I decided to take part in the Merrell Eden Duo 2011 Adventure Race as a substitute for Ansa, so it was a pretty last-minute decision. It turned out to be an amazing adventure which pushed me beyond my mental and physical limits over more than 26 hours of racing. Here follows Ben’s race report…
The Merrell Eden Duo took place on — or rather started on — 28 October 2011.
A Perfect Race in Eden – Merrell Eden Duo 150k 24 hour adventure race report by Ben Jobson
Is there such a thing as the perfect race? Or can every race be improved on? In this case Ben Jobson (of team GreenWarriors) shares their margins of success and obvious improvement.
It’s not nice, nobody likes it however sometimes you need to do it to race another day. That was case for my original partner for this race. Although we’d had this on the calendar for months her recovery from dreaded ITB wouldn’t happen quickly enough and feedback from past participants of this race had said it was a quad cruncher! So sensibly she took the tough decision and dumped me!
Well thankfully after a few tweets and status updates we got a bite from our social network. David Fox a keen trail runner and blogger of note of www.cape-hike.co.za volunteered himself. David’s past exploits had included two Otter Trail runs of sub six hours and in his youth some k1 paddling experience. Now I must mention that David, like me is a veteran (plus 35!). So the question was would there be enough muscle memory? Only time would tell!
So after a brief first meeting over lunch and discussing our objectives our entry was amended and we were systems go. I’ll admit it was not much of a compatibility test as I was desperate and he seemed a positive guy with the right credentials (legs and a heartbeat). Anyway i figured that worst case scenario I could ‘suck it up’ for 24 hours if required.
David would be new to any race in duration over 6 hours and I would have to hang onto his coat tails or rather hold him back on the trail. We met for a ride up to the Constantiaberg mast and he seemed to have a good set of bike legs too. Later in the week we also had a k2 session on Zandvlei and what a result we were stable in the boat as well! I started to harbour thoughts of a reasonable showing in the race thinking I could be pulled along here and have to bring my A game to keep up.
All roads lead to Eden
One lunch logistics meeting with my Dad who would be providing seconding support and all the preparations, kit list, event legs and support were reviewed in detail. We arrived in Wilderness to register at the SANParks camp Ebb and Flow and what a great setting. Merrell the race sponsor and 24-7 adventures (race organiser) had done a great job with the race village and camping in that setting. It was surprisingly idyllic given what would transpire over the next 24 hours.
We had time to set up camp, adjust bikes and get a 15 minute spin to get the legs woken up after our 6 hour road trip.
To brief or not to brief
As an Englishman sat listening to an Afrikaans man delivering the briefing, even though in English, I think I still missed some of the info! Although headlined as an adventure race and we were issued with maps, the brief described it as more of a multi-sport race as navigation would be minimal because the course was marked. We would later find out that the definition of marked is very open to interpretation! Hindsight would also tell us that we should have paid more attention here.
Further clues came in the ambiguity of what CPs (check points) would look like, described as ‘obvious’, and that if the route wasn’t marked that one should continue on the obvious path or straight on. At this point alarm bells really should have been going off!
Pre race fuel
Whilst other teams marked up their maps ( I had the foresight to print and waterproof our’s in advance – smug feeling didn’t last long!) we popped into wilderness where David had reserved us a table at an Italian restaurant ( Pomodoro’s)
Experience steered me away from any fish dishes and we all fuelled up on some great tasting pizza. Back at camp we made last-minute race food and kit preparations.
We set off at 7am and made a cautious start, getting gingerly into our boat for the first 4k paddle leg and hitting our stride before picking off some back markers. We arrived into the 1st transition 24 minutes later and had difficulty finding our second! Eventually after what was only 5 mins (felt like an age) we got the boat loaded and ran off for the kloofing section.
Swimming through Gorges
A short beach run and then through a railway tunnel took us up a wonderful gorge which involved quiet a bit of swimming under amazing overhanging cliffs. It was quite technical underfoot and my Vibram five fingers Trek flows were perfect over slippery rocks. We developed a crab walk to cope with unseen rocks in wade depth water.
After completing the 12km in about 2 hours, we headed up a steep hill into the lovely grounds of a college to transition to MTBs. This time our second (my old man) was on the money. Bikes were ready, replenishment food and fluid was on hand. All perfect.
A great technical single track start and with adrenalin still buzzin we flew right past cp1, besides the fact that we didn’t know what we were looking for! It was about 15k later that we realised this and so we decided to chalk that one-off and push on to CP2
We also somehow got off route for our 1st nav error on the way to cp2. We got to some waterworks and re calibrated our position to realise that we had overshot! Bumping into other teams at this point gave us a heads up and we decided ride back on a railway track, with adrenalin pumpin!
A red clipper behind a merrel sign signified CP2 and our first CP . At this point I wished I had my compass and started to pay much more attention to the map and distances, in fact hindsight tells me I should have marked the distances on the map.
Staying on course now we headed up Montagu pass and this was a slog of a hill, very hot too and the quads got a right bashing for 7km. The views were literally breathtaking! Fortunately there is a railway bridge about two-thirds of the way up with a stream running so David could cool his head. At this point David came up with a re-hash of Merrell’s tag line from ‘let’s get outside’ to ‘lets get up there’!
37km and 4 hours later we dropped down slightly into Harold Wines for Transition 3. Once again great seconding support saw us turnaround quickly and I even had time for a Florence nightingale moment as I delivered first aid to fellow racers suffering with knee issues and taped them up with my KT tape (this stuff is wicked and forms an essential part of my sports first aid kit).
Sticks would be good
We had a deceptively easy start through a field, then the mountain revealed itself! We started in a small bunch and soon got left behind as the ascent was very technical and my right knee was giving me feedback.
I wished i had remembered my trekking poles! Instead we picked up what dead sticks we could find that i could use as a staff. This didn’t stop me from knocking my little toe on rocks as i got tired (tears well up behind my eyes!). In my head I reverted to my mantras “as the race goes on I get stronger” “I have amazing powers of recovery”
As we neared the summit it was cloudy and cool and the nature of ‘big country’ came to mind as the views were so expansive. Eventually as we descended more gradually than the ascent and we mustered a gentle trot to get down to transition 4 by 7pm.
After 22k and 5 hours out we spent 30 mins refuelling including a hot soup!
We’re off the map
Thank goodness David had the foresight to invest in a decent light set up for his bike (cos where we were going he would need it!). Great forward planning as we set off in the dark. We anticipated good roads and a gradual descent to sea level and so estimated a good leg of 2 hours or so.
Oh were we wrong. Firstly there was no marking visible in the dark if there was at all. So the lasting instruction in my head was to proceed in the obvious direction. Our next navigational error was soon to follow, when we headed down to Hoekwil for a 10k detour down a mammoth hill. Ironically my Dad drove right past us in the opposite direction!
Eventually we worked out that we should have headed towards Karatara so we did and then proceeded to miss our next turnoff for another 20k detour with undulations and massive hills. Really this was quite a set back and at a point were David was low on food and energy plus it was cold and demoralising to hit such hectic climbs again.
We stopped to regroup at about 11.30pm and I gave David some of my special recipe protein bars which he said was like ‘mothers milk’. We popped another couple of layers on, studied the map and worked out our plan to get to transition 5.
So what should have taken 2 hours and 30km, ended up being 5 hours and 60km. We arrived at transition as the last team and with my Dad just about to head off and look for us. Having arrived we were quite chipper, understandably though my Dad had been worried about us and was nervous about us continuing. However, we had no such thoughts of stopping. We were on the home straight for sure, or so we thought.
Where’s the channel
We set of down the river in almost spiritual conditions. The sky was lit beautifully with bright stars and the water was as flat as glass. As we established an easy rhythm we were paddling through rolling swathes of mist just at the water level and fish were jumping near our paddle strokes.
Despite some num bum and tingly toes it was a great experience and the best bit of the race for me. Actually technically we weren’t racing anymore but just looking to preserve ourselves enough to complete in a reasonable time! We maintained a good pace despite a couple of stops in the vlei to get blood flow back to my bum and toes.
We navigated under the railway bridge perfectly then headed to N2 bridge and got grounded and so had to get out and porter. We got back in the boat to go under the N2 bridge and struggled to find the channel again, the map said keep to right. However we later find out the channel was on the left. Anyway we got grounded good and proper and ported through sticky gloopy mud for 2K!
Eventually we found transition 6 at 4am (had we not found it I thought our race may be over). Our second was pleased to see us! We took our time here (55 mins) used the ablutions and had some pasta and got mentally set for the beach run.
The pain train!
As we checked out the marshal (thankful to get back to base) said ‘be careful on the rocks’. Fortunately it was 5 am and we had the light of dawn.
The coastline was rugged and beautiful and we passed a seal on a rock. Despite this however it was disappointing to see evidence of mans encroachment in the form of bits of rubbish doted along parts of the coastline.
This was a tough leg and the tides were not in our favour as we had a lot of soft sand to deal with for the first 12k. Mentally it would have been easy to slump and just settle for a trek all the way back, but we were almost home ( well the penultimate leg anyway) so if we didn’t want to spend 7 hours on this leg we had to tell ourselves to run. Not easy when you have been on the go for 20 hours!
At this point David and I weren’t talking much, I had gone to my own place in my head (my mantras were kicking in again) and I think David had done the same. I was counting paces to keep moving. I started with 100 paces on and 20 strides to stretch the hip flexors. I told myself whether the sand was hard or soft that this was the drill. Gradually I extended this to 150 paces and 200 paces and watched our pace gradually pick up again.
After what seemed like and what was an age the spot we had been focused on for the last 3.5 hours finally became real and our pace and spirit picked up as we headed into Wilderness and our fastest transition into the boat.
We felt great, we had an easy paddle for 24 minutes enjoying the moment, knowing we were coming in well after the prize giving yet still a huge accomplishment to have completed the course and more. We put in a few good strokes at the end and as we came into sight the remaining racers gave us a standing ovation, it felt absolutely fantastic like we had really achieved something and we had.
I think we had their respect for spending more than double the time on the course that the winners did (some young guns Pennypinchers did it in 13 hours). We crossed the line (well what was the line as it had been dismantled) after a short trot in 26 hours and 20 minutes having completed 175km rather than a mere 150 km!
Thanks to all at 24-7 Adventure and Merrell for a fantastic race and memorable experience and to my Dad for being a very patient (if worried second), to my team-mate David for putting up with the errors and digging deep and to my original partner Ansa for the opportunity (you’ll get yours!).