by Richelle Olsen, Chief Escapee, Escaping Your Comfort Zone – hiking and adventures for plus size women.
2 words “Adventure race”. With so many common responses: “I won’t be fast enough, I’ll come last, I won’t finish, people will laugh at me cause I’m so slow, I’ll get lost”. I’ve heard them all. In fact many have come out of my mouth. And you know what, not one single one of them matters. Not one.
There’s so many “races” out there. There’s running races, fun runs, adventure races, duathlons, triathlons and everything in between. But, you know, the absolute majority of these are only “races” for those at the pointy end of the field. Sure, some might be trying to get a faster time than last time, they might be trying to beat their best mate, or just trying to finish. But the vast majority of people participating in these events just do it for the fun, and the experience, and sometimes to challenge themselves.
This weekend saw the running of the Adventure Junkie Sprint Series Adventure Race at Westerfolds Park, in Templestowe in Melbourne. It consists of a kayak in the river, a run around the trails, and a mountain bike ride, all with checkpoints we had to navigate to and find along the way. About 3 weeks ago I convinced my “up for anything” mate, Claire to do it with me as a team. After saying yes (I love mates that say yes to anything!), she declared “We are so gonna die!”. And well, despite neither of us having done much in the way of paddling, running or riding recently, I knew that declaration was highly unlikely, and promptly entered our team name as “We are so NOT gonna die!”.
And there we were on Saturday morning, surrounded by these super serious looking adventure racers, and in equal numbers, plenty of regular people, just like us, there to have some fun! Standing in the line to register, there was a lot of “I’m so gonna come last”, with lots of agreement, and “Me too’s!” – looks like we were all coming last together! And believe me, from the person who has often come last at events like this, it just doesn’t matter, as long as you know you have given it a crack. As a mate of mine Kirsten says, there’s always a party at the back!
And like that, the horn sounded and we were off. People were bolting towards the first checkpoint, but we strolled on out – no need to get caught in the melee, and even by the time we got to the first checkpoint there was a line up of people checking themselves off. We were in no hurry. The beauty of this event was that there was a long and a short course. As we were doing the short course, we had plenty of time to finish well before they started packing away the finish line….plenty of time for adventuring!
After grabbing 2 walking checkpoints, we found ourselves hauling our kayak down the path to the muddy bank, and sliding it in while trying not to slide in ourselves. Somehow we managed to get in without tipping ourselves out, and off we went ziz zagging our way down the river. I think the captain was drunk. Oh wait that was me, controlling the rudder with my feet, rather badly. I’d even had a lesson the day before with the girls from Escaping Your Comfort Zone down at Port Melbourne with Jarad from Peak Adventure….imagine the circles we would be heading in if I hadn’t done that! Least we missed crashing into the bank despite my best efforts! Oh look, theres our first checkpoint on the bank, with a lineup of kayaks waiting their turn to check in….time for a 180 degree turn – hahaha, between grabbing trees, and muddy banks, and trying to avoid capsizing ourselves, or any of the poor unsuspecting other kayaks in the queue with our superior maneuverability skills, finally we took our place in the line. With a sense of dread we watched as some of the teams ahead of us seemed to be standing up in their kayaks trying to reach the checkpoint – crikey! We were lucky to be upright just sitting in the bloody boat – we all know how standing on the boat will end! But much to our delight, one of the teams ahead accidentally pulled the checkpoint into the water, so it was promptly passed back through the line of kayaks for everyone to check in. After a lovely 15 minute break for our arms, we were off back in the direction we came, into the current, but zig zagging slightly less than before – winning! And there we were, back where we started, without being dunked in the Yarra, although still pretty wet after splashing ourselves with the paddle with every stroke! With the boat back on the bank, we hauled it (with a few rest breaks) back up to the transition area, dropped it off, grabbed our packs and off we went for the 4km run.
“Run” well I use that term rather loosely too….”fast walk” is more accurate! And that we did, off onto the bush trails, tracking down our checkpoints like bloodhounds. They did try to hide some under bridges, and in muddy creek beds, but we managed to find them all. And at the same time having a laugh with some of the other teams around us, helping each other find the checkpoints. And before we knew it, it was time to jump on the bikes, and with a key tip for checkpoint 2 from one of the teams that had already finished, off we went on the bikes, tag teaming with the boys from team 44, The “UGX593 + 1gj1hg” ers (no I haven’t misspelt it, thats their team name!) A bit of nasty navigation then added team 49, the “Tri-Hards” to our motley “elite athlete” crew of tail enders. Lots of pushing bikes up hills, lifting bikes over gates, and long fun downhills saw us all come in to round out the tail end of the Novice distance.
And with that we were done. Our 3 teams were the last ones to finish, and man was it satisfying! I don’t even know how long it took us. It was just fun, we had finished, and we lived up to our name and didn’t die!! (Edit: I just saw the race results and we came third in the Female team category!! Love it when you can come last and still get a podium place!)
But what I’m trying to say here is don’t let your fears get in the way of having a bloody cracking day out! Don’t let yourself believe your made up story that you might die, for real, or from some kind of embarrassment. And if someone wants to judge you for your speed or skills, that’s none of your business. Just have fun!
Here’s some tips on selecting an event where your speed or ability doesn’t matter:
- Find an event where there is a “beginner” length event alongside a longer event. This will often mean that even if they have cutoff times, they will be long cutoff times to cater for the longer event. Which means that the finish line won’t be packed up for when you come in. Many multisport and running events have lots of different distances. If in doubt, pick one that’s on the easier side of your abilities to give you confidence.
- Ask questions of the event organiser – like many race directors, Maria and Serge from Adventure Junkies are super approachable, and will be honest about experience required to do an event. Just be honest about your own experience, and ask things like “can i walk the run course”, how rough is the bike course etc. You could also ask them to get you in touch with people in a similar situation who have done the event before. Ask questions!
- Find a friend to do it with. This adventure race was for teams only (2 people do everything together), but any event is better with a friend. Find a “Yes” friend like mine!!
- Go to the location in the weeks before the event, so you can have an idea of what to expect. Most of our anxieties are about the unknown – so get rid of as many unknowns as you can!
And believe me, as scary as it seems, its not, you wont die, but you will feel amazing afterwards!
Here’s some very similar events coming up in Melbourne, which are perfect for newbies, and I’ll be at both of them, so come and hang out with me!