Over the past few years multi-day adventure racing has made a comeback in New Zealand largely thanks to the development of Godzone – a 500km non-stop, multi-discipline, unsupported, teams adventure race. Since Godzone began in 2012 it has gone from strength to strength attracting top quality New Zealand and international teams. I’ve been lucky enough to complete 3 editions of Godzone thus far, alongside some amazing teammates. This year I’ll be taking on a sideline role cheering on my hubby with our newborn baby, but thought I’d share a few tips as teams do their final preparations.
Racing Godzone 2016 as part of team Swordfox
With just on 5 weeks until race start it’s natural to have a few nerves and start wondering exactly what you’re in for. Hopefully you’ve had a fun summer of getting out and about in the hills with your teammates. One of the great things about signing up for something like Godzone is that it makes you get out to explore lots of amazing parts of our country. The journey to the race is just as important as the race itself. My favourite races so far are definitely the ones where I’ve spent the weeks leading up to them getting out in the hills with my teammates. By the time the race comes along it feels like I’m off on another adventure with a bunch of friends, exactly what an adventure race should be like!
In my opinion one of the most important things in multi-day adventure racing is choosing your team wisely. There is no room for egos in adventure racing. Given you’re going to be roaming the hills at all hours of the day and night on limited sleep it’s best to be doing so with people you trust. Discovering you have a major personality clash with one of your team mid-race is not ideal. Get to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and don’t be afraid to speak up if you’re struggling during the race. There’s no point pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion while the rest of your team are cruising along blissfully unaware. There are lots of ways to help each other out during the race with my favourite being taking some gear off whoever is struggling. Having a lighter load for a few hours makes such a difference. Remember if you are struggling during the race that this will pass. It’s amazing how just a few hours later you can be feeling great again and back firing on all cylinders. Make sure you are on the same page as your teammates with what your goals for the race are. Do you want to push hard at the pointy end of the field, aim to just finish the full course or are you all happy to take your time and stop to sleep for several hours each night?
Coming off the last trek stage at Godzone Chapter 5
Make sure you have your gear all sorted – both for yourself and for the team. The more you can use it pre-race the better. Make sure you have a good, comfy and functional pack. Is it the right size? Can you access your food and drink easily? We’re lucky in New Zealand to be able to drink out of most streams and rivers so think about how you will refill your drink system. A bladder is great for drinking out of but can be quite cumbersome to refill so often it’s best to have a couple of drink bottles on hand that can be easily refilled. A good quality waterproof jacket is a must and ideally something that’s not too heavy or bulky. Given that this year’s race is in Fiordland snow is a real possibility so make sure you have plenty of warm gear. I find the old style polypro thermals generally much better than the fancy modern merino ones which tend to hold water and take longer to dry. A lightweight fleece is great and I use a lightweight synthetic jacket too. There are heaps of options available these days at very reasonable prices. My favourite piece of clothing is my Torpedo 7 synthetic jacket, it’s easy to layer it on or off, stays warm when it’s wet and packs down really well. A full length sleeping bag is compulsory with a variety of styles available. Mine tends to be quite minimal but I know I can always put on all my warm clothes to keep toasty and warm when stopping for sleep. Think about anything extra you might need for instance if you suffer from really cold hands it may be worthwhile taking some extra thick gloves. It would be terrible to be unable to open up all your yummy snacks mid-race just because your hands won’t function!
Exploring new places in training
Footwear is another topic in itself. You will need at least two pairs of walking shoes that you are comfortable wearing. Some people prefer to have a heavier tramping-style boot but I find good quality shoes sufficient. Get used to having wet feet because no matter how hard you try they will get wet and stay that way for hours on end. Spend time on your feet with a heavy pack and wet feet. Good quality socks are a must and will be personal preference – make sure you have enough for a fresh pair every stage. Good foot care is a must. I coat my feet in good quality anti-chaff cream to keep the moisture out as much as possible as well as using foot powder to dry them out in between stages. Think about what your bike shoes are like to walk in. It’s very likely you’ll be carrying your bike at some stage so having something comfortable with good grip is important. During the race is not a good time to try out a new pair of shoes and is a recipe for disaster!
Racing as a team in the buildup is great practice
Have a think about how you will carry your gear on the bike. I tend to have a relatively light pack compared to the guys and am happy just carrying it on my back. I do make sure I get out on some long rides with my pack to get my backside conditioned to carrying the load. Many people now opt for a range of frame-bags to carry their gear and take the weight off their back. This is a great option especially if you’re likely to be carrying the bulk of the team gear. Keep in mind that this is not going to be very practical during any significant bike-carrying sections and it’s likely you’ll have to revert to carrying it on your back in this case. I race with a full suspension mountain bike and would never consider using a hard-tail. Comfort is key and suspension lock-outs are so good these days that if you end up on roads for long periods it doesn’t matter.
Mooching along in the mist
Food is another important feature of adventure racing. You’ll find yourself eating almost constantly to the point that you’ll probably get sick of eating. Having a variety of options is key. Food is often the first thing to be sacrificed to keep your gear bins to the weight limit, so lightweight but energy dense options are ideal. Freeze-dried meals such as Absolute Wilderness meals fit the bill perfectly, especially as they are super tasty and rehydrate well with cold water. Fortisip drinks are a favourite of mine too. Try out a range of things in training to see what works best for you. I aim to eat something decent every hour and in the past have set an alarm on my watch to remind myself to do so. If I get an upset stomach I find having frequent sips of water and chewing on some soft lollies will settle it quite quickly.
Above all remember to enjoy the journey. Races like Godzone take you to some amazing places and it only takes a few seconds to look around to appreciate just how amazing it is. Teams racing offers another dimension, one that I find incredibly rewarding. I love the fact that I can get away for days on end and just be in the moment where nothing else matters. I forget about work and every-day worries. It’s amazing what you can achieve when you put your mind to it and what your body is capable of doing.
Author – Naomi Whitehead, Torpedo7 athlete