Darkside Report

It’s going to take a while for me to fully digest my experience from the 2013 Darkside race.  In the end we ran a close 4th place in the mixed (5th overall) being beaten out by Infinite and Tiger Adventure by 2 and 5 minutes respectively after over 12 hours of racing.  Ultimately the result probably fell short of my ultimate goal after improving results over the past few years, but this probably more reflects the competitive nature of this year’s field.

Race briefing in style at the Novotel Twin Waters.

Race briefing in style at the Novotel Twin Waters.

Simon and Robyn from In2Adventure historically run very good races.  The level of professionalism of their events is currently a cut above everyone else in the Queensland adventure racing scene in terms of event infrastructure, electronic timing, promotion and sponsored prizes.  The second race I ever did was an I2A Teva Sprint back in 2006.  Since then I’ve done all but one I2A QLD AR and the majority of the time their courses strike the right balance of challenge, variety and achievability.  Darkside, being their pinnacle AR event for the year, has always been a tough but rewarding race, despite some logistical hiccups in the 2012 event.    Traditionally only the top teams make it through the full course in 18 hours, but well thought out bonus legs means that a ranked result is achievable by most teams.  After 3 years of exciting racing exploring some of the Uki region of northern NSW, Darkside was moved to the Sunshine Coast with the change of location closer to a metropolis reflecting a higher team number turn out.

The lead up to this year’s race had been far from smooth sailing.  Originally I was supposed to be racing with Darren Smith and Nina Wright.  The last time we all raced together was in December 2010 at the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge as part of a Sleepmonsters sponsored team.  Since then, we had all gone off and had our first baby each, which has really put the brakes on racing, particularly for Nina.  This was to be Nina’s come back longer adventure race after some great results recently at TreX.  Unfortunately for Darren though, he had to pull the pin two days before the race due to a niggling knee injury.  Luckily Shaun Lauder was able to step into the void at short notice and we had a team again.  Of all the people I’ve raced with, Shaun is the best team player.  Despite his protestations about lack of running training for the race, I knew what he was capable of and I knew we were lucky to have him on our team.

On the run to CP A, playing catch up.

On the run to CP A, playing catch up.

Friday night of the race rolled around all too quickly.  I’m still not sure what the theory behind starting the race on a Friday night is.  I guess it does give all of Sunday off to recover and be with the family, but it makes for a very stressful pre-race preparation.  Friday traffic has always been horrendous getting to the race (this year it was a 3hr drive to cover what normally takes 90 min from Brisbane) and with separate bike and boat drops, late arrival, map mark up and transport to the start location, making it to the start line is an exhausting mission in of itself.

Run rogaine to start Darkside.

Run rogaine to start Darkside.

On paper, the course looked relatively straight forward – a run, a ride, a paddle and a bonus leg from HQ at the finish – presumably another run as our bikes wouldn’t be there.  The first run was kicked off with a three point rogaine, however there was only one obvious route choice, picking up C, B and A in order.  Heading to the first CP, we were sitting in about 4th place when the lead teams took a wrong track at the first turn off.  I picked up the mistake straight off, but unfortunately Nina kept on running with the leaders in the dark, so Shaun and I had to chase her down and turn around, giving up a number of positions in the process.  After ticking off CP C, we struggled a bit with CP B as did most of the field.  The map provided was clearly missing a number of the major tracks.  This wouldn’t normally be much of a problem, however it was also missing all the watercourse data, which combined with a big pack of teams searching in the wrong gully made for a lot of confusion.  By the time we had relocated and attacked the CP a second time, we were well down in the middle of the field.  From this point on, we paid a lot closer attention to our distances and deciphering the terrain data on the 1:50,000 map, and the rest of the leg went pretty smoothly despite a little hiccup on CP3, again because of unmarked tracks and confusion from surrounding teams.  This is the second race in a row now where I’ve had the lesson of just running your own race navigationally and ignoring those around you reiterated.  Again, this is easier to do when you are towards the front of the pack and another benefit of longer format races which sees the field spread out more.

Heading out on the bikes.

Heading out on the bikes.

We finished the first run leg in around 6th place with a bunch of about 4 or 5 teams including the Tri Adventure girls who were racing well and Paddy and Howie from team BikeOn, but a good 40 minutes down on the lead teams after only 3 hours of racing.  A quick transition had us out in fifth place and it was on this bike leg that we found our rhythm out on our own.  The navigation was ticking along nicely and we were moving along at a consistent pace, the only nervous moment being a trip over the handlebars on my behalf riding down the steep track after CP6 near the car wreck.  A smart/lucky route choice to go the longer but easier way around to CP7 helped us close the gap on team MDs and Infinite, spotting Mountain Designs less than 8 minutes ahead (and in 4th place) on the out and back to CP8.  Check point 8 at Point Glorious lookout just on dawn as the sun was rising was one of two highlights of the race (the other being the opportunity to paddle my own surf ski in a race).  The 2009 Hells Bells course visited this location with an abseil for one competitor, however we did this check point in the dark back then, and it was nice to see the view with the rising sun.

The run and bike leg map.

The run and bike leg map.

On route to CP10 we picked up Infinite back tracking from a trail that was overgrown.  It was fortunate timing for us as it was a reminder from the 2012 Cooloolabin cyclegaine that the track involved a pretty slow bash with bikes to get out, saving our own trip out and back.  It’s a shame the organisers didn’t have a copy of the cyclegaine map to make valuable track updates on the darkside map.  It was great to have a chance to ride a bit with Russ and co as I’ll be heading to Godzone with them next year.

Heading into CP11 we were fully expecting to have to drop our bikes and complete a rogaine on foot.  The bike leg had been split into two parts on the description sheet, and we were told to carry our running shoes with us.  When we arrived though, there were no bikes lying around – just two officials checking off teams to make sure they made the cutoff time.  It looked like the race was going to be a pretty straight forward run, bike, paddle, bonus and that we were carrying our shoes unnecessarily.  Barring misfortune or some other surprise we would be finished well before the 18hr cut off.  The bike leg finished up with a trip through Parklands.  We were wondering why the CP locations only took in the major hilly fire roads in the mountain bike park, bypassing all of the cool single track options available, but we ticked off the CPs regardless and rolled into the kayak transition having closed the gap on the leading teams.

Kayak Leg

Paddling the Maroochy River.

Being a team of 3, we were at a slight disadvantage on the paddle leg as one of us would have to paddle solo.  Still, it was great to paddle our own skis and after an hour or so the tide turned to be with us and I was starting to enjoy myself on a section of the Maroochy River I’ve never kayaked on before.  During the paddle we would catch glimpses of Infinite who left about 10 minutes before us.  However, at some point after CP20 we rounded a corner to find them paddling back towards us having missed the check point, adding an extra half an hour to an already long paddle.  My heart broke a little for them, as personally there is no worse navigation mistake to get caught by then one that adds extra distance to a paddle (other than perhaps going all the way down the wrong hill, before having to turn back up it).  Despite an enjoyable paddle, after 20km in a surf ski it was nice to get off the water and stretch the legs.

Arriving back at HQ, we were greeted with a street directory map with a total of 5 CPs that had to be collected by foot in order.  The first of these was a shooting activity on the resort grounds where we had to simulate murdering two girls with guns.  Personally, this exercise isn’t my kind thing and I don’t feel it has a place in a traditional adventure race, but I’m sure many found the activity fun and a good break from the race.  The remainder of the run involved an out and back slog in the heat on the suburban streets of Mudjimba and it was here that I really suffered.  At some point I managed to over cook myself and I became the anchor on the team, grabbing a tow from Shaun while Nina drove the pace.  After picking up the northern most CP, the decision was made by the team to stay down on the beach for the remaining shuffle home as least it provided a cool breeze and more pleasant scenery than the neighborhood paths.  Ultimately, my pace saw us lose our 3rd mixed place to Infinite, while also being distanced by mens team Tiger Adventure who both took the inland roads.

An example of the hail that hit race HQ.

An example of the hail that hit race HQ.

The one good thing about the course only taking 12 hours this year, is that my suffering wasn’t protracted and I could get the gear packed up and cleared away in time to do the drive home in daylight.  As if to put an exclamation mark on the race, the heavens opened up as we were driving out from HQ with the most spectacular display of hail I’ve ever seen with some stones the size of tennis balls smashing into the ground like little bombs.  The drive home was almost like the fifth leg of the race, having to stop twice to sleep by the highway, again covering the 90 minute drive in 3 hours.

As I mentioned at the start of this race report, it is going to take me a while to digest this race.  Going in to any race, I expect some level of suffering.  If you’ve prepared well and have a little luck on your side, you have a good race, get to feel strong all day and be the force that drives the team along at a pace a little above the slowest average.  If things don’t go well it can turn into a slog, and I’ve had too many of those sorts of races in the second half of this year.  Often though there are elements to a race that compensate for that suffering – beautiful views, fun scrambling along creeks, bombing descents on the bike, tricky navigational route choices.  For me this year, Darkside was short on these elements, particularly having raced in the event locations before, so when you are having an off race, it only serves to amplify the feelings of “why am I doing this to myself”.

To clarify, I guess there are two elements in adventure racing – the adventure and the racing.  Most of us have a competitive streak in us somewhere, which is why we compete in these events instead of just going out for a big mission with a bunch of friends at a fraction of the cost.  Certainly there are no shortage of opportunities to satiate this competitive drive with multiple ARs, rogaines, orienteering, trail run and multisport races on the calendar.  And then there is the adventure element, including the chance to explore new areas you would never otherwise go to, test out your navigational skills on a course set by others and work within a team.  Having spent a number of years doing every race available on the calendar, I guess I’m coming to the realization that it is the adventure aspect that I find most appealing about AR.  However, in saying that perhaps I just need a couple of strong races to get the competitive juices flowing again.  Now with a young family, time is a precious commodity so I will invariably have to be selective with the races I opt for, and those that deliver the right mix of adventure and racing will come first.  However, I’m also painfully aware that the more racing you do, the better each race goes – it is no small coincidence that team MDs are dominating the QLD AR scene at the moment while Gary and Kim are the most represented racers at events for almost a decade now.  To top it all off, I also have to decide where I want to fit course setting into the picture which is another big love of mine.

Finally, one other major highlight to come out of the weekend was to catch up with so many friends.  Adventure racing in QLD is such a relatively small scene filled with great people.  Just looking over the results, I’ve raced with in the past 8 of the 12 people who made up the top three mixed teams, not to mention a bunch of friends and familiar faces from the Rogue Adventuregaines on other teams.  Congratulations goes to Team MDs for a hard fought win, and to team Cyclezone for holding on to the lead for the majority of the race.  Paul Elby from Cyclezone has had a great year of racing with a swag of top results, and in my opinion is one of the more underrated racers in QLD.  And of course thank you to Nina and Shaun – it was a shame that the imminent hail storm and delayed presentations meant we didn’t get a chance to hang out more after the race.

So now it is only just one more race for the year, and it promises to be a tough one: Adventure Junkie’s 24hr X-Marathon.  By lieu of the fact that it is down in Victoria I’m sure there will be plenty of adventure in store and with Leo on board the pace will be anything but soft.  I’m really looking forward to this race, so hopefully it reignites a bit of spark – just fingers crossed for some colder temperatures.  After that it is time to load up the pack and head out on some longer training missions in preparation for GodZone.  After that, there are plenty of options on the calendar, and I look forward with genuine anticipation to see what Darkside has in store for next year.

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