So for a “race” report with a bit of a difference. If you are an adventure racer, you would have to be living under a rock to not know that the 2015 Adventure Racing World Champs has just drawn to a close, with NZ’s team Seagate convincing repeat winners. Hosted from the inaccessible wetlands of the Pantanal region, it was a race filled with drama and extreme challenge.
As part of the social media engagement for this year’s race, the organisers established a Fantasy League: essentially a tipping competition where spectators had to select a total of 10 of the 32 teams with points awarded according to a complex set of rules depending on how those teams were placed each day over the week of racing.
With almost 400 people registered, I managed to sneak a win in for the Fantasy League through a mixture of luck and too much time spent “dot watching”, that is, obsessively following the GPS tracking of teams during the race. Before I get into my picks for the race I think it is worth noting that the fantasy league was an excellent addition to the online experience for spectators following the race at home. One of my pet gripes about reporting on the big expedition races is that much of the focus (perhaps justifiably with little media opportunities) is on the race at the front of the pack, with little attention to what is going on for midpack teams who are sometimes facing even greater adversity. The fantasy league had me constantly checking and supporting “my” teams in the middle of the pack during the race to see how they were faring.
So for my picks. The field was divided into two pools. Pool A were the top ranked teams in the world, and if anything these choices were easier. I opted for:
- Columbia Oncosec
- Haglofs Silva
Nothing surprising in that bunch. I was lucky that all these teams finished the race, and finished in the top 8. The hard call in the selection was filling the last two places between Tecnu, Merrell and GODZone (and to a lesser extent local team Kailash Quasarlontra). Ultimately I left GODZone off the list which ultimately hurt my score as they consistently tracked on the front of the leaderboard. Normally I’m a massive fan of GODZone (formerly Adidas), however I wasn’t sure how they would go in the absence of Tom Gibbs, and I was keen to support Tecnu with their token Australian, while I thought the heat, predominance of paddling and likely long course would suit Merrell’s strengths.
For Pool B, I opted for:
- Estonia ACE Adventura
- Terra de Gigantes
- Blackhill/Opavanet – swapped for East Wind for Round 3 of scoring
- Issy Aventura Absolu – swapped for Kailash Brou Aventuras for Round 4 of scoring
Again, I was lucky to have 2 of my original group B picks finish in the top 5. I was also lucky not to have to make too many changes, which incurred quite a costly points penalty, and when I did make changes, I was able to do so at a time where I got the most points for both the team I had, and the team I was changing to. For example, when it was clear something was going wrong with Blackhill as they started backtracking on course, I still received full points for them before the scoring round clicked over and they officially pulled out. This complex play between how many points were awarded according to the leaderboard, how long changes would take to become effective, what was happening on the ground in the scope of the race, predicting how this would look on the future leaderboard, interpreting reports from the various media and discussion forums and knowledge of the experience of individual teams made for quite a strategic and engaging game.
As you can probably guess, I put too much time and thought into this sort of thing. My wife thinks it’s funny that my greatest success in the ARWS so far has come in the fantasy league and even went as far to suggest that I give up real racing and stick the fantasy thing. It certainly would be cheaper.
Hopefully this sort of tool will make a return to future races – it certainly helps with engagement given that much of the interaction between an expedition race and its audience is online. Indeed, I think there is a strong case for individual races to host their own discussion forums that are a one stop shop for spectators and “dot watchers” to go to discuss the intricacies of the race. Currently these discussions do go on in forums like Breathe Magazine, Attack Point, Twitter or Facebook, however they would really benefit from centralisation to the race website and direct input from the organisers and media on the ground, and would serve an excellent avenue for disseminating information. In the future, improved tracking technologies (for example real time GPS tracking of teams instead of 30 minute dots), improved leader boards (for example CPs that send RF signals with exact timings for check in at CPs with instant updates to the leaderboards mid stage), new technologies (for example software/hardware that calculated and tabulated how much sleep teams had over a race, or how much time teams had lost due to navigational errors) along with video streaming will only improve the engagement and reach of expedition-length adventure racing.