Know before you go - AdventureSmart

Geraldine will host 600 teams of three women for the Torpedo7 Spring Challenge South next Saturday, September 30, making it the biggest adventure race in the world in terms of participant numbers.

That’s not just the largest for women’s adventure races globally but adventure races total!

Now in its 11th edition, the Spring Challenge, which involves navigation, hiking, mountain biking and rafting, can officially be considered iconic. However, its popularity this year even surprised its organisers - five-time Adventure Racing World Champion Nathan Fa’avae and his wife Jodie.

Spring ChallengeSpring Challenge(Click to enlarge)

“When we announced that Geraldine was the venue for this year, it was received with an almighty cheer. We sensed that when entries opened on April 1st it was going to be busy but we never anticipated the rush of teams trying to enter. The system collapsed and threw the entering process into a conundrum. We did our best to rectify the situation but we know some teams that tried diligently to enter missed out and we’re very sorry to those people. To help mitigate the problem we looked carefully at the course and infrastructure, deciding to accept another 150 teams. It makes this event 25% larger than the 2016 Spring Challenge in Golden Bay,” Nathan says.

He puts the event’s popularity down to it being something more and more women want to experience.

“Women see other women doing it and the journey they have - the adventure, health and fitness gains, dynamic lifestyle and being part of a team. Spring Challenge provides many women motivation throughout the winter to remain active. The event is a statement in itself about the mind-set of the participants, as adventure racing is about risk-taking, challenge and adventure, team work, problem solving, learning new skills and escapes into the outdoors. The fact that thousands of women are signing up speaks volumes for the type of people Kiwis are. We’re also seeing growth in the school and youth team categories.”

Spring ChallengeSpring Challenge(Click to enlarge)

Logistically, pulling a race together involving 600 teams is a job of epic proportion, Nathan says.

“It’s a juggle of designing the course to meet the needs and ability of the three-person teams and making it work logistically, plus being safety compliant. Linking the course together is the basis of negotiations with many parties, private land owners, council and DOC. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s difficult. The mechanics of having so many people moving around a contained area, as well as support crews is a multi-layered plan, plus we need to accommodate the public by making sure the event is not an inconvenience for them.”

Spring ChallengeSpring Challenge(Click to enlarge)

The organisers always face a nervous time pre-event because the Spring Challenge moves to a new location each year, meaning that in essence they need to design a whole new event.

“Which means a lot of our estimates and expectations are theory-based. Come race day, our plan is too ‘expect the unexpected’. Good weather makes the event flow much better. Thankfully, from our experience, the teams and support crews are very understanding and accommodating,” Nathan says.

The Geraldine community has been amazingly receptive to having hordes of adventure racing women descend on the small South Canterbury town.

“Geraldine has really got behind the event and supported us wherever they could. Apparently it’s the biggest event that has taken place there. I think the region is bursting, 1800 participants, approximately 3000 supporters and 120 staff, equals 5000 people in town from next Friday to Sunday.

Numerous comments about Geraldine likely to be hosting a flat course, prompted the organisers to make it clear in the pre-entering information not to assume that.

Spring ChallengeSpring Challenge(Click to enlarge)

“There are hills close to Geraldine, mountains in fact, as the six and nine-hour teams will find out. We’re really thrilled with the course routes and the adventure it will take teams on. We think they’ll get to see some very special parts of the region,” Nathan says.

Race day is most often just the icing on the cake after enjoying months of team missions.

“One thing we love about the Spring Challenge is all the paths that lead here. These 1800 women have essentially, biked, hiked, and navigated to this point. They represent different ages and abilities with different goals. Along the way there has been lifestyle changes, learning of new skills, over-coming challenges, juggling their training with children or daily life and improving their health and fitness. That in many ways is the biggest adventure,” Nathan says.

Nelson’s Penny-Sue Franklin is one of very few women who have participated in all 10 Spring Challenges. She has been an incredible ambassador for the event having encouraged so many women to give it a try. A member of multiple nine-hour veteran category-winning teams, Penny-Sue is back again for her eleventh Spring Challenge, racing with her daughter Abbey and friend Louise McGillivray in the six-hour open category.

The nine-hour race features some extremely strong teams with at least three teams packed with adventure racing superwomen. Team Torpedo7 is made up of three-time Adventure Racing World Champion and Coast to Coast-winner Sophie Hart, who makes her first return to racing after becoming a mum earlier this year. She joins fellow top Christchurch athlete Fleur Pawsey and New Zealand representative sailor and cyclist Susie Wood, of Nelson, in the open category.

Team Pak’n Save will be their main rivals and is made up of Jo Williams, who is a recently crowned double Adventure Racing World Champion, her fellow Wanaka-based elite professional athlete Simone Maier and successful multisport competitor Sia Svendsen.

Spring ChallengeSpring Challenge(Click to enlarge)

The Sneaky Weasel Gals, comprised of Isla Smith, Georgia Whitla (both of Christchurch) and Mount Mauganui’s Anna Barrett, will be hot on the top teams’ heels with this team combining strong multisport and adventure racers.

Proving she is not just a talented, long-time national level hockey player, Gemma McCaw has stepped up to the nine-hour category after competing in the Spring Challenge’s six-hour section last year in Golden Bay. She will race in team JMG with Jo Spencer-Bower and Maree Bowden.

While some teams are out for glory and others just to finish, team Race for Donna are racing for a special cause. Claire Stephenson, Liz Horn and Dale Shore are helping their friend Donna Agnew, who was diagnosed with MS earlier this year. Donna does not qualify for the medications available in New Zealand, so Claire's nine-hour Spring Challenge team wants to help raise the $100,000 needed for her to travel to Russia for treatment that will give her an 80% chance of halting and possibly reversing the effects of MS.

The Torpedo 7 Spring Challenge South teams will not find out their courses until Friday night at registration at the Geraldine Domain.