by Lucy Shewell
My alarm went off at 4:30am… but I think I was already awake. I jumped out of bed feeling slightly nervous while quite excited at the same time. It was the morning of my second adventure race. Well, technically this was a multisport race as true ‘adventure’ racing involves a navigational component. Although this race would be off the beaten track, the trail run and mountain bike courses were to be marked with tape. The race that I was about to embark on consisted of a 1.5km ocean swim, a 13km ocean and creek paddle, a 12km trail run, a 22km mountain bike and concluded with a 2km run to the finish line. This was a race I had fantasized about participating in for years. I contemplated the idea of entering as a team. I also thought about doing the shorter course, which lacked the ocean swim and ocean paddle. But earlier this year I made the decision that I would be completing the full event as an individual.
I fueled up with oats, coconut milk, blueberries, yoghurt, cocoa powder, walnuts, coconut, whey protein powder and honey. I normally eat a low-carbohydrate diet with a decent amount of fat, but on race day morning I always consume carbohydrates. And of course I had a strong cup of coffee; also a necessity on race day. Next I loaded up my small, hatchback Toyota Corolla with my 14 foot, 17kg paddle ski, the paddle for the paddle ski, my wetsuit, goggles, swimming cap, mountain bike, helmet, gloves, water pack, running shoes, towel and nutrition for the day. My nutrition took up barely any room as it consisted of one espresso gel and two pieces of a homemade oat and nut slice. This may seem like very little for what would be a race lasting over 6 hours, but years of eating low carb and training in a fasted state has allowed me to fuel my endurance racing by burning my own fat stores.
I drove to the first transition point to drop off my gear for the run leg. The next stop was the mountain bike transition, then it was off to the start line. Both the swim and the paddle commenced from Currumbin Alley, the point at which Currumbin Creek meets the Pacific Ocean.
The weather was not great. There were some clouds looming overhead. It had rained during the night and my thoughts wandered to the mountain bike track, sections of which I imagined would be muddy and slippery. I put on my wetsuit and prepared for the race briefing. I noticed that there was only one other individual woman starting the race. I compared my ski to hers and felt somewhat deflated. I had a short, stumpy, plastic ski while hers was a long, slender racing ski. Did I stand a chance to beat her?
The 14 of us taking on the full course headed over to the swim start. I felt nervous again. Gary, the race director had earlier grabbed my shoulders and said “Lucy, what are you so worried about? You are here to have fun”. I repeated his words in my mind. What was the worst that could happen? If I lost my ski entering through the creek mouth then I would just have to swim after it; something I had done many times before. And I would just have to take it easy on the steep sections of the mountain bike course given the wet conditions. Everything would be fine I told myself.
The swim started and I was pleased to find myself in the middle of the pack. We headed out through the waves around the first buoy. The surf was quite flat that day so the swim did not trouble me at all. I struggled slightly finding the final buoy but managed to get around it and started to make my way in to the shore. I tore off my wetsuit as I ran up the beach to where the skis were waiting. Again I was pleasantly surprised to see that my ski was far from the last one on the shore. But I knew I had the slowest ski so I wasn’t going to be surprised if I was overtaken by the majority of the field.
I paddled my ski out through the waves with no problems. Two guys passed me as we paddled through the ocean towards the creek mouth. The tide was going out so I felt slightly concerned that if I lost my ski it would get washed out to sea. I lined up a small wave to catch in and paddled hard. I rode the wave and as it crashed behind me I tipped out of my ski. I quickly jumped back in and began paddling hard again. I was now in still water. What had I been so worried about?
Two more guys had passed me on much better skis. It was disappointing but what could I expect. The paddle seemed to take forever. At one point I feared that I had somehow taken a wrong turn in the creek and was off course. I was relieved when I paddled up to the bank and the wonderful volunteers were there to carry my ski up while I headed to the run transition.
I chucked on my shoes, put on my water pack and slammed down my espresso gel. The caffeine hit was just what I needed after the 1.5km swim and 13km paddle. At that point I noticed my water pack had been leaking! There was a tiny dribble of water left which I quickly drank as I began the run. There was nothing I could do about this now. Time to get running!
The run course was totally fun. I was running along the creek’s edge; crossing the creek multiple times. I ran over rocks, through thick shrub, under trees, through mud, down hills, up hills; I was having a ball! I passed several people during the run, which made me feel confident. I was sure that I had not seen the only other female competitor doing the full course. I finished the run feeling strong but slightly thirsty. I asked another one of the fabulous volunteers in the bike transition area if she had any water. She kindly poured some into my water pack only for it to start leaking down my back. I jumped on my bike, had a bit to eat and began heading for the first steep climb. Once I reached the top of the first climb the course entered the border track; a rolling section of fire trails and single track. At this point I drank the last of my remaining water, ate the last of my food and kept riding.
Again, I found this section of the race fun. I think that’s my favourite part about off road racing; I was actually having fun while racing! Triathlon and marathon running do have moments of fun (like when you finish), however, these races are all about going as fast as you can physically and mentally stand. I am also thoroughly enjoying the training for off road races. Last weekend my training session consisted of mountain biking on some single track surrounded by trees and shrubs, followed by some trail running. I was thinking ‘This is great!” My training leading up to this adventure race was not as structured compared to my training for triathlon. I hadn’t been focusing on my speed or pace or how many reps per session. When I was training for triathlon or marathons I would ensure that just about every training session had a structure and a purpose. Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for structured training. Having a regimented training regime did wonders for my fitness and ability as a multisport racer. But since making the transition to off road races I have been enjoying the freedom of doing what I feel like in training.
Back to the race. The mountain bike section went well. I only had a couple of minor slips and I came into the final transition feeling strong. Due to my background in triathlon I was used to running hard off the bike – so that is what I did. I ran hard to the finish line and I was absolutely thrilled not only to finish, but also to find out that I was the first female finisher! My final time was 6:10:52. I was 6th out of the swim but dropped back to 12th after the paddle ski leg. I made up some ground in the run and the bike to finish 10th overall out of a field of 14. I had a great day and I felt a great sense of pride for finishing this race as an individual. I had previously completed a shorter multisport race consisting of a 14km mountain bike, a 7km creek paddle and an 8km beach run, but a race of this magnitude was something that I never thought I could achieve. I have since completed another off road triathlon, in which I was the third female finisher overall. I am really enjoying off road training and racing. I have a lot to work on, especially my mountain biking skills and my down-hill running, but I am looking forward to the challenge.
Dr Lucy Shewell, PhD is a research scientist in the field of molecular microbiology. Her current research focuses on bacterial toxins and their interactions with host cells. Her research has been published in leading scientific journals including the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Nature Communications. In her spare time Dr Shewell trains for and competes in multisport and endurance races. She was a top age group triathlete before shifting to off road races. She is passionate about fueling her training and racing with practical, easy to prepare, nutritious whole food. She also enjoys researching and writing articles on topics in health, nutrition, fitness and athletic performance using quality, peer-reviewed science. You can find her whole food recipes and articles at her new blog, http://icantbelievethatshealthy.com/