The 500km adventure race, which involves kayaking, cycling, running, canyoning and mountaineering forms part of the Adventure Racing World Series.
Adventure racing is a sport where competitors race across huge distances, anywhere from 1 day to 1 week. The incredible thing about this sport is not just the distance, but the teams push through day and night only sleeping for a couple of hours in the most uncomfortable, unbelievable places. Furthermore they have to navigate through unfamiliar and challenging terrain, in an exhausted and sleep deprived state. It is truly a test of body and mind pushing human endurance to the limit in every sense.
This year’s team was made of Squadron Leaders Jamie Buckle, RAF High Wycombe, Rob Hurcombe and Flight Lieutenant ‘Tats’ Greenhalgh, both RAF Valley. The team was formed in September 2015 and training started shortly after that. North Wales became a popular training destination due to two of the members being at RAF Valley and there being vast areas of hill and beach to train on. Flight Lieutenant Greenhalgh from RAF Valley said: “Surprisingly there are a lot of similarities between North Wales and Africa, however, Africa is just bigger and hotter. In this year’s race there was a lot of beach running, so getting used to having wet sandy shoes is useful.”
Before the race got underway teams were invited to participate in a community project in the local town. The race organisers feel it is important to leave a meaningful and lasting legacy in the areas that 200 people trample across during the race! The teams made a mosaic which will form a sculpture and part of the mosaic trail in the region.
The Garden Route was host to this year’s race, seeing 53 teams in red and yellow kayaks line up on the picturesque Knysna Lagoon for race start. They then travelled on bike, foot and kayak again through the surrounding indigenous forests, untouched coastline, dry desert like region of the Klein Karoo and then, finally, finishing at Pine Lake Marina.
One of the most testing sections of the course for all the teams was the canyon. The top team were expected to be out in 10 hours and actually took 12, some of those behind took up to 16 hours and many teams elected to miss it in favour of a penalty as it was too dark, cold and daunting. The RAF team did not shy away from the challenge and tackled the beast, first with a via ferrata climb and 55m abseil. Inside the canyon the team were heading into darkness, and had to contend with pools of water, jumps into the murky unknown, and ‘polished rocks’.
Both Jamie and Tats had first participated in Expedition Africa in 2015, in Swaziland. Jamie said, “Both races highlighted the beauty and diversity of SA with the rugged terrain pushing mind and body to the limit. This year’s race punished the feet considerably more with feet being wet for long periods of time over long trekking legs. Team logistic planning was critical this year with specialised equipment being essential for some legs which added to the ‘thinking’ aspect of the race. The increased number of teams shows how much the sport is growing and being included in such a large field was a real privilege. The inclusion of sea kayaking was a great adrenalin hit for day one paddling in massive surf.”
Transitions between disciplines are set up in venues from a campsite with the incredible luxury of a shower, to the baron and remote bit of land in the middle of nowhere. There is a lot going on, don’t be fooled by the triathlon terminology. There is a planning area where the teams were given the next legs maps and Check Pints (CPs) no actual route is marked and the teams have to work out the route they think is most suitable, studying the terrain and trail type. There is also the consideration that a lot of the activities are done at night. Mountain biking at night down a single track is not easy – trust me! The other frantic activities are building or dismantling bikes, changing clothes and inevitably wet footwear and eating.
Newcomer Squadron Leader Rob Hurcomb said “It took a good few days for me to work out exactly what was going on in the transitions; at least I had Jamie and Tats for advice, hats off to those guys for racing last year cold.
The team are now recovering and looking forward to next year’s event already!
Image and Press Release: Flying Officer Abi Bagshaw