I first adventure raced in Ireland back in 2006. Though I loved the idea of multi-sports (kayaking, mountain biking, mountain running and orienteering all packed into one race), I never warmed to the fact that it left you cold, wet, miserable, hungry and often lost and in the dark.
Adventure Racing in South East Asia is an entirely different matter. It’s all shorts and t-shirts, and rehydration salts, and farmer tanlines galore.
Last weekend, I travelled to Thailand for ‘The Amarin Outdoor Unlimited River Kwai Trophy’.
I had heard great things about this adventure racing series run by Active Management Asia (AMA). Great course, well organized, and in a part of Thailand that’s spectacular. All I had to do was find an adventure racing partner. When my search around Cambodia failed to produce a team mate, I emailed Serge from AMA who put me in contact with Dan, a South Africa teacher living in Bangkok.
We met up for the first time the night before the race. He was the biker. I was the runner. And swimming and kayaking we’d figure out as we went.
There were two categories in the race – Adventure and Extreme. Wanting my value for money, we opted for the Extreme. We then braced ourselves for a five hour plus race. There were plenty of other mixed teams also vying for the top spot. This was a pleasant surprise given that most of the races I’ve been in recently has had me as the sole female rep.
And a race we definitely had. At 8.30am, 43 extreme teams started out with a quick swim across the River Kwai before running for our bikes. The bike section was quick and bumpy over countryside flat tracks. I’d been warned that the ground was littered with thorns that tore racers’ tyres to shreds the previous years, some having more than four punctures per team. Fortunately, Dan was on tubeless and I’d reinforced tyres with tape inside and airlock Specialized tubes. No thorn was going to ruin our race.
We dumped the bikes after 20 minutes and dove back into the water. Another swim and we had a gnarly run section up and over little hills that were strewn with sharp pointy rocks that made it quite un-runnable. The bamboo trees overhanging the route also made the orange ribbons that marked the race route sometimes a tad difficult to see.
Off the run, and we were passed by a speedy Asian mixed team coming down off the hill. The girl was killing the guy as she bounced her way down. I was sure he was going to bomb with the pace she was keeping, especially that we were less than an hour into the race. So Dan and I let them go, hodling a steady pace before swimming back to our bikes.
Another bike section followed. We overtook the Asian team, only to arrive at the check-point to the news that we were leading the mixed team race. With no idea how much further we had to go (the race briefing didn’t tell us anything about the course), we kept it steady and moved on to the next run section. It was getting hot by now and no amount of electrolytes was going to stop potential cramps. This was coupled with the fact that the race rules said we had to keep our mountain bike helmets with us at all times. And with nowhere else to put them, they stayed on our heads and kept the heat painfully in.
The mixed Asian team passed us again on the run, the girl dragging the guy along yet again. Later we heard that the girl is Thailand’s marathon record holder, hence why she had such an amazing speed. They left us for dirt as we ran through dry paddy fields, and then up through some rocky jungle pass. But when we got to the transition to get our bikes, the Asian team had not one but two punctures to fix.
We took back our first place and cycled on, constantly wondering when the race would finish and would the other teams catch us in the end. We kept our lead, getting to the final transition into the kayaks still in first place. “They won’t catch us now”, we both thought, having seen how few arm muscles the other Asian team had. But how wrong we were. We weren’t half way through the kayak section before they came rocketing past us, leaving us for dead. In the end, they did the 5th fastest kayaking time overall, beating many of the strong all male teams.
Determined to give it one last try, we kayaked as hard as we could, dumped our kayaks and tried to catch them on the final swim. We made up 3 minutes on them on that final stage, but it still left us 20 seconds behind them on the line.
We both caught our breath, and then went over to congratulate the other team. They didn’t speak English. And we didn’t speak Thai. But it was smiles all around, all four of us having enjoyed the race.
Overall, I’m very happy with the performance. Having not adventure raced for over a year, I was glad to get back into the saddle. Dan was a great team mate, despite having met him less than 24 hours before hand. And the race was impeccably well organised, well marked, and well attended. We walked away with lots of nice goodies for coming in second place. And hopefully we’ll do even better at the next race in Koh Samui in October.
All photos courtesy of NID Active.