Racing with the pros

Racing with the pros
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Team B&T is taking on the 2013 Swisse Mark Webber Tasmania Challenge. This is the first of our live blogs from the event, covering the highs and lows of the five-day adventure race, and looking at the inside story on the significant branding and sponsorship around the event. Today, we catch up with professional triathlete – and elite Tas Challenge competitor – Courtney Atkinson (pictured).

DAY ONE

It’s the end of Day One of the Swisse Mark Webber Tasmania Challenge. And Team B&T is still alive. Hurting, but alive.

And what’s more important is we’ve completed Day One (mostly) successfully.

As a pair of competitors who’ve never taken on an adventure race before, the feeling of elation on seeing the finish line after 11 hours out in the wilderness was something special.

After bumbling our way through a series of maps and instructions last night to try to prepare a route, then doing our best job at packing everything we could possibly need into the bags we carried throughout the race and the plastic crates that would meet us at various transitions, there was a lot buzzing round our minds as we tried to sleep on race day eve.

Day One started off rather strangely, with a surprise lumberjack challenge. Equipped with a log and an enormous two-man saw – apparently a Tassie tradition – everyone had to cut all the way through a log before being allowed to jump on their mountain bikes and get underway.

We knew we then had a 17km mountain bike, then an 11km run, followed by another 42km mountain bike and then finally a 14km kayak paddle ahead of us.

It started smoothly, much more smoothly than we anticipated, and we found the first mountain bike checkpoints no problem.

The run also started well, as we followed a well-trodden track. We were, however, heading into – and up – mountains. As the path become less and less obvious and other competitors faded into the distance ahead of us, we eventually found ourselves clambering up rocks, through painful, thorny, waist-high scrubland desperately trying to work out where on earth in Tassie we were.

Trying to spot another Webber Challenge vest in the distance, and failing as the cloud descended, was the most nerve-wracking hour of the day. Eventually spotting two rocky plateaus (and noticing a breathtaking view across the mountains and valleys below us), we managed to pinpoint our location. But the realisation that it is all too easy to end up lost in the wilderness was a wake-up call.

The mountain bike, by contrast, was more successful for us, with the hills, both on and off-road, proving the biggest challenges – and the downhills exhilarating.

We were just about ready for bed by the time we greeted our kayak, so the 14km paddle was tough. I have never been so pleased to see a finish line in my life.

But as much as it hurt and will continue to hurt, I think we are going to enjoy this.

A sponsorship deal for the long-haul

One of the major sponsors of this year’s Swisse Mark Webber Tasmania Challenge is Red Bull – and the brand has some big guns representing it out in the Tassie wilderness.

Team Red Bull includes Queensland boy Courtney Atkinson, one of the world’s leading triathletes. He is a two-time Olympian and has recently turned his hand to the big stuff: Ironman distance triathlons. His race partner this week in Tasmania is champion rower Ken Wallace. It is the duo’s second time taking on the challenge.

But how do the pair’s everyday skills – triathlon and rowing – translate to helping them through the Swisse Mark Webber Tasmania Challenge?

“The two of us make a nice strategic pick because our strengths and weaknesses work well together,” Atkinson tells B&T. “He is a super-strong paddler, then for some of the running parts that are more challenging I can tie a bungee chord between us to help him along – it’s just enough to take a little bit of the weight off.”

But their endurance strength pays dividends, he explains: “On the face of it, the race is about endurance. The physical element of the race is a major challenge – it doesn’t matter who you are, to race for between four and nine hours a day, five days in a row, is exhausting. It’s the offroad skills that are required that are the major challenge for Kenny and myself.”

The orienteering, which plays a huge role in the challenge, is, however, not a strength. “I have trouble reading a street map, let alone using a compass,” jokes Atkinson. “So that is our biggest challenge. But you quickly learn after a few mistakes that you are better off either staying still or moving slowly in the right direction than going full pelt in the wrong direction.”

Representing Red Bull in the race makes sense for Atkinson, who has worked with the brand for 12 years, after joining them as a teenager entering into the highly competitive world of triathlon.

“They have stood by me right through my career and they are supporting my big bid for 2014, which is to conquer the Hawaii Ironman,” says Atkinson. “With Red Bull, over that time, I have been able to use the product – more so now that I have moved to Ironman events, which take me over eight hours. When you get towards the end of an event like that, your body goes almost into shutdown and you need to take on simple sugars and stimulants.”

Red Bull is out on the course for the Tasmania challenge this week. Let’s hope it works.

Team B&T, consisting of B&T features editor Lucy Clark and her racing partner Dom Collie, is taking on the challenge. It runs over five day and covers 350 kilometres, across the western Tasmania wilderness. It features kayaking, mountain biking, trekking and running – all self-navigated. 

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