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Mixed Emotions on the Finish Line

Rob Howard / 14.11.2018

More teams have been crossing the finish line of the AR World Championships this morning and I caught up with a couple of the teams with an international mix of racers as they relaxed in the sun.

Team Columbia finished the race in 11th place and Nick Gracie told me. “It’s probably one of my favourite World Champs courses, you know with Raid in France it’s going to be tough and technical and this was definitely that. You almost felt that on any stage you could die, eaten by sharks, drowned in a canyon, falling off a cliff. It was a course which pushed the limits that’s for sure, which is what adventure racing should be all about.

Monica Aguilera liked the course but not the rules. “It wasn’t really a race much of the time because of the dark zones and the 12 hours sleep. If you were with another team you didn’t feel you were racing with them because you had different tactics and plans. Much of the time we didn’t push hard because we knew it was better to go slow and then sleep. It was strange and I didn’t like it.” 

It’s now a familiar refrain from the finishing teams, dark zones are always difficult to manage and with 3 in this race plus the complexities of the ‘sleep card’ they’ve been confused and felt the rules got in the way of the racing.

However, despite having a lot of sleep the team struggled to finish the race and Monica fell asleep and crashed on her bike on the final ride. “I don’t remember anything and I was on the ground with my face in the dirt,” she said.  Nick said they struggled for 3 hours to find one of the ride checkpoints and added, “and that ride was so steep, even in the towns the roads are crazy steep.”

Finishing behind them were The North Face Adventure Team, flying the flag of Hong Kong and the only Asian based team here, though they did have two Brazilian racers with them.

Guilherme Pahl told me, “We had an up and down race, in every way. Good times, bad times, physical and emotionally, with our race position going up and down.  Now we are here at the finish with a good result and we are all OK, any damage that is done to our minds and bodies will pass quickly enough and we’ll remember the good times and experiences.

“For me one of the highlights was on the first stage, when just for a little while we were in front of Avaya. We could see they were having some problems with the heat and thought ‘shall we try to pass them’, and we did. I know it was only for a while, but I will remember this moment.

“We love the pack rafting, it opens up so many possibilities for adventure racing and they really are so portable and are good boats. This was the most difficult river I have been on, and the boat was perfect for it. Others would not have been so good. And they give teams the choice when to use them and when to carry – again more possibilities.”

After the pack raft the team reached their high point in the race (4th place) and Ryan Blair told me, “After that we took a gamble and pushed on, when maybe we should have stopped, so the next few stages were our worst and we slipped back in the rankings.”

Guilherme told me about their crossing of the volcano. “Going up was tough and very wet and we were cold, and I think maybe if we were not so committed we could have given up. It was our lowest point, but then we reached the top at dawn and there was no rain, clear views and amazing scenery of the volcano. It was like we were starting again, a fresh dawn revived us.”

They were kept going too by a memory of a lost team mate. Former Navy Seal and diver Saman Kunan died in the rescue of school children from a flooded cave in Thailand, and was part of the North Face Adventure Team for 5 years.  Jantaraboon Kiangchaipaiphana raced many times with him and carried his picture though out this race, in which he was the first Thai racer ever to race an AR World Champs.

The team pushed on to finish in 11th place and their supporters had cooked up a big fish stew with rice for them at the finish, which they were busy tucking into as they chatted with racing friends from Cyanosis (who had just finished) and from the Columbia team.

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About The Author

Rob Howard
Rob is Editor of He's traveled the world reporting on and photographing adventure races and day-to-day he keeps his finger on the pulse of AR to ensure SleepMonsters is the heartbeat of the sport.

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