Close-fought 9-hour Torpedo 7 Spring Challenge race decided by a sprint finish
After 8hours:10mins:52secs of racing in the Torpedo 7 Spring Challenge South adventure race around Geraldine, only 1 second separated the top two nine-hour category teams at the finish line today.
In some of the closest racing this event has seen, teams Pak n Save (Jo Williams, Simone Maier, both of Wanaka, and Christchurch’s Sia Svendsen) and Torpedo 7 (Sophie Hart, Fleur Pawsey, both of Christchurch and Nelson’s Susie Wood) were neck-and-neck going into the final 4km orienteering stage. They remained inseparable during this final navigation challenge and ended up sprinting down the finish chute fighting for first place. Pak n Save made a final winning effort, claiming Torpedo 7 Spring Challenge South victory by one of the smallest margins ever in this category.
Double and current World Adventure Racing Champion Jo Williams says Pak n Sav “worked really well as a team.”
All three of them often race as part of four-person teams, where they are the sole female, so racing as a trio of girls forced them to adopt different roles.
Jo took up the navigating, Sia took care of organisation and Simone towed when necessary.
“We had a few hesitations on the navigation but nothing too major which was a huge relief. It was a fantastic team of girls we had a great day out there,” Jo says.
Multisport guru Sia says the toughest part was on the hike.
“It was pretty cold on Little Mount Peel and I think we made a good choice coming back down the track. We saw a lot of other teams. We were together with Torpedo 7 the whole way.”
Ironwoman and accomplished multisport athlete Simone was asked how she liked racing side-by-side with the equally-talented Torpedo 7 team.
“I quite enjoyed it, I have to say. I’m not sure they did. They were going really well and my team was awesome. We all worked really hard together. That was amazing. Sometimes they would disappear and then they would pop up again and we would have a bit of changeover of the lead,” she says.
Two-time Coast to Coast champion and three-time World Adventure Racing Champion Sophie Hart had her 8-month-old baby Willa watching her cross the finish line. She described the Geraldine-based course as “one of the hardest” Spring Challenges she has competed in.
“We had a great day. The course was a really hard course and kept us honest out there. We really enjoyed the trek heading up to the Little Mount Peel shelter and it was quite nice seeing a lot of the teams coming back down.”
Challenges for her were: “Definitely this last 50m [to the finish line] it was just all on and I didn’t have any gas left in the tank unfortunately.”
A lot of women racing in the Spring Challenge have children and have to balance their training accordingly. Sophie was asked by the commentator, what it was like to have a baby and come back to race at this elite level.
“I feel privileged to be able to do it to be honest. It was always going to be a bit of a long shot. The most important thing for me is I’ve got a pretty amazing husband who has been incredibly supportive and has really wanted me to do this race. Training just changes a bit and you adapt and spend more time on the wind trainer,” she says, laughing.
Jodie Fa’avae, who organises the Spring Challenge with her five-time World Adventure Racing Champion husband Nathan, says: “We are so lucky in New Zealand to have such amazing female athletes in the top 9-hour teams.”
“Both of them had multiple World Adventure Racing Championship-winning girls in the teams. While Spring Challenge is for everyone, it’s really inspirational for other women to see a hard-fought race going on at the top end of the field.”
The third 9-hour team in at 8:48:22 were the Sneaky Weasel Gals, made up of Nelson-based Georgia Whitler, Christchurch’s Isla Smith and Anna Barrett, of Mount Maunganui. They had never raced as a threesome before but have all been the sole female athlete in the Sneaky Weasel Gang adventure racing team – hence the connection.
Georgia was happy with their debut as a team.
“It was a pretty solid race. We didn’t really have any big mistakes. We were a little bit off the pace of the front two teams but we were really happy with how we went.
Isla says the mountain bike ride and “hiking our bikes up the hill for half an hour” on Orari Station was the toughest part of the day.
Anna’s favourite section was running down Mount Peel.
“That was an epic trail. It was one of the best runs,” she says.
For the Spring Challenge organisers Nathan and Jodie, who spend a year planning this event, seeing it achieve the status of the biggest adventure race in the world, in its eleventh running this year, has been exciting but also somewhat daunting.
With 1800 women out rafting then navigating their way through hiking, mountain biking and orienteering stages in 3, 6 and 9-hour categories, the logistics were always going to be a challenge.
As the event wound to a close tonight Nathan paid credit to the 160 staff and volunteers, the support crews and especially to the participants for pulling off an event involving 1800 competitors.
“The thing that makes this special is the atmosphere the women themselves create. Their spirit of competition, patience, respect and understanding is what makes Spring Challenge a successful event.”
Jodie says Geraldine has shown “amazing community involvement and spirit” as a host destination.
“There are pink balloons up all over town and signs welcoming the Spring Challenge. We have had so much support from the people of Geraldine and also the local high school, which has supplied us with volunteers from its outdoor education programme.”
The weather played ball with early rain showers clearing to a sunny day as the 600 teams of three women rafted down the Rangitata River in four start waves. From there they took different courses depending on their race category and traveled up into the hills around Deer Spur, Mount Peel and Orari Station, before finishing at the Geraldine Domain.
Spring Challenge stories
After any event there are always so many stories but an event involving 1800 women magnifies the possibility for heart-warming and heart-breaking yarns.
Here’s just a selection of stories from the 2017 Torpedo 7 Spring Challenge South in Geraldine.
Nicky Ecroyd raced in team Sprung Chicks with her friends Michele Chin and Linda Jolly in the 6-hour Super Veteran category and wanted to give special thanks to her support crew for their very salubrious final transition.
The girls had commented that they would like a cup of tea and a lie-down at the previous transition, so at TA3 they were presented with a cup of tea in a porcelain cup (no less) on a saucer, balanced on a silver tray!
“It was perfect,” Nicky says of the first-class effort her husband John and Michele’s husband Mike went to.
Spring Challenge Course Managers Mark Rayward and Dan Moore had a funny story from the tail-end of the long day. They had followed last 9-hour teams into the final TA3 and gave them about 45 minutes head-start before they started disassembling the orienteering course. About half-way through the first side Mark finds one of the teams and had to frantically contact Dan at the other end and ask him to put the controls back out for them.
The last team crossed the finish line at 12.59am.
While we are on a Rayward family theme, Mark and his wife Wendy (Event Manager/MC) had their daughter Kyla (13) doing the 3-hour School category. She had teamed up with Spring Challenge organisers’ Jodie and Nathan Fa’avae’s daughter Jessie (14) and their friend Davis Sundbye (15). These potentially pre-genetically disposed adventure racing youngsters from Motueka not only cleaned up the School category, they won the 3-hour category overall.
Jessie was on navigation duties and was glad of all the map-reading knowledge that her five-time World Adventure Racing Champion dad had passed on over the years.
“It was quite stressful, we only had one map so everyone had to listen to me,” Jessie says.
One of the ladies from a Timaru-based team, who preferred to remain nameless, was forced to rely on her team mates for a very different reason. Entered in her first Spring Challenge event, she was unpleasantly surprised to find herself vomiting multiple times on the bike and run stages.
“My story is of my team mates and their wonderful support,” she says, adding that their husbands and partners in the transitions helped keep her going too.
Sue Earnshaw and Rebecca Dobbs earnt themselves the title of “liquid gold” from their unwell team mate for looking after her throughout the 6-hour race.
Many other women stopped to check that she was alright on course and donated barley sugars to the cause.
“It was a really supportive atmosphere,” she says.
Nelson’s Penny-Sue Franklin was competing in her 11th Spring Challenge and after years of racing competitively was more than happy to join her daughter Abbey (20) and sister LouiseMcGillivray on a “really special, fun, family adventure.”
“Last year I thought I’m ready for a new challenge of bringing in new-comers,” Penny-Sue says.
It was the first time she had raced with her daughter and they competed in the 6-hour Open category, loved the scenery and enjoyed tea and scones at the transitions.
Team 509 No Spring Chickens were racing in the 3-hour veteran category and all was going well until Rae Stewart’s mountain bike tyre went flat. Her other two Christchurch team members Michelle Fletcher and Vicky Rowe sprung into action and within five minutes they were back in action and even passed teams that had whizzed by while they were making their repairs.
“It was like surgical precision,” Michelle says.
Wanaka’s Katharine Eustace is a seasoned and successful racer but this was her first event back after having baby Mahe six months ago. After a last-minute breastfeed and nappy change for wee boy on race morning, she was able to finally focus on her six-hour event.
A struggle to locate one of her team mates in the metropolis of Geraldine resulted in a rush to the start line …or so they thought. Arriving at the location, the girls were met by a marshal who informed them they were instead at TA1.
After an even more frantic drive to the actual start, they then had to wait until the traffic coming out of the one-way canal road had gone through. Thankfully the 6.30am start was slightly delayed so they had time to pull on their wetsuits, visit the toilet and start their race day – albeit a little flustered!
A couple of Nelson-based Michelle Hunter’s friends came up to tell us how proud they were of her, as up until four months ago she had never ridden a mountain bike before. After some tutition/encouragement from her husband (running along behind her) she mastered the art of riding something with two wheels and completed the 6-hour race yesterday. She even passed lots of other competitors on the downhill sections, which were what she had been dreading.
Bike rides are now part of the Hunter family’s regular activities.
Middlemarch’s Jo Sutherland was a very deserving winner of the Juliana Furtado mountain bike spot prize. She has owned her old bike for 15 years and was concerned its wheel was going to fall off during her race yesterday.
Her response to the fantastic new set of wheels was: “I’ll have to do more events now.”