3…2…1…go!

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After a solid twelve months of training, the Whaiora Spirited Women – All Women’s Adventure Race was finally upon us. For only the second time since signing up, The Alterno Accidentals were all together in the same place!

Arriving around midday on the Friday gave us all a chance to register and get our race pack, which was bursting with goodies, and have a look at all the things available at the expo.  After dropping the bikes off at the newly-revealed location, we watched a couple of inspiring short films and, for some of us, participated in our first yoga class.

The race briefing on Friday night was very informative and gave us a chance to size up our opposition. As we took it all in,  we realised we were well-prepared and had done everything we could to be successful in completing the event.

After the race briefing we went back to the motel and planned our route for the short course. The open-water kayaking had some of us excited and some of us a tad apprehensive but we’d got this far – no backing out now!

Saturday dawned almost perfectly for racing: not too hot, a bit of cloud cover and a touch of wind to keep us cool. We got dropped off near the start line by Abby’s mum and dad who had come down to support us for the weekend and had a good amount of time to do some final warm-ups, check the maps for anything we had missed and to soak up the atmosphere around the start line.  Abby was decked out with her birthday balloon and we were ready to go.

Then we were off!! We had self-seeded ourselves towards the back, being walkers not runners, and it enabled us to take our time down the beach and, more importantly, watch how some teams were entering and exiting the surf on their kayaks.

The paddle round to the first control went reasonably well considering we hadn’t done any training in swells as big as what we encountered (mental note for next time) and once we had the first control sorted, the nerves eased off a bit. Coming back in on the kayaks proved a bit more challenging and Megan and Abby capsized with just metres to go. However, with no injuries sustained and nothing lost off the kayak, it was all part of the adventure.

 

The trek up the cliff helped dry us off after the kayak and it certainly was a trek! The multiple climbs up Mt Tauhara (for Megan and Kait) and Mt Kaukau (for Penny) certainly paid off. We passed a group that was heading in the opposite direction saying they were lost already and that certainly gave us a lot of confidence knowing that at least we knew where we were. Penny had spent quite a bit of time in the region in her youth so the path around the headland was familiar and that helped give the team confidence.

 

The next section involved a detour to see if we could find an easier path down into the basin on the farm. Kait took a tumble over a fence, cutting her hand on the barbed wire and losing her compass and water bottle at the same time. Once these were retrieved, we decided to go back down the road and take the easier option. We had talked as a team about not following everyone else but when there were so many women on the course, it was difficult NOT to follow everyone and watch what yonder team were doing near that thing that looked like it could be a control point.

Once at the bike transition the cold pizza came out and we were well nourished for the next section. The downhill ride along the farm road was a fabulous way to get into the bike leg and it felt great to whizz along knowing that because we had planned our route, very little attention had to be paid to the map secured on the map board on Kait’s bike.

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The first mystery activity got Abby all excited because she had shot her first deer earlier in the year and wanted to prove that she was a crack shot. The team scored 7/8 which was pretty fabulous and a big thanks to the lovely people from the gun club patiently telling every single competitor the same thing over and over again all day!

The next section was pretty challenging from a biking perspective but the uphill climbs were all made worthwhile with the amazing views over the gorgeous countryside. The downhill was quite steep and much of it involved walking the bikes. We had made sure our training involved distances longer than what we would come across on race day so walking our bikes for any length of time was never going to be an issue. The ford crossing was a welcome distraction then the long flat country road was some of the easiest riding we had done in all our hours of training!

Next stop was the second trek which involved the long, hard climb up toIMG_2098 the aerial mast on top of the Pa site. it was clear to see why early Maori chose the site as somewhere to see their enemies coming from all directions – only in this case, the hill WAS our enemy! Down the other side and the thought of the water slide was making us go that little bit faster. Again, watching other teams go first helped us with our strategy. Kait’s was to attempt as many 360 degree turns as possible. Megan’s was to not get hurt. At least we achieved 50% of our goals: Kait got a huge cheer and round of applause, Megan twisted her shoulder trying to retrieve Kait’s hat that had been flung off on the first spin but was well attended to by the medics on course. At least it happened towards the end of the race!

Back onto the beach, with Kait insisting on carrying Megan’s running vest (secretly trying it on for size) as well as her own pack, it suddenly dawned on us that we were almost finished. It also dawned on Megan that we were close to our six hour goal time. We broke into a jog and crossed the finish line looking almost as fresh as when we had started some five and a half hours previously, though considerably more dirty!

The feeling of elation that everything we had been working towards for the past 12 months had finally come to fruition was incredible. The relief that we got all the controls and we didn’t suffer any major injuries was also pretty huge. After only one day training together we had spent nearly six hours paddling, trekking, biking, climbing and running and we had finished altogether as a unit. What a feeling!

 

Kait’s thoughts…

After having this adventure race suggested to me by my fabulous physio Emma McCosh over a year ago, I couldn’t quite believe the weekend had finally arrived. I had butterflies and panic stations all week but once we got to Whakatane and registered, the nerves disappeared to be replaced by excitement and anticipation. I knew I had done everything possible to ensure race day went well, as had my team mates.

The kayak leg was fantastic and I’m sure it looked like Penny and I had been paddling together for years. We had had two training paddles together so it was more likely that the synchronisation was to do with having known each other for over 25 years. When I yelled “Paddle! Paddle! Paddle!” she didn’t even bat an eyelid (how I know this is debatable since she was in the front of the kayak at the time).

It felt like everything about the race ran smoothly, from the hydration and food supplements to the navigation. Our team seemed to gel well considering we had had so few training sessions together.

The terrain was challenging but nothing we hadn’t come across before in our own individual training to the point where I thought halfway through we really should have signed up to do the medium course! I feel it’s always good to start at the bottom and work your way up so Spring Challenge will be the next big event and maybe that can be the medium distance!

When we came off the epic waterslide and I realised we were almost finished, I felt so elated but also a bit sad that this amazing experience that I had been working towards for so long was almost at an end. The team run across the finish line was a pretty special moment as was seeing Emma waiting for me with a glass of wine to celebrate our achievement.

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A huge thanks has to go to the Alterno Foundation for our sponsorship. The monthly blogs and Out and About reports have been fun to do and hopefully have been an inspiration to other women to not let injury and /or illness get in the way of having a go at something completely outside your comfort zone. I am keen to keep adventure racing, keep pushing my limits and trying new things. The sky is the limit and while it’s still a heap of fun why not??

Penny’s thoughts…

Wow! What a brilliant weekend in Whakatane after so much time spent planning, training and anticipating how the event would be! Having spent my teenage years in the Eastern Bay of Plenty I always enjoy returning to the area and I nearly felt like a teenager again coming down the waterslide in the final mystery activity. Any pre-race nerves I’d had quickly dissipated once Kait and I settled into the kayak leg – we’d decided that after 20 years of friendship, we’d still be talking afterwards despite whatever mishaps might occur. Fortunately, following her instructions to just keep paddling (or was that ‘paddle like F#@K??!!) while she steered from the back we managed the waves to and from the shore without capsizing. It was 11 months to the day since I broke my elbow and while it still niggles at times, it gave me no trouble during the race.

It’s fantastic to have completed my first team event with these great women and what a way for Abby to spend her 15th birthday! I loved completing the different disciplines but was pleased the others were happy to do the navigation. While we didn’t train together as a team, the communication during the past months has been stellar and ensured we were all in a similar mindset for the big day. It was awesome to reach the finish line (within the time hoped for) and to raise a glass to celebrate not just our achievement on the day, but the journey we’ve had individually and as a team over the past 12 months. It was great to look around and be inspired to try and get a bit fitter and faster in the future, and to also appreciate the Whaiora Spirited Women event where so many women can get out there, challenge themselves, and to have so much fun with their friends. I’m not sure what my next challenge will be, but I absolutely loved this event and am grateful to the Alterno Foundation for their sponsorship of our team in this unforgettable experience.

Abby’s thoughts…

12 months ago, I was out for lunch with my aunties and they were telling me about their friend Emma McCosh who was competing in the GODZone Adventure Race, and how they thought that adventure racing might be something that would appeal to me. As soon as they started talking about the components involved I was hooked. Fast forward and a month later Megan asked me if I would like to participate in the Whaiora Spirited Women adventure race as it had just finished in Taupo the week before. I responded with a “Sure! I’d love to!” not really knowing what I was getting into but totally willing to give it a go anyway.

Training started slowly with occasionally walking small distances on the weekend, doing ten minutes on a stationary bike 2-3 times a week, and keeping up with my weekly netball training.

About three-quarters of the way through 2017 I started losing my motivation for training, as I had no one in my family who wanted to do it with me and it’s rather boring doing it by yourself, so decided to vocalise my problem to my aunties. From there we came up with a plan of doing some sort of team training every weekend.

Now the race has finished, and all the stress has been lifted off my shoulders, it also means that it’s time to look back on the experience and to the future. I loved the experience of the race, the adrenaline running through me and the presence of nature. I loved the training that we did leading up to the race and getting to see all these various places that I wouldn’t have seen before agreeing to participate in Spirited Women. The sense of achievement that surrounded me once I had finished the race was indescribable. Admittedly I almost passed out an hour later and had to go back to our motel for a nap but that’s all a part of the journey isn’t in? I want to participate in more adventure races in the future and maybe look at competing in adventure races that last a few days like the Coast to Coast.

Megan’s thoughts…

When I submitted the essay for the Alterno Foundation sponsorship earlier in 2017, I began by saying “I am not an adventurous person”. Over the past 12 months, that has begun to change. While ‘adventurous’ is still not in the top-ten list of adjectives to describe myself, my attitude towards adventure and being outside my comfort zone has definitely changed. I have done so many things that I would never have thought myself capable of, including the Whaiora Spirited Women Adventure Race. When this journey began, almost a year ago to the day, I was overweight, constantly in pain and living a very sedentary life. Watching Kait’s determination in her rehabilitation post-accident was inspiring and I wanted to make sure that I could be 100% supportive of any activity she wanted to do to help her build strength and stamina. Little did I know that I was, in fact, rehabilitating my own lifestyle.

Having not ridden a bike since I was a teenager, mountain biking was the skill I found the most challenging to develop. I still feel very cautious and a little fearful of accidents but I love the feeling of being on the bike and exploring lots of new places. I have a list of all the trail rides I want to do and have started putting plans in place for at least the next five years!

IMG_1653While the Spirited Women adventure race was the end goal, the journey was about reconnecting with life – seeing new places, building new friendships, strengthening relationships and growing in confidence. Training was never a chore. Each undertaking was a chance to spend time exploring and improving. It was exciting to repeat activities and courses and know that I was fitter, faster and stronger. Participating in organised events along the way gave us independent measures of our progress and helped to keep the motivation up. And while race day was not without its mishaps and there were a few minor injuries sustained, we did meet our goal of arriving at the start line whole and finishing in much the same state! Knowing that we achieved this goal successfully has definitely given me the confidence to want to continue doing more adventure activities. I am so inspired by all the women we saw out there on Saturday. Nothing seemed to be a barrier – not age, height, weight, fitness or experience. Every woman was giving her all in pursuit of something – self-awareness, social connection, success; whatever it was, the joyfulness was tangible and infectious. I am so proud to have been a part of something incredible.

I have loved sharing the journey with my colleagues and students at school too and showing that you are never too old to start something new or change your life for the better. I hope that our journey to the Whaiora Spirited Women Adventure Race has planted a seed for other women to realise that anything is possible. We’ll definitely be back next year! Medium course methinks…

Huge thanks to the Alterno Foundation for the privilege of being the Alterno Accidentals in 2018.

 

 

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