Written by Lesa Muir
It seems like a world away now, sitting here, warm, dry scratching some thoughts about my experience in GODZone all those months ago. I think it’s taken me this long to want to have the energy to want to write about it given it was the most physically taxing and almost nearly the most mentally taxing experience I have taken on in my life.
Godzone Adventure is a member of the Adventure Racing World Series (ARWS), an international circuit of premiere adventure races in 10 countries for which I have also competed in the Australian edition XPD and Expedition Africa. Godzone’s legend stems from its uncompromising courses which are designed to push you to beyond what you ever thought you were capable of amongst a backdrop of amazingly beautiful scenery. Chapter 7 in the words of Pure Racing would be “more extreme than anything that has come before it”, with the race being extended to a 10-day course to accommodate the extreme remoteness of the course and the terrain athletes would have to cover.
As Godzone describes it
“Adventure & racing – It’s an unusual sport. Part adventure, part race, part human experience, it’s a sport that accommodates the wanderlust of the most ardent traveller, the competitive urges of the seriously trained athlete, and the spiritual desires of a wilderness devotee. Can adventure be a sport? Is racing ever an adventure? Nobody seems to know for sure, but the format seems to a create some wonderful, and sometimes life-changing, experiences for those who take part. “
God zone chapter 7 played out in Fiordland on the South Island of New Zealand, where teams of 4 would pit themselves against a course which is a secret until the day before the race. Teams would navigate with map and compass for up to 10 days, fully self-supported (meaning gear and food had to be meticulously planned into gear boxes that would be left at strategic locations around the course.) Predominately off-track, this chapter included two monster trek/packraft legs one 110km the other 150km in length, an abseil over 130 metres, a caving section and mountain biking sections (which would be better described as mountain bike carrying sections). To add to the adventure, and to make things interesting, you choose your own sleep strategy. We would sleep on average 3 hrs a night, generally between 3am and 6am each day.
So how did I get here? I took up a late call to join a team called NZHL Women Beyond Cancer, which consisted of fellow Aussie and Deanna Blegg, and Kiwis Frankie Sanders and Shanel Murray, we had three things in common, a cancer diagnosis, a reckless sense of athletic adventure and a deep sense of motivation to inspire others touched by cancer.
I had been diagnosed with Stage 4 Melanoma cancer and had gone onto have surgeries over the next three years to remove melanomas from both lungs and lop out an eighth of my liver, I then spent 12 months on a phase 1 immunotherapy trial.
The team’s goal simply was to inspire others out there that had been impacted by a cancer diagnosis that they are not alone and the courage that we all call on during our cancer journeys can also provide us with the capacity to experience and challenge ourselves post-cancer to achieve amazing things.
One of the most challenging days in the race is the day before the race begins. It’s then that the course details are released, and you are given one day to arrange your gear into the correct boxes, including spare shoes, dry clothes, food, extra batteries, bike parts etc. so you don’t end up finding only a pair of paddling booties on your next 150km trekking leg!
A critical component of any adventure race given it’s fully self-supported and extends up to 10 days is planning nutrition for the duration. Some of the challenges around this process include:
• Predicting how much food you are going to need to take with you on each leg as times per leg are estimates only – our longest leg ended up being 3 days
• Guessing what food you are going to feel like out on course and not end up with a pack of food you don’t want to eat
• Trying to keep food weight to a minimum, particularly in this event where we were carrying two pack rafts along with tents and stack of mandatory gear pack weight was critical.
• Ensuring food was nutritionally dense enough, but also able to preserve in a gear box for up to 6/7 days ruling out a lot of fresh food choices.
• You can’t survive on gels alone, although critically important to keep energy levels up you also need real food to supplement you over a possible 10-day period.
• There was no food available as far as we knew out on course.
• What food you can easily eat on each leg, for example, it’s easier to eat gels on the paddling leg without stopping and easier to eat larger or trickier items to open on the trek legs.
Given in most adventure races you are out on course 24/7 I prefer to make decision making easier for myself when I come into transition by sorting my food into 12-hour bags, either day or night bags with enough food to last for a 12 hour period.
I also make up an Excel spreadsheet (nerd I know) where I list all the food that I have trained with that I know work for me and calculate out the calorie and carb content of each then roughly ensure I am getting enough of each to last me for a 12 hour period in each bag.
An example of what an AM bag would contain would be
• Dry cereal, coconut milk powder and chia then add water and eat it out of a bag
• Snacks such as dried bananas, dates, vegan fruit based bars, nut bars, dried mango, savoury snacks such as dried broad bean snacks and nut butter sachets
• Low fructose gel option, for me I chose VFuel as I had been recommended this by my nutritionist because of the zero fructose. I also don’t find them sickly sweet which is important when you are eating these babies for an entire week.
• I also make my own protein smoothie paste and dehydrate it then blitz into a powder, I try to have this before sleeping to replenish and repair while I get a few hours shut-eye.
PM bag would include
• Similar snacks as above
• Salmon foil sachet to eat around midday
• Usually, more gels at night as during the early morning hours you really stop feeling like eating so being able to keep up energy levels with something simple such as V Fuel is really important.
• One dehydrated meal, we were fortunate that Frankie had just started her own “Local Dehy” brand, so we used these vegan meals out on the course and found them amazingly good.
• Miso paste is also a good one for evenings even if it’s only with lukewarm water as the salt is a lifeline after so much sweet based food.
• Chocolate coated coffee beans, a lifesaver at 2am in the morning
Also as you are carrying all your own water in a bladder I used to supplement my water with V Fuel Endurance Mix, my gosh the ginger twist was terrific, again when you are looking for something that is not too sweet, so you keep drinking water this is definitely a hit!
A section of our race report from teammate Shanel
“ Over the next 8 days we certainly all had our highs and lows. We generally slept around 3 hours/ night, and each of us struggled at times with the weight of the packs weighing up to 17kg.
Navigation was tough, and spirits were sometimes low, but we all worked together to pull each other out of our lulls. There were singing and word games and stories to pass the time, and painkillers to numb the pain. Highlights included beautiful scenery paddling across Lake Hauroko at dawn, pack rafting 30km’s down the grade 3 Wairaurahiri river and caving in the Clifden limestone caves.
Low lights – mud, mud and mud, bush bashing, blisters and having teammate Dee helicoptered out on day 5 due to illness.
Despite being only one of two all women’s teams, losing one team member and having to continue unranked, we pushed through and managed to cross the finish line, 8 gruelling days and nights after setting out. To say that we were glad to see that the finish line would be an understatement.
What a crazy, crazy adventure, but one that we are privileged to be able to stay we have completed and ticked off the bucket list. It does feel like quite an achievement to say that we have finished the longest and hardest ever chapter of Godzone NZ.