October 6, 2005 – If you thought finishing an Ironman race was tough, think again. The following is from the adidas Natventure team’s account of the 2005 The Raid World Championships In Switzerland.
Adventure racing has given the term endurance athlete a whole new
meaning”¦It is 3 p.m…Finally the sun comes out at Lake Geneva. The water is calm and shimmers like silk. The silhouettes of two yellow kayaks appear at the horizon. “This could be them”, Daniela shouts. The two kayaks move slowly but steadily with consistent paddle strokes. “If it is our team, they are still on ninth place”, she says. “In fifteen minutes we will know more.” Daniela Hug is supporter. Together with her friend Andy Kreiner she assists team adidas Natventure at the adventure race world championships, one of the toughest competitions on earth. Her husband, Benny Hug (SUI), is one of the four athletes in the team, that have to make their way through 19 different sections and several different disciplines like adventure running, canoeing, mountain biking, sea kayaking, inline skating, high mountaineering, and rope activities such as rappelling.
In just six days Benny and his team mates Marc Pschebizin (GER), Tine Tretner (GER), and Daniel Keller (SUI) have to cover a total distance of 580 kilometres and climb a total of 24,000 vertical metres. Only 33 teams from 14 nations have qualified for the toughest of all adventure races — The RAID World Championships. This year, the event takes place in the setting of majestic Mont Blanc mountain. The challenging route leads from Annecy, France to Gstaad in Switzerland. Each team consists of three men and one woman. They have to stay together at all times and navigate their way from start to finish via dozens of check-points. A total rest time of at least 24 hours is mandatory. Other than that each team decides for itself when to race and when to take a break. Daniela and Andy prepare for the change from sea kayaking to mountain biking by spreading all the necessary equipment for each athlete. Food is set up in the centre. “They usually allow themselves half an hour to change from one section to the next” Daniela explains. “In these thirty minutes they need to change clothes, eat, navigate, and rest. That’s why it is so important to have a support crew that has set up everything in advance and is ready to assist.” Each team can have a maximum of two supporters.
In their Nissan minivan Daniela and Andy transport around 300 kilos of equipment packed up in cases, including food, a camping stove, a tent and sleeping bags. “Supporting an adventure race team is a real challenge”, Daniela sighs. “These guys are tough. They can go on for 48 hours without taking a break. And if they don’t sleep, you don’t get to sleep either.” Meanwhile, the two kayaks are approaching the shore. It is team adidas Natventure. For just having paddled 47 kilometres across Lake Geneva and with three and a half days of tough adventure racing in their legs, the adventure athletes still look amazingly fresh – except for Tine who is in severe pain. She still suffers from a torn ligament that she contracted a month ago. But the tiny woman is a tough cookie. “If it wasn’t a team race, I’d quit. But we worked so hard to qualify for the worlds, that I must finish this somehow.” For the rest of the day, there is “˜only’ one more section to go. Now a 42 kilometre mountain bike ride up to Les Diablerets lies ahead of them. The team doesn’t talk much at the assistant point. Each move is a routine. Everyone puts on his mountain bike gear and grabs as much food as possible. Daniel reviews the GPS data. Then the four jump on their bikes and go. “Thank you, see you later”, Marc shouts. Their supporters are left behind to How much can you eat in just 10 minutes? According to Marc a lot These shoes have climbed many mountains Check-in for the MTB section “¦ so where are the trails? Full service – dinner is served pack, clean up, and quickly move to the next point. “They really need some rest tonight”, Daniela comments. “In the first 48 hours they didn’t sleep at all in order to get a good start. Even the apocalyptic weather conditions on the first night couldn’t stop them.
We had the full programme: deluges, thunderstorms, snow blizzards”¦ It was unbelievable. That night has taken its toll. And under such extraordinary burden your body needs a break. But it is amazing to see how quickly they can recover.” Each time the light of a headlamp appears in the dark all supporters at the assistant point in Les Diablerets jump up. “That wasn’t our team”, Andy says as he returns. It is 10.25 p.m. “Dinner is ready.” Daniela has prepared Spaetzle with tomato sauce. “If they don’t show up, I’ll eat it all”, Andy grins. Tough luck! One minute later team adidas Natventure arrives at the assistant point. While the four change into warmer clothes, Daniela sets “˜the tarpaulin’ on the ground for dinner. “This last section went really well. We are still on ninth place” Benny says. “We should be able to defend that position into the finish tomorrow.” Although they are dead tired, Tine, Marc, Benny and Daniel try to eat as much as possible to refill their carbohydrate repository. “Tomorrow it’s over”, Marc says. “But there are still a few challenges ahead. 38 kilometres of adventure running, the fixed rope route at Via Ferrata, 130 metres of abseiling and finally the 4 kilometre sprint to the finish line in Gstaad. I think we should get up at 3.30 a.m.” The others agree. Five minutes later, at 11.15 p.m., team adidas Natventure grovels into the sleeping bags to use up the remaining four hours of mandatory rest time.
Just 14 hours later they’ve accomplished what they meant to do: with a total race time of 124 hours, 41 minutes and 7 seconds German-Swiss team adidas Natventure finishes The RAID World Championships 2005 in ninth place. The four adidas athletes are exhausted but all smiles. “We are really happy with our result”, they say. “All the teams in front of us are pro athletes. They get a lot of financial support and do nothing but adventure racing. So they have much more race routine and endurance.” The prospect to finish the toughest of all adventure races in a top 10 position has motivated the team for the last stage. “Even if you think you are dead beat, you still have some energy reserves which you can tap”, Marc says. “This race was the hardest thing we have ever done — physical burden like this harms your health. We didn’t want to start too fast into the race, because that empties your batteries. On the other hand we would have never been able to close a big time gap on one of the last days. So our race tactic to go on for two days non-stop was the definitely the right decision.
Although we were dead tired after the long night stage in the snow we brought ourselves to continue with the mountain bike section. And if we had started just one hour later, we would have been snowed in on top of the mountain.” “žI will remember this race as the event during which I got frostbitten twice”, Daniel grins. “But you must learn to accept the circumstances. Otherwise you waste too much energy. After all, everyone has the same conditions, the same boats, the same course, etc. And freezing means you didn’t take enough equipment with you.” Benny agrees. “It is tough for everyone. And to give up is not an option, unless your leg falls of.” He laughs. “My feet were already blistered after the first running section. My legs felt good, but my feet bawled at me every step of the way. What kept me going was seeing my wife at each assistant point. That was my personal highlight of the day and truly motivating. And the team, of course. I felt very well integrated although I was new in the team.” Marc nods. “I think the team constellation was the secret of our success. Our strength was a well harmonizing team, our equipment, and the fact that we had a clear responsibility assignment. Daniel and Benny were in charge of all trekking navigation, I was in charge of mountain bike sections. We only consulted the others when we had problems; otherwise we took the lead which saved us quite a bit of time.” Team supporters Daniela and Andy have catered for the team reception. They bought beer, wine, ice cream, and cake.
Tine bites pleasurably into a fresh Danish pastry. “Mmmmh, this is what I’ve been dreaming of for the last six days.” She has taken her shoes of. Her feet are sore, covered with bruises Quickly change the wet socks “¦ “¦ and put on some warmer clothes for the night in the tent Benny Hug rushes down the last adventure running trail and giant blisters. “The worst part for me was the 14 hours running section to Chamonix. My feet hurt so bad that I was close to surrender. But I couldn’t allow myself to give up. So I set small targets and I took each assistant point with food as my little reward. Most important, however, was my snuggle cushion in the tent. It was like my private refuge. If you go so far beyond your physical and psychological limits trifles like a pillow can become a treasure”¦”
The achievement of any adventure athlete finishing The RAID World Championships is mind blowing. It gives the word staying power a whole new meaning. With race times of over 120 hours in just six days they compete ten times longer than the average Ironman finisher. However, in contrast to these popular endurance events there is no red carpet, no champagne, and no audience to welcome the heroes. Solely a demure inflatable arch on the main road in Gstaad marks the finish line. But what makes this moment special is the awareness of each athlete to have accomplished something beyond measure.