Graveyard’. This is a race which breaks people in ways which they least expect it. People cramp, they drop their gels, the run out of water. It will usually happen when you get into the later stages of this race. From that point on, it’s no longer a race, but a battle of survival to make it to the finish as many of the pre-race favourites in the men’s event will attest to.
Coming into the 2017 edition of Carolina Cup, I had little idea of where my form was. It’s been a pretty disrupted off season, particularly in the past couple of months. A couple of nasty stacks landing on my shoulder racing my mountain bike, some badly banged up ribs and the most horrific summer weather on record my pre-season preparation on the water was limited and life on a day to day basis was summed up as being ‘suck-it-up-buttercup’ painful. To be able to do what I wanted to when I wanted to was extremely satisfying.
I’m not lying when I say that my pursuits were without a paddle. It was a case of making the most of what I had on my doorstep and kicking some life goals in the process.
While the post event headlines have been about five-in-a-row, this past weekend signifies so much more.
I’ve been challenged in many ways the past few months, but I still turned up and still did what I knew I was capable of.
It’s been unconventional and far from ideal, but it’s dealing with the curve balls that keeps you on your toes while building tenacity and resilience. It’s not about delivering when the times are easy, it’s being able to get it done when currents of life get a bit turbulent.
What I do know is that I had a truck load of fun this past week and that the fun train will be in full force and rolling for the months to come.
Five consecutive wins at Carolina Cup is no accident and a lot of people have been a part of helping make this happen.
Number 5 is for you, thank you for your continued support.
To those that helped this weekend – thank you. Without your help, this would have been considerably harder
A few to mention:
Mahiku Activewear – I’ve worn my Black Mamba tights religiously at this event since 2014
Betty Designs – for always channelling one’s inner bad ass
Running Skirts – the most epic long sleeve crops to keep the sun off and chafing at bay
CamelBak – always ensuring I have fail safe hydration systems that stand up to the task
Brian Szymanski – creating boards that are more works of art than pieces of foam and fibre glass
ZRE – the paddles I’ve used since the very beginning
NSP – for making me welcome and part of your posse all weekend long, it was a lot of fun!
The Blocade Runner Hotel – incredible hospitality
Katie & Patty – it just wouldn’t be the Carolina Cup with out you two!
On It Pro – always ensuring that my boards make it to the line in ship shape and looking pristine
Chris from Carolina Paddleboard Co – thank you so much for your help with logistics
Spencer, SUP ATX – coordinating shipping and making sure everything arrived on time
Greg Panas – always there to capture the shot and shoot the shit on the problems of the world
I swear that Christmas feels like it was a couple of weeks ago. Blink a couple of times and Easter is upon us already.
While most people look forward to the leisurely days of this Autumn vacation, for the past 7 years it has always signalled the change of the seasons, that my time at home is coming to an end and the climax of my annual pack down.
Garage floors become littered with a paraphernalia of sporting equipment and piles of kit forms in like for like piles. One day I’ll learn to stick to singular activities which don’t involve copious amounts of gear. But that would be like asking the Pope if he is Catholic (it’s Easter after all).
Less is more and while I advocate a such an approach when it comes to possessions and consumerism, it still takes time to go through all your worldly possessions and evaluate if they stay or if they go.
So every Easter instead of battling the holiday motorway gridlock, I stay local and organise…then re-organise my life over and over again until I have it down to the final edit. Once the final edit is festooned into packing cells, it makes it to the bags and boxes ready for takeoff.
Given a 23kg weight limit per bag, packing for multiple pursuits and multiple locations and attempting to avoid all unnecessary baggage fees this is a cryptic jigsaw in itself.
I refer to it as therapy, and there’s some weird kind of satisfaction that comes with the art of ‘precision packing’ as I #kondo the crap out of anything and everything that has made the final piles.
It’s the same kind of satisfaction you get from closing in on the final few pieces of a 1000 piece jigsaw while the mind wanders on the happenings of another summer; the highs, the lows and the challenges.
And trust me, this past summer had plenty of all of them.
If you’re from New Zealand – especially the South Island, you’ll be well aware that summer forgot to turn up. Instead of baking in searing dry heat in the Southern Lakes District, December and January will be remembered for their precipitation, snow and unseasonal wearing of down. If you bought bikinis in the hope of a tan, you won’t need to buy any next summer as these ones are yet to see the light of day.
In search of summer, I jettisoned north to the warmer isle in search of sun, surf, sand and warmth. Instead I arrived to relentless torrential rain and a forecast that bore the rain symbol for the next ten days straight.
I got wet, and have pretty much stayed wet or somewhat damp for the past two months.
Many a training session turned into ‘victory-at-sea’.
Countless rides got rain checked and a couple of stacks off my bike plus a miss-timed ejection from a wave meant a painful couple of months nursing a semi-destroyed shoulder and banged up ribs. Oh the fun of it all.
Like every year, you’ll always be challenged by something and this year is was definitely the weather and having to eat concrete for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
As each storm has torn it’s path, it would be easy to forget that there were some moments that fell into the monumental category and worthy of a mention.
Arriving home at the end of October, I went into lock down in an attempt to get my house build finally underway. After the months delays of courtesy of the Queenstown Lakes District Council Easier this was easier said than done. But come late November contracts were signed and the heavy machinery ensure that it was acton stations and all systems go pre-Christmas.
I’m not going to lie, I had a vision….and I had a budget, both of which don’t easily match in the same sentence. Project House was mildly all consuming but like anything, if you’re going to do it, you might as well do the best job of it.
Now that is two thirds completed, I’ve being rewarded with seeing the fruits of that effort as the structure takes shape and my vision comes to life (courtesy of pics from Mum and Dad). It’s not trying to be anything fancy, but as anyone in the land of milk and honey knows, this kind of project is now nigh on impossible with the influx of people also wanting to move and live in paradise inflating owning a house to official Paradise Tax status.
On the physical side, nothing really resembled ‘training’ per se and followed a protocol of ‘dates with mates’ on bikes, boards, up hills, down dales, through snow storms, across lakes, staying in back country huts, camping atop mountains, paragliding and putting my hand in the ring to tackle masochistic sporting events with little idea of what I was getting myself into. Anyone up for 2 days of running around the hills for 14hrs in the biggest summer snow storm anyone can remember? You get the picture of how the dates-with-mates programme rolls.
You can train the body or you can train the mind. It’s my time in the deep south that has a habit of doing both by default. In fact you’ll be hard pressed to find me even mentioning the word training. It’s about getting out amongst the landscape and disappearing for hours at a time in search of mind blowing vistas and the thrill of feeling like you’re standing on top of the world or shrouded by towering mountain ranges. Often times it was also a case of hanging on for dear life to avoid being blown off ridges, remaining upright and making it home in one piece.
Missions are the things I live for and if the phone goes at a moments notice, there’s only ever one answer…yes and it’s all systems go.
Wanaka is the kind of place where close to everything you do is dictated by the weather and you need an arsenal of toys and ways to play to ensure the extra long days of summer can be enjoyed to their maximum. The byproduct of this environment is that it tends to attract a lot of people who value and live for the same highs and regardless of summer’s dismal behaviour, the memories forged from many a mission are what remains indented in your memory.
It’s this love of doing that will always keep drawing me back and seeking out new places to explore and new ways to interact with the environment. To run, to ride, to paddle, to surf, to coach and to compete.
As I took a break from the final stretch of packing last night to escape for a couple of hours paddling into the sunset of Auckland’s upper harbour, the sun’s rays cast rays shooting in a perfect circle against the harbour bridge.
As I passed Watchman’s Island I turned downwind with the last of the setting sun at my back to be greeted with the lights of the city scape glistening against the night sky. It was pitch black by the time I made it back to where I’d started, guided by the ambient light twinkling on the water.
It was the calm after the fury of Cyclone Cook and the calm before the next metaphorical turbulence that is the hurricane of six months living out of bags in search of adventure.
One thing is for sure, chapters come and go, the seasons may chance, but the hunger to experience, to adventure and to challenge the status quo is stronger than ever.
Multisport events are quintessential to the gritty fabric of South Island, New Zealand sporting history. A way of interacting with the landscape and traversing however possible via human powered craft.
No rhyme or reason, rather the landscape dictating what you are going to do.
With iconic events such as the Coast 2 Coast which became the breeding ground for some of the the world’s most well known multi-discipline endurance athletes. The modern evolution of the sport has brought ideas, creative minds, pioneering spirit and the ability to open up new terrain bringing a new breed of Multi-sport events to pit people against the elements.
Coming from one of the nerve centres of multi-sport, Wanaka is home to a breed of uber endurance athletes who hone their crafts in the surrounding mountains of the Southern Alps and waters of the Southern Lakes. They say you become a product of your environment and that is exactly what these physically honed species are.
When considering one of these multi-day multi-sport events, it would be wise to consider the depth of what you are getting yourself into.
When a message arrived 3 weeks ago to see if I could step in to cover for an injured team mate, there as a question of ‘why the heck not?’. With no good reason other than no specific preparation and having never met my potential team mate it was head first into the abyss of Red Bull Defiance, the two day, 8 stage, 142km journey of up and down mountains (5,000m of vertical gain), across lakes and down rivers by mountain bike, foot and kayak.
Held in the latter part of January, Central Otago is usually burnt to a crisp having baked in the searing summer sun, but this summer has seen as much snow as winter, plenty of rain and a less than ideal amount of heat.
With the menacing presence of two massive low pressure systems the forecast was far from ideal.
Add to that your first true foray into multisport and having never met your team mate – I was leaping head first into the deep end.
Logistics, gear, hydration, nutrition, planning, planning and more planning. Thursday saw multiple trips to hardware stores, my bike mechanic, friend’s gear sheds, the vet clinic and the local outfitter’s – each time bumping into mildly familiar faces all scurrying around checking boxes on job lists.
(It might be worthy to mention at this point that I spent most of last week chewing tramadol for an untimely bout of something not-so-nice and my mind was churning with ‘as long as I make it to the start line I’ll be fine as this weekend can’t be nearly as rough as the pain of the past few days’……)
With bikes racked, transition bags packed (multiple), compulsory items loaded into back packs, forecasts checked and race kits chosen appropriately the reality was fast setting on what the reality of what was about to be undertaken.
I spend a good amount of time running and riding around the hills when I’m home – it’s the yin to the yan of the rest of my year but racing around these hills non-stop for two days is a whole other story.
As the chopper pilot made some scarily close passes at the Minaret Staton barge transporting us to the start of the first stage of Day 1 it set the tone for what we were in for. A roller coaster of emotions and a fair amount of seeing cross eyed while teetering on the rivet of control versus losing it….the consequences of losing it on a course like this major and potentially fatal.
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Having consulted with my teammate Sam about our approach to the race, I knew that the pace would be hot and hasty off the line for the first mountain bike stage 56km of Minaret Station traversing the remote and unaccessible western shores of Lake Wanaka on a mixture of farm track, stock track and walking track and I knew that if you burnt your legs in the first 10km attempting to keep on the front train of the best men’s elite teams, it would more than hurt you as the weekend rolled on.
But sure enough, the pace unrelenting through the first undulating kilometres and I was wondering if this hectic pace could realistically be kept by all around me. Sure enough, the first real climbs saw the macho start to splinter and might I say that one of the most satisfying things to do is to simply be able to ride past guys hiking their bikes up hill. Very quickly it was becoming apparent that this was not just a weekend jaunt on the trails but a savage exercise in masochistic outdoor pursuits.
The climbs were pinching and relentless, the creeks frigid, the bogs…ankle deep in sodden mud trying to suck your shoes off and the descents – sketchy at the best times as the front wheel and obliterated AC joint of a couple of competitors will attest to.
Coming into transition I knew we’d put ourselves in a decent position but like everything to do with this event, you never quite know what is lurking around the corner. Sure enough we hit the climb of run and the marshal points left to the top of the hill. This ain’t a run….it’s a scramble up a near vertical slope covered in braken, fern and rock. Make your way across the first plateau, up the next climb, clip into a harness and send it via rappel. This is not your average ‘trail run’. Scamper through some dodgy rocky outcrops and then chew your way through a few boggy cattle fields, hop a few fences and pop out at the transition ready to paddle 20km back to town.
The weather gods shone down on us for Day 1 (the easier of the two days) and as we re-packed transition bags for Day 2 the next front started to hit.
Arriving early swaddled in rain capes and gumboots, not a soul was to be seen 30 mins prior to the start ensuing in a mad dash of people, packs & paddling gear as all 65 teams set off from the Lake front at 6.30am to ring in Day 2.
The normally epically scenic journey around the lake to the outlet and down the Clutha River turned into an upwind battle as everyone began to string out into a draft train seeking shelter from the oppressive Nor Westerly coming down the lake.
Many twists and turns later and my bet to wear wetsuit booties for the run up the hill to the claybird shoot paid dividends as those around us sloshed and slipped in the mud.
I’m not quite sure what happened in the shooting department as I’m quite sure the bird I shot at shattered…cue a minute to relax before we were allowed on our way.
As I knew would be the case, Day 2 was going to be a day of attrition due to the course and to the weather. Like any event with transitions from one activity to another speed is of the essence, but taking a few moments to throw on the exact layers we’d need up the top of the Criffel Range would prove to be money-in-the-bank.
I had ridden up the descent of this ride last summer after which we affectionately called it the Little Bastard rather than Little Criffel. It would be fair to say that the ascent across the Criffel Station should be referred to as Little Bastard II. Right from the very bottom, the gradients were unforgiving and relentless, the surface a challenge in remaining back wheel traction as well as front wheel contact.
As we started to ascend the first pinch to make our way to the bottom of the real climb to the top of the Criffel Range the first victims of the day were starting to be strewn along the climb. Hiking a bike now would prove to be an extremely long day of pushing sh*t uphill.
But these events are not so much about competition but about completion. Debriefing at the end of Day 1 Sam and I had agreed to attach another towline to my bike should we need it as a matter of self & team preservation to make it to the finish. Teams racing really does add a totally different dynamic to your approach, your thinking, your planning and your execution. Given the magnitude of the weather forecast and that Sam had suffered crippling cramps at the start of the run on Day 1 this was about getting to the finish in as good a shape as possible and doing what ever it took to make that happen.
Having spent a decent amount of time chasing some of the fast kids in this race around and hearing some of their stories of what happens when they jump on planes to do adventure stage racing in China, I was fully aware of the ‘you never know when you’re going to be the one needing help’ and it’s about making sure you all get to the finish as a team. Having been in a few situations where I’ve seen the the strongest guys ‘go down’, it’s not about brute and brawn, it’s about being honest to your team mates and asking for help when you need it. There’s been a few occasions on missions amongst friends when I’ve had to raise the white flag to ask to help and after the week I’d had prior chewing tramadol and perfecting the foetal position, I was hoping like hell it wasn’t going to be me needing to raise the white flag for help.
I’d pulled through Day 1 well and felt like I had plenty in the tank to tackle the two mountains that were between us and the finish. We hooked the tow line over Sam’s stem and I was on a one track mind of firstly maintaining traction in the mud and secondly about passing everyone we could see in front of us.
With the exception of a major near-miss accident involving the only descent on the climb, thigh high overgrown grass, a water table and a corner which sent me ass over end landing on my head in the water table I was back on my bike before Sam knew what had happened with the sole instructions of “AHHH that wasn’t good, I heard a crack in my neck, I landed on my head, my handle bars aren’t straight but screw it – keep riding, I’ll fix the bars if or when we have to hike”. It was an awakening to the seriousness of the conditions and attempting to operate some kind of control while soaked to the bone in temperatures that continued to drop as we gained altitude.
As we climbed with the contours of the ridge, the gradient was relentless and the terrain unforgiving. Slowly but surely gaining on each team we found in front of us we, this was a game of the tortoise and the hare.
Meeting the cloud layer, the temp starting to drop like a stone and we came across team after team stopping in to attempt to put on additional layers. My bet to bust out my winter riding jacket and knee warmers was starting to come in mighty handy.
The farm land had given way to tussock which gave way to a rocky saddle full of shale and single track not much wider than the width of your tire. Fingers were frozen, feet felt like bones in your shoes and concentration was a combo of sweat filled eyes going cross eyed under the exertion and the conditions. One thing was for sure, you didn’t want to stop and you didn’t want to fall.
The descent was sketchy at best busting our way down the to the valley floor dodging stray rocks, busting through matagouri bushes and ass sliding down muddy fence lines to the the raging torrent of a muddy Cardrona River in full flood.
But the real test was yet to come. Shoes off, socks off, tops off, fresh gear on, running shoes on and we made it through transition thankful for the cheers of support from familiar faces that greeted us and sent us on our merry way with the welcome news that the run course had been shortened to the 17km ‘short course’ due to the 30cm of snow that was now resting on the tops.
Making our way through the boggy paddocks we did our best to make gains while we could as we knew the stream of teams we’d passed on the ascent would likely be hunting us down. Not that we were worried, but the quicker we made it up, the quicker we made it to the finish.
I’d had the heads up that this was more of a power hike than a run and as we turned corners, my eyes scanned the skyline and my mind went ‘holy sh*tballs that’s steep…’.
I’d made a solid attempt to keep the chat rolling all the way up as we leant over our poles and trudged up the hill but 80% of the way up I could feel the expenditure of the past two days starting to catch up. Now it was a matter of survival in the cold and I smashed two gels in quick succession (having not used them all weekend) waiting and hoping for the kick to be enough to get me to the end.
Over the tops and the brunt of the weather was in full force. Slipping and sliding through the snowy path the first half of the descent was a scramble down a ridge line before hitting a 4WD track. Two years ago there’s no way I would have even contemplated walking down something like this, let alone embarking on a two day multisport race with 42km of running on a knee that has had 9x surgeries, multiple blowouts and a sizeable amount of regenerative therapy in the hopes of regrowing it. It’s 90% good – but that scramble down the mountain was pitching it at it’s limit. Once upon a time I would have been able to scamper down that kind of slope like a mountain goat….but hey, we’ve always got to have something to aim for and a reason to do rehab eh?!
Descending through the clouds, the view of the finish line was coming into view. Just across the road, down the road and around the track….but don’t underestimate just how hard those last few kilometres are at the end of 14 odd hours of racing.
I had steady (which was probably ‘easy’ on a recovery day) but I didn’t have much more to give by that point. Maybe the towing on the bike was catching up with me, possibly the 3 week preparation. We took the chance to shed some layers while on the move and managed to pass another team of guys in front of us.
I don’t think that run around the lake has ever seemed to take so long as it did on Sunday but the clouds had parted, the lake was calm and the rain had stopped by the time we made it along the beach and through the finish arches.
Red Bull Defiance was done. We were still standing, in one piece and we’d made it.
Standing in the lake in an attempt to make the recovery on our legs a little easier, I don’t think a can of Red Bull ever tasted so good.
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To be able to race around the hills of home, battle the elements, overcome the physical limitations of some mega injuries of my past and feel relatively good was a pleasant surprise. There was a whole lot of steady as well as plenty of time spent on the rivet.
If I was to balls up and have another crack, I know what I’d do – and we’d joked most of the way around that this was the ‘ultimate course recce’. But I was more than happy to get from the start to the finish in solid shape merely on the ‘summer fun stuff’ I do when I’m home.
Like many of these more ‘extreme’ events, with a bit of dedication and discipline you’ll be able to make it – if you’re in the off-the-couch category, it might be a bit more of a 3 year journey to the start line.
And I’m not going to lie – you’re going to have to come face to face with some situations and inner reflections either during training or during the event….and deal with them.
It was clear that it wasn’t just the course that was the biggest challenge, it was dealing with the weather. The mountains are a different beast and there is no way anyone would have bet on there being 30cm of snow dumped along the tops. And those that don’t spend a great deal of time in the hills paid the price.
I’d decided that it was going to be a weekend of mental resilience and having come out the other end, I’m pretty sure I was on the money.
If you’re mad enough for a crack and fancy a couple of days of masochist sight seeing in paradise, then sign up. But be warned, you’ll be mesmerised by the experience and left wanting to come back for more.
….just do a little more than 3 weeks preparation and you’ll be sweet as mate. In fact I think I could write a pretty killer training program having dissected most critical elements on the way around as a way of keeping us entertained.
If you want to know what you might look like after being savaged by the hills and weather of Wanaka this might give you an indication of what you’re in for
Now is likely a good time to give thanks where it is due:
To Mum & Sam’s partner Lydia for picking up our mess and making sure we had hot food & dry clothes as soon as we finished (never underestimate the value of your support crew and shower them in praise…and possibly gifts/bribes). Lifesavers….
Oh dear….what the HELL did I just let myself in for?
Did I really think about the consequences of saying ‘yes’ without giving full thought as to the repercussions of what just rolled off my tongue less than a month out from an event like this?
I think I may have firmly thrown myself in the deep in on this one, the exception being that for most of it I’ll be high and dry and I really should have dedicated a minimum of six months to a proper preparation.
It was never officially in the plan to do Red Bull Defiance, the gruelling two day, two person teams multi sport race around Lake Wanaka, but when you drop a couple of loose words into conversation that you’d ‘be up for it’ you have to be careful what you wish for.
Sure enough the phone started ringing to see if I’d fill in for an injured half of a team.
‘Yes’ seemed to roll off the tongue before a deluge of a few ‘oh shit’ moments started running through my mind as the reality of what I was committing to began to sink in.
Don’t get me wrong, I spend a fair bit of time running and riding around the hills of Lake Wanaka, the Southern Lakes and Central Otago when I’m at home, often with some of the best in the adventure racing and multisport business, but it’s a very different proposition going from some fun in the hills with your mates to lining up on a start line of a multi discipline, multi day event.
Call it respect for the craft of others and respect for how others ply their trade – but multisport is no joke and these are some of the baddest hard-asses you’ll ever come across.
Racing back to back over two days and with one of the harshest run courses you’ll come across, there’s a reason they called this one ‘Defiance’. It’s more than likely that one half of your team will be suffering at some point and teams racing is vastly different to making it from the start to the finish under your own steam.
But when the opportunity arises to step out of your comfort zone and get down and dirty in the hurt locker, it’s hard to say no. I’m stepping into the unknown and it will be as much about doing and experiencing as it will be finishing.
Managing the highs and lows of a team dynamic, avoiding costly and frustrating mechanicals and operating in a state of physical deterioration is just the challenge that has been needed to spice up the month of January.
To think two years ago that I’d be even contemplating doing something like this on a knee that has had 9x surgeries and countless injuries is testimony to the benefits of regenerative medicine and rehab.
Stay tuned for some of the logistics and preparation that go into preparing for an event like this, i’ll be putting the best of my planning experience to work on this one to ensure we hit the start line in the best possible shape to make it from the start to the finish on January 21 & 22.
I have asked a few times recently about how to deal with injuries, which means really means how to deal with rehab as the two go together like peanut butter and jam.
Having been an expert in the art of self destruction over the years – formerly rather than latterly, when you destroy (or semi-destroy) yourself, there are the following stages
The OH SHIT what have I done now stage
The DIAGNOSIS: not-so-bad, bad, very bad, oh F*&k it’s really bad
The Acute Phase: stabilising the injury
Healing: a mixture of pain, discomfort, disruption of routine, modification of lifestyle
Managing the injury: the pain is less, mobility and movement as you once knew it are starting to return but you’re far from feeling awesome and you’re still far from the point you were at when you toasted yourself
The mid-long game: the light at the end of the tunnel, you’re coming out of the clouds, normality is resuming but now managing your mind is the greatest challenge
First things first – get your head around the situation. It’s not the end of the world – although that is how it will see right now. In some cases it may be – deal with it (OUCH!).
Fast forward through the diagnosis, initial healing, healing and you’ll find yourself at the point of ‘managing’ this on an on-going basis.
Whether you’re and athlete or an athlete of life, being broken sucks like no tomorrow and is a serious damper in the fun department. Pain drains your mojo and takes away the good vibes you have to give out to the world. And it makes doing simple day to day activities a right pain in the ass.
Here’s a few of the things that I’ve found have that have significantly helped make life on a day to day basis a lot more bearable, meaning a lot less pain and frustration all around.
These should become part of your weekly schedule. Get a functional movement screen (FMS), find out where your weaknesses are and start working on them yesterday.
They’ll be boring as batshit and likely humiliating to execute (cue 1lb dumb bells and stretchy rubber bands) but everything has to start from somewhere.
It’s called ‘maintenance’ and you have to rebuild the patterns of movement to be able to doing things as you once did. Find a local guru, get busy, get disciplined and embrace the maintenance.
MANAGE the inflammatories
As many wise people have always said – you are what you eat and a diet of inflammatory processed food and beverage is not really going to do you too many favours long term.
I’m not talking about converting to an OCD expression of vegan-ism, gluten free, sugar free dairy free, wheat free, meat free what ever – I’m talking about eating a wholesome diet of unprocessed real foods. Food is medicine and has been for thousands of years. Sounds simple doesn’t it?
I HATE popping pills, but there is a place in life for everything and as we get older, sometimes our body needs a bit of help in order to function at it’s best.
Having encountered no less that 13 surgeries on my legs, I’ve been critically aware of the need to prevent/delay the onset of creaking knees, not to mention the strain on the tendons and ligaments in my arms from use and abuse they endure on a daily basis. Age is not your friend and you need to help your body out where you can (50 may be the new 40, but a 35 year old body doesn’t bounce the same way a 15 year old one does).
There’s a lot of fang-dangled lotions and potions out there, but I’ll cut to the chase and tell you what I use.
It’s called AllInFlex and blow me down, it was created for horses and dogs. It’s all natural, comes from the ever so tasty NZ native Green Lipped Mussels and it literally a god send in a capsule.
I ran out a couple of months ago and sure enough I was pretty stiff in the mornings. Three days back on the good stuff and whoah…hold your horses (or feed it to them as well), I’m running down mountains and leaping out of bed in the mornings again.
This stuff is no joke, it’s plain and simple and it’s natural. Bonus.
Great things don’t happen by accident and if you’ve danced with the art of self destruction, you’re now going to have to plan how to deal with this in your life on an ongoing basis. It’s not the end of the world, but life as you once knew it may be a little different.
Plan to incorporate the rehab and make it as much fun as possible
Plan to deal with the mental side of being broken
Plan to make what you put into your body a little better
Plan to enjoy everything a whole lot more simply by having a bit of a plan.
Ever felt like you’ve been on Struggle Street? Like you really should have rolled over and not gotten out of the car, let alone out of bed?
I think you all know what I’m talking about – there’s going to be times when you’re winging it on less than ideal preparations and you know exactly what you’re in for.
Those are the days that all you can do is trust your intuition, have faith in what you’ve done before, realise that you could be in for a rough day and know that what doesn’t kill you just makes you stronger (one way or another!).
In my part of the world it’s unseasonably cold right now, wet and more like winter than ‘spring’ (If the Northern hemisphere is looking for some snow, come see me – I know where to find some).
Last week a few of the crew had admitted to putting in an entry to the annual end of November AK47 hurt-fest through the Nevis Valley (you might as well be sprayed by a machine gun as this is what you may feel like).
I was sitting on the fence on this one – I simply had not spent enough time back in the saddle and having done it last year and almost passed out from exposure over the climbs I knew what I would be in for.
Friday rolled around and so did a severe weather warning of rain and gale force winds with a freezing level dropping to 800m.
But it’s amazing what your friends can talk you into….and before I knew it I was in the kitchen getting my baking on whipping up my customary post-ride baking favourites for the team…and deliberating about what to wear to stave off the cold as not only do you climb over two mountain passes, but you cross a river close to 30 times and that was is coming straight off the snow further up.
I’m not sure what draws the crowds to this particular race as it’s more a battle with your mind and the elements than against other people falling into the category of ‘to finish first, first you must finish’, but they come in their droves every year. You also could ask yourself why people turn up to Tough Mudders to be electrocuted ……obviously people like to satisfy their inner masochist.
Within 2km of the start you hit the first hour-long climb. Straight up and over you go, gales in your face at every switch back.
To put it in perspective, I think I’ve ridden one decent hill since getting home and sure as shit – it was not at race pace.
I’d been feeling fairly average all morning and knew that I would likely be in for ‘one of those days’.
20minutes in and my thoughts were confirmed.
My lower back was aching, I was debating if I’d gambled on the right selection of clothing layers and I could feel the every ounce of the 3L of fluid and safety gear that was weighing my pack down as people flew by me (for those that have ridden with me they know that this is usually the opposite way round). There was a large roster of big hitters out in force and I was very much there to make up numbers and support a local Central Otago event.
What I did know is that this race is never won in the first half of the climb.
As we made our way further up, I started to find some rhythm and started to reel people back in.
On this particular course this is where’s it’s a bit of a gamble – do you go out hard and try to to descend with a bunch to ride through the valley with company, or do you ‘self preserve’ and hope you’ll find a buddy to ride through with?
My lack of preparation and average-ness necessitated the latter.
As I crested the plateau along the top of the range, I unrolled my sleeves back up my arms, pulled on my wetsuit gloves and tried to suck as much fluid on the descent as I could.
It’s a bone chilling descent into the Nevis Valley and as soon as you hit the valley floor, you hit your first river crossing.
If you weren’t cold yet, you’re now cold, wet and freezing.
If you’d over done it on that first climb over the Hector mountain range you’re now about to suffer through two hours of no-man’s-land through the valley straight into a bone chilling head wind.
As I came off the hill, I clicked down my cassette and aimed for the wheels I could see in front. I caught them and hoped to find some company but blew through as they didn’t heed my call to jump on my wheel.
Now I was in the place that you never want to be – no man’s land, all by yourself.
Thankfully about quarter of an hour into the valley a big guy came hurtling from behind. Hell no was I not going to lose that wheel!
It ended up being more of a ride side-by-side with a steady stream of banter and chit chat as we picked off rider after rider as the km’s ticked over, each time expecting our group of two to grow as we rode through the remnants of the first climb that were now scattered through the valley, but no-one jumped on (that first hill takes scalps of epic proportions).
As we encroached on the head of the valley and the end of the ‘flats’ the final climb stretches far beyond what the eye can see up and over the Carrick mountain range before it drops over the other side into Bannockburn.
Rather than weaving to the contours of the landscape, it’s more a series of steep straight grunts that result in pinch-after-pinch through a maze of never-ending blind corners that lead to yet more pain-inducing suffering as you hit the each pitch riding at anything up to sixteen degrees of gradient.
Throw in some gale force side winds that whip your front wheel out from underneath you and it’s more a test of mental fortitude than physical that will get you to the top.
When you have bugger all deposits in the training bank, you have to spend your pennies wisely.
Having been in a few situations like this, I knew that if I just kept turning over, respected my heart rate and used every easing of the gradient to click up a gear and keep the speeds constant, I’d ride myself up to the guys in front. And sure enough 3/4s of the way up I caught them.
That’s also the point where it all starts to get a bit sketchy. With temps at freezing level on the top, gale force winds and an 8km descent ahead of you, what ever internal heat you generated on the climb just got released straight into a blast chiller.
You’d think an 8km descent would be all-sorts-of-awesome come this point in the ride, but no – this is (and was) a descent of survival, attempting to lean into the wind from your right side while maintaining enough weight on your front wheel to avoid losing it in a gust.
Add in corners and corrugations and by the time you reach the sealed road for the final stretch to the finish you’re greeted with a blasting headwind and a couple of pinching rises just to well and truly finish you off.
And yes, there was a guy lying in a ditch having been taken out by the forces of mother nature on the descent (he may have been rethinking his choice to ride a cross bike at that very point).
It’s a welcome sight when you see the Bannockburn Pub come into view over the brow of the hill
As you crest the final brow to the finish I’m not sure what you’re more excited about. The thought of hot chips and free beer at the Bannockburn pub, or getting out of your damp shoes and manky riding gear to toast your ass in some fresh clothes beside the fire. What I do know is that you’re bloody thankful to just make it to the finish.
It’s one thing to finish near the pointy end of an event like this (and somehow I’d ridden myself into second for the second year in a row) but what’s fascinating (and inspiring) is the amount of people that turn up to ride through some country few will ever see and yes, some of these people are out there for the best part of 6-8hours….which is a totally different battle of the mind and body to those of us who finish in half the time.
With a significant field of heavy hitters hailing from mountain bike, road and multi-sport including our resident world cupper extraordinaire Kate Fluker who rode like a demon to win there’s no lack of talent in these parts as they all build into their summer seasons – most of which they dominate (this is one of those parts of the world there must have been a mutation in the genetic code giving unnatural human physical abilities out if you drank the water) making local events extremely competitive raising the bar all around which is awesome.
So this time next year, if you think you may be in need of a good dose of ‘harden-the-freak-up’, I might know a ride you’d like to lock in. You will probably hate me for it half way through, even more so at the end – but I’m betting you’ll thank me for it a couple of months later.
In case you’re wondering what my choice of gear was for a ride like this – here’s what I used (and it was a marked improvement in the comfort stakes on last year). Hands down I’d rock the same combo next year or for any other ride through the mountains that you may experience extreme weather conditions.