Coming off the back of organising the 350-runner strong Cape Pallarenda Trail Run last weekend; Townsville’s premier multisport athlete Sam Stedman has just touched-down in China to compete in a three-day staged adventure race with some of the best in the world. From abseiling off 25-story buildings to clambering up cliff-faces, he won’t know exactly what adventures are in store till race day.
“It could be abseiling, traversing, flying foxes… sometimes it’s off a building, and sometimes it’s off a bridge. It’s really hard-core racing”
This is Sam’s final competitive event of the season and he’s determined to make it count. His team of four Australian athletes competed in a similar event to this weekend’s Chinese Mountaineering Association’s Wuhan Mulan Mountain Challenge last year and came fourth; but this time around Sam is aiming for a podium finish.
“A top three finish would be the ultimate,” says Sam, with this challenge being his 12th in China. “But over three days there’s a lot that can go wrong. There’s punctures, mechanicals, getting lost, getting sick – anything could happen – but if you can keep all that to a minimum and be consistent than a top three could be possible.”
The team consists of Melbourne’s Jarad Kohlar (also one of the best multisport athletes in Australia), part-time professional athlete Alex Hunt (Hobart), and Ironwoman-turned-adventure-racer Elizabeth Dornom (Melbourne). This specialised squad will race about six hours a day for three days at sprint pace in order to have a shot at the glory and generous prize money. “It’s 180km and three days of mountain biking, trail running, paddling, with an adventure ropes discipline each day,” explains Sam. “It could be abseiling, traversing, flying foxes… sometimes it’s off a building, and sometimes it’s off a bridge. It’s really hard-core racing and we’re going at Adventurethon speeds for six days… you just don’t know what they’re going to throw at you every day, but it’s a really great experience.”
While last year teams had to tackle rollerblading and swimming, this time around word has got out that there could be a biathlon component. “There’s one bike between two or four people and you have to share it around,” tells Sam. “So you ride, drop the bike, and then you run, then the next person behind you grabs the bike and rides past you. With 25 teams there could be 50 bikes on the side of the road, so it’s a challenge just to find yours.”
With Sam feeling fitter than he has all year, he’s excited about going into the race. With Outer Limits Adventure Fitness growing to the point where he’s been able to enlist the help of up-and-coming running dynamo Dane West and French endurance athlete Sid Willis, Sam is fortunate that his day job keeps him in peak condition.
“The good thing about China racing is that you’re just in the race – you forget about home, you forget about your phone, you’re enjoying the people, and you’re just racing really well and enjoying the experience”
“I’m in a position with the business where some days I can do six or seven hours a day exercise between my own training and training with clients,” Sam says. “While it’s not event-specific training, it’s still hard and long and it’s endurance… at the end of the day I certainly feel like I’ve had a workout and I need to back it up the next day as it’s work.
“In the lead up to this race I’ve been very focused and I’ve been trying to sneak a lot more in and up the intensity. Dane [West] and I do three laps of the hill on the front goat track and we go up in less than nine minutes, and you’re really, really hurting by the time you get to the top. Then you’re back down to the bottom car park and straight back up again. I have different people who I train with who are really good at what they do. Plus, in our group sessions, we do different things to push each other and I get pushed as well. The other day I carried a 20kg backpack with 15kg in my hand up Castle Hill with two clients, and I was knackered.”
But as the festive season approaches and the northern race schedule retreats as the humidity soars, Sam is looking forward to some well-deserved R&R when he returns from overseas. It will be six weeks of relative slackness (including the odd pub meal or two) before he fires up for 2015.
“I need a break and a holiday so that I can clear my mind and go again,” he says. “The good thing about China racing is that you’re just in the race – you forget about home, you forget about your phone, you’re enjoying the people, and you’re just racing really well and enjoying the experience. It’s super competitive, but they’re all friendly.”
So what exactly is on the cards for 2015? With a new-found focus and appetite for competing, Sam plans to channel himself even more into his racing – next year is going to be epic. It starts with the Iwaki Sunshine Marathon in Japan in February and will include more overseas races and domestic domination as Sam seeks to further lift his profile in the adventure racing circuit:
“I need to get ready for a big 2015 so when January comes I’m on the money, so if there’s ever a time to be a bit slack and lazy it’s after China, so that I’m super motivated and ready to go again.”
Three random questions with Sam Stedman
Abseiling and zip-lining 25-story buildings: So, are you scared of heights? No, heights don’t bother me; especially when you’re in race mode, you just get it done. You’re just thinking how quickly you can do it without hurting yourself, and then you keep on going. At the end of the day, you think to yourself, ‘We jumped off that building; that was pretty crazy’, but you’re so focussed on getting in and getting out.
Elite athletes talk about the importance of being about to ‘hurt themselves’: How can some people hurt themselves more than others and push through that pain? The harder you train the more you hurt yourself, the higher that pain threshold becomes and you can raise that bar so when you’re out competing you can say, ‘Well, I’ve been there and done that’. Whereas if you don’t hurt yourself in training and put yourself in the hurt locker, then you’re well out of your comfort zone in races and you’re more likely to get sick or have something goes wrong, as it’s an area of unchartered territory. You need to be able to consistently feel pain and keep going, without actually injuring yourself.
What sort of maintenance do you do to limit mechanicals? I have a very good bike – a Specialized Epic – and it’s fully serviced and ready to go, with tubeless wheels and nothing new. Everything I take is worn in. I have a few pieces of equipment that I take because I know they work – you need to know what you take over there is not going to rub, chaff, break or anything like that. I tend to have my favourite bits of gear and stick to it. If you do need to update it, you test it out before you go.
(Posted on November 11, 2014): After a horror start to the race (spot the irony: after stressing to us pre-race how important his own gear was, the airline lost it all in transit, with Sam only reunited with his bike on the last day); Sam and his team have placed fourth in the 180km challenge. Some of the more exciting parts included abseiling down a waterfall and rope-climbing out of a kayak up a bridge. Well done guys!