X Marathon was to be our first race with a slight change in lineup and under a new team name (inspired by the Usain Bolt fans in our families). Leo is going to race with us (Bern, Josh and myself) on a more regular basis this year with Expedition Africa being the next big event. Some of us were a bit underdone going into X-Marathon after a long Christmas break so we were a bit unsure of how we would go (and whether Serge’s course would prove as long as last year).
The trend of releasing a logistics planner ahead of the event is a good one and it made preparation much easier as we could be quite specific in our packing before we left home. Serge and Maria had also managed to make the logistics easy with the way the legs flowed. Nonetheless we still did have a bit of a last minute rush because we misinterpreted the instructions for the briefing, dinner and gear drop off on the Friday night. We did not bring our boxes to dinner and so had a rushed trip back to finish packing and bring the boxes back after dinner, which we managed just in time. It was good doing the maps over dinner though!
The course consisted of 10 legs as follows:
- A short rogaine to split the field up before the first paddle
- A 5 hr (hopefully) paddle down the Mitchell river – supposedly with some nice white water sections
- A 2-3hr bike ride on what looked like good firetrails
- A 3hr trek, mostly on track but with a couple off track checkpoints (Serge said the bush was thick!)
- A split leg with the option of splitting into two pairs to get the CPs either on foot or bike
- A longer bike leg (5-6hrs) on some dodgy looking trails with quite a bit of route choice – all likely to be at night.
- A short trek to Fairy Dell towards the end of the bike leg
- A packraft down the Tambo river, which purportedly did not have much water and for which the fastest estimated time of 2.5 hrs looked optimistic
- A 4hr kayak down the rest of the river and across lake Wellington to Metung and the finish.
Race start was a couple of hours from the event centre at Metung, necessitating an early start but a few ZZZ’s on the bus made it OK. We arrived to a slightly cool morning but a glamorous day making clothing choice a dilemma given we were not sure how cold the water was going to be.
We started the run and quickly realized we were over dressed! Better that than cold I suppose. We managed the rogaine reasonably well, but overshot one CP slightly and ended up coming into the TA onto the boats in 4th place, but with the leading teams all getting on the water within a few minutes.
The paddle was to prove long and tricky with the low water necessitating time out of the boats dragging over rocks. Peak Adventure were a bit quicker than us through the tricky sections and opened up a small lead. The other teams seemed to struggle in the rapids even more so we did not see them again. Whilst somewhat frustrating the rapids were a little comical at times as often the first boat got stuck only to be run over by the second boat despite our best attempts to avoid collisions. There would have been lots of blue and orange scrapings on the rocks by the time all the teams got down!
We caught Peak Adventure towards the end when they had to empty out a leaking boat and despite some confusion as to where the end of the leg was (it was 1 k further down the river than marked on the map) we arrived at the TA together with Peak Adventure. We transitioned in a similar time and ended up riding together for the first part of the leg, until the first of quite a few navigation options left us taking different routes. We were happy with our choice as the road quality looked better than the alternative, but Peak caught us again by the next CP and we rode together on and off for the rest of a pretty uneventful leg.
Peak transitioned a bit faster than us into the trek and we continued at our own pace on what was feeling like a warm day. We messed up the 2nd CP a bit costing us about 20 mins after we gave up on finding the track a little too early and ended up back in the river and going around to the CP. We trotted through the rest of the leg tiring as the day warmed up, but were happy enough to arrive at the split leg just as Peak Adventure finished their transition.
We got the map and quickly deduced it would be better to ride in two pairs rather than go on foot as all the CPs were on trails. Josh and I got 5 CPs closer to the TA, but on single track, whilst Leo and Bern got to ride up the big hill to get the other two. The hill was a killer apparently so Josh and I got a rest and Leo arrived back feeling a bit worse for wear and (Bern is making a habit of smashing us all these days) we transitioned into the darkness on our bikes.
Again our route choices proved good and we were very surprised to see Peak Adventure riding up to the first CP just after we had passed it. They had taken a longer option on what looked like a better road, but it was significantly slower. We expected PA to catch us and were in no state to push hard so continued on at a manageable pace and avoiding navigation mistakes and delays. There was a fair bit of walking on steep and overgrown tracks so the going was slow. Leo was doing it tough but picked up a little after leaving the contents of his stomach beside the trail. We managed to keep moving through these low spots but were very unsure whether we were still in front or not.
We were very pleased to finish the short trek to Fairy Dell before Peak Adventure got to that TA so we knew we had a lead of about 30 mins or so allowing us to relax a little, perhaps a little too much as our next transition from bikes to pack rafts seemed to take forever! We decided to walk with the rafts in packs given the river levels but got less than 1K into it before we decided the river looked OK and inflated our rafts. Then began a long and somewhat frustrating series of short paddles between much longer stints walking and wading. We tried all sorts of options (one person in the boats, dragging them, carrying them etc) and soon leant that just plodding on was generally the right thing to do. Despite the lack of paddling, this leg was a highlight for wildlife spotting with lots of fish, eels and best of all a platypus!. We were not sure if it was confused by our lights but the platypus was happy to swim right up to us (each of us individually pretty much) so we got to watch its sleek swimming style up close (which reminded us how slow we were going!).
There was much happiness when we got to the bridge, deflated our packrafts and climbed aboard the CTRs. Our worries about water levels seemed well founded early on as we were quickly out of the boats dragging them again, but fortunately the river quickly got deeper and we paddled slowly down the winding river. These legs are the hardest to stay awake on and this was no exception so it took a fair bit of splashing and lots of conversation to keep us moving along. The last few km on the lake were pretty good going with a tail wind, but the 500m walk to the finish was more like a stagger as our legs were very stiff after 4hrs in the kayaks.
We were absolutely wrapped to get the win with the gap to 2nd pretty comfortable in the end. We all had a lot of fun once again and are looking forward to our next race together.
Serge and Maria did a great job organising the race. The logistics were pretty smooth and the course had it’s challenging moments. We finished in just over 24hrs and were quite happy that it was not the 37 hrs it was last year. It was great to come across a decent mix of our usual competitors helping out in transitions and with logistics. It is a reminder that we all need to give back to our sport from time to time.