Experience counts for a lot in sport, and that is exactly what Team Checkpoint Zero are banking on as they prepare for the start of the third GodZone adventure race tomorrow morning.
Based this year out of Kaikoura, the physically and mentally-gruelling event will see 40 teams of four hike, bike and paddle their way around a course which is expected to take anywhere between four and six-and-a-half days to complete. As if that does not sound hard enough, teams have no clue where the race will start and almost no idea where it will take them.
Unlike many teams, who at least have knowledge of the area, three of Checkpoint Zero's team are American and have only set foot in New Zealand for the first time. What they do have, though, is Blenheim man Paul Humphreys as their fourth member, and the advantage of a truckload of experience in "expedition-style" adventure races.
Joining Humphreys are other Checkpoint Zero regulars Peter Jolles and Michelle Hobson, while Scott Erlandson has been roped in from a rival US team. Between them, the group have done over 30 multi-day events like GodZone and Humphreys, a Kiwi who lived in America for 11 years before returning just over a year ago, said they expected that experience to hold them in good stead.
"That's a big positive for us going into this race because, if you look at the teams, there's a lot who don't have any multi-day race experience. Between us there would be over 30 multi-day expedition races, we know what's coming, but don't get me wrong, we're going to hurt."
After hearing about the first GodZone while still in the US, Humphreys was determined to enter Checkpoint Zero in this year's version. Although the race directors have "dropped hints" and the team has watched coverage of the first two events, Jolles admitted setting a strategy for this type of race was difficult. However, all being experienced adventure racers, the team knew what to expect and their bodies were prepared, with Humphreys describing the disciplined training regime he has carried out.
"I probably manage to squeeze in between 15-30 hours a week. It's not an hour here or an hour there, it's extended time and once a week it's an all-day thing, going out late at night or getting up super early. Every week to 10 days I try to do an 8-12 hour day . . . it really is just getting accustomed to being able to go for a long time, because it does become very mental."
Jolles said competing in NZ, "the spiritual home" of adventure racing, was a big factor in deciding to take part in GodZone and all four agreed some of the places they will go and spectacular scenery they expect to see was a large drawcard. However, the main reason why they put themselves through so much physical and mental strain in events like this was the immense satisfaction of working as a team.
Humphreys believed these races were "the ultimate expression of teamwork" and his team-mates more than backed that statement up.
"You have to stay together the whole time," said Hobson.
"A lot of people think adventure racing is like a relay race, but it's not and everybody has to stay together the whole time. If someone's feeling bad you might have to carry their pack or hook a bungy cord to them, you do whatever you can do to keep your team moving. Push, pull, drag, whatever it takes. The weak link can change, that's why you have to work together."
Erlandson expressed a similar sentiment. "It's working together as a team to accomplish one goal. That starts with just getting everybody to the start line . . . we've been training for and planning for this for six months and just getting to the starting line is 90 per cent of it sometimes. [When you are out on the course] everybody goes through their highest highs and lowest lows, but working together to get through those as a team is what I like the most about it."
One of the hardest aspects competitors have to deal with is sleep deprivation. Jolles said they would probably go through the first 24 hours without any sleep and predicted, for the rest of the race, they would get roughly what most people consider a good night's sleep.
"We've done every conceivable method, a lot of factors go into that decision. But, if I had to guess, I would say we'll probably get between 6-8 hours of sleep during this whole race . . . there's a lot of strategy in there and that comes back to one of our strengths, we've seen a lot of these situations, so we can make the decision that's best for us."
Getting through the lows that physical exhaustion and sleep deprivation bring is not the only part of the mental challenge, either. Humphreys said things like dismantling and reassembling bikes and ensuring you are giving the right gear from and back to the race organisers becomes tricky tasks as your brain "gets more and more fried."
Led by well-known Nelson adventure racer Nathan Fa'ave, two-time defending champions Team Seagate are hot favourites to win the event and are expected to finish in around four days. Checkpoint Zero are one of a handful of teams race director Warren Bates believes to be in the chasing pack, with the team seeing a top 10 placing as a good result.
So, after days of punishing their bodies physically and mentally, what do adventure racers do when they finally cross the finish line? It is fairly straightforward, really. Eat, drink and, primarily, sleep as much as possible. As Humphreys describes it, though, it is a few days before you can expect to feel normal again.
"Your body is completely trashed. You're all swollen up and nothing has healed because your body's been disintegrating for five or six days. I've even woken up in the middle of the night thinking I'm out on the course."
All teams carry a GPS tracking device and you can follow their progress live by heading to godzoneadventure.co.nz.
- The Marlborough Express