The members of Team Avaya from New Zealand, led by Nathan Fa’avae, are some of the most accomplished and experienced adventure racers the sport has seen. As Team Seagate they have dominated the race scene for the past five years, winning a string of world championships and other major races. Before that, between 2002 and 2005, interviewee Nathan Fa’avae had dominated the sport in an earlier incarnation of Team Seagate.
Recreated in 2018 with different sponsorship, the new Team Avaya consists of Nathan Fa’avae, Stuart Lynch, Chris Forne and Joanna Williams (from Ireland). They will be entering XTrail Altay, a 600 kilometre event to be held in the remote Altay region of Xinjiang region of north-western China. The race is for mixed teams of four and will involve hiking, mtb, paddling, ropework and demanding navigation.
This particular team has raced together once before, in 2016, again as Team Seagate, when they won the ARWS final held in Shoalhaven Australia. The other members of the team, without interviewee Nathan Fa’avae, have experience of the race, having won first place at Altay 2017.
First a bit of Form
Nathan Fa’avae: Like most teams, ours has evolved over time. I began adventure racing in 1999, Chris and Stu both started about the same time in 2005 and Jo Williams began her AR in 2010. The core of the team started racing together in 2011 and so we have many seasons behind us, but as people retire or move on, members are replaced. The Avaya team in Altay will be the same group of four that won ARWC2016.
What are your favourite memories in 20 years of adventure racing?
To be honest, that can change depending on my mood and what I’m thinking about, but I always have fond memories of winning the 2012 ARWC in France. That felt like a very hard fought win and as a team we had to use all our skills and wisdom to come out on top. GODZone is always a great event and we always enjoy racing in NZ, for lots of reasons, but there is also appeal in travel and exploring faraway places, so we like to visit the different events and soak in what each race has to offer. Most of the races in the ARWS are good events.
Why XTrail Altay? Why now?
I have not raced Altay before so I was keen to go there - the rest of the team won the event last year and they had a fun trip. The location sounds amazing and the prize money helps too. For me, the timing of a race is almost the most important factor, June is quiet for me so it’s a good time to travel for a race. I’ve raced in China many times and always enjoy the trips up there. Often we choose races that complement the build up to the ARWC finals.
How do you approach the physical side?
These days, my main goal is to stay fit and healthy year round, and then 6 weeks before a race I make a concerted effort, training 20-25 hours per week and entering some small events to build speed. The team trains individually, but we often see each other at other events around NZ. We’ve just come off the NZ summer, so I think everyone is in good shape. GODZone was a good step towards Altay (Team Avaya took fourth but stated they were not there to win). I find it takes about 6-weeks to fully recover from a big race like that.
Preparation and Strategies
To be honest, I think we’ve all raced enough now that preparation is second nature, so not much thought goes into it. We know what we need and it’s just a matter of checking it. There is normally a barrage of emails pre-race and that seems to work!
Chris leads the navigation. He learned a lot about Altay last year and is keen to improve on his performance. As team captain I tend to think about the overall strategy and facilitate those chats within the team.
As far as sleep goes, we tend to take it if and when we need it. I sense we’re a team that sleeps more than most. After years of racing and suffering without enough sleep, we prefer to take the sleep when we need it rather than try and push through. We like to get 2-4 hours per night, though often we push through the first night.
What will be the most challenging aspect of the event?
The environment and the competition, I suspect. We are aware that many top teams want to win the race and they will be a challenge to beat. If the weather is extreme, hot or cold, that will make it hard. I have also heard the insects can be swarming.
Anything you are concerned about?
I think everyone is concerned they have done the training they need not to let the team down. We are a very supportive team and encourage each other, but we also want to pull our weight and feel valued and useful too. We are always a bit wary about any special tests that appear in AR; they can be quite random.
What are your general expectations?
I think the country and terrain will be really fascinating. This being my first time in Xinjiang, I think it’ll be very engaging. The racing will be close I think.
What does achievement look like? What factors could affect your performance on the day?
Ultimately, a satisfying race for us is not making mistakes. That’s our base line goal, to race like the champion team we are. If we win, great; if we get beaten, fair play to the winners. But what we really dislike is finishing knowing we made errors that we shouldn’t have made; that’s just frustrating. I am confident we can race competitively, how it all ends up we’ll have to see.
What does adventure mean to you?
I enjoy the dynamic lifestyle, the unknowns, the problem solving, the new experiences. When we’re in China, I can imagine biking along a remote road, sun setting, amazing views and saying to myself “Wow! How incredible is this…?” We’re out there on an adventure, in a foreign location, in a remote part of the world, with mates, doing the things we enjoy.