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Race Report: XTrail China: New Zealand Adventure Race Team

XTrail China: Race for the Finish

We had a good quick change and were onto the bikes again. This area in which we were doing the abseiling and biking reminded me of Central Otago. We charged along these lovely back roads under the setting sun and an approaching front. I remember hoping the rain wouldn't come too soon. After the next CP by the river we charged after George and ended up in a village as it was getting dark and beginning to rain. It became obvious that the route finding wasn't easy around this village, with the old maps and inaccurate roads.

"Which village was it anyway? Not the one we thought as it turned out!"

We biked around some fields and eventually after a couple of hours we were able to work out where we were. However, we lost valuable time and team morale was low. But on reaching the CP we were surprised to find we were still in 5th, which was a boost. Then we were onto finding a track up the left hand side of a river. This was tricky and there was no obvious track but the bearing was right so we went for it. What an adventure this was…up the side of what seemed a steep river canyon with our bikes on wet slippery bluffs above a river canyon in the dark. We did question the route at times. There seemed no way through and certainly no obvious track, but carried on to eventually come to the CP at the top of the river canyon, much to our relief.

"We then had about an 8km descent to finish, fantastic! What can go wrong?!"

But my goodness, it was so slippery and muddy it was hard to stay upright, never mind the sleeting cold rain....this river valley descent took forever. The lights of Altay took a long time to appear by which time we were in for a 2km run through town to the hotel and finish line. Wow, what a relief it was. And we cam in 5th yea! For me, I just celebrated finishing in one piece. China hasn't been good to me the last 2 years and it was great not to have to go home via Auckland hospital!

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We were happy with the result, but know we could have done better. We lost valuable time with a small slip in concentration when the bike navigation was particularly tricky, especially when we were in a different village to what we thought. It was good to be in touch with the lead teams most of the race. It was great preparation for the Adventure Racing World Champs in one month time. The scenery and cultural experiences were amazing. It was definitely a race to do again.

jo williams outside sports nz

Thanks for all the support from friends, family and Wanaka Physiotherapy keeping my body in one piece, which makes it possible to do these adventures. Thanks also to Outside Sports for keeping my bike on track and supporting me over the years.

The Team’s next big Adventure is in Australia next month for XPD. This year it is the Adventure Race World Championships, which gives us an opportunity to race against the world’s best. Exciting times are ahead.

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Race Report: XTrail China: New Zealand Adventure Race Team

XTrail China: The Early Stages

Briefing was buzzing, and there were a few wee changes. The logistics of box packing seemed easier, I guess less distance and less reappearance of boxes kept it simple.

Right off the start line people took different lines up to the first check point at the pagoda, but there wasn't much in it with the different routes. Then there was a line of racers which was to stay like that till the end of the first trek.

"We decided to take our own line and ended up at the second checkpoint in front of the leaders..."

who (surprise) queried us about our route. After this we settled into our own pace, always seeing the line of lead teams a little ahead. The scenery was magnificent, open meadows, pine trees, lakes, lovely travel and quite fast, all quite run-able. To me it felt like Heidi in the Alps.

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After the trek we came in ahead of predicted time and were into the paddle section in about 7th. It was a glorious afternoon, stunning views of glacial blue and autumn colours. This paddle was longer than predicted, and it was dark by the time we finished. So we were cold and found our transition a little slow needing to change and get some warm food. But we had managed to paddle into 6th place!

The second trek was tricky at night but Tom got us there...

"despite having a vomit on the way up the hill"

which was a little disconcerting for us all. We made it up to CP11 in 5th and there was a lovely Chinese volunteer wrapped in a onesy sleeping bag, as it was cold up on the tops. The route to the next CP it was tricky.

"It became obvious the maps weren't all that accurate, with a major river not marked."

This understandably caused some confusion, and extra miles. After CP12 we were in a line of many teams, so wanted to try and get our own space. Again rivers en route to CP13 caused us to question our route and as a result lose contact with Adventure Medical Kit and the Estonian Adventure Race teams.

After a quick orienteer stage we made it to the noodle yurt. It amazed us how the local family was so welcoming and happy to have so many random smelly racers collapse on their communal bed. We were pretty much stacked on top of each other!

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Jumping onto the bikes we were under pressure to try and catch the Estonians and Adventure Medical Kit teams not too far ahead. That first hill after a 2 hour stop was hard work. This was followed by a steep hike-a-bike, which was rewarded by the best biking of the race, a stunning single track ride through open valleys… and we could see the Estonians ahead. So we chased on through this stunning country.

"We caught and passed the Estonians, but they were chasing close on our tails."

We made our way down a rough downhill for 10-15km, passing a loaded camel and herd of sheep, goats and cattle. Then we had a big 10km climb out during which we were short of water and at this point were struggling to keep up the pace. Eventually we got to the top but the undulating 20kms to the abseil felt like hard work. We had to sacrifice some precious time to get some water at the CP. On heading to abseil Adventure Medical Kits were coming out and as we completed the abseil the Estonanians were starting, so the racing was close. The pressure was on!

To be continued...

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Race Report: XTrail China: New Zealand Adventure Race Team

XTrail China: Prologue

With only a 6 week build up for XTrail we all boarded the plane with some trepidation and doubt about fitness levels. We knew it was going to be very competitive with a handful of the top ranked teams in the world taking part. Our team consisted of Simon Bowden, Tom and George Lucas and myself. It was the first time we had raced together as a team, but when competing in GodZone over the years we were always very competitive with each other, so were confident we would be compatible and would have a fun time. We were most excited about exploring this remote part of China, close to the Mongolian and Kazakstan borders. "

We knew we were in for a real cultural experience. The scenery on the trailer for the race just looked stunning."

Many flights later we arrived in Lake Kanas, after a hair raising bus ride to the hotel. It was great to catch up with all of our friends who had been racing for the month in China prior to this race. We went exploring on the bikes and checked out the yurt village and the surrounding countryside which helped to get the legs moving.

jo williams outside sports nz

We were told the results for the prologue didn't count. So it was great to all just run together to the boats with no great urgency and a lot of banter. I was a good opportunity to jump into the kayaks and have a practice working out set up and see if we could steer! It was beautiful scenery of Lake Kanas reminding George of Canada and I thought it a little like Switzerland. The autumn colours were beautiful and the river looked great, but maybe not a good idea in the boats we were in, hence the change of course to a lake paddle. It was good to have a look around to see glimpses of the route we would be taking over the next few days. Then we ran around the board walks and forest and found ourselves trotting round with Adventure Medical Kits team, so again some good banter and we were over the line in second place.

jo williams outside sports nz

We got the maps earlier than usual which gave us time to route plan. What can change in 40 years? The Russians no more helpful than Chinese...1:100000 scale was different to what we are used to, so knew we had to take this into account, especially when we were tired later in the race.

To be continued...

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Race Report: Richtersveld Transfronteir Wild Run: Day 5

Day 5: Wilderness Hot Springs to Ai-Ais Hot Springs Resort

26km - 860m climb

Last day....I think everyone was a bit sad to think our running adventure through this stunning ancient rocky sandy canyon riverbed land will be over soon. But wow, the last day was nearly the best for the mixture of terrain and scenery. River beds, canyons, well worn in animal trails through rocky mountains. When you looked back it was hard to pick how you could get through. There was lovely fast technical descending on these wildlife trails. There was a fair share of up and then of course, a very technical down to the finish at Ai Ais. Getting to that last checkpoint required a little more route finding and navigation but the view from the top was stunning. The descent to the finish was a cautious one, crossing the line together with my new running buddies Dawid and Tobias to finish first. We ran the last 2 days together pretty much as a 3 keeping similar pace. It felt more like a team effort and so enjoyable. I loved sharing this experience with everyone, as we would see all the runners each day. Particularly with Tobias and Dawid throughout, and with Stephen and Linda on days 1 and 2. I was delighted and surprised to find myself crowned the “2016 Richtersveld Champion!”

jo williams outside sports nz

What a once in a life time experience, traveling through this ancient desert land and seeing the Nama people in this environment. Hearing talk about the age of the land, the flora and fauna and discoveries of new breeds. It is amazing what survives or even does well in such an environment. The colours; blues, blacks, orange, yellow, greens and of course those stars.

The involvement of the locals was enormous especially with Magda’s amazing food which helped keep everyone's energy levels up enough to get through each day and it was delicious. All the work put into lighting fires, setting up camp, getting the showers going, and as for a toilet with a view…

jo williams outside sports nz

Then there was the Wild Runner team, especially Owen and Tamaryn, wow what a team! To be able to set up races in transfrontier national parks, over borders in the remotest of areas. Well done and thank you. Then there is Roland from Boundless South Africa, what a bundle of laughs and energy. Nothing was ever too much. What a fantastic vision to be involved in events like this to increase tourism in the area, create work, and transfrontier relationships. Fantastic, keep up the good work. The park wardens are also so involved in making it possible.

I would recommend this event to anyone looking for a new adventure somewhere completely different, who enjoys trail running. A great escape into an ancient desert wilderness where not many people go. The route we took through the Richtersveld Ai Ais Transfrontier park would be quite inaccessible without the Wild Run. Never mind the luxurious camp spots, yummy food, massages and yoga etc. Certainly it is well off the tourist track. Tag it onto a holiday in South Africa...vine yards, Safari, coast lines, mountains, deserts...why wouldn't you?

jo williams outside sports nz

A big thank you to family, especially my father, friends and work at Wanaka Physiotherapy, that make these adventures possible. Also to Outside Sports for their ongoing support.

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Race Report: Richtersveld Transfronteir Wild Run: Day 4

Day 4 De hoop to Wilderness Hot Springs

49km

Transfrontier country we were off in our groups, to start the days race on the other side of the Orange River in Namibia. A boat trip across the river to start the day was great.Amazing logistics to be able to achieve this. Not sure how Wild Run, Boundless South Africa and the national park staff managed this!

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The first few kms were fast along a sandy 4 wheel drive track, then we turned off and had some lovely running all the way up river beds and canyons, to a more steady gradual up. Then up the Zebra Kloof, and down, towards the fish river canyon. We had some great technical running in this section, Daniel from Suisse and Steve were flying through here. Then we were in the Fish River Canyon. It was stunning. I spotted some zebra and some bok. There was a lot of crossing from one side of the canyon to the other, to try and find some animal trails and a more direct line. There were potential short cuts which Dawid, Tobias and I didn't take which I think we should have. As Daniel and Linda caught us up having taken a short cut, it was obviously a good idea. I found this terrain hard going, a lot of soft sand mixed up rocky river bed, where you had to make sure you picked up your tired legs....

"there was at least one face plant for me."

Then we were on the wrong side of the river bend and pushing through rushes and wondering if we should swim across. Again we saw Linda and Daniel fly past on the other side. So it was a nice cooling crossing of the Fish River about 3-4 km from the end and we had to catch up again. With the finish line in sight, Elsabet appeared out of nowhere. We had seen her ahead a few times during the day and when stopping to get water, but not since. She and Dawid sprinted for the finishfollowed closely by the rest of us. This was a hard day, long and quite technical underfoot with quite a bit of route finding. Everyone had different distances on the GPS depending their route choice. This could definitely be done faster, there were no records broken here. When it was tough, you just had to stop and look around to appreciate the enormity of where we were in Fish River Canyon, the second biggest canyon in the world!

jo williams outside sports nz

The camp was yet again stunning very remote. I don't know how they got all the gear in. We did discover the hot springs for our feet, as we were a little cold after our cold recovery dip! But there was also the hot showers....amazing! Last opportunity to sleep under a blanket of African stars in the desert was a must.

jo williams outside sports nz

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