St James Mountainsports Macpac Mountainman
As I neared the six and a half hour mark on my mountainbike last Saturday, still only halfway through my day in the Macpac Mountainman race, two questions were running through my head. The first: ‘what sort of sick bast*rd thinks up a race like this?’ The second and perhaps more pertinent: ‘what sort of idiot enters it?’
Don’t get the wrong idea. This wasn’t a bad race. The problem was not the race. Nor was it the race director, or the course. The problem was me. At that six-and-a-bit hour point, I was scared.
The last thing I wanted to do, the most unattractive prospect I could think of, was putting on my running shoes and running for 48 kilometers in the heat of the day. But that was exactly what was ahead of me.
Actually, I tell a lie. There was one thing I wanted to do a little less, and that was not run for 48 kilometers.
What is it about multisporters? The harder something sounds, the more we want to do it. And the worse it feels while we are doing it, the better we feel afterward. As one of my adventure racing teammates used to say, ‘fun doesn’t have to be fun.’
At this point, I should probably tell you a bit more about the race I was attempting. Based in the St James, a high country station in the hills beyond Hanmer Springs, the Mountainman was promoted with the following slogan: Are you tough enough, or will you become dog tucker?
It’s an easy environment in which to become dog tucker. The river valleys are vast and open, exposed to the mid summer sun, and prone to scorching temperatures. It’s a climate of extremes, in the winter the danger would be snow and bitter cold.
Race day began with a 7 kilometer kayak around the perimeter of the pristine Lake Tennyson. From there it was onto mountainbikes for 103 kilometers of riding, including around 2000 meters vertical ascent. Off the bikes and into running shoes, the 48km run was made up of 3 laps, including a refreshing riverbed section followed by a steady 300 meter elevation gain climb and descent, bringing athletes back to the run start/finish line at the St James homestead.
The field was small, so I knew that once the paddle was over and the boys had ridden into the distance I was in for a solitary day. At times I would pass or be passed by competitors in other events, but most of the time I was alone. And sometimes I was glad of that, whether it was because I was breathing in the hills, mountains and endless sky, or because I’d just made myself a contender for the Darwin Awards by floating downstream with my foot firmly clipped into my bike pedal in a botched river crossing. There are some moments you just don’t want to share with anyone else!
The first 80-ish kilometers of the mountainbike stage flew by as if time was on fast forward. What wasn’t there to love? The sky was blue, the sun was out, the wind was hot but the rivers were cold, the terrain was varied, challenging and new. It was what mountainbike adventures should be about.
Then suddenly, the balance tipped. Pedaling went from being a pleasure to a grovel. The sun felt too hot, the hills too steep. The upcoming run began to play on my mind. My thoughts of ill-will toward the race director began. I rode the final 10 kilometers or so with a shameful lack of urgency, and entered transition a stressed and grumpy athlete. I snapped at my support crew, I put on a forced but withering smile when people offered encouragement. I was scared.
As it turned out, I needn’t have been. I’d paced myself on the bike ride, and at almost every river crossing I’d taken the opportunity to cool off. I’d made use of the well equipped aid stations, topping up on sunscreen and electrolytes. These measures paid off; when I got the courage to leave the bike/run transition something surprising happened. My running legs found me. Even so, I took the first lap in survival mode, keeping a slow but consistent pace and taking on food and drink. By the second lap I realised I was enjoying myself. I began to smile, to chat away to myself out loud, (these long, lonely days do strange things to you!) and by the third lap I realised I wasn’t just surviving, I was racing after all.
Reward for my efforts came early on lap three. The two guys who had raced in front of me all day were now in my sights, literally. It was a satisfying moment to pass one, then the other, and take my place at the front of the field where I stayed until the finish line. 12 hours and 31 minutes after launching my kayak onto Lake Tennyson, I was able to take the overall win in the Macpac Mountainman.
Thanks so much to my support crew for getting me through the day, to Richard Greer from Complete Performance for training advice and guidance, and to the bike boys at R&R Sport for getting my bike race ready. And thanks especially to race director Heath Lunn for dreaming up a course that allowed me and other competitors to truly challenge ourselves. After all, that’s what multisport is all about!