This is my 2nd time competing in the Wulong Mountain Quest. Funnily enough it takes place on and around a mountain in Wulong County in central China. My first time racing it was in 2013 and was also my first ever trip overseas.
The event is the most competitive for stage adventure racing worldwide, this year proved no different with the participation of the worlds best athletes. In fact knowing who we were up against was pretty intimidating. Not only did our team have to line up against the best, but we were one of the few teams who had chosen to compete in a 24hr race in Suqian, China just 10 days before hand. We had to compete with fresh legged athletes and could only do our best to recover before the day.
Our team is ‘Torpedo7’. Made up of Kiwi’s Marcel Hagener, Simone Maier, Hamish Fleming, and myself. I’ll say it now: a very big part of our reason for winning is the team bond we have. Not only are we all good athletes (because physically some teams had very very strong athletes) but we get along extremely well, are open/honest with communication during, before and after racing. We work incredibly well together. An important attribute to team racing. You can be the fittest but if you can’t work as a team you will not win this race. But yes we also had super strong athletes in our team.
The HQ and hotel was based up at 1800m on the mountain where we spent the most of the week in the clouds/mist. Really wet and averaged about 19 degrees. Wulong township itself is down at 300m.
Day 1 is the Prologue. This is usually quite short in comparison to the main 3 days following. About an hour of high intensity racing. It began with a 7km run. Within 3km we were leading the field but not by much. A sharp turn onto muddy single track slowed the pace lots and it was a good gain for us to lead at that point. Next a 500m chair carry. Then a 3km road run, we were now neck in neck with Swedish team Thule (Martin Flinta, Helena Erbenova, Jacob Roberts (Aussie/Kiwi) and Sam Clark (Kiwi) . Next a 4km Biathlon (we are 4 person teams but are only given 2 of our bikes for this stage, leaving us to chose who rides and who runs and for how far before swapping as necessary). Team Thule and Team Toread (NZers Richard & Elina Ussher, Stu Lynch, and Trevor Voyce) finished the Biathlon ahead of us and all that was left was a 10km mountain bike. By now my lungs were really screaming but we seemed to be actually closing the gap on those in front. By the end Team Thule won in 1:13:30, Team Toread 1:13:42, Team Torpedo7 1:14:05, Team NZ adventure (Dougal Allan, Jess Simson, Glen Currie, Jarad Kohlar – Australian) 1:15:10, Raw Advenure (Jackie and Mimi Boisset (France), Klayton Smith (Aussie), and Alex Hunt (Aussie). N.b: Top 5 teams.
Day 2: The first full day. My legs were really sore from the day before and was a little concerned about performance. It started down in Wulong township at the river 300m altitude and we knew the finshline was ontop of the mountain near our hotel at 1900m. It was going to be a tough day. First up a 1km run in our kayaking gear across the bridge and down to the kayaks by the river, then a 12km paddle in fast flowing water. Hamish and I paddled together in the double kayak and lead the field for most of the section (obviously with our team mates right behind us too). We exited the water in the lead but Team Toread were right behind and we exited the transition together. Now a 4km run straight up steps and steep slippery footpath. Our pace was strong but a few looks over the shoulder showed that not only was Toread right behind, but NZ adventure and Raw Adventure were gaining on us. Next a 8km Biathlon. By no means was it flat. Sometimes carrying the bikes up steep section of farmland. I haven’t mastered the art of bike carrying and nearly blew myself to pieces on this with intensity.
Next a 30km Mountain bike, with A LOT of climb, over 90% upwards I’d say. We began this bike in 2nd place with Team Thule ahead. By now we entering the cloud layers on the mountain and the air temp was dropping. Simone and Marcel set the pace on this ride, Hamish and I were not feeling our best and simply ‘hung in there’ just behind them. Toread were getting closer to us. We took a slight left hang split in the road and through the mist could see Thule heading straight for us. They exclaimed that it was the wrong way. Sure enough some course marking was in the wrong place. Now the battle was on but my legs really weren’t firing. We finished the bike in 3rd place in fog giving only 20m visibilty.
Now a 6km run, which the whole team suffered a bit on, managing a very slow pace, then anothe run:11km but all Orienteering ontop of the mountain.
Well prepared since our major mistake in Suqian we found all the checkpoints mostly flawlessly. While clipping checkpoint 2, Team Thule came out of the bushes and had obviously made a navigation error. Now we ran together stride for stride. Not a nice way to finish a tough day but somehow we piped them by 10secs at the finishline to claim 2nd place behind Toread. By far the toughest day of all 4.
Day 3: After such a tough previous day, this one seemed a little less daunting with more kayaking, some stream canyoning, and even a swim. First up was a 1km swim in the lake,
we went reasonably well and exited the water in 4th place behind Raw Adventure, NZ adventure and Thule.
However we got on the next stage 30km mountain bike before Thule because they had to strip their wetsuits off (we didn’t wear ours). Hamish and I had much better legs today and the whole team rode faster. Thule crept past us during one hill climb but soon after in the biggest hill climb we caught up to them and Team NZ adventure and passed them both just before the decent.
Technically we rode the downhill well and soon caught and passed Raw Adventure putting ourselves in the lead as we finished the stage. A quick change into our life jackets and harnesses but Thule beat us out of the transition. We now ran 5km downhill after Thule before 5km of Cayoning down a steep slipper rocky stream.
At the start of the canyoning shortly after a waterfall we squeezed past Thule as our team of NZers with ‘coast to coast’ running skills was a sweet advantage. The steam was fun but still mentally demanding. Lots of bombs off waterfalls but also a few painful slips on the rocks.
Now a 17km Kayak across the lake where no one was in sight, we all dug deep and tried to extend our lead. To finish was a 2km run straight up stairs into an amazing cave full of more stair. After crossing the finishline first it was 5mins before Team Thule arrived and 24mins before Team NZ adventure arrived. We had a massive lead and it felt good!!
Day 4: Woke up this morning feeling like my eyelids were tied down with bricks and the body had been run over by a train. Overall we had a lead of 5mins on 2nd place. Today was the day to seal the deal. To not panic and do our best to keep ahead.
The start was supposed to be 8km of caving down a stream but due to all the bad weather and rain it had to be cancelled. Just as well as it was a cold day anyway. We had a staggered start of 30 seconds per team and because we were in the lead we started first. The pressure was on and I was feeling it. First up was now a 30km mountain bike.
We were going consistently and strong but made no special effort and maintained our lead until halfway when Raw Adventure came past. They started 2mins behind us at the start line so had obviously gained that back and more! We stayed close behind them until the end of the ride where they had around 1 min lead. Now we had a 14km run, the first half hilly through wet bush. Occasionally glimpsing Raw Adventure ahead of us and even Thule behind us (about 1min 30secs). The last 6km of the run was all paved road and slightly downhill. This is about the point where we as a team transitioned from conservative racing to proper racing and took off hard and fast. We enter the transition soon after Raw Adventure and now was an 8km ‘out and back’ kayak. Here it was clear what team was where. We couldn’t get any closer to Raw Adventure with our tired bodies but seemed to make a couple of seconds on Thule, and Thule, in the overall table, were our only concern for the day. Finally to finish was a 7 km technical trail run, predominantly downhill, down a valley under some enormous cliffs and the famous ‘natural bridges’.
In classic China racing fashion the run finished with stairs all the way up the cliffs, slightly over 100m vertical climb. A nice end to the day.
Final overall results:
1st- Team Torpedo7: 18:16:46
2nd- Thule Adventure Team: 18:21:57
3rd- Team Toread: 18:41:54
4th- Raw Adventure: 18:44:54
5th- Team NZ Adventure: 19:21:23
6th- Swedish Armed Forces Adventure Team: 19:39:32
7th- New World St. Martins: 19:53:53
8th- Germany-Switzerland: 20:17:07
9th- Thule Adventure Team2: 20:22:07
16th- Wanaka NZ Team: 23:47:16