Tuesday, 12 April 2016

SPIRITED WOMEN 2016 - Team Expedio GOT race report

SPIRITED WOMEN 2016 - Team Expedio GOT

How many people can say they got to stand-up paddle-board (SUP), kayak, trek, mountain bike orienteer, tree top walk, rogaine, rifle shoot and rock climb all in one day? We can because that’s what we got to experience at the inaugural Spirited Women Adventure race in Rotorua on April 2.

It all started for us (Team Expedio GOT Debbie Chambers, Emma McCosh, Jill Westenra and Leigh Cockerill) at 7.15 am on the shores of Lake Okareka in Rotorua. Even though it was just on sunrise, the atmosphere was buzzing with the excited chatter of teams of four, who had put their hand up for either the long distance course (9 hours) or the veteran and corporate mid distance course (6 hours). It gave us goose bumps to see so many women giving adventure racing a go for the first time in their life !! What an awesome event to be part of.

Before we knew it the countdown was on. Whoop whoop …..The race started with a run around the shoreline and parks of Lake Okareka to where the SUPs that were provided by the race organiser were waiting for us.  To our relief the lake was calm as a mill pond and the boards were sleek and fast looking. We grabbed some flash looking lite weight paddles and headed out onto the water to collect the various checkpoints (CPs) on the lake.  What a stunning way to start the day although we were doing something physical it was oddly therapeutic. We found ourselves paddling in and out of caves and searching amongst the reeds and wildlife whilst trying not to crash into each other.  The predicted rain hadn’t arrived and although we knew it would come later, it was nice to be dry while on the water.

For the next leg, we exchanged our SUP’s for double kayaks and headed back onto the lake. It was great to see the other teams paddling towards us on their SUPs cheering and laughing in good spirits.  Once again the CPs were all in cool places: Up on rocks, in caves, tunnels and in beautiful bush.  We were happy with our kayak configurations but found the boats somewhat heavier than our multisport boats. It was like paddling bath tubs but at least there was no chance of falling out.

After the kayak we arrived into transition in first place and laced up our shoes to set off on the rough trek over to the Blue Lake.  The narrow, rooty and slippery track suited us fine as we pushed on to the various CPs on this leg.  Jill provided us all with a bit of entertainment with an impromptu sit down thanks to a particularly slippery piece of track.  After a bit of a fumble finding the final checkpoint in a glow worm cave we headed into transition.  The only problem was our support crew was nowhere to be found. He was expecting us to arrive from a different direction so had locked the car and headed off to see where we were. Let’s just say a few people were yelling out his name and he got a bit of stick from us and the other support crews when he realised it was us waiting at the locked car.  

After some food and drink we jumped on our mountain bikes and headed out onto the course. We were pretty excited about this leg as Leigh had just ridden the Pioneer Mountain Bike stage race in the South Island, and Emma and Debbie had just cycled the length of New Zealand in just over 14 days on the Tour Aotearoa and Jill, as many people know, is just always a machine on the bike!  We set off down the lovely new single track around the edge of the Blue Lake in high spirits.  Not long into the leg the team behind us caught us up and we knew there and then we had a battle on our hands. After riding with them for a bit we were sure we could match them for pace. However, not long after that the wheels fell off when our failing eye sight and lack of detail on the map lead to our demise.  We made a couple of silly errors of judgement on this leg and never recovered our lead.  Although we spent far too much time running up and down tracks looking for the CPs, not once did anyone come close to throwing their toys out of the cot. We enjoyed every second of the ride taking in the awesome scenery and tracks and enjoying the wet and muddy conditions. We arrived into transition covered in mud but with big smiles on our faces.  Our support crew had certainly redeemed himself and had our shoes and caps lined up perfectly as well as a smorgasbord of food waiting in the back of the car.

The next leg was a mystery activity which saw us complete the new tourist treewalk at the Redwoods visitors centre.  We had quite a wait in a queue here but used it to catch up with supporters and other teams.  It was a beautiful walk across a series of 21 suspension bridges 6-12 metres off the ground, through huge 110 year old Redwood trees.  We then made our way to a marshal in the bush who gave us a new and detailed orienteering map for our foot rogaine.  Even with our poor eyesight we made light work of the navigation on this section as every bump and dip was well represented on the orienteering map. It was wonderful running through the soft trails and we were mostly protected from the heavy rain that fell at this time.  We were extremely thankful to have waterproof maps… the race organisers had thought of everything.  This was one of our favourite legs as we were constantly seeing other team in the forest with us.  Everyone was having such a great time and everywhere we looked teams were smiling and laughing and egging each other on. Once again the CPs were in interesting places.  We visited an old kumara pit, an old bunker, caves, rocks, cliffs and a little shelter.  Even though we were in the middle of a race, once again we felt a sense of calm in these beautiful surrounds.

After a quick transition, we were off to town.  It was a complete environmental change as we entered the geothermal wonderland of Rotorua.  Bubbling water, mud and steam surrounded us as we wove our way around the cycle trails on the edge of Lake Rotorua.  We had another mystery activity here – this time was air rifle shooting.  We had to serve out a 30 second penalty for a miss but we were soon on our bikes and back to transition.

The last leg was a short run around the bottom end of town and to our last mystery activity on an indoor rock climbing wall.  The instructor commented that we smelt like lake-weed, but was very good about all of the mud we traipsed inside.  We each enjoyed the climb and quickly ran through the centre of town and the many tourists who must have been wondering what on earth we were doing.

After the final CP at the mighty Waka on the lake-front, we held hands and ran across the finish line, on Rotorua’s Eat Street.  What an atmosphere!  We were treated to huge cheers, whistles and claps from the many support crews and teams who had already finished and the odd local. It was an incredible feeling. We have done hundreds of races between us all and none of us had ever had a reception as moving as that.  We were each given a wine glass with the Spirited Women logo engraved on it as well as a bottle of champagne to celebrate our success.  What a nice touch.

So if you are a group of women interested in getting into adventure racing then check this event out and give it a go next year. So many women who did this race had never done anything like this before and felt completely out of their depth, yet on the finishline when we asked them what they thought of the course they loved every minute of it and said it was the best thing they had ever done.  One woman who was petrified of mountain biking before the event said she would do it all again in a heartbeat. One team learnt to read a map the day before the event and had never ridden on mountain bike tracks before yet they got through with team work, grit, determination and humour.

As it says on the Spirited Women website - www.spiritedwomen.co.nz “This event defines the spirit of a kiwi woman – her give-it-a-go attitude, sense of adventure, a strong belief in her girlfriends and a desire to help them through difficult times and celebrate the good times”. That is what adventure racing is all about.

A huge thanks goes out to Neil Gellatly and his team for putting on an awesome event and for inspiring so many women to get out of their comfort zones. We also want to thank Expedio Industrial Properties for their support and for taking care of our every need on the day. It will be held in Taupo in 2017. Get your team together NOW.

Monday, 18 January 2016

A Question and Answer session with Debbie Chambers from the Girls on Top Adventure racing team

1.       In your blog you mention that your first race was a 24 hour race in 2000. Most of us would be scared to even think about entering a race of that magnitude, what made you think “I can do this”?

I have been pretty active all my life and have done lots of tramping and cycle touring, so I had a reasonable idea about what it takes to keep going for long periods of time. I never questioned whether I could do it or not as I know that the body will pretty much do what the mind tells it to do, as long as it is given food and water. My advice to those doing their first adventure race is to break it down into stages. Just tackle one leg at a time - Do the cycle then worry about the kayak or paddle board, do the paddle board or kayak, then worry about the trek. As my old teammate Ally Davey always used to say "Inch by inch it is a cinch". Don't think ahead and get bogged down with the entire race, just focus on what you are doing at the time and keep drinking and eating. Support your teammates and remain positive. Make sure that noone in the team is over stretched at any one time and that everyone is communicating and involved in what the team is doing.

2.       Which three things would you change in your preparation for the race in 2000 if you could do that one again?

- Have lightweight gear. All our equipment back in 2000 was heavy duty. In my opinion is it better to pay a little more for top quality lightweight gear. It makes everything easier. Not only will you feel more comfortable in adverse conditions but it will also make the whole event easier as you won't be lugging so much weight around. Make sure you pack enough gear in order to be safe in any conditions but don't over pack and carry a lot of extra unnecessary stuff. For longer races we use a carrier on our bikes in order to get the bulk of weight out of our backpacks and off our backs.

- Get more navigation practice in training - spend time going off track and using a map and compass.   I can't emphasize this aspect enough. Going in the right direction and hitting checkpoints efficiently is the key to a stress free race. Wasting time going in the wrong direction makes it hard for everyone. Set up scenarios and then go out and practice. Learn from mistakes in training rather than on the day. Make sure everyone is involve in navigation and scouting to find checkpoints. One person can be on the map but the other three should also be totally focused on the terrain and scouting for features, tracks and checkpoints. A navigation error is a team error a not solely the responsibility of the designated navigator. Take things slowly and make sure you know where you are on the map at ALL times. In some races it is easy to follow others - however if you are following a team and then you lose them you will have NO idea where you are. NEVER follow, USE your compass and map and KNOW where you are at ALL times.

-  Be prepared to let go of mistakes.  During the race whenever we made a navigation error we got extremely frustrated and demotivated as we thought we were in last place. We spent a lot of time and energy during the race saying things like; "I bet other teams took a much faster route", "we wasted so much time on that" , "we must be last", "people will laugh at us". In fact we ended up doing quite well. Support each other, be positive and work together to make a wrong right. Use mistakes to build team moral not tear it apart. You are a team of four out in the wilderness working together to overcome the challenges the course throws at you, embrace this philosophy and your experience will be so much richer.

3.       What training do you normally do to keep your fitness levels up for competing in adventure racing?

I try to get a balance in my training of all disciplines. I do what I can to fit around life and work. I train for enjoyment and relaxation more than anything else. For people building up to their first race my advice is to get time on your feet with a pack on your back, and time on your bike with a pack on. During an adventure race you have to carry compulsory gear and food and water to get you through a stage so training with a pack on is essential. Remember to work on your weaknesses as much as you build on your strengths. Get a balance between working on your fitness and working on your team dynamics, thinking about your food, preparing your support crew, etc is essential. Adventure racing is about so much more than physical fitness.

4.       You have done quite a bit of these races in the past decade, can you tell us about a race where the team has worked well? What made the team work well together?
Teams work well together when everyone has the same goal. A team that is focused on efficiency and helping each other at all times will always perform better than a team made up of individuals trying to race each other. Good communication is essential in an adventure racing team. Of course you can't prepare for what a race may throw at you in terms of course difficulty, weather conditions, gear failure etc, however it is how the team pulls together to manage situations that makes the difference. It is pretty rare to have the perfect adventure race but striving to achieve it is certainly addictive and can lead to some of the most incredible experiences of your life. Respect others, respect the course, respect the environment and you WILL have the time of your lives. :)

Monday, 7 December 2015


So what do you need to focus on in order to prepare for your first adventure race?
In this blog I am going to talk a little bit about navigation. All real adventure races require you to navigate from checkpoint to checkpoint with a topographical map or an orienteering map, a compass and a set of instructions. Navigation is the most important skill for adventure racing, as if you are not going in the right direction, then you are wasting your time and more importantly your energy. Navigation is a hard skill to learn so it does deserve a bit of attention and practice. Don’t get too hung up on being a kick arse navigator, but do ensure someone in the team understands the basics of map work. In most cases in a beginners adventure race you will get by and be able to bumble your way around the course okay without much navigation expertise, but if you want to do well or ensure you are always aware of where you are and which direction you are going in then there are a few things you can do.
First up, get a topographical map and study it. As a starter for ten:
  • Spend some time familiarizing yourself with the legend and the symbols.
  • Make sure you understand what contour lines are and what they represent. They are the brown squiggly lines you see on the map. They represent elevation in the landscape. As a beginner, it is essential to know you that the closer the lines are together the steeper the landscape. If you understand contour lines you can avoid danger areas of steep landscape as well as minimize the amount of climbing your team does between checkpoints.
  • Know how to use a compass. Learning how to orientate your map using your compass to fit the land will help you ensure you are always travelling in the right direction. Also, particularly if you are racing in dense bush or at night, you will need to learn how to take a bearing off a map and then be able to follow your compass in order to reach the next checkpoint. Get someone who knows what they are doing to teach you and practice whenever you can

  • Make sure you understand the scale and what this means. Scale refers to the relationship between the size of the map and the actual size of land or relative distance. Knowing how far it is to the next checkpoint can significantly help you work out how long it will take you to the next checkpoint. This way you can let your team know what to expect. for example the navigator will be able to say ... the next checkpoint is about 5km away .. but our next thing to look for is a road off to the left in about 500 meters.

As much as possible before the event try to get out with a map in hand and follow your route on the map.  You'll learn a lot in your first adventure race and over time your skills will evolve and develop. It is a real buzz when things all come together and the map and compass guide you and your team smoothly around the course.
Join your local orienteering club and get some help. Also check out your local area as a few places have orienteering maps and courses permanently set up and available for public use.
Duder's regional park in Auckland has a great orienteering course all set for anyone to try.  


Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Preparing your headspace is as important as preparing your body

The best advice I can give newcomers to adventure racing is to plan and prepare. Planning, preparation and practice are the three P’s of adventure racing. So many people put all their time into training their body that they forget about the mindset that you need when tackling an adventure race. In adventure racing the fittest most talented athletes may not even make it past the first hurdle if they haven’t spent time thinking about team work and their mindset prior to the race.

Adventure racing is a sport full of surprises. Firstly the course is always a surprise – teams don’t find out where they are going or the distance of each leg of the race until the night before the start. Secondly, the terrain and weather are always a surprise. The weather can always throw a curve ball no matter how long your race is. Thirdly, your teammates and your equipment can throw in surprises from major gear failure to spectacular individual meltdowns. My advice is as a team you need to spend some time thinking, talking and planning for different scenarios. Expect the unexpected and have strategies to cope. What if someone gets a flat tyre? What if someone gets dehydrated? What if you get lost? What if someone gets a hot spot on their feet? What if someone is slow and holding the team up or if someone is always out in front putting pressure on others to go faster than they are comfortable with? What if you end up taking longer on the course than you planned? 

During an adventure race it is pretty much a given that you will be bush-bashing through thick bush, you will probably push or carry your bike at some point, you will get lost, some piece of equipment will break and you will want to sit down and cry somewhere along the way. However, it is how you deal with these challenges and how your team pulls together to overcome the lows that makes the sport of adventure racing so appealing. Overcoming the challenges thrown at you and dealing with physical and emotional pressure empowers you, and when you cross the finish line you will experience an incredible feeling of self- confidence and happiness
The trick with adventure racing is to enjoy the journey and the environment rather than focussing too much on the destination. Take what is thrown at you, embrace the highs and the lows and keep moving. Break the race up into stages and just focus on one thing at a time. I suggest you read a few blogs of adventure racing teams and get an insight into what they go through during a race. 

Food, food and food - What to eat during a race

Thinking about what you are going to eat is essential. Food is so important. Our bodies are like cars, if you stop putting fuel in you will come to a grinding halt. If you put poor quality fuel in you’ll get poor performance. Make sure you have trained on the food you are going to race with.
More often than not if your teammate is lagging behind or having a meltdown - they NEED food. 

In shorter races try and eat every 30mins to an hour and have a sip of drink every 15 mins. Don’t wait until you feel hungry or thirsty to eat or drink as by then it is too late. A general rule is 1 gram of carbohydrate per body weight per hour. For shorter races I use a combination of Gels, bars, cookies, cake, nuts and sandwiches– peanut butter and jam or marmite and cheese sandwiches cut in quarters on white bread. DO NOT try anything new on race day. Having something solid in longer races is essential - your body cant handle 6 hours of gels. Also have some kind of electrolyte supplement to add to your water bottle or bladder. I use NUUN tablets as they are easy to carry and drop into your bottle.

Once again plan and prepare your food the day before and pack it into bags for each stage of the race. Always take a little extra in case it takes you longer than you expect. I usually have two spare GU gels tucked away in my pack for emergencies. Lollies are always a great team pick me up. Jet planes are my favourite.

Gear and Clothing

It is so important to have good clothing for adventure racing. Make sure your gear is lightweight but high performing. You can find most essential gear at your local outdoor store. Never compromise your safety in a race by taking poor quality flimsy equipment but also don’t add to your workload by carrying extra bulky heavy gear. Buy quality as not only will it last longer but it will enhance your experiences whilst training and racing. I always say there is no such thing as bad weather just bad clothing choices. Always put your gear in a good quality dry bag in your pack. Compulsory gear is no good to you if it is soaking wet. Make sure you understand the climate, terrain and weather for the location of your race. If you will be bush bashing wear leg protection, if you will be in river beds or scree slopes wear gaiters to stop stones getting in your shoes. Never underestimate the weather and always plan and prepare for the worst case scenario.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

What is adventure racing ?

A beginners guide to adventure racing

Adventure racing is a sport that requires teams of four (or three) to travel together on foot, by bike and kayak ( or tube, raft or Stand up paddle board)  using only a map and compass to navigate their way through the course. Adventure races can range from 3 hours to 10 days in length and take place all over the world. If getting out into the outdoors and challenging yourself with a group of friends sounds like you, then adventure racing is your sport.

I discovered adventure racing in 2000 with a 24 hour race based in Auckland. Thinking back to this race makes me laugh. We had bulky heavy gear, 12 volt battery packs and homemade lights and bikes that weighed a ton. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves in for but we had an absolute blast and I was hooked. This sport brought together all my past experiences and my passion for people and the outdoors. I had found the sport for me. Over the past 13 years I have raced in multiple events in numerous locations with varying levels of success. I am no elite athlete, I'm never likely to be on the podium yet this sport has kept my interest all these years and I am still learning new things every time I race.

Where to start? If this sport tickles your fancy then there are a few things you can do to make your first foray into the sport as enjoyable as possible.

Firstly, find an event that is right for your level. If you have never done an adventure race then choose a race aimed at beginners. Next, find some friends who you enjoy spending time with and who are up for a bit of fun and a challenge. Make sure that everyone on your team has the same goals and aspirations for the team - if one team member is out to win and another is simply there to enjoy the experience - there will be trouble !!

In my opinion navigation is key. Make sure someone in the team can read a map and understands the basics of navigation. It is ideal if all the team can make sense of a map but at the least you need one person who is happy to take the lead on the navigation.  If no one in your team can read a map to save themselves then I  suggest some of you sign up to your local orienteering club and get as much practice reading a map as possible. Also make sure you have a map with you on training sessions even if you know where to go. Plan training missions with your team that involve navigation challenges. Make sure you know how to orientate a map to fit the terrain.

The next thing to do is to kit yourselves out with reasonable bikes and a pair of offroad running shoes. If the event has rafting, standup paddle boarding, kayaking, caving or rope work in it, make sure you get a few training sessions in that discipline prior to the race. If your muscles know what to expect during the event they will be much happier on race day.

The rest is simple pay the entry fee and start training for it. You won't regret it. Adventure racing is addictive and as soon as your first race is over you'll be looking for your next :)

Over the next few weeks I will post some more insights into the sport of adventure racing. I will cover off gear, nutrition, training and team work. Watch this space. If you have any questions about adventure racing please leave a comment on this blog or message us on Facebook and we will do our best to answer.

Happy adventuring