Monday, October 10, 2011

South African Schools AR Championship

This year Oakhill School packed off 4 teams to Baynesfield, KZN to tackle the 2011 South African School's AR Championships, hosted by Kloof High School. Our u/19 A team, consisted of Brandon Willcocks, Nicola Giliomee, Harry Maarsingh and myself (Nick Cuthbert).
Leaving on Tuesday evening, we set off on a testing 21 hour bus trip, which would see us arrive at race HQ at sundown the following day. Due to proper planning and the luxury of time, we had an entire night and day to shake off the travelling dust. This additional time would prove to play an important role in the race for we did a quick recce on our bikes on Thursday morning.

Thursday - 6 p.m, the race briefing started, in which race rules were explained to us and our support teams. The race would follow a point to point approach, with routes being proscribed several times through the course. This was a change to the last two SA champs, where the races more closely ascribed to the rogaine format. This allowed teams to determine where they were in the field, which likely increased the average speed and could possibly be a huge motivator to competitors. After rules were explained, support crews were sent to hang up in their storage lockers and racers were left alone with maps and equipment. In race instructions, there were only a few point with which one could choose your own route and this had pivitol results upon the race outcome. Finishing preparations, our team climbed into bed, ready for an early start.

4 a.m start Oakhill U19
Friday 4 a.m. The race started, with teams heading out into the dark upon bicycles. The first few kilometres are chaotic, with a fairly technical downhill and a river to cross, leading to backlog and a bit of bad-temperedness from the field. Congestion eased however when the route took us upon the broad provincial roads and we quickly claimed the lead, being caught by one of the Helpmekaar teams when there was some uncertainty regarding the turn-off onto the farm roads. We took off once more after getting onto a marked track, passing the single check point, PB1(Post Box) in the leg with Helpmekaar, with whom we came into transition first, finishing the approximately 25km leg one in perhaps a too blistering hour and a half.

Leg two was a trail run and in this leg, we had freedom of movement. Here Helpmekaar's route diverged from ours. We went off-road through a few rivers and streams, while the majority of the field continued along road, increasing their net distance. Both routes seemingly took equal amounts of time as we met with our new rivals at the catty shooting range, just moments behind them. We cleared this obstacle, thanks to some brilliant shooting by Mr. Maarsingh, once again seconds behind Helpmekaar. Passing CP 2, after some navigational confusion, our legs took us to a dam whereupon arrival, we built a raft with sticks and tractor inner tubes, and paddled out with Kloof and Helpmekaar on our tails, to collect a message from two points on the lake. Our design, which was simplistic to say the least, created some awkward sitting positions, which would have had even some of the bunnies back at the mansion raising their eyebrows. While the raft was sufficient to stay with Kloof, Helpmekaar's better design gave them a slight advantage. Nevertheless as inefficient as the craft was, it was heartbreaking to have to disassemble it, having suffered so much trauma upon its deck but it needed to be done, as we needed to carry on. Again taking a less conservative route through the fields, we managed to overtake both Kloof and Helpmekaar at CP3, a gear check. Here it was fortunate that Brandon had additional water, as due to an error, my bottles had not been filled. From here, our recce payed off, as with Helpmekaar following, we headed towards the township of Hopewell, instead of the unnecessarily longer trip along the dirt roads back. We managed to lose Helpmekaar in the twisty streets between the informal settlements and despite the onset of cramps from the pace we were setting, returned from Leg 2, some minutes ahead the rest of the field.

Return from the mountain
Leg 3, was the third and final leg; a MTB ride and despite a radically slowed paced from fatigue and cramping, we held off the other teams past the cliff like gradients which led to CP4. From here, due to the multitudes of obscure turn-offs and roads which did not appear on the map, we were lead upon a marked route, which to our frustration, did not have markings at a crucial turning point, thus wasting precious minutes and breaking the lead we held from Helpmekaar. With their help, we picked up the marking again and claimed the lead back, which was extended when the other school had technical difficulties with one of their dérailleur. We continued on the marked route until we had visited the two remaining post boxes and returned to the provincial road. From here, we travelled to a Heritage Site, where two of the team had to abseil down a short drop, while the other had to walk around. Harry and Brandon abseiled, whilst Nicola and I walked. Completing the task as the two other teams arrived, the Helpmekaar team had now some allies. We knew that we needed to hurry.
Lack of hydration however was becoming a problem, as was concentration. We arrived at CP6, the final checkpoint on route, without incident, save for a small detour to a lake.

The obstacle course
This was our race's break point. We made a risky decision, to cycle around the mountain back, instead of travelling back the way we came or climbing over the mountain. We were turned back by the marshalls a few kilometres in from our route choice and were compelled to climb the mountain, where two other teams (both Helpmekaar) were already much of the way up. It became necessary to carry our bikes along this path and everyone took strain, due to the heat and increasing gradient. We managed to claw back some time in reaching the top, where we could travel through rideable cane fields.

It wasn't enough unfortunately and we reached the race HQ in third place, completing an obstacle course, a quiz, a climbing wall and ladder building, in addition to the aforementioned legs, in a total time of 11h 32min, +-10 minutes behind the winning team.
Of the 11 or so teams who entered the u/19 division, only 4 teams completed the course in its entirety before the twelve hour cut-off.
The race was tough, hard and slightly disappointing but from it came several important lessons, as well a sense of achievement. Of the terrain, I can say that it had a magnificence in many ways.


  • Hydration has priority over transition speed

  • There are times to take risks and times to be conservative, it is important to identify which

  • Never lose a sense of where you are, even if following marked routes

  • Direction is important, we should practise and utilise compass skills more.

No comments:

Post a Comment