Adventure racing is
big risks and endorphins
Definitely Extreme
Psychology of Adventure Racing
Competence and Responsibility
Code of Conduct
Personal Equipment Check-List
Foot and Shoe Assessment
Interview with SA's Team
Practical Guide to Seconding

An Interview with SA's Team Hexal

Q: There was some talk about a week before you left that you wouldn't be going? What changed things?
I think that during the 3 weeks of planning - from the point of winning the SA Quest Race to the point of departure for Switzerland - we had decided 3 times that we could not go, and then something would work out and our spirits would lift and we would be "in" again. Budget was a main issue. Having only 3 weeks to plan for an international event of this nature is not long enough. To try and compete internationally a team needs to be focused and well prepared. We were under so much mental pressure to organise the race, arrange our work lives, find budget, get equipment, arrange for proficiencies to be done - it was quite incredible we got it all together to go. 

The Wednesday before we travelled, we had decided as a team that we could not pull it off. We were pulling out. The team was bummed, disappointment was rife. This task of getting ourselves to Switzerland had beaten us. That night I sat at home and re-looked at our calculations from a monetary point of view. I drew up a schedule of what was still outstanding, the estimated costs and constraints. Thursday morning I faxed it to Andrew and to Gary. I phoned them and told them: "Look at the fax, and then tell me if we can be "in"." Andrew phoned me ten minutes later and asked me "Have we left yet?" That was the turning point. We were in and come hell or high water we were going. Even if it meant we would live off bread and peanut butter.

Q: Did you have to pay alot yourselves to get there?
Initially we thought we were going to get sponsored - companies like Cape Storm and Captain Morgan etc. In the end the only proper sponsorship we received was from Hexal Natural. Hexals' support has been unquestionable.

Hi Tec sponsored us shoes (4 pairs) - and we thank them for that, but in a race of these dimensions money is more valuable.

Cape Storm sold us their kit at cost price - again we thank them for the discount. There was a bit of a mis-understanding with regards Cape Storm Gear - where our team had understood from race organisers that we were going to be sponsored the kit - not have to pay for it. So - as grateful as we were - it was another shock to our budget!

We had won free entry into the race - this was worth $7,000. We had also won $5,000 toward the air travel costs - but this was only payable to us on arriving in Switzerland, so our credit cards had to front the funds in the meantime. 

The rest of the cost was to be covered by the team.

Captain Morgan had provided the prize from the SA Quest race and that formed the basis of our budget for buying the Cape Storm kit.

So in actual fact we had no "sponsorship" for getting to Switzerland.

Another dimension was added when we approached Nigel Reynolds to assist our team in seeking sponsorship - he was excellent in helping us and took to the task with professionalism and dedication. However we soon found out that race organisers had already signed sealed and delivered our team as a Hi Tec Captain Morgan team - so the companies we approached for sponsorship couldn't actually get a look in because they would clash with the other branding. The unfortunate part of this was that these companies weren't actually giving us much to get to Switzerland, and yet they became the stumbling block for getting proper sponsorship for our team. It became a nightmare! 

It must be noted though that International Adventure Racing is an expensive sport. Teams must realise this before committing to such an event - the added pressure of trying to juggle funds and budget are stress that you just do not need.

If a team is entering a race where the prize is entry into a world event - and the team stands a good chance of winning - then before going into that qualifier race - make sure you have planned on the eventuality of racing overseas. Don't wait till the last minute! 

Q: Do you agree that a month is not enough time to prepare for the DCS Final?
100% correct. It became a horrible month in our lives where physical training was not even a consideration - we were all too busy trying to raise funds, find equipment, get work lives organised etc. Over and above all of the logistical sides, a team will not be at its best 3 weeks after having completed one 500km race and then travelling to altitude to compete in the next event. It definitely is do-able, but not advised!

Q: Please describe your preparations and all the chaos organising gear.
I think between myself and Andrew we kept Vodacom in business - the daily calls to keep everyone updated and to locate snow and ice equipment :- it was actually a joke!

I would like to take this opportunity to thank certain individuals who really came through and supported us : Andy Telfer, Ian Tyrer, Steve Camp, 180 Degrees (Xavier & Brad), - these guys were tremendous in their support and encouragement and advice. They loaned us gear, they offered advice based on experience and without them our expenses would have doubled. THANKS GUYS!

These international races held in snow / ice conditions are beyond our imagination - as simple as that kit list looks - it is not. The boots have to hold and fit the crampons, the crampons have to be of a certain type and such like, helmets - for biking, kayaking and climbing, wet suits!, 50 metre ropes the list was simple enough but getting it all together in SA, on limited time, is a different ball game. 

We eventually thought we were so organised with our 4 pairs of crampons - when we got to do our skills test during the pre-race registration - the Mountain Guide Official literally and physically kicked our crampons off of our boots. Told us they were useless! Amusing to us now - but at the time, not so good. We had to try and find a shop that would hire us crampons... the next little adventure.
So - we learnt to take the kit lists very seriously.

Q: What courses did you have to do before going over, and at the event?

  • Rafting - to grade 3
  • Climbing / Rope Skills to be signed off for each of us
  • First Aid for minimum of 2 of the team
  • Be able to prove proficient in crampons and rope up for glacier travel
  • Be able to prove proficient in self- arrest with an ice-axe.

    Each of these were tested at the Pre-Race briefing, along with all gear checked in detail.
    We had to:

  • Rope up for and do a section of via ferrato rope work
  • Rope ourselves up for, and do, an abseil using a prussic as the emergency back up. We also had to show that we could do a self-rescue with a back up prussic
  • Rope up for glacier travel, display self rescue with ice-axe,
  • Display and test use of crampons
  • We were told that we were going to have to swim out and re-right an over turned raft - but we did not land up having to do this. 

    All gear was checked in detail according to the list, our tent had to be erected in front of them, our fly sheet was taken out and disregarded (luckily we had another one), but the list that they compile as minimum gear - was thoroughly checked!

    Q: What was the vibe like at the start?
    Awesome! Words do not come close to explaining the feeling of standing on top of this 3300m mountain slope, covered in snow, the sun warming your face, knowing that in a few minutes you will begin this 420km race by running down the mountain slope at a speed we are yet to comprehend! It only adds to the adrenalin when the Race Organiser starts by saying "All teams must go right. You go left : you die. Teams must go right".

    Q: Is Ian Adamson as yummy in real-life as he is on tv? *grin*
    OH - 100% sexy.
    Now that is one professional Adventure Racer! He is so " together " - it is just too good! His team operated like clock work, quietly professional and strong, no screaming and performing, everyone knew their role and played it well. It was an eye-opener to see how these top teams operate. We South Africans are absolute rookies in the word of Adventure Racing! It was a learning curve from hell for us! 

    Q: Did you meet Mark Collins (South African now living in Spain) in the Spanish team?
    Yes. We met up with and spent quite a bit of time with Mark and his team. They were very strong - and with excellent team dynamics. He is well and looking forward to bringing his team out to race in South Africa.

    Q: The only news I've had from the race is that you dropped out of the race by the second day. What happened?
    Our race was marred right from the start it seemed. Firstly at the start, the field ran off so fast that we were left feeling like we were looking for parking. Granted we are not used to running down snow covered mountain slopes - but geez, they "beleggered". The top teams were a half hour ahead of us by the time we reached the first checkpoint! These teams were hungry for a win. hey all wanted the title.

    2 hours into the race I started with a virus / fever which I was able to work through for another hour or so, but on reaching the next mountain top I was shivering and dizzy and wearing 3 helly's and 2 sets of thermal longs.... It was horrible. But between Andrew and Gary feeding me some "goo-stuff" and letting me lie low for 30 minutes - I started on the mend and within another hour or so I was back running and feeling loads better. Thanks guys ! 

    That night we started our trek strong and were planning on going straight through the night if possible, but by 2am Wayne was really battling with his legs. I think the tremendous "ups & downs" of the course had already taken its toll on him. We had slowed our pace quite substantially and he really needed to rest up. So on his call we landed up sleeping for 2 hours in the valley - with hindsight this was a silly move as it was too cold to sleep and we really only felt worse the next morning - muscles all stiff from the cold. Anyway we kept moving on, but when your legs are as hurting as badly as Wayne's were - every step was an effort - and every step was either up or down a mountain which didn't help.

    By 15h00 the next day we were falling off the pace in order to make it to the cut-off. Team spirits were going from okay to low and back to okay, and we were approaching another mountain when the rain turned to snow. Within an hour the paths were covered by knee deep snow and what we thought were water proof jackets turned out not to be, so we were all very cold and wet. Visibility was down to about 10 metres, and navigation was turning into a sore-point due to the lack of path markers.

    It was at this point that Wayne and Andrew started the discussion of whether or not we would actually get to the cut-off point, and whether in fact we were not just beating a dead horse so to speak. Once the doubt creeps in like that it became worse and with the snow coming down even harder our team made a decision that we would not get to the next PC......
    With heavy hearts and spirits sagging we turned around and headed back to the next town. 

    I think any team who has ever had to pull out of a race knows what it feels like to make that decision. Our team - all four of us as individuals, do not, on principle, pull out of races. We are all finishers, so to have to make that call was a tough one.

    Spending the next few days following the race though - we knew we'd made the right decision. The weather moved in worse than before, conditions were tough, even on teams who came from mountain and snow areas. Even if we had snuck through the next 24 hours I do not believe we would have managed the full race - we were just not equipped for the extreme weather that moved in. But that is Adventure Racing - you cannot predict the weather.

    Q: Karen, what are your feelings after the event?
    It was a sick feeling being at the finish and knowing that you are on the wrong side of the finish line. That bummed us out quite badly. But we turned our trip into an excellent learning curve. We followed the top teams, we watched them at transitions, we looked at their equipment at their race packs, at their food packs, the seconding, their navigation.... It was an eye opener of note.

    These teams are so professional - most of the competitors are professional or semi-professional sports people: this is their sport. They are sponsored big time so their focus is on racing. Dedication and determination are easy when you have that focus. It was so awesome to watch and learn.

    Would we do it again? Hell Yes !!!! It is easy with experience though. Time is also a pre-requisite to get your team planned and organised so that your focus can be on the race.

    Another "thing" in SA is to get your teams sponsored. The average sponsorship of the teams in this race was R250,000. It made us laugh to hear that. 

    Q: Your thoughts on SA teams competing internationally?
    We need to look after those companies who are prepared to come to the party with sponsorship. We need to provide them with media coverage and keep them happy. Without the sponsorship it will remain very tough for us to compete internationally.

    From a strength point of view - we have some exceptionally good adventure racers in this country - build one or two good teams and give them the equipment and support they require ... Watch out World! SA will feature - soon - maybe in another years time. Let us gain a bit more exposure and experience first though. And sponsors - don't give up on us or the sport - this sport is growing big time!

    Yes, SA will be up there.

    Q: Your comments on your team and the event?
    Our team probably did more team building on this event than ever before. We went from flying high to the lowest ebb of a sports person's morale. But we did it together - as a team. We are majorly disappointed, the cost for us was more than just financial. We all made sacrifices to get there on such short notice and we would do it again. 

    This is adventure racing so we must take the good with the bad. That was our dose of bad.

    The race organisation in an event like this is phenomenal - the media coverage is unbelievable. It is where SA will be in another year or so.

    The race was hard. It was shit hard. Out of 44 teams only 9 finished. That is quite a statistic.

    Thank you to an awesome team - we win the spirit award hands down. Thank you to our seconds - it looked like you guys were going to show those other teams a thing or two about organisation.... Pity we didn't really get to test it.

    Q: Where to from here for Team Hexal?
    Team Hexal...Watch this space - we only get stronger!

    Discovery Channel World Championship Adventure Race. 31 Aug - 8 September 2001, Switzerland.
    In this interview with South Africa's Team Hexal - the winning team from the Hi-Tec Quest - Lisa quizzes Karen on their sponsorship, getting to the race, the race itself and her thoughts on SA teams in international events.


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