Adventure racing is a sport reserved for the most determined (or crazy) athletes in the world. The 2022 GODZone Race in the South Island of New Zealand took this to a whole new level with a Coast-to-Coast traverse through some of the harshest and most unforgiving terrain in the country.
From running to mountain-biking, hiking to pack-rafting, this course was extremely variable in both discipline and landscape. Beginning in the rugged rainforest of the South-West coast, passing through desert plains of Central Otago and eventually ending on the golden beaches near Dunedin, the best time to complete the full race was achieved by the legendary team 'Avaya' at 5 minutes sort of 6 days.
Competing in teams of 4, it takes both determination and teamwork to get through each stage, managing the clock and ensuring you get enough rest, fluid and food to keep going. With only 14 of the 60+ starting teams actually completing the full course, it's no doubt that this is one of the toughest and most gruelling adventure races in the world.
GODZone Course Map 2022 - Total distance of 710km
We wanted to get an insight into what drives a GODZone athlete to go to such extreme lengths and push through both the mental and physical barriers. So we reached out to our mate Guy Mexted from team 'Mexted Sports Turf' who although starting strong in the first few stages, eventually succumbed to injury and were forced to retire from the race.
A keen trail runner and hiker from Taranaki, this was Guy's second GODZone and one he will never forget. So without further adieu, lets dive in and get a deeper insight into what drives a GODZone athlete:
You have just competed in GODZone, probably one of the most insane adventure races on earth. First question is why? Do you just love the punishment?
I'd have to say yes to the punishment. It's more that I enjoy the adventure and the unknown - for example, committing to something but not knowing whether I can achieve it excites me and also the unknown of going to new places. I also enjoy the afterglow and satisfaction you get from pushing through to achieve a difficult goal (Type 2 fun). Also, I feel our modern lives have so many artificial stressors which are left behind during an event like GZ because you are out in the wilderness and having to rely on your own senses, determination, team mates and skills to keep moving forward, it feels instinctive and life slows down.
What made you get into the sport in the first place and where did you begin?
I have always been into the outdoors growing up spearfishing, skiing, sailing, fly fishing etc and I enjoyed trail running, but it wasn't until a good mate of mine did the Fiordland chapter of GODZone and loved it and asked if I wanted to do the Canterbury Chapter with him and the rest is history really. That got me into adventure racing and multisport, before then I didn't own a bike and had hardly paddled a kayak.
The teams set off into the unknown, hoping to just make through the stage in one piece
I’m assuming you didn’t go into the race green. So how did you and the team prep for such an epic and gruelling event?
We all have busy lives and lived in different parts of the county so we would train on our own or with other athletes but we did have two team training 'missions', one was in Fiordland and another was up behind the Remarkables near Queenstown. We made sure we carried packrafts, all the mandatory gear required plus some extra weight to train the body and feet. We made a point of not sleeping so we became familiar with navigating and staying positive as a team whilst sleep deprived and things hurt a little more when you are tired so it is useful to know how you respond and how you can keep going no matter what.
Guy's Team (2nd from right) get ready to tackle the Mountain Bike Stage
This course in particular had so much variation, from hiking to biking and even pack-rafting across a variety of landscapes. Do you find the change in disciplines during the event helps or hinders both mental and physical performance?
Variety definitely helps! You are usually looking forward to the change so you can rest that part of your body and as the saying goes 'change is as good as a holiday'. But it doesn't take long after changing disciplines that you wish you were back doing the other again.
Your team made impressive progress throughout the race, getting up to 13th place at one point. But eventually you had a team-mate succumb to injury. How did this feel and how did the team handle it?
It was very tough on so many levels, you had a teammate (who is one of my best mates also) that wasn't in a good way and you wanted to get him the medical care he needed, and you also felt for him as he didn't want to be the one to go down injured, then you had to deal with your own emotions as you realised you weren't going to be able achieve this huge goal you had put so much time, money, energy and commitment into. But that's adventure racing and GODZOne is notorious for dealing up hard life lessons like nothing is guaranteed and the universe owes you nothing! As a team we just made sure he got evacuated safely then took care of ourselves. Once we were back in civilization we had a few drinks and tried to remain positive. You've just got to live with it and focus on the positives like how well we had been doing even with such a brutal course.
If you had your shot all over again, what would you change? Are there any points where you feel a different decision or bit of luck may have made a difference to your race?
Hard to say, there will always be things you could have done differently or better perhaps. Maybe we could have stopped for longer in the transitions to air our feet out and give them some better antibacterial treatments, but at the end of the day you can't sit around for 12hrs with your feet in the sun and still make the timing cutoffs, so it is always a balancing act in a race like GODZOne.
The brutal Stage 3 took a toll on the body but spirits were still high.
Now i’m sure there are endless tough parts of the race that are burned into memory, what is one that will stick with you forever and how did you push through?
Definitely would have to be coming up over Park Pass and dropping into the Rockburn at about 3am in the horizontal rain and gale wind. We were getting low on food and we had been going for over 50 hours at this point with only 3 hours of decent sleep. We didn't have much left in the way of dry clothing so we just pushed on all night as we knew once we got down low to the Dart river it would be day break and warm up and we could get into our pack rafts and be taken to our support crew (sort of! we still had to paddle). That was tough mentally, to keep yourself focused with finding the track at night in the rain and being low on energy. That whole stage 3 was notoriously tough this year, a lot of teams' races ended there or they got short courses.
Much needed break time to restock and prepare for the next stage of the course
What advice would you give someone trying to build up to an event at the scale of Godzone? At what point do you feel you are ready to tackle it?
I don't think you are ever ready! What I mean is you could always do more training or preparations, but at some point you've got to jump in the deep end and see how you go. But my biggest advice would be to make sure you do some tough weekends or longer missions in the months prior, but nothing so huge that you take weeks and weeks to recover. You need these longer tougher missions to train the mind and feet more than anything, like the saying goes in the military 'train hard, fight easy'. They should also be somewhat 'fun' - you should look forward to doing them as a team as nothing in the race is guaranteed, so you may as well enjoy the process of getting there. You also need to find a team that has the same aspirations and similar abilities to you and you know you will get along with even on minimal sleep, that is pretty key!
What’s next? Does the training continue now for the next years event or is there time to relax, recoup and just take it as you go?
I've just got a springer spaniel pup so she's keeping me entertained at home whilst I rest up and take a breather. Nothing else is on the horizon yet, but I definitely have unfinished business with GODZOne so one day I'll be back. For now I am keen to slow down and get some hunting and fishing in!
The ultimate crash... a much deserved rest and recovery!
If you want to learn more about GODZone or have itch to compete in the next event, you can check them out here: godzoneadventure.com