Tuesday, 12 April 2016

SPIRITED WOMEN 2016 - Team Expedio GOT race report


SPIRITED WOMEN 2016 - Team Expedio GOT

How many people can say they got to stand-up paddle-board (SUP), kayak, trek, mountain bike orienteer, tree top walk, rogaine, rifle shoot and rock climb all in one day? We can because that’s what we got to experience at the inaugural Spirited Women Adventure race in Rotorua on April 2.

It all started for us (Team Expedio GOT Debbie Chambers, Emma McCosh, Jill Westenra and Leigh Cockerill) at 7.15 am on the shores of Lake Okareka in Rotorua. Even though it was just on sunrise, the atmosphere was buzzing with the excited chatter of teams of four, who had put their hand up for either the long distance course (9 hours) or the veteran and corporate mid distance course (6 hours). It gave us goose bumps to see so many women giving adventure racing a go for the first time in their life !! What an awesome event to be part of.

Before we knew it the countdown was on. Whoop whoop …..The race started with a run around the shoreline and parks of Lake Okareka to where the SUPs that were provided by the race organiser were waiting for us.  To our relief the lake was calm as a mill pond and the boards were sleek and fast looking. We grabbed some flash looking lite weight paddles and headed out onto the water to collect the various checkpoints (CPs) on the lake.  What a stunning way to start the day although we were doing something physical it was oddly therapeutic. We found ourselves paddling in and out of caves and searching amongst the reeds and wildlife whilst trying not to crash into each other.  The predicted rain hadn’t arrived and although we knew it would come later, it was nice to be dry while on the water.

For the next leg, we exchanged our SUP’s for double kayaks and headed back onto the lake. It was great to see the other teams paddling towards us on their SUPs cheering and laughing in good spirits.  Once again the CPs were all in cool places: Up on rocks, in caves, tunnels and in beautiful bush.  We were happy with our kayak configurations but found the boats somewhat heavier than our multisport boats. It was like paddling bath tubs but at least there was no chance of falling out.

After the kayak we arrived into transition in first place and laced up our shoes to set off on the rough trek over to the Blue Lake.  The narrow, rooty and slippery track suited us fine as we pushed on to the various CPs on this leg.  Jill provided us all with a bit of entertainment with an impromptu sit down thanks to a particularly slippery piece of track.  After a bit of a fumble finding the final checkpoint in a glow worm cave we headed into transition.  The only problem was our support crew was nowhere to be found. He was expecting us to arrive from a different direction so had locked the car and headed off to see where we were. Let’s just say a few people were yelling out his name and he got a bit of stick from us and the other support crews when he realised it was us waiting at the locked car.  

After some food and drink we jumped on our mountain bikes and headed out onto the course. We were pretty excited about this leg as Leigh had just ridden the Pioneer Mountain Bike stage race in the South Island, and Emma and Debbie had just cycled the length of New Zealand in just over 14 days on the Tour Aotearoa and Jill, as many people know, is just always a machine on the bike!  We set off down the lovely new single track around the edge of the Blue Lake in high spirits.  Not long into the leg the team behind us caught us up and we knew there and then we had a battle on our hands. After riding with them for a bit we were sure we could match them for pace. However, not long after that the wheels fell off when our failing eye sight and lack of detail on the map lead to our demise.  We made a couple of silly errors of judgement on this leg and never recovered our lead.  Although we spent far too much time running up and down tracks looking for the CPs, not once did anyone come close to throwing their toys out of the cot. We enjoyed every second of the ride taking in the awesome scenery and tracks and enjoying the wet and muddy conditions. We arrived into transition covered in mud but with big smiles on our faces.  Our support crew had certainly redeemed himself and had our shoes and caps lined up perfectly as well as a smorgasbord of food waiting in the back of the car.

The next leg was a mystery activity which saw us complete the new tourist treewalk at the Redwoods visitors centre.  We had quite a wait in a queue here but used it to catch up with supporters and other teams.  It was a beautiful walk across a series of 21 suspension bridges 6-12 metres off the ground, through huge 110 year old Redwood trees.  We then made our way to a marshal in the bush who gave us a new and detailed orienteering map for our foot rogaine.  Even with our poor eyesight we made light work of the navigation on this section as every bump and dip was well represented on the orienteering map. It was wonderful running through the soft trails and we were mostly protected from the heavy rain that fell at this time.  We were extremely thankful to have waterproof maps… the race organisers had thought of everything.  This was one of our favourite legs as we were constantly seeing other team in the forest with us.  Everyone was having such a great time and everywhere we looked teams were smiling and laughing and egging each other on. Once again the CPs were in interesting places.  We visited an old kumara pit, an old bunker, caves, rocks, cliffs and a little shelter.  Even though we were in the middle of a race, once again we felt a sense of calm in these beautiful surrounds.

After a quick transition, we were off to town.  It was a complete environmental change as we entered the geothermal wonderland of Rotorua.  Bubbling water, mud and steam surrounded us as we wove our way around the cycle trails on the edge of Lake Rotorua.  We had another mystery activity here – this time was air rifle shooting.  We had to serve out a 30 second penalty for a miss but we were soon on our bikes and back to transition.

The last leg was a short run around the bottom end of town and to our last mystery activity on an indoor rock climbing wall.  The instructor commented that we smelt like lake-weed, but was very good about all of the mud we traipsed inside.  We each enjoyed the climb and quickly ran through the centre of town and the many tourists who must have been wondering what on earth we were doing.

After the final CP at the mighty Waka on the lake-front, we held hands and ran across the finish line, on Rotorua’s Eat Street.  What an atmosphere!  We were treated to huge cheers, whistles and claps from the many support crews and teams who had already finished and the odd local. It was an incredible feeling. We have done hundreds of races between us all and none of us had ever had a reception as moving as that.  We were each given a wine glass with the Spirited Women logo engraved on it as well as a bottle of champagne to celebrate our success.  What a nice touch.

So if you are a group of women interested in getting into adventure racing then check this event out and give it a go next year. So many women who did this race had never done anything like this before and felt completely out of their depth, yet on the finishline when we asked them what they thought of the course they loved every minute of it and said it was the best thing they had ever done.  One woman who was petrified of mountain biking before the event said she would do it all again in a heartbeat. One team learnt to read a map the day before the event and had never ridden on mountain bike tracks before yet they got through with team work, grit, determination and humour.

As it says on the Spirited Women website - www.spiritedwomen.co.nz “This event defines the spirit of a kiwi woman – her give-it-a-go attitude, sense of adventure, a strong belief in her girlfriends and a desire to help them through difficult times and celebrate the good times”. That is what adventure racing is all about.

A huge thanks goes out to Neil Gellatly and his team for putting on an awesome event and for inspiring so many women to get out of their comfort zones. We also want to thank Expedio Industrial Properties for their support and for taking care of our every need on the day. It will be held in Taupo in 2017. Get your team together NOW.

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