As I ran up the steep hill in the blasting hot midday sun in Lingyun in China I was full of mixed emotions.
It was that intense, draining heat.
The type of heat that people could tolerate for an hour, maybe two, but people working out at a super high intensity for hours upon hours, then quite often people would drop off like flies, hunched over their bikes, the will to live almost gone from their body.
But not me.
For some amazing reason I can tolerate the heat well.
In my first Adventure Race when I moved to Sunny Queensland I was told I was watched with an almost snicker; ‘let’s watch this overenthusiastic newbee Kiwi handle the heat now!’
I know it’s hot, but it’s like my body doesn’t have a thermostat for recognising anything over 27 degrees. I just deal with it.
Such an amazing ability to have.
So running up the hill I was excited I might have an edge over the competition (that is if my team mates also were able to run hot too) but my the pins and needles in my feet were alive and sparking all the way up to my calves.
Two years ago after having the same pain (but at a much higher intensity) and carrying on competing, training, working (I’m not staying this was a good thing) I learnt to deal with the horrible and uncomfortable sensation. I knew it wouldn’t stop me from finishing nor would it slow me down, it would just mean I might be a little more edgy and impulsive (grumpy) than usual.
After spending the last 5 days cooped up in wet Hong Kong, I had a spring in my step and felt alive.
It was a great feeling the day before heading into a 4 day stage race.
However, my team mate was now running like a lame pony, with a shuffling gait and favouring one side. He had just prior to the run told me how he injured himself training few days before and had been receiving treatment for it.
“Please stop!” I urged him.
“Please don’t keep running if it hurts you, we need you for tomorrow.”
He stopped and we left him to walk the 3km down back to the Hotel.
And an hour later he hobbled in.
I knew we were in big trouble.
Team Chimpanzee consisted of myself;
Andris – the dependable, solid, never waiving most amazing supportive team mate. I literally trusted this guy with my life after me very dubiously inline skating directly behind him for 30km on main roads, going 28km/hr.
Romans; The very determined, strong action man of the team, often reminding me of the cartoon character The Hulk. I had no doubt that if we were all to fall down Romans would have the energy and strength to carry us across Mountains all to safety, and shrug it off like it was nothing.
And Milan, the oldest of the team, with a very slight, lightweight frame, he could shred up downhills on his Mountain Bike like he was flying, very mentally tough and with a never-ending will to accomplish what he set out to achieve.
Day one and I honestly struggle to remember anything apart from the first 5km run from the start.
Remembering the run is partly due to Milan being slow and limping which means I wasn’t at my absolute red line and wishing my life to be over (which often feels like – and of course should! – that way racing with 3 strong guys.)
I expected the day to be tough.
I actually expected the day to be unbelievably tough.
I had given myself a 5 week break after the back to back World Champs, Coast to Coast and WEMBO 24hr MTB, and had a few weeks crash training with a few races thrown in to shock my body back to life. I knew my base fitness was there and I believed I’d get stronger as the days went by, but having lost my upper fitness, I knew it would be a case of just hanging in there, especially in day one and two.
The last 18km run on day one had us crawling up Mountains upon Mountains and descending deep into the most spectacular caves.
We underestimated the time to complete this leg and ran out of water and food.
I remember looking up at the top of the Mountains and literally not knowing how I was going to get myself up there. My staggered, almost drunk like steps and my blurred vision i wondered to myself how much more it would take for me to pass out, but I knew Romans who had me on tow (with Andris towing Milan) would be able to fireman carry me out of there.
I was actually shocked when I didn’t pass out and was really glad my heart rate monitor wasn’t working.
It most definitely would’ve set new records.
Day two and we started with a 15km paddle.
Romans and I had (accidentally) chosen a kayak with the bungs firmly in place which meant our boat filled up with water and it felt like a full bathtub paddling it.
I suggested we stop and remove the bungs but Roman in his determined mindset yelled at me to just keep going.
Our team mates were hundreds of meters ahead and were of no help to assist, much to my evolving disgust and anger.
At the turn around point at 5km we saw Andris and Milan and I screamed frustration at them.
Romans and I were way back off the lead and I was exhausted.
We were paddling around other teams that clearly inexperienced paddlers and some looked like they were out for a Sunday float.
“We need you!” “Please help us!” I hollered at my team mates, after screaming at them that if they ever left us behind like that again I’d never ever race with them again.
Romans and I sat on their wash but even then it was clear were still way off their pace with our water laden Kayak.
I was dreading the rest of the day and was feeling very angry that Andris and Milan were clearly fresh whilst my lower back, shoulder, arms and inner life spirit was screaming.
It’s an interesting position to be in being the only Woman of an Adventure racing team.
My first few years racing in Australia, the better I got, the better guys I raced with.
I never knew of a tow rope and believed it was for the ‘weak.’
I saw the guys I raced with as my equals and I didn’t entertain the idea of them helping carry gear in my pack or make it easier for me.
I was on their level (as far as I was concerned) and the feminist in me defended the belief that I can be as fast and do what any of the guys could.
Although i got some great results racing in 3hr – 6hr – 12hr -24hr – Multiday races, it was obviously clear that i hadn’t raced with really strong guys (where they use their strength and speed to enable me to also go faster, which means as a team we are much faster – and maybe not kill me as much!)
I’ve now been in the sport a little longer and seen the Elite Women of the Sport racing with the Elite Men.
I’ve seen how the team works together to help the Woman be lighter and faster, and whilst of course there are exceptions and particularly in longer races where the Woman can often be the strongest in the team at times, as a Woman if you want to be in a fast team (with guys faster than you) it appears to me you almost need to become slightly submissive.
Which trust me, has been quite hard to deal with at times.
But every single person is different and it is a bit of trial and error to see how your team mates treat you and help, support and collectively work together to enable to team to move faster.
But what I’m always doing is watching the top teams and how they work together (and usually noting how the slower teams don’t) always asking questions and learning from the people who have been in the sport the longest, and the most successful at it.
Anyway, back to it…..
With about 4km of the paddle to go we pulled over to the shore and Andris yelled at me to get in his kayak. Again, another one of those decisions that have already been made and i submissively just follow orders, but this I was very very happy to do.
We paddled comfortably into the Transition.
As we climbed on our bikes I noticed the gear shifter only bike wasn’t working which means I couldn’t change down into an easy gear.
I felt my energy leave my body.
A previous Adventure Race in China the same thing happened and I had to bike over big Mountains only in my big chain ring.
Our team didn’t have a tow rope to assist and I absolutely killed my legs. I then had to run (over more Mountains) and i have never felt so broken in my whole life from that race.
I was now biking scared.
Having only recently been given a new FRD from Felt Bicycles, it had wider handlebars. I was flying through a bit of tricky single track next to a few trees and misjudged the width, clipped the tree and went flying, unfortunately taking poor Andris out with me (and damaging his knee.)
Fortunately this leg was shorter and as we jumped off our bikes we only had a 3km fast run to finish.
Milan unfortunately could hardly run and needed to be assisted with his slow hobble we very slowly crossed the finish line.
Day Three and my bike was unable to be fixed which meant my nightmare had come true.
Romans and Andris (when he wasn’t towing Milan) were amazing in towing me up the steep hills, but I still had to push the pedals in the hard gear which sucked the life force from my legs.
If we came to a steep section and I couldn’t get the tow rope on then I had to get off and walk, watching teams ride swiftly past us killed my spirit (and my energy as walking up hill pushing your bike is way harder!)
I also had issues with my bike seat falling down so not only did I have to push in a hard gear I had to do it whilst low on my seat.
A horrible, horrible combination for smashed, dead, legs!
As per the course legs the following days, we had huge Mountains to climb, spectacular views (when one had the energy to lift her head), beautiful caves, striking sun and lots of sweat.
Starting the 12km run my legs felt so heavy and I cursed me carrying 2.2l of water (so an 2.2 extra kgs!) however 15mins before the end of the run I finished it all and was so super grateful.
The guys had a huge long abseil into the lake whilst we all swam 600m in luke warm water to get our kayaks and paddle 22km.
The sun disappeared behind clouds and within a few hours the dark clouds above us let us know of their anger.
The most deafening thunder and spectacular lightning brought almost pellet like rain which was a welcome relief to cool down the body.
Hobbling out of the kayak we ran 3km up a steep uphill to the finish line.
Due to the weather we had a bit of cleaning up to do, in particular my running shoes had caked mud from getting out of the kayak onto the muddy bank.
I grabbed one of the Hotel provided toothbrushes and removed the dirt and scum from the bottom of my shoes.
Later that night when going to bed I looked around for my toothbrush to brush my teeth and couldn’t find it.
I was tired.
It was late.
We had an early morning wake up.
I saw the same toothbrush I’d previously used to clean my shoes (but at the time didn’t realise I’d used it) and proceeded to brush my teeth with it.
About a minute in with a stomach full of horror, I realised.
I quickly threw the toothbrush in the bin and stood staring at it in misbelief.
At about midnight it started.
The grumbling sensation in my belly forced me up throughout the night onto the toilet and then back into bed to assume the foetal position.
530am wake up and I could hardly move.
Surprisingly my tummy pain had gone but all that was left was a limp lifeless body.
I forced myself out of bed and to breakfast where I pushed around some sticky rice and a banana on my plate.
A far cry from the huge breakfasts I’d been having.
As I slowly slung a leg over the bike I had no idea how I was going to make it through this day.
28km hilly bike (still with my broken bike) and a 30km, 2000m elevation run.
All i could do was hope Milan was not able to make the run so we could pull out. Although all I wanted to do was lie down.
I said nothing to my team.
I knew they knew something was wrong but it was like I was in a Zombee World.
It just felt surreal.
Speaking felt too hard.
I just needed all my energy just to put into holding my body up.
I knew everyone was tired.
I was never going to be the one to say I couldn’t do it.
I was going to see if I could do it.
The first hill and I sucked.
There’s no other word for it.
The guys towed me and I knew I wasn’t helping much, but for the first time ever, I didn’t care.
I really really didn’t want to be here doing this.
I didn’t have the energy.
I began to cry.
Then I began to sob and the sobbing stripped me of any energy I thought I didn’t have.
I pulled myself together, I couldn’t afford to sob if I could barely sit upright on my bike.
Throughout the ride (and the following run) I questioned myself.
Was I really sick or was I just exhausted?
My stomach protruded like I was 7 months pregnant and I slowly sipped on sweet sugary liquid to keep my energy up.
I threw up in my mouth.
I swallowed it back down.
I needed to keep my fluids in.
The guys urged me to just get it out but I really didn’t think it was good to do.
“Have a gel Andrea!” Romans yelled at me as he pulled my lifeless body up the never-ending steep Mountain.
“I have” I moaned back. That’s not it, that’s not why I don’t have the energy” I murmured.
I was breathing so hard.
So much I wondered if I would damage my lungs.
I didn’t care.
Romans kept pulling me, much much faster and harder than I would’ve liked.
I just took it.
We left Andris (who was pulling Milan) and put some distance between us. I thought to myself it really would be better to conserve a bit of my energy than forcibly pull me faster than I could go when Andris and Milan were way behind us.
There were no time for words.
I just had to focus on breathing and on each step in front of me.
I silently cried.
Sometimes the cries got out of hand and developed into a slight panic attack and my whole body shook and I could hardly breathe.
I quickly had to get it under control.
I felt Romans slow down.
I wondered if he thought I was dying.
Running downhill on the road I was able to shut my eyes.
I was able to pretend I was wasn’t here.
I wasn’t doing this.
It felt better.
On the technical downhill I started to feel a little better.
I could go at my own pace with no tow rope.
Milan was in obvious pain with his injury grasping at his butt and he was setting the pace.
He was slower than me.
For a few moments i felt I little better.
The finish line was getting closer.
We had been running for over 4 hours by now and the heat of the day was upon us.
Running into the transition Romans grabbed all of our abseiling gear and we took off for (yet another run leg!) a 4km orienteering leg to the finish.
We ran around the energetic and bustling city, watching people, dodging people, and cars, and dogs and the magical village life.
It kept me occupied on something else and I tried to smile to as many people as possible.
Pulling myself across the overhanging rope on the city’s river my body said no.
Romans yelled at me to keep going and with every pull I said to myself “I can’ ‘I can’ although my body fighted it screaming at me that it couldn’t.
Running across the finish line and I couldn’t care less. I just wanted to sit down.
I did and lay there for a while.
There was no thinking.
There was nothing.
I was finally happy.
When we got up to leave the guys decided to walk back to the hotel.
A few minutes into the walk and I started to hate life.
Why the fuck was I walking?
Why were we walking?!
I saw the bus go past us and I screamed on the inside.
That 15minute walk took forever.
I hated it just as much as the run.
I hadn’t eaten anything at the finish and I didn’t want to carry a water bottle (as it was weight) and throughout the walk back I cursed my decision.
Andris had some water and gave it to me.
I silently sipped away.
We ended up finishing in 13th place.
I really didn’t care.
I had given up caring the moment my belly had an uninvited party.
I still questioned whether I had belly bugs or if I simply was just not up to it.
I always dismiss anything wrong with me.
The time I fell off my bike I damaged my arm and ignored anyone who tried telling me it was broken. I wasn’t allowing a broken arm in my life.
And I didn’t.
I continued boxing, obstacle racing, and mountain biking (including more falls onto the same arm) with such horrible pain.
I just dealt with it.
A good and a not so good trait to have really.
The following day I almost felt normal, although after eating my stomach was talking to me.
I was thinking how my pants felt like they had got a bit looser, although after eating 2 Mangos I then had to undo the button on my shorts, my stomach protruding with horrible gas.
There was definitely something going on with my belly.
And now the following day I feel good although doing anything physical and I feel so drained. It’s a different type of drained than a tired body does after a big race.
I’m now in the Philippines and are here for 5 weeks training and recovering (with a 10 day silent Meditation Retreat thrown in to help the recovery and for another life challenge!)
I was planning on a 50km race this weekend. I have been thinking to do the 21km instead or totally cancelling it.
The next 2 days are all about good food, water, sleep, gentle bike rides exploring and massage (lots of great cheap massage here!)
I’m just loving being here.
Travel makes me feel so alive.
The people are amazing.
It’s also great travelling solo and being able to march to my own beat of my drum.
I’ll keep you posted what I do next 🙂
A huge thank you to my team mates (haha I think….;) but most definitely for being unwavering, strong, focused and committed.
Romans, you are an absolute beast and i aim to get stronger and stronger and I look forward to the day I can beat you up a hill! ha! I would not have been able to finish the race if it hadn’t been for your amazing strength (ha not that I really did want to finish the final day anyway!!) Thank you my friend.
Thanks to Milan for racing 4 days in intense pain and making to through to the end. Dealing with an injury is so hard mentally, and then on top of that the physical challenge and anguish that we all went through most definitely intensifies things and especially for you. You did amazingly well. Get better soon my friend.
Andris, yet another successful race with you my friend. You constantly surprise me and I feel honoured to race alongside you. You certainly make things easier and your positive presence lifts the team. You are a true asset to the team.