When one thinks of Spain, one often associates the country with hot sun, sangria, culture rich cities and seaside resorts. How wrong could we have been? Team K2 raced in its inaugural long course Adventure Race, taking on the Adventure Racing World Championships in October 2021 – in relentless rain and very cold conditions.
The opening stage was a mere 122 km trek. As with all schedules the race director forecasts the fastest times and cut off times for slower teams. No-one… literally not even one of the 376 athletes anticipated it would take anything up to 52 hours. It did not rain, that would have been bearable. Instead, the heavens literally opened non-stop for days, in one constant deluge and on top of very cold conditions. It was so unbearable half the teams that entered scratched. Furthermore, with much of the opening stage being on tarmac, athletes’ feet were literally grated. Team K2 too suffered at the hands of the elements and with the deluge of relentless, freezing rain, we hunkered down in a farm building after 12 hours, at 2am with the team members all at various stages of hypothermia. After a few hours of self-recovery, we managed to rally, still suffering and put one foot in front of the other until we finally reached the end of the first stage some 36 hours later. We were without sleep for 52 hours, cold, wet, but started preparing to mountain bike up and over a ski-resort. We were not on schedule. In fact, we were way behind our expectations, but above all else, we were relentless in our decision to continue.
Can you imagine our ‘surprise’ when we learned instead of using a ski-lift to the top of the mountain the operator had knocked off early, leaving us the task of cycling to the start of the mountain bike stage (at the top of the ski resort)? Once again, this proved the easy bit. The weather continued to close in and being on high ground, it became atrocious and moreover without sleep for over 2 days Julie saw her first ‘tinsel wearing frog’ (also known as a sleep monster) ha ha! With absolutely zero visibility, freezing conditions we descended the mountain to escape the prevailing conditions and regroup in a farm building, again in the early hours of the morning. After a difficult conversation including do, we medivac? We rallied and continued our race, although opting to navigate along the main roads to the next transition point. We decided this was safest and gave us the best opportunity of continuing the race despite any risk of penalties. We knew we had missed the kayaking stage. It felt gut wrenching, but if we hurried, we would be on the bus to the short course stages. Short course meaning just a ‘mere 350 km’ and not the full 600 km.
We made it into the transition with 45 minutes to spare before the buses departed. On entry to the large gymnasium hall, we were met with a standing ovation from the athletes waiting, and equal measure of despair across the organisers faces we would not be ready. Everyone saw us leave the first transition and cycle to the top of the ski resort – not for one moment thinking we would make it. I can honestly not recommend what happened next! Fuelled on heightened emotion we broke all records for a team in transition. We literally tore off our wet mountain bike clothes, changed into any warm clothes we could find and threw everything into the bike box, wet, muddy, and hoping the next time we would find these would be back in England. Yuk! Moreover, we also managed to find time to make the team warm Expedition Food, and with seconds to spare climb onto the bus with the other 60 or so athletes. None of this would have been possible without the amazing help from the other athletes.
However, our irrational strategy would come around to haunt us latterly. Much of our clothing remained wet for the rest of the race. However, warm, fed and we were back on track and in good spirits. When we reached the short course transition Julie was able to receive medical assistance for her feet, that were deteriorating rapidly into one large blister on the ball of her feet. The remainder of the race included a further 70 km of trekking and kayaking down a tidal river into a coastal town. The kayaking was simply spectacular, and we absolutely nailed the timing of the tidal zones. However, not before we endured a few more hours of hypothermia waiting on the tides to turn. This was probably the toughest time – whilst we were dry, our clothes were wet, and the temperature freezing. Furthermore, by this stage Julie was walking on pure determination and guts. Her feet were horrendously bad and as we de-cantered weight from her pack into ours, my feet started developing, eventually large and deep blisters too.
We crossed the finish line as a team of four five days after starting the race. Many times, along the journey I honestly could not envisage this. It was one of the toughest few days keeping the team together, safe, and not necessarily motivated to continue, but aligned in our purpose. I cannot speak for Giles nor Adam; however, Julie and I were extremely proud of our grit, resilience, and endurance to persevere in the face of some nasty injuries and weather that all the while wanted to erode our personage into hypothermia.
We both felt there remained unfinished business… and to that end finishing a long course adventure race is our next ambition.
Despite everything, Team K2 on its first outing beat half the teams that started.
Thank you, Adam Rose, and Giles Nordmann for making this happen as part of Team K2.
Thank you for everyone that believed in us and our wonderful partners.
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