The moment before the alarm goes off–Caleb and Adrian, getting ready for the ascent of the Monument.
It’s roughly two months to GodZone, a seven day adventure race on the South Island of New Zealand. Because of the depth of AR talent in NZ and the sold out status of the event, it is probably going to be one of the most competitive expedition length ARs of the year. It is also the next big race I’m going to be doing.
The problem is, I haven’t really been training. Sure, I’ve been staying in shape–swimming a bit, doing a few 3 minute time trials on the SUP or 4km loops on the road bike. A few weeks ago I was even doing a shortish 3km hill run every other week ago, but then I hurt my knee and so have had to take a bit of a break from that too. It’s true, I’ve had a couple big days here and there mostly working for my teammate and boss, Adrian, a task involves an occasional 8 hour day hiking through the New Zealand bush, and this probably counts for something.as well.
But GODZONE! This beast is seven days of non-stop paddling, trekking/running, and mountain biking. It’s a big undertaking in itself but the fact that I’m doing it with Adrian and another couple of super athletes who happen to be my inlaws (link to article) is what really scares me. Decades of big missions in the mountains make me relatively assured that I can survive pretty much anything, GodZone included. But yesterday’s wake up call makes me realize that keeping up will be another matter entirely.
So about yesterday then….yesterday I had three hours between the time I dropped my kids at a birthday party and picked them up. It was the perfect amount of time to get in a ‘longer’ but still hard training session to jump start things and start getting serious. Adrian and I had agreed that we needed a bit of focus on paddling (including canoe paddling–a mandatory skill for the race) with a little bit of hiking to test my knee. The B-day party was a bit of a drive from home but near lake Manapouri, home of ‘the monument’–an iconic point of rock jutting out 300 meters above the lakes surface. Sitting 8 or 12 km from the access beach (depending on the paddling route and portage), we figured we’d have to push the pace in order to get the ascent done in the time window. We invited a third person too. Caleb, a young buck who’d been visiting (and sleeping on my living room floor) for the last 6 weeks, had more endurance experience at 23 than most athletes twice his age. It was a good crew, notwithstanding the fact that Adrian had just finished the Milford Mountain Classic (a 120 km road race) only 14 hours before and his legs were ‘still a bit tired.’
The paddle, to be honest was fine. It was good adventure race style training–i ended up sitting/kneeling in the center of the boat, using a paddle that was slightly too long and leaning awkwardly to one side of the other to get the paddle in the water. Caleb, at 6’3” sat in front with a paddle far too short (half a kayak paddle with a t-grip). Still we hammered, pushing the very non-hydrodynamic hull through the water at around 5 miles per hour. My shoulders got sore and then adapted nicely to the effort. The portage was quick and efficient with Adrian demonstrating why he was such a good choice for a teammate by leaping out of the boat, yoking up to a sling on the front, and taking off down the trail at a 10 minute mile pace towing the bright yellow canoe. Flat legs indeed.
At the top!
20 more minutes of paddling and we beached below the Monument, discarded lifejackets, and headed into the bush and uphill. The goal was to hit the top in under 20 minutes. The DOC sign predicted a 2 hour return. I started out in front. Adrian again lamented his tired legs. Whew. My own legs weren’t feeling great–the knee was fine but the calves were complaining about the steep grade almost immediately–so the idea I’d be able to cruise up at a moderate pace was pretty nice. Then fallen tree forced me off the trail. I chose the long way around and was soon behind both Adrian and Caleb. Within minutes, they were out of sight. I was pushing hard–heart rate up, calves now screaming, and lungs burning. I’d occasionlly catch site of Adrian, followed closely by Caleb, when the bush opened up or they came to a trickier bit that slowed them up. But by the time we hit the ridge proper and started the third and fourth class scrambling, all I heard were their voices–shouting encouragement down, “come on Andy! Keep pushing. You’ve only got five minutes!”
In the end, I reached the top in about 17 minutes, only a minute slower than the other two. It was the same on the way down too–my fleetness of foot and confidence on the downhill were no match for my companions skill either. I was relieved to be back in the boat where I actually felt a bit stronger by comparison, but where even if I wasn’t, a gap wouldn’t appear to expose the truth. We took an alternate way back–a longer portage and shorter paddle, hoping to negative split the journey. This time Adrian and Caleb tag teamed the canoe and had it careening like a toboggan along the winding portage trail at what was, according to the data log on Adrian’s watch, the trip’s top speed of nearly 8 miles an hour.
Caleb negotiating the chimney. He was faster going up…and going down.
It was an awesome outing–perfect paddling conditions, great company, and just the right amount of suffering (kneeling for half an hour can get quite uncomfortable!) We didn’t quite make our time window and I was a bit late to pick up the boys but they didn’t even notice, the party was still going full swing. We even got to participate in the lollie scramble, which was a bonus as I was getting pretty hungry (I hadn’t eaten anything before the mission).
As I headed back to drop Adrian and the canoe off, he commented that it was a ‘pretty good rest day’. I asked him politely if, whatever he thought of it privately, he at least called it ‘active recovery’ when I was in earshot. All in all though, whatever he calls it, it was necessary. I’ve seen the writing on the wall and it’s time to get serious. I’m no slouch, but if I want to keep up enough to not let the team down during GodZone, it’s time for a more dedicated training program for the next eight weeks. I’ll be working on that today (my kind of rest day), and throw it on here for accountabilities sake, and in the interest of N=1 science (my favorite kind).