Aucklander Adam Bentley (left) joins Te Anau locals Pania Dalley, Grant Tremain and Jade Lilo as GODZone team "Countdown to the Ranch" before a weekend-long training mission. PHOTO: Claire Kaplan
For some GODZone will only ring familiar as the race that former All Blacks team captain Richie McCaw is in. But behind the scenes Southland's own teams have been putting in the impressive effort to train for what's billed as the world's largest adventure race.
Any GODZone team will tell you that training for GODZone is not a cheap pursuit. From going through multiple pairs of shoes before finding the right pair, keeping expensive mountain bikes in good condition, to the thousands of calories needed to fuel each athlete, training for the multi-day race has been an intensive investment.
Te Anau team "Countdown to the Ranch" member Pania Dalley said the intensive training schedule meant going through around six pairs of off-road shoes in seven months in the lead up to the event.
For Team Meridian's Brett Horwell, of Te Anau, it took going through three pairs of shoes before finding one that didn't destroy his feet after hours of walking.
Riverton's Richard Shields of Team One Direction (no relation to the band) said the team had a DIY factor to its journey, with one member from Christchurch making their pack rafts, a friend making their custom packs, and Mr Shield's wife putting together specialist food.
"To do it in something you've created yourself is pretty cool."
Team One Direction on top of Dore Pass on 'Fear Society's Big Run' over the Milford Track featuring (from left) Richard Shields, Julie Williamson, Richard McIntosh and Denis Woods. PHOTO: Supplied
Keri Antoniak of Team Fiordland House said while her team had upped its training prior to the event, activities like kayaking and hiking were all part and parcel of the Fiordland lifestyle she and her teammates already enjoyed.
"We had to do it this year because it's here."
Team members Keri Antoniak and Dean Clark of Team Fiordland House kayak on a choppy Lake Te Anau in the evening. Not featured are fellow team members Heather Barnes and Scott Kizett.
Many competitors in Te Anau said there was a friendly camaraderie among teams in town in preparation of the event, but not all had the chance to have their teammates close by to train for the event.
"Pure" category racer Tara Spencer of Te Anau met some of her Aussie teammates at the X-Trail expedition race in Northern China in 2016. When they decided to form Team "Slice of Heaven" for GODZone, she said it required a lot of talking on Facebook and Dropbox to cover the distance between her and her teammates based in Sydney, Victoria, and Auckland.
Training for the event isn't just about upping one's fitness level. It's about knowing how to navigate the unique terrain of Fiordland and preparing the team for the mental challenges of running through a tough course on little sleep.
Mr Horwell and his Christchurch teammates were recouping after their last joint training mission before the big day with a 36-hour mission kayaking from Henry Creek to Lake Te Anau's middle fiord and hiking to Lake Hankingson and back, working on about six hours of sleep.
"We learnt how quickly Fiordland can creep on you," he said.
Team Meridian's Richard Griffiths (left), Brett Horwell, Paul Churton, and Caroline Diprose-Rea dry out their gear after a weekend training mission.
For Bend Racing/Fear Society, honing on skills and team building were just as a critical part of their training as physical endurance building. Building up a base level of fitness was obviously necessary, but so was knowing your team dynamics well enough to avoid the pitfalls that can come from sleep deprivation and stress.
"You never see what you see in people until you're five days into a race," team member Andy Magness, of Te Anau, said.
Te Anau-US team Bend Racing/Fear Society's Chelsey Magness (left), Andy Magness, Jason Magness, and Adrian Braaksma are vying for a top 10 spot in the "Pure" category. PHOTO: Lisa Mia
Grub on the race course isn't sophisticated, but absolutely imperative to keep the fire going during the intensive experience.
Bend Racing/Fear Society joked that it was less a physical contest than an eating and drinking contest. They estimated they'd need to consume 200 calories per hour over the entirety of the race to keep up, around 5000 calories a day. But they predicted they would be burning two to three times that amount.
What works for each athlete varies wildly. Wine Gums were a personal favourite for some on Team Countdown to the Ranch, and they were also stocking up on energy bars, electrolytes, cheese and crackers, and instant noodles. Ultimately when you're on the road, the less picky you become, they said.
Tara Spencer of Te Anau (middle) and her teammates James Rush and Liz Woodgate of Team Slice of Heaven organising the thousands of calories of food they'll need to power through the "Pure" category event.
THE COMMUNITY SUPPORT
Bend Racing/Fear Society said what made GODZone distinct from other major adventure races was its strong publicity that got locals involved with the event.
Often expedition racing meant crossing a quiet finish line in the middle of the night, but their own previous experiences with GODZone meant getting support when they least expected it.
Many local GODZone competitors said people in town, even ones they didn't know, were coming up to them and asking how training was going. It's that community support that athletes will be counting on as they trek out into the Fiordland wilderness this week.
Mr Shields said it was great to see more Southland teams competing in this year's event, having bumped into a few during training.
"I think Southland will do well."