All the top teams had some changes going into Hells Bells, to be run out of Noosa this year. The news that Gary Sutherland was hospitalised with appendicitis the day before the race made us realise we are lucky to be racing. Our own preparation had been a bit up in the air as well with Leo stuck in WA for work and Hugh having a grade 2 hamstring tear only two weeks before the race. His physio was pretty clear in her recommendation that racing was a bad idea! It improved over the week before the race so in the end he decided to give it a go (“I can jog for 40mins so doing a 24hr adventure race should be fine!”).
We were lucky to have Guy Andrews stepping in for Leo. Guy had not raced a long AR race for some time but he was fit and his experience would be appreciated.
The course hand out on Saturday morning revealed it was not going to be as short as last year. A long foot rogaine in the middle of the race was going to be crucial, both for reasons we expected and some we did not.
Leg 1 – 16km Swim Run
The race started with a swim across the Noosa river and into Great Sandy National park for a run around tracks and the beach to find 6 checkpoints. Apart from a slight hiccup when we chose a track that was no longer there we moved through this OK. We could not keep pace with the faster teams but hung in OK.
Leg 2 – 20km paddle
This was along the Noosa River and across Lake Cootharaba to Teewah Landing. We paddled pretty well and caught Rogue who had started a few minutes in front of us. There was a bunch of three teams together and Thoughtsports not far behind.
Leg 3 – 6km run
This short up and back run to the top of the dunes would not normally have given us much thought but after 2.5hrs sitting in a boat with an angry hamstring, Hugh was struggling to do anything but hobble. With a tow from Bern he got through without loosing the team too much time.
Leg 4 – 5km paddle
This took us back across Lake Cootharaba to the TA into the setting sun. We arrived on sunset and caught up the ground we lost on the run, but more time in the kayak was not helping Hugh’s hamstring as he was starting to complain!
Leg 5 – 35km ride
On the map this looked straight forward, but we soon found the trails were often minor tracks on the Noosa Trail network, not the 4wd tracks we were expecting. We lost our way a bit and Thoughsports caught us and in our confusion we headed up a track up to CP12 that turned out not to be the one we thought it was and was unmarked. Looking back if we had known where we were it would have been a great route choice, but we rode around for an hour trying to locate ourselves before realising we were only 500m from the CP most of the time! With the help of some locals from the Sanctuary we passed through we got ourselves back on track and got to the Rogaine TA about an hour behind the leaders. Not great but it was only 9pm and there was a long way to go.
Leg 6 – 30km Rogaine
This leg had all optional CPs with time bonuses totalling 9 hrs. You only had to get one and looking at the map you could have done this and got back with effectively zero time for the leg. We decided to go for all the CPs and went straight to the harder looking ones at the top of the course. Hugh’s hamstring had improved with the bike ride so, although we were not that fast, we were moving OK.
Hard is what is was with a couple of the CPs definitely not worth the 1hr credit they came with, but overall it was worth it in the end as it took us 8hrs to get them all. In the TA we were reminded that if we did not get to the finish within the 24hr race time we would loose all the bonuses. We had missed this pearl of information in the notes for this leg, but were not concerned too much as we did not expect the remaining legs to take the 5.5hrs we had left if we skipped the optional CP up a big hill.
Leg 7, 8, 9 – 35km MTB, abseil, 15km MTB
With dawn light appearing we headed off but were a bit too relaxed and made quite a few little mistakes which started adding up. About half way through we realised we were going to be in trouble with the time limit and got a bit more focussed.
The hills and the hike a bike took their toll and we got to the abseil knowing we had a significant problem with the time limit, but struggled with the concept of not doing the course (i.e. skipping CPs to save time) and just gave it our best. In hindsight this was a big mistake. We raced through the last leg and found the last two CPs with a bit of trial and error, but were still reasonably quick. Not quick enough though and we arrived an hour behind Thoughtsports and 15 mins late feeling pretty deflated.
Here is where it got a bit messy. At the presentation we were announced as getting second place. This was a pleasant surprise for us, but was short lived when Chris advised the course notes had been drawn to his attention and he had not applied the time adjustments according to the instructions for the rogaine leg. This is where we got really disappointed.
Chris has applied his instructions correctly and we cannot fault him for this, but we believe the instruction and approach is not in the spirit of adventure racing. To loose 9hrs (which ended up equating to 7 places) for being 15mins late is a pretty harsh outcome. In hindsight we could have skipped CPs or the abseil (which we did discuss) but we did not know the penalties for this in advance and it did not feel right. For us AR is about completing the course. A rule like this will only encourage boring, conservative decision making and, in the absence of a system of recovering lost time without significant penalty, places more emphasis on luck than good management (in rogaining you can take the fastest route home not getting CPs and even then you only lose points on a graduated scale). Being beaten by teams that broke basic rules and went out of bounds does not feel right. We hope this is a short lived experiment as we feel it is unfair and not good for the sport. Putting this aside, Wild & Co did put together a great course which was both challenging and fun.
Well done to all the place getters. There is no doubt the race rewarded good navigation and strategy. Thoughtsports in particular were truely dominant and well deserving of their win in the race and the A1 series (which they have now wrapped up).
Our video will be out soon I expect (we are short on motivation this week) and our thanks go out to our supporters including Aussie Grit Apparel. The more we wear their gear the more we like it.
For this race we also owe Guy a special thanks as not only did he get a much longer race than he was promised, but he had to share our pain after finishing.
Until next time ….