This race is all about which team manages the sleep strategy best. Of course that is only a small part of the total, but it puts Adventure Racing at the forefront of extreme sports competitions. Some sleep hours (8 of them only in a race that can take the leaders up to 70 hours to complete!) are mandatory – but you can choose when to take them (not where) and in the 2008 World Championships in Brazil, teams had the opportunity to collect a bonus checkpoint and take 4hrs off their mandatory sleep requirement if they wished…
The race began at 15.00 on Sunday, on the coast of the province of Maranhao in the ‘Parc National dos Lencois Maranhenses’ and ended for the winning teams on Thursday. However, teams still continued to cross the finish line until Saturday. 24 teams completed the race.
“The important thing is to have the knowledge from many other races, and to carry enough water for hydration,” said Marcel Hagener, from one of the French teams, Wilsa Helly Hansen. He added that the key to the race would be consistent speed so as not to become exhausted in the heat, and that previous race experience would help too.
The teams had a blistering hot 45 minute wait at the start line until it was finally time to go. The line of teams moved off across the sands heading towards the first staging point, a large red flag set on the top of the nearby dunes, which was clearly visible from the start line. This first 28km run/trek stayed on the coast among the dunes and, with the delayed start, all the teams ran through the dusk and into the night to get back to Tutoia. The Brazilian team QuasarLontra gave the home country the best of starts by leading the way to the next stage..
The kayaking section got off to a rocky start as none of the teams were very happy with the heavy plastic boats they were given and some of the boats didn’t have any webbing on them, which made it difficult to stow packs and maps. Nike, the hot favourites as they won last year’s world championships, were first off at this stage but had to return 10 minutes later to collect a vital piece of paperwork!
It was at this stage of the trip that teams had to make the decision of whether to go for the ‘CP’ – the bonus point that allowed them to reduce the mandatory 8 hours of sleep over the competition. To gain this bonus point they had to paddle an extra 15kms to reach Raimundo Aires Bar on Morro do Meio and the reward … now they only had to take 4 hours sleep!
Some reward!!! but it can mean everything in an extreme endurance race like this.
The sleep issue is a very important one and each team will have their own opinion on it. If you are one of the fastest finishers you would be expected to complete this endurance race in under 70 hours. So the decision is – how much sleep do you need in 70 hours? 8 … or less? Orionhealth went for the bonus CP, Nike did not, for example. When asked if this had perhaps been an important factor to their win, Orionhealth captain, Wayne Oxenham said: “It was for us. We felt we had to go for it and could race with only the 4 hours sleep. When we passed Nike taking the last of their sleep it put the pressure on them and they made some mistakes trying to catch us.”
After the kayaking, and a mandatory 1 hour minimum stop, there was a short trekking stage, followed by paddling on the river, to arrive in the town of Parnaiba and, once the contestants had eaten, changed, and checked their bikes it was time to set off on the ride across the hot plains towards the mountain trekking stage. The leaders who crossed the area known as ‘the boiler’ at night, had planned it right as the temperature was very high, though in truth the temperature does not drop too much. Antonio de la Rosa of Castilla y Leon es Vida was one of the affected racers, forced to retire. “I was feeling a little sick on the first trek at the start,” he said, “and the ride was just TOO hot. Our support crew recorded 49C on the car temperature gauge!”
Once the ride was completed they would trek in two mountain ranges the following morning, with another 28km ride between them and rope stages on the second one.
At this stage the race was being run at an extraordinary pace, and it was expected that the heat would take its toll – it seemed unlikely that the leaders could keep up the pace.
Soon after dark, race leaders were heading towards the Jumar ascent. The heat, night navigation on the mountain treks, and growing fatigue had slowed down the pace of the race but the leaders still looked focused and efficient as they approach the ropes stages soon after 14.00h. The first task was a 70m waterfall abseil, although it was only a trickle of water which did nothing to cool them down and only served to made the rocks very slippery.
The teams then had to descend the hillside via a canyon, climb their way back up through dense bush, moving along a ridge, then take a winding path below a cliff edge. The trail here was indistinct ( a complaint heard from many a team) and wet in places, with run-off from the overhanging rocks causing some patches of deep mud. This brought them, eventually, to the foot of the Jumar stage. The Jumar itself was very impressive, making use of a prow of rock, jutting out from the escarpment just on the edge of town. Four ropes were set up around it and the view from the top was magnificent.
Once there, some teams chose to take some of their mandatory sleep. As this day had been the toughest so far, the sleep was welcomed although the place chosen by the organisers was not … it was a narrow, rocky, damp gulley with almost no room to stretch out, but by this time some people were so tired that anything would do.
However, it was here that Nike lost their lead to Orionhealth. As a result of paddling to the bonus CP on Day One, Orionhealth were not required to sleep having already taken their allotted 4 hours. So they pushed on and arrived at 19.53h and made a very fast transition to leave again at 20.05h, setting off on the 23km bike ride which began with a fast downhill to get out of the mountains.
There was still 215km of the race to go and Nike were now 1hr40mins behind Orion – but they had the benefit of double Orion’s sleep hours.
The next stage was the 68km bike ride, crossing sand roads, rough tarmac and two plantations. It was another ride where progress was slow and the sand and heat were again overpowering.
Following the bike ride came another 60km river paddle. Having been told there was little water and knowing already how heavy the boats were, no team was looking forward to this section of the race. 40% of the river was too shallow to paddle and so the boats had to be portered over these sections. Orion completed this section in 14 hours and arrived at the next transition – the final bike ride, still in the lead. However, Nike were gaining again and the lead was down to just 51 minutes.
At this stage Team SOLE, a Brazilian team, used that essential AR skill – initiative. They had heard the reports on how bad the river was and decided to do the paddling stage on dry land. They towed the heavy plastic boats across country for all but the last 3km of the route! Ian Edmond and Paul Romero had a bamboo pole across their chests and hauled like galley slaves, while Karen Lundgren and Nora Audra used harnesses and ropes. “We nearly died so many times today,” said Romero, “it was so hot. We recorded around 42C and stopped at every farm house and bar, took water baths and drank and drank as much as we could. One family even made us omlettes and gave Karen a new pair of socks as hers had worn out. It was so hot all our food melted and we just kept hauling away.” Incredibly they were by far the quickest on the ‘paddling’ stage, gaining on the leading two teams, and not giving up on catching them.
At this stage, race director, Said Aich Neto, said he was pleased with the progress of the race. “So far we have only 4 teams withdrawn,” he said, “and we were expecting many more than that at this stage.” It was 5 by the end of the day.
The final bike ride had one little twist to it. All the windows and doors of a small chapel had to be noted and the information had to be handed in at the next transition. (There is an amusing little story on this one but I shall tell that to you in the next article!). They then continued 9.5kms to the coast, though an area of large sand dunes to reach the ferry across to the town of Camocim.
Orion had made good progress and were checked in at 18.38, then headed off to their hotel to get a full night’s sleep at last, before the sailing in the morning.
The final stage, the sailing, could only begin when the winds changed – sometime after 4am, though the exact time would be determined by the boatman (a local) who would take each team the 32km along the coast.
Then after the sail to Guriu there was a final 10km run along the sand dunes to finish back at the famous windsurfing town, Jericoacoara – Orionhealth’s final two steps in the race were up onto the podium where they celebrated being World Champions, fulfilling their ambition of the past few years. Nike came second and much to the delight of all Brazil, an international team which included 2 Brazilians, SOLE, came third.
And this is what it’s all about:
Too much levity there. This is an extroadinary race with extroadinary contestants determined to complete an extroadinary feat. Congratulations to them all.