In early June, Chinese team Sanfo x Kailas Adventure Racing are entering XTrail Altay Expedition 2018, an adventure race in the Xinjiang region of north-western China. The team has competed in multi-sport events together before and they raced the short course of Altay Expedition 2017, but this is their first expedition length adventure race and they are the first Chinese team to enter a race this long.
First staged in 2016, Altay Expedition is a 600-kilometre non-stop, unsupported adventure race for mixed teams of four. Disciplines for 2018 include trekking, mountain-biking, rafting, rope-work and of course navigation, through desert and mountainous terrain. The winners are expected to finish in around three days and the course will remain open for six days. There is a short course of 300 km.
We talked to team captain Wang Bing, aka Nathan, himself a race organiser for event management companies, about the teams hopes and fears for the forthcoming race.
First a bit of Form
Wang Bing: We established our team in 2013 at university and since then we have raced in many different types of events, including orienteering and multi-sport races and some events that last over multiple days, often 200-240 kilometres long.
XTrail Altay 2018 is our first expedition-length adventure race. I have been a fan of the sport since 2013, but 2017 was the first time the team took part in an actual adventure race, the Altay short course. Three of the members from the original team remain and Chen Jie, our female racer, joined us in 2017. We have competed in three races together since then.
Why Altay 2018? Why now?
I always wondered if I would have the chance to compete in an adventure race one day – and then in 2016, XTrail brought ARWS and the first expedition length adventure race to China. My wife was pregnant at the time, so I wasn’t able to enter. But there was no way I was going to miss Altay 2017. We entered the Open category in order to gain some race experience and we ended up winning it. The 2018 race gives us a chance to enter an expedition length race.
Adventure racing is still quite a niche sport in China at the moment and XTrail is the only real adventure race in the country. For that reason so it is exciting to be the first Chinese team to be involved.
Kailas x Sanfo Adventure Racing developed out of an orienteering team from our university, so most of us are strong on map-reading and navigation. The other team members we met at other races. We all like multi-sports and adventure racing, and we have good levels of relevant skills such as MTB, trail running and rope technique. The most important thing is that we all get along well.
None of us has any experience of a race as long as this, but we have done our homework, watching videos and interviews about AR. Mo, one of our teammates, was a sweeper in a previous Altay race, so perhaps that will help a bit. Our team consists of myself, Wang Bing, captain and back up navigator, Li Chong, main navigator, Chen Jie and Mo Zhiwang, who we call the pack horse.
The physical side
We train individually during the week, usually running, and then we train together as much as we can at the weekends. We usually go out trail running, mountain-biking and kayaking.
What strategies do you have for food, sleep, problem-sharing within the team?
To be honest, without previous experience, it is hard to know exactly how to manage the food we will need for the race. We will make sure to carry enough energy gels and bars with us, but also each team-member will take food that they like to eat.
On sleep, we are not setting out to be the team to beat, our goal is to finish, so we will probably take 3-4 hours sleep each day, and we may decide on shorts naps out on course - I think that’s the best way forward rather than sleeping for longer stretches.
Problem solving depends on what occurs. If it’s an issue of navigation, then we will put our trust in the two navigators. If they can’t reach a decision, then it’s the captain’s call.
What will be the most challenging aspect of the race?
The most daunting aspect of the race is the unknown, and the endurance needed to finish a race 600 kilometres long. With no direct experience, we can only prepare on what we find out from others. Things often don’t to plan in an adventure race, but then that is one of the things that gives the sport its character and makes it attractive.
What are your general expectations (about the competition)?
Our main goal is to finish the full course of the race, because no Chinese team has finished a 600km race in China before. The only reason we would opt for the short course would be because of safety.
What are your expectations of Altay and the course design?
I have been to Altay once and the landscape there is fantastic, with wonderful views and amazing variety. It is also culturally rich, with different nationalities, so that will be interesting. I know the race director, who has plenty of experience organizing events of this kind, and having seen what he created last year, I think the course will be physically challenging and magnificent because of the location.
What of adventure Racing in China?
Adventure racing is a new sport in China, and because of the length of the events and the many skills that racers must have, not many people dare to take part in it. But just as marathon, trail running and triathlon have become more popular in China, so I am sure people will become inspired to take part. And maybe shorter-distance races will appear which are suitable for beginners, to enable to sport to grow.
See the XTrail Expedition Altay website here.