Illness strikes Team Merrell Songlines at Adventure Race World Champs
A fortnight ago teams from 38 countries took on the first AR World Championship held in Africa since the competition began in 2001. Over the course of the next 9 days, 107 teams traversed the 800km race course that nearly spanned the full length and breadth of the Eastern Cape province, in South Africa.
“The Eastern Cape is rugged, wild, and hot and has some of the warmest hospitality. You will be hard pressed to find a better place to host an adventure race or provide a better backdrop for the best adventure race teams in the world to go head-to-head.” said Adrian Saffy, 10x expedition Africa race finisher.
For Team Merrell Songlines, this was their second Adventure Race World Champs, after finishing 8th in Paraguay in 2022. Their team consisted of three of the four team members that competed in Paraguay, Lance Kime, John Collins, and Kelvin Trautman. New to the team was one of South Africa’s top multisport athletes, Jeannie Dreyer, who remarked “I was incredibly nervous lining up on the start line. It’s a been a long while since I competed at this level in adventure racing, and I wasn’t sure how my body would hold up. To add to this pressure, we and the other South African teams would be expected to make the most of the home ground advantage.”
With the race preparation out the way the Adventure Race World Champs began with an arduous 56km trek through the coastal part of Addo National Park. “Predictably the pace at the start was fast. We made a small navigation error a couple kilometres into the race which put us at the back of the field briefly, but as we crested the big sand dunes of Alexandria Bay, we had run ourselves back in to 4th position, which we maintained into the first transition.”, recalled John Collins.
“Our goal for the first half of the race was to make the “dark zone” cut-off, which would come about 40 hours into the race on the 65km paddle leg, all the while trying not to burn too matches in doing so. Past the first trek, the next two legs, a 181km bike and 80km trek, went fairly smoothly apart from a bike mechanical, where we lost over an hour trying to fix and then nurse a cracked rim to the next transition.” said Kelvin Trautman.
“By the time we hit the paddle leg, we knew it was going to be quite tight to make the 19h00, dark zone cut-off. We had roughly 5 hours to cover 55km’s on the Fish River to avoid being stranded on the bank for the next 10 hours. Fortunately, the river was flowing at a good speed, and we managed to navigate the class 1 rapids and building headwind to avoid the dark zone and get into transition in 4th place. We had a good sleep here and all felt in pretty good shape to fight for the podium in the second half of the race.” remarked Lance Kime.
The western part of South Africa this past winter has been very wet, and it was no different over the race. Intense rain began falling during the third and fourth legs which hampered many teams’ progress. “Two thirds of the way into the next leg, the longest bike leg of the race, a 224km cycle to Steytlerville, we hit a very muddy section and I unfortunately broke my hanger,” said Lance Kime. “We had to hike the bike 5km to the nearest farm to affect a repair. We were very grateful for the help we received there, much like so many other competitors that we heard were housed, fed, and helped by locals enroute.”
“Midway through the next trekking leg, and with only 30 hours of expected racing to go, we were still within touching distance of third place. Having come this far it was hard not to get our hopes up for a podium or top 5 finish. It was here though that disaster struck,” recalls Kelvin Trautman. “After the heavy rain the day before, we were hit by intense heat, making the trek a little longer than we hoped. We were also moving a little slower as John toughed out a worsening ITB and blisters on his feet.” As if this wasn’t enough, about 8km’s from the end of the trek John came down with a severe case of nausea and diarrhoea. “We decided to rest for a few hours until the temps dropped hoping John would rally. Although the cooler temps offered some respite John was still in a very bad way. Ultimately, we took the hard decision to get John some medical help and thus pull out of the official race.
The remainder of the team took on the last two legs, a 151km bike, and 32km trek with kiwi, Chris Forne who was the sole survivor of his Tiki Tour team and crossed the finish line in Cape St Francis in just over 131 hours.
“We are obviously gutted not to finish the race officially. It was not the race result we wanted, especially on home soil. But again, the time spent out on course as a team was invaluable and each time we race together, we learn a little more about ourselves and a race strategy that will hopefully see us fighting for another World Champs podium next year.” said Kelvin Trautman.
Heidi Muller, CEO of the Adventure Racing World Series, and co-organiser with her husband Stephan Muller, of the Africa edition of Adventure Race World Champs said, “it’s such an incredible privilege to put on a World Championship in South Africa and get showcase our beautiful country to so many. Adventure Racing is the ultimate sport, and this week in the Eastern Cape has proved once again that there is nothing else like it and nothing better.”