Team Endurancelife will be entering Expedition Africa 2018, a 530 kilometre adventure race in the Namaqua region of South Africa in late May 2018. They are an experienced British team with a range of races under their belt both individually and often together, including GodZone, Itera and significantly, Expedition Africa 2015 held in Swaziland.
Expedition Africa will involve hiking, mountain biking, paddling, some rope-work, canyoning and some swimming, as well as significant navigation. The organisers, Kinetic Events, expect the quickest teams to complete the course in 72 hours. It is a competitive field of 50 teams. We spoke about hopes and expectations for the event with Endurance Life team leader Gary Davies, a man after our own heart as he admits to watching old films of Eco-Challenge for motivation.
First a bit of Form
Team Endurancelife is made up of Gary Davies, 40, Natalie Taylor, 33, Phil Scarf, at an estimable 55 years old, and Tom Davies, no relation, 39, each of whom has competed in plenty of international races, though not always together, over a decade or so. Tom joined the squad in 2016, but he has international race experience over many years. Their highest places as a team in international races have been 6th in Itera 2014 in Wales and 7th in Expedition Africa 2015, “which given the illness of one of our team members and the number of mistakes we made, could have been higher”, says Davies.
In January of this year, team member Natalie Taylor was part of a team of six women from the British Armed Forces who crossed Antarctica using muscle power alone, a trip covering more than 1000 miles in 62 days.
Their team sponsor, Endurancelife, is the trail race company, which stages many events up to 50 miles, often along the British coastline.
Why Expedition Africa? Why now?
Gary Davies: I haven’t done a multi-day expedition race for a couple of years after a biking accident and in 2017 I concentrated on running, but I found I missed the passion of adventure racing and I realized I wanted to return to Expedition Africa for 2018. Phil, Nat and I all raced there in 2015 and they felt the same. Basically I love the climate in southern Africa and Kinetic are brilliant organisers. The event is also quite economic as international races go.
The physical side
We live all over the country and we haven’t actually managed a single day’s training all together in preparation for this race. Natalie and I did go out mountain biking and paddling together on one occasion, but otherwise all our training has been done individually. We’re experienced enough to know what’s needed and we trust one another to arrive at the start line in a fit state to compete.
Planning is quite similar, as we all know what we need to bring. We’ve had three tele-conferences in which we decided on the right gear and agreed common goals and objectives. After that it’s all done by spreadsheet in the cloud – who’s taking what team kit. We communicate by email and what’s app.
Unlike most teams, we have three navigators. Phil is the primary foot navigator. He comes from an orienteering background and he is very strong on navigating in the mountains. I am stepping back and Tom will be primary bike navigator. As team leader my job this time will be to keep up the urgency and momentum in the team, so that we keep the pressure up. Natalie’s job is to keep us efficient in the transitions. When we arrive in a change-over, she will tell us how long we have and hold us to it.
We have decided on strategies for some aspects of the race. We’re pretty clear about how we’ll manage our sleep. We probably won't sleep on the first night, and then after that we will try to make sure that every member of the teams gets two hours of good sleep each night, usually in the graveyard shift between 2 and 4 am. But we’re clear that everyone must be getting good sleep. If not, then we all get up and carry on. Other teams have a policy of pinching 30 and 40 minute naps, but that hasn’t worked for us.
On food, Nat and I divide our food into six-hour bags, for instance, and once we have an estimate of the time a leg will take, we simply grab as many bags as we need. It saves time. Because we each arrange our own food, there is a certain ‘food envy’ out on the course, when we see what other people have. Then we swap it among ourselves. Variety is important in the food in adventure racing.
We recognise individual strategies for coping when people are feeling down. Some people become withdrawn. When Natalie’s feeling down, she likes to talk to herself to bring herself out of it.
Is there anything you are apprehensive about?
Tom has unfortunately got shin-splints and so we know that he is likely to suffer on the walking sections, though we don’t know how much yet. He is telling us that he’ll just have to “man the f**k up…”
What are your expectations for the race
The logistics are well organised at Expedition Africa and the facilities in the transitions are very good, sometimes in a nice resort. Which makes it something to look forward and quite tempting to stay for longer than you need. The top teams will be making sure not to spend too long there.
It seems that paddling will be limited, because there has been a drought, and so the core of the race will be trekking and mountain bike riding, which suits us as paddling is not our strongest suit.
The field is large, with 50 full teams, and it looks stronger than in 2015, so it could be very competitive.
What does achievement look like?
Our primary goal is to get through the course as a complete team of four. There’s no point in going all out and then someone dropping on Day 3 or 4. Beyond that we would like to get a top 10 finish. The dream is a top 5 place.
What does adventure mean to you?
It’s about being in the wilderness, almost in isolation from the normal world, away from work, tech and life’s other concerns, right out there in nature, doing things you wouldn’t normally do, doing things that Joe Public doesn’t get the opportunity to do. And being out there among friends. It’s a fantastic feeling.
Read more about Expedition Africa.