The ultimate test of endurance is coming. 750km’s of mountain biking, running, treking and paddling through the harshest conditions and terrain that Tassie can throw at competitors. This ain’t no soft stage race, and forget about GPS. Sleep when your dead on your feet and use compass and map to find your way through untracked territory.
Over 90 teams from across the globe are going to hit our island for the start of the World Adventure Racing Championships on 31st October. I thought it would be good to check in with the team leader of the three men and one woman that will be flying the Tassie flag as our only team. Michael Phillips has done it all before with the Muppets Adventure Racing Team of Adrian Beard, Steve Phillips all from the northwest coast. This race will see a new member joining who is no stranger to the Tassie endurance scene, with Hobart’s Emma Weitnauer on board.
TE: What are the Adventure Racing World Championships?
MP: There are expedition length adventure races in 8-10 countires around the world that elite and local teams compete in. Australia’s leg is called XPD. This will be the sixth one they have run. Every year a different country gets to host the world titles as part of the 8-12 round competition. This year it is in Tasmania. The company that runs XPD, ‘Geocentric Outdoors’ has taken over the world series, so this is set to be their showcase.
TE: What are the different disciplines you are expecting?
MP: The basic brief for this one is kayaking, treking which could be walking or running, depending on what stage you are at, mountain biking and rope work which could be abseiling or other styles. They haven’t thrown in any mystery disciplines, so that’s what we will be looking forward to.
TE: And there’s plenty of teams coming down…
MP:Being the World Championships it has attracted the top end teams, so it will be interesting to watch those guys and girls get around. There’s some impressive athletes out there. The northern hemisphere teams that have come out to Australia in the past have struggled a bit. I’m not sure if it’s the terrain or the weather. The New Zealanders do well and have won this race a number of times.
TE: How much information has been given out about the course?
As the information packs come out, basically they give you an estimated distance, in this case 700 – 750km, and then roughly broken down into 350km mountain bike, 200km trek, whatever paddling, and that’s about as much as you know. It’s headquarters are in Burnie, but from previous races, unlikely to start there. But you never know! Last year it was based in Cairns and we started on Dunk Island. The first race I personally did of this style was in Tasmania six years ago. We were based in Hobart and it started at Stanley. So where you start is unknown until you get the course information the day before you leave, and then there’s deadlines to get your gear to the transport people to be sent.
TE: Does it help being local with the course?
MP: Potentialy it could help if you have been to places before, but Craig Bycroft, who designs the courses, suggests that it is highly likely there will be locations we haven’t been.
TE: What is your gut feel about the course direction?
If you put a ruler from Burnie to Port Davey it’s about 350km, and there would be some zig zagging around, so highly likely it will start down the west coast and head further south and then back up through the middle over the highlands. The imformation package suggests they will be expeditionary legs, indicating a lot of off track stuff, which is the best part.
TE: People have died in these events over the years. what do you see as the dangers during the race?
MP: The extreme’s of weather. It’s highly likely we will be in some shitty area’s, so if you skimp on gear you will be in trouble. On the bike it is a hazard all the time, and the Tassie wildlife will be more of an issue than previous races. Two or three people did collarbones or shoulders at night last time it was in Tassie, with possums and wallabies whilst riding. And also the obvious one’s, dehydration and hypothermia are to be avoided.
TE: I’m intruiged by your team name?
MP: The name came about, because when we first started, we were like muppets, just bloody hopeless, floundering around like muppets, so it just stuck.
TE: So it’s not all serious then?
MP: Yeah, at the end of the day we are amateur athletes, doing things we enjoy, and come race time push oursleves as hard as we can. When there is an opportunity to get one up on each other, we certainly do.
TE: Is there a strong bond in the team?
MP: This will be my sixth race, and have raced with Adrian the last three, with Steve joining the last time. We were a mixed team last event and it was a good dynamic, so we hunted around and Emma jumped onboard. The other thing is that any potential prizes can only be won in the mixed catagory. So there could be an all male or all female across the line, but winner will be the first mixed.
TE: You are the designated leader. What does that entail?
MP: There’s not really a leader of the team, it’s just the others don’t like talking. Someones got to be the leader, but we share as much as we can.
TE: So it would be more of a democratic dynamic when decisions need to be made? What specific roles do team members have?
MP: Adrian is chief navigator, and I back up. Emma also has navigation skills, which will help. At the end of the day we go with Adrian, but if he is not confident it’s and open forum. I will definately be encouraging all the team to know where we are going. The first race I did, I just tagged along with a WA team as they were one short. I had know idea where we were going as the navigator was out in front. So if everyone is involved we all know what wea re doing and where we are going.
TE: I presume every team member will handle stress differently?
MP: At some stage, your either on struggle street or feeling good. This is when you swap packs around, or use tow ropes, dragging the people not feeling so good through to help them out.
TE: How do you physically and mentally prepare for such a long race?
MP: We all work, so train when we can, doing as many kilometres as possible on the weekends and overnighters when it suits. It’s normally quicker exercise during the weeknights. Shorter, high tempo runs, rides and paddles. But the best way is to get the kilometres in. People suggest there are rubbish kilometres in training, but for us, the more we can get the better. The thing that attracted me to this style of racing is that it is a great leveler. I’m no super athlete, but 2-3 days in, a few hours sleep sorts out a lot of people.
TE: There’s been a few training expeditions?
MP: We spend a bit of time in the Dial Range as it’s a good training ground. Do a bit in the milkshakes down Smithton way. We are lucky my parents live at Coles Bay, so a few warm weekends will be had down at Freycinet.
TE: Tell me about the sleeping strategy?
MP: Generally,what we have found from previous races is you sleep very little in the first 48 hours. Your first 2-3 hour break is in the second 24 hours, maybe early in the morning. But in saying that in Tassie it may be different. We may sleep earlier in the evening, as traditionaly 2-5am is freezing here, so we are better off moving than laying on the ground sleeping. That may mean sleeping around midnight. It also depends on how everyone is feeling. If we were buggered we will stop. Basically we will keep moving until we can’t go any more.
TE: What can you tell me about core equiptment needs?
MP: Each race varies on the compulsory equiptment, which is broken down into ‘on team’ and ‘on person’. The requirements we have seen so far for ‘on person’ are wet weather jacket, pants, long sleeve thermal top and pants and also whistles. ‘on team’ is first aid kit, sleeping bag between four, tent between four. It makes you a gear junkie looking for the latest and greatest. There is a minimum floor size for the tent which has to be double pitch. This is a directive from the organisers. Before the race start there are competency and gear checks. You have to pitch it, everyone get in and they measure the floor. Also things like checking all jackets to make sure it’s the proper gear. It s taken very seriously.
TE: GPS or not?
MP:Compass and map, that’s it. We do carry GPS as a compulsory item. They heat seal it up before you go. The same with mobile phones.
TE: So purely emergency?
MP: Exactly. Last race they introduced what is called a spot device. It clips on to your pack and sends out a signal. You can log into the website and watch these dots go around the state. It is overlayed on the course so you can see the good and bad navigators. It’s a good viewing platform, and keeps people interested.
TE: Lets hope this lifts the profile of the sport in Tassie…
MP: We hope it gets plenty of promotion. If we can draw more people to the sport, it may lead to potentialy running some smaller one’s. 24 /48 hour’s would be a great start.
TE: Well thanks for your time and goodluck with the training.
MP: Thanks for the exposure.
The Muppets have an excellent blog at Muppets Adventure Racing. Make sure you check it out!