Skid on The Endurance

March 17, 2000 (www.slowtwitch.com)

I can think of a lot of ways to mark the occasion of turning 40, but not many of them compare with going LONG over a long weekend. I felt like celebrating the fact that I still could do that, so I picked out an event that covered some challenging new terrain. What better way to spend a week-end?!

Turns out the really special adventure I picked to celebrate moving into the top-of-the-hill age group was full of old creaky geezers like me who love to get out and work as much as they can. I've been doing a bit more during the last nine months besides "ticking over" (as they say here in New Zealand when you move into a new age-group).

I did some tough 35km trail races and a few short multi-sport events along the way to keep my motivation up, but I was really looking for a special way to both hold off the inevitable midlife crisis, and take a few pounds off. My contemporaries who've paved the way to middle age have led me to believe that life after forty was going to be a bit of a struggle. I have no reason to doubt them. I swear, some days I go to bed thinking that I haven't had a noteworthy thought the whole day (or perhaps even the day before) much less haveing done anything resembling athletic.

So I picked out this challenge. It was a new event called "The Endurance". Set in the Canterbury hill country between Mt. Cook and Christchurch, it is a multi-sports stage race featuring running, mountain biking, road cycling and kayaking, each day for three days. The fact that it was a new event made it all that much more appealing. No one could tell me exactly what it was going to be like, and no one had much knowledge of what the course would be like.

I remember doing the first Aquaterra (now XTerra) on Maui and it was a little like that. Not being able to ride the (very difficult) mountain bike course added a lot to that event. The first Mountain Man winter triathlon in Vail was a bit like that too. Who knew how to speed skate? Well, I couldn't cross-country ski or snowshoe either, and that was exactly the point. I don't think I'm alone in liking that aspect of endurance racing. Not knowing the course is half the fun. Learning some new skills is the other half.

In The Endurance, each day consists of three to four disciplines, run non-stop from start to finish. No all-nighters, or stumbling around in the dark. There were also teams entered, with two to three members, so that added some flavor to it.

My cumulative time of just under 28 hours for the three days got me second in my age group (the guy who won it was 48!), and 3rd over-all. There weren't many individual entrants, but more significant to me was the time spent enjoying the fact that I can still crank out some long miles day after day. What a blast! There were significant climbs on the bike as well as some very technical stuff through some river beds and cliff tops; plenty of whitewater during a total of 9 hours on the water (swimming and paddling); and enough cross-country running to fill a collegiate season.

All in all, it was a little tougher than I had anticipated, but it's exactly because of that that I enjoyed taking on all the challenges the course kept throwing up. I carried along a good supply of aspirin and Ibuprofen, some quinine and salt tablets to prevent cramps; and enough junk food to be able to share with others while on the course. My crew and I also enjoyed a nice steak every night and a few smooth beverages while trading stories with the other competitors.

Only in places like New Zealand where the race director doesn't have to have millions of dollars in liability insurance are events like this possible. All the entrants knew that they were on their own out there. There wasn't going to be someone close-by to bail you out if you got into trouble. That much was made clear from the start.

I spent three hours getting spat out of my boat and thrashed in the bubbly stuff on the Rangitata river, and only saw three people the whole time. I'm very grateful to the race organizers, who made helmets mandatory on all the kayak legs. Mine got a beating! We were very lucky with the weather as well. Its hard to imagine doing this event in bad weather. It would have added an hour to each day and I don't know how I would have coped.

Ever since I finished people have been asking me if I'd do it again, and I might. But my wife doesn't think so. I got a special once-in-a-lifetime pass for the weekend to do this, because I turned forty. I don't anticipate another opportunity like it for a little while. I have been on my best behavior ever since, though, catching up on all the many chores that were neglected while I've been training the last few months: the garage, the yard, the kids. And I did get a big buzz out of, it so who knows?