In the drizzle of Hobart-town a tanned athletic South African ultra marathon runner winds his way towards the docklands. Coming from the other direction is a hero of Australian motor sport, turning heads as he strolls towards the same location. On the pier the two meet, shake hands and simultaneously announced “what the hell have we gotten ourselves into?”
Ryan Sandes is more commonly known as one of the fittest and most tenacious ultra-marathon runners on the planet. He crosses deserts on foot for a living??? Mad some may say but when you meet his unassuming and mischievous grin, you can simply tell he’s just another bloke up for a bloody good challenge, albeit a gruelling challenge in 50 degree heat, running 200km plus on sand… OK! Maybe he is mad!
At the other end of the spectrum is a bloke who openly claims “I just sit on my arse all day.” However Rick Kelly’s version of sitting on his backside does include hurling a 1.5 tonne thundering V8 powered missile around some of Australia, NZ and the Middle East’s most daunting motor sport racetracks at over 300 km per hour. In between he somehow finds time to co-own and manage the multi million dollar, five car V8 Supercar team of Kelly Racing.
So what do these two blokes have in common one might ask… the answer is simple. They both signed up for a masochistic 5 days of relentless physical abuse through some of Tasmania’s most inspiring but sweat-inducing terrain in 2011 Swisse Mark Webber Tasmania Challenge. Not only did they both sign-up, but they happen to be team-mates and neither have competed in any form of adventure race before… actually neither packed a compass. Maybe a little naive when a major part of the non stop gruelling race involves topographic maps and accurate navigation.
Amusingly, the outdoor stores in mid-town Hobart didn’t know what hit them as the two Red Bull athletes burst through their doors only moments after event registration, hoarding Powerbars and bike shorts, compasses and trekking pants, skins and anti-chafing cream.
They arrived in Tasmania with the simple intent to just ‘have a go’ but for those who know what drives such elite competitors… you also know that ‘just having a go’ doesn’t exist in these guys brains… it is all or nothing. With no real expectations of being competitive against the elite teams, both Rick and Ryan knew full well that each other would keep going until the soles of their feet wore through, their hands became blistered, lips split from salt and chafing began to bleed – there was going to be no such thing as ‘giving up.’
And so it was with a slight surprise that on day two of the event the duo found themselves leading the pack early in the day, well amongst the lead teams and in contention for a top five finish overall, but they had a long road ahead.
The 2011 Swisse Mark Webber Tasmania Challenge is no walk in the park
It is a week-long multisport adventure race that throws athletes amongst some of the most awe-inspiring terrain Australia has on offer, and also some of the most treacherous. From the perfect azure waters of Wineglass Bay and Freycinet National Park and the rugged towering dolerite pillars of the Tasman Peninsula athletes kayak, abseil, swim, mountain bike and trail run, eventually winding their way south to the windswept and isolated dunes of Bruny Island before climbing up amongst the alpine tarns of the Hartz Mountains, to finally descend to the finish line in the historic city of Hobart.
The course happens to be designed by one of the guru’s of global adventure racing, John Jacoby. Former world-class racer and veteran of Eco Challenge, Raid Gauloises and a plethora of truly brutal multi week-long challenges in the furthest and most isolated corners of the world, Jacoby may not admit it but is about ‘as hard as they come’… and any adventure discipline set by Jacoby is sure to test ones willpower and physical endurance.
And this is possibly why the Rick and Ryan show became an all enthralling battle on multiple fronts. From smart strategy and mixing it up with the leaders, the two pushed hard but fell through the ranks with small errors caused by fatigue. On one hand the duo battled side by side with world-class adventure racer’s whilst on the other they ended up running an entire multi-hour trail run in bare feet after misinterpreting the rules and exiting their kayak with no footwear to change into. They careened down a waterfall – upside-down in their kayak and eventually came up battered and bruised but laughing.
If attitude could have won the race, these blokes would have had it in the bag.
Kelly even managed to bring a grin to his face when as one stage I asked whether chafing was an issue at all and he simply turned to me and said “you don’t want to see ‘down there’ Watto. It’s nasty! there ain’t gonna be any sex for me for months!” – I took his word for it.
At the end of a huge week, every competitor in the 2011 Swisse Mark Webber Tasmania Challenge was bruised and battered however not one athlete looked downtrodden. The terrain had been brutal but the vistas and perfect sunsets over mirror like waters, amazing.
At the finish line, most faces looked a picture of relief, but as the sweat dried and the swelling subsided it was clear to see that glint in the eye already beginning to re-appear… there is no question…. it may take a day, a week or a month but as some stage the pain will fade and the grey matter inside one’s head will start asking… I wonder if I could do it faster, maybe I should do some more kayaking training, I wonder if my team-mate will be up for it again? And there is also no doubt… Rick and Ryan will be amongst those pondering another venture into Tasmania’s wilderness… and they’ll be a step ahead of many for they will bring their own personal compass… now scratched and muddy – but a true reminder as to where to find the good things in life, even if they sometimes hurt!