While out running early one morning I had a brain wave. After years of playing support crew or volunteering, maybe I could have a go at racing and what better race than X-Marathon as it is based in our backyard.
Now to start the training. Coming from a running only background, it was all about cramming on the bike and in the boat for me. I was extremely worried that I would let the boys down with my poor technical MTB ability. They all ride super strong and I unfortunately have the tendency to talk myself out of anything that is “scary” and let myself off by walking. Luckily two weeks before the race Tim presented me with the best wedding present a girl could ever hope for, a new MTB. I think it saved my life.
Before I knew it race weekend was here. I still felt pretty underdone, but what could I do now, time to suck it up princess.
Friday night was really hectic. By the time I finished work, attended competency testing, briefing & dinner, tweaking of gear in boxes, last minute food prep, maps were marked, boxes dropped off and breakfast made for the morning it was finally time to fall into to bed. Unfortunately my brain didn’t understand it was time to sleep, coupled with my nerves I think I managed about 3 hours sleep, before my alarm told me is was 4:00am and time to rise.
I quickly got myself organised then made sure the boys were all up and ready for breakfast. As I made everyone their breakfast Tim reminded me that I wasn’t playing support crew any longer and I needed to make sure I was fed and organised too. Then it was off to the bus that would transport all teams to the start line at Angusvale.
Most people tried to grab a few extra zzz on the bus, but once again my mind just wouldn’t stop. How was I meant to race for 24-48 hours straight with no sleep. Holy crap maybe my early morning thought of racing wasn’t a brainwave, but a brain failure.
Upon arriving at Angusvale all teams had to set up two double boats for the second leg, a paddle down the Mitchell River. After a minor rudder repair, we were finally set. Let the fun begin.
The first leg would be a short orienteer to ensure all teams didn’t start on the water at once. We were only given the map for this leg just before the start. So with no time to plan a route we were off and running. What a sight it would have been for the campers at Angusvale. Russian music blaring from the PA system and 68 Lycra clad competitors sprinting off towards the first Check Point (CP).
We would be paddling down the Mitchell River, which is renowned for great paddling, complete with a number of difficult rapids to negotiate. Unfortunately the river level was only at 0.6m, which resulted in a lot of portage and negotiating the rapids via foot rather than being able to paddle. This also meant every exposed rock in the river became decorated in either orange or blue marks from the plastic boats as we bounced down the river in a life size game of pinball. It wasn’t only rocks you had to keep an eye out for, but other teams too. With many a boat or even competitor being T-boned mid rapid. I must say after approximately 30km of paddling I was very glad we were off the water unscathed.
After supporting at many events I knew these guys could ride and Tim was keen to put in a bit of effort on this leg so we could make the first trek leg in the daylight. I was put straight onto tow and there I stayed until we reached the first flat dirt section. After the first slightly technical descent my worst fears came true, I let my brain take over and I talked myself out of being able to do the next descent. After walking the next descent Tim gave me a stern talking to, which helped kick me back into gear. There was no way I was going to walk anymore descents and let the boys down. We arrived into TA at about 3:00, plenty of daylight for the next leg.
As we didn’t have to pack our bikes back into the boxes, this allowed for a relatively quick transition. We were off on leg 4 which was a trek, unfortunately two of our team members were suffering from slight Achilles issues so this leg would just be a fast walk for us, no running.
Even so we still managed a great pace even as we traversed up Prospect Creek and around Mount Taylor a lot of the time straight through the bush with no trail.
This was also the first time our local knowledge was a help. Knowing that the road was in good condition over Mount Taylor we opted to go up & over rather than around via Bullumwaal Road as most other teams did and this seemed to make us some time. We were very excited to arrive at this TA as Brad’s family were volunteering here and a couple of friends had come out to cheer us on. Thanks guys, was great to see you out there.
Upon reaching TA we were given our 2 maps for the next leg, an Adeventuregain around Mount Taylor. We split into two teams with Brad & Morts getting 5 of the CPs on the MTB while Tim and myself getting the other 3 on foot. We worked really well as a team on this leg.
Tim and I helped Brad & Morts get set on their bikes before taking off to collect our allocated CP. By only having to collect 3 CPs this allowed me to have a short rest before the next MTB leg (estimated time 6-12hrs).
As it was now dark we had the advantage of knowing all the tracks very well and knowing exactly were CPs were without needing to really refer to the maps. The boys absolutely smashed the MTB making up a massive amount of time on other teams here.
Unfortunately the good roads didn’t last and we soon turned on to some over grown motorbike tracks, which also consisted of some long sections of hike a bike. I was actually glad to be doing this section in the dark. In the dark your world exists only in your head torch beam. I could no longer see the obstacles that I would usually be concerned about and I just rode my bike. At one point Tim was riding behind me laughing as he couldn’t believe how I had suddenly learned to ride a bike.
The rest of the leg undulated up and down with a couple of steep pinches and descents. The boys looked after me very well on this leg towing me wherever possible and motivating me with words of encouragement. They all rode very strongly and were able to keep moving at what we thought was a relatively good pace. This is still my favourite leg of the race; I would never have believed a MTB leg could possibly be my favourite.
We arrived in the next TA 4 for a short trek and much to our surprise Liz told us we were now in 5th place, but that 3rd and 4th were only 11 mins ahead of us. We had actually made up time on other teams on a MTB leg, I still can’t believe it. This leg was only about a 1km trek in our bike shoes, so relatively uneventful. We used it as an opportunity to quickly eat some food on the go and make sure everyone was feeling OK.
Back onto our bike for a short ride to Bruthen for the next leg, only one more climb out of Fairy Dell and then we knew it was all downhill and onto the flat & easy rail trail. With spirits high we set off only for my lights to run out of battery a couple of 100m out of TA, after a quick battery change we were off again.
After a rather drawn out transition, of packing bikes back into boxes and organising paddling gear we set off to the river to inflate our packrafts. We were quietly cocky abut inflating our rafts knowing that we had an electric pump, unfortunately the pump lasted all of 1 minute before cutting out and refusing to start again. So we were reduced to blowing up the rafts via hand pumps.
Once again the river we were on was very low on water, so low in fact that we were reduced to walking up the river instead of paddling. Luckily Tim had some lengths of elastic fitted with carabiners, this allowed us to attach a leash to the front strap on the raft and take our rafts for a walk down the river. As we trudged along the river bed we were occasionally swallowed thigh deep by soft sand resulting in a massive excavation effort leaving ones shoes full of sand.
Soft sand wasn’t the only obstacle we faced. There were also rare aggressive Albino eels, blackberry bushes that snagged any exposed skin they could, swarms of asshole bugs that stuck to every surface they landed on including your eyes, up your nose or mouth and terrified dairy cows that were in danger of falling from their private bridge onto teams below.
This was the first time our team started to struggle. Our bodies were still miraculously feeling OK, but as we had now been racing for over 24 hrs fatigue started to take its toll. There is something very hypnotic about watching the paddles in front of you turn over and the constant splash of paddles entering & exiting the water. As Tim and I desperately tried to stay on Brad & Morts’ boat’s wake we noticed that their paddling was getting more and more out of time and Morts had developed a lean to the right and was in danger of going overboard.
We had a quick mid river stop to hand out caffeine gels and Tim and I went to the front to allow the boys to have rest on our wake and give the gels time to kick in. Just as Morts pulled himself back together Tim and I both started to fade. At one point I was paddling along with my eyes closed, I quickly learnt this was not a great idea as I nearly also took an unplanned swim. Upon reaching Johnsonville we decided to quickly pull into the boat ramp to use the toilets, fill up depleted water supplies and say a quick hi to our dedicated dot watches.
This short break was enough to break the monotony of paddling and wake us up. As we took off for the last push to the finish we could see BMX Bandits out in front of us and team CBRAR behind us. This was the extra motivation we needed to keep us going and we happily chatted as we paddled the last few kms to the mouth of the Tambo and out into the lake. As we slowly bit by bit drew closer to the shore at Shaving Point the realisation hit me, we were going to finish this.
Once on shore we collected our belongings from the boats and headed off on a soggy shuffle to the finish line at the Metung Village Green. I could hardly believe it, not only had we finished in just under 28hrs we had managed to snag 4th place.
I could not have asked for better team mates they had towed me, encouraged me and told me exactly as it was at times and in the process helped me achieve the biggest challenge I have ever set for myself.
We are the true weekend warriors out there just giving it a go, having a truck load of fun, stepping outside what we imagine our comfort zone to be and somehow in the processes managing to punch way above our weight.
A big thank you must definitely go to Serge & Maria of Adventure Junkie for organising such an amazing race and for basing it in the relatively unknown East Gippsland area. In the process introducing our amazing area to a whole new group of people who will hopefully return again and again to explore this spectacular area we call home.
Also a big thank you to all the volunteers. I truly do understand exactly how hard you work out on course; no race would be run without you.