In March 2018, the Royal Air Force adventure racing team RAF 100 will enter GodZone Adventure Race, a 7-10 day adventure race to be held in Fiordland in New Zealand's South Island. The race will see around 100 teams, probably the largest field ever gathered for a major adventure race, and it will be run over one of the longest ever courses too. With the 100th anniversary celebrations of the RAF coming up in 2018, and an announcement that the GodZone field would be increased to 100 teams, the RAF team members asked the organizers if they would be able to claim team number 100, which they were duly offered.
Team RAF 100 has a good bit of experience in adventure racing, with a number of World AR and European Series AR races under their belt, but there are few races like Godzone, which for 2018 is set to be 600 kilometres long.
GodZone is five months away, but as with every event like this, there is plenty to get organised and plenty of training to do. A Life of Adventure will follow Team RAF 100 in their preparations for the event. We spoke to Laura Frowen, one of the team's two navigators, just after a training weekend in early November.
First a bit of Form
All members of Team RAF 100 are serving members of the RAF. They are drawn from a dozen or so people across the service who have competed together over the past 4 years, fitting races in around their operational deployments.
Jamie Buckle is the captain and driving force behind the team. He has competed in 3 AR World Series races and 2 European Series AR events as well as many one-day events in the UK. Recently he completed the Jurassic Coast Challenge (100km from Poole to Bridport) and the Ring of Fire (135 miles around Anglesey). Laura Frowen, navigator, first started adventure racing in a 4 day Hebridean Challenge in 2006 and after a hiatus took up the sport again in 2015. She has competed in an AR World Series race (2017) as well as a Euro Series AR event (2016). As an ultra runner, she has completed the Northern Traverse (190 miles and 16000 ft of ascent across northern England) and several UK Series Mountain Marathons. Charlie Butterfield raced the Euro Series AR (2016), and has competed in the Jurassic Coast Challenge and Marmot Dark Mountains mountain marathon. And Penny Grayson, the most recent addition to the team, brings proven endurance and athletic power after many years of racing ironman triathlon (as a GB age-group athlete) as well as completing the Jurassic Coast Challenge and the Ridgeway Challenge (86 miles along the Ridgeway to Avebury Stones).
Why GodZone, why now?
GodZone has always quietly been on our radar as a ‘Bucket List’ event, says Laura Frowen. Jamie and I were just back from the AR World Series Expedition Africa, which was truly incredible. Despite a last day MTB nightmare leg with 7 punctures and finishing with a bike with just a single speed, we loved it. There was the most incredible collection of memories - the week ended with a sense of ‘wow, what have we just done?’ That and the mandatory IT detox which enables you to focus on the day ahead, the next point, the next meal. The simplicity is a really addictive feeling.
We knew that Godzone had sold out months earlier, but when the extra places became available, we just thought, why not... let’s apply for it! We didn’t really think we would get a spot, we didn’t have a team or any idea of how we would train through the UK winter!!!!!
Ah, yes, the training thing...
So far, we have had two weekends of white water technical training and a bit of MTB thrown in. The GodZone newsletters indicate that there's going to be some difficult white water so we have been working on white water experience up at Bala, building up to grade III+ with a bit of confidence.
Most of our endurance training is individual, so the team weekends are focussed on technical aspects and team dynamics. The weekends are going to get harder and longer as training builds and we head towards the race. We are scattered around the country, but we met in the Cotswolds for our first team weekend in November. It was a mountain biking weekend, but it was also about testing equipment, in daylight and at night, so we set off at dusk and went into the night, checking that our map boards are set up on the bikes in the way we want them, and getting our lights right. It was also a good way to practice micro-navigation over open ground.
It was long enough to get the team tired - and it was interesting for me because I had come back overnight from the States that day and so did the whole thing jet-lagged. Actually it was a good short-cut to the sort of exhaustion we will experience in the race.
We did some kit checks - in South Africa our dry bags weren't as dry as they needed to be, and so we have some new ones, which we tested. We have also just bought pack-rafts. This is a new discipline to us, so we will be getting to grips with those, working out how to inflate and pack them efficiently etc. It's going to be a learning curve but we're keen to get it right, as so much time can be lost in a race faffing about with things like this!
Our next weekend is in early December and we'll be doing a longer day out, probably a full weekend on the move.
Adventure Racing: what makes it so special?
Laura Frowen explains how adventure racing can be so inspirational.
For me the defining moment in recent races was in Expedition Africa in early 2017. It was the end of Day 3, and we had spent 2 hours queuing at the top of the Tyrolean Traverse, waiting for our turn and catching some sleep. We got going at about 0100hrs and after an uneventful abseil across the river, with the water glinting below in the dark, we started canoeing downriver. It was my first experience of night paddling and the still, inky water was unnerving. I felt great - really awake and full of energy - but kept losing my balance as the dark water seemed to give me an odd sense of vertigo. (That, and when I stopped to check the map, the fact I couldn’t work out which was the front of the paddle blade, told me that in fact I was, in fact, very, very tired!!) But the chance to paddle down this remote river in the middle of South Africa, with the stars overhead, was utterly magical, one of those moments when you have to stop and just think: “Wow, look at where I am and what we’re all doing!” Coming from a background in ultra running, I love being able to share these moments with other people. After something to eat at the end of the paddle section, we headed out on a trek section which started with a bracing swim across the river just as the sun was coming up...
You can follow Team RAF100 at their facebook page. See more information about the RAF 100 celebrations for 2018. And see more information about Godzone Adventure Race here. And read an interview with Jamie Buckle, team leader of RAF 100, here.