Female-dominated team home after Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge

The fourth annual Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge (ADAC) proved to be the toughest edition yet with longer legs, tight stage cut-offs and unseasonably hot conditions in the Liwa Desert. Over six days, Team www.AR.co.za covered around 400km in the disciplines of running, mountain biking, canyoneering, sea kayaking and desert trekking to place 39th in the field of 49 teams from 18 countries.

“This year’s race was tough,” says Team http://www.AR.co.za’s captain Lisa de Speville. This was her third consecutive Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge leading a relatively young and inexperienced team. “The first four days were crazy! From the moment the prologue – a fast-paced multidiscipline sprint around the city’s main beachfront – started we seemed to rush from one leg to the next; sprinting on bikes, running flat-out, commuting in buses to new locations, setting up camp, eating, sleeping and then up again – once at 2:30am – for the next stage’s start.” When Day 5’s sea-kayaking stage was cancelled due to high winds and unsafe conditions in the Gulf, many teams welcomed this unexpected day of leisure. The final sea kayak stage on Day 6 was shortened to 35km confined to the protected beach-front bay as conditions outside remained turbulent and unsafe.

South Africa’s adventure racing website, www.AR.co.za, receives a race entry – plus flights – from the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority to bring a team to the event. The only condition is that the team, bar one member, must have no international experience. Taking this a step further, de Speville selects the team members for their relative inexperience in the sport. The months of preparation and the race itself serve to bolster their skills and add to their adventure racing competence with a view to seeing each member contribute their experience to build stronger and more competitive teams locally.

In this team sport where mixed-gender teams are usually three-men-and-one-woman in format, female-dominated teams are unusual. “I decided on this composition because it is rare – and a first for me. Also, we need more female racers with experience to complement local teams,” says de Speville. Team http://www.AR.co.za’s members included Lizelle ‘Zelle’ Smit, Lizelle van der Merwe and Steven Erasmus.

“Zelle and Lizelle have only been racing for a year so they encountered many firsts at ADAC,” says de Speville. They found the canyoneering especially challenging with its sharp rocks and steep, roped descents, which required constant clipping on and off safety lines. “I always joke that canyoneering, which we call kloofing in South Africa, is fun for the first hour, interesting for the next and thereafter you can’t wait to get to the end because it is physically and mentally demanding; you’ve got to be alert with every step,” de Speville explains. “After this, any other ropes sections they encounter in races will seem child’s play.” It took the team more than four hours to complete the technical 1200m descent.

“Steven was the best ‘guy’ a female-dominated team could wish for,” says de Speville. “The dynamic of a girly team is quite different and he adapted with ease. In addition to being a good all-rounder in the race disciplines, he is easy going and even natured.”

A journalist at the race asked de Speville whether she thinks that female-dominated teams will become more common. “Nah, I don’t,” she says. “Adventure racing is a male-dominated sport and there are so many teams looking for good female racers. Also, within traditional teams, men carry most of the equipment load, which makes fast-paced racing easier for women who are physically smaller; it’s no picnic carrying backpacks as heavy as the men’s when you’re 20kg lighter and trying to race at the same pace.”

“But,” de Speville adds, “a ‘girly’ team can be a supportive environment that may encourage more female participation in the sport.” Too often women new to the sport are put off racing because they doubt their abilities and don’t want to always be the one slowing down their team. It is daunting to join a strong team where you go in knowing you’re just not as fast. A female-dominated team gives women the opportunity to gain experience, without pressure, and the confidence to move into stronger traditional teams. This format also encourages women to take on navigator and ‘workhorse’ roles, which are commonly fulfilled by men. “I believe that it is very important for women to realise their value to their teams; they are not just compulsory X-chromosome contributors or there to boost morale. Women are able to hold their own in this sport that favours endurance and mental strength,” she says.

De Speville also comments that there’s a big difference between an inexperienced team like hers and an experienced female-dominated team. “A few years back there was an incredibly strong and competitive Spanish women’s team; they were always up at the front at major international races. I’d like to see another such team surface again.”

“I am really pleased with our result,” says de Speville. “To place 39th in this ultra-strong field is a good achievement and I hope that with this notch in their belt Zelle, Lizelle and Steven will go on to greater accomplishments locally and internationally.”

Two other South African teams competed at ADAC. Team Cyanosis placed an impressive 18th; Team Inov-8 Mzansi finished 33rd.

For more information on the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge, visit www.abudhabi-adventure.com.

For information on the sport of adventure racing in South Africa, as well as news from the race, visit www.AR.co.za.

Team http://www.AR.co.za’s blog is www.teamwwwarcoza.blogspot.com.

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Three SA teams to race in Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge

The fourth edition of the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge (ADAC) starts in two weeks and, for the first time, three South African teams will compete. They’ll race against a field of 50 teams – from over 20 countries – in the disciplines of mountain biking, sea kayaking, desert trekking and canyoneering. Teams http://www.AR.co.za, Cyanosis and Mzansi will cover 400 kilometres during this six-day, semi-staged adventure race.

Team http://www.AR.co.za makes their third consecutive appearance at ADAC. “South Africa’s adventure racing website, http://www.AR.co.za receives an award from the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority to take a novice team over to the race,” says website editor and team captain, Lisa de Speville. This will be her third ADAC race. Award teams can only have one member with international racing experience. “This year I’ve gone with a ‘girly’ team format of three women and one guy,” she adds. This female-weighted team format goes against the three-men and one-woman norm. De Speville will be racing with Lizelle van der Merwe, Lizelle Smit and Steven Erasmus.

“People usually associate Abu Dhabi with the other well-known emirate, Dubai. They’re neighbouring states, under the United Arab Emirates umbrella; much like Gauteng is a neighbour to North West Province,” explains de Speville. “They’re very different”.

Where Dubai is known for its shopping malls and man-made palm-shaped islands, Abu Dhabi has a strong outdoor and sporting focus. Abu Dhabi hosts many premier sporting events like the Abu Dhabi Formula One, the Abu Dhabi Marathon, Abu Dhabi International Triathlon, Red Bull Air Race as well as golf, tennis and cricket. “It’s an amazing outdoor environment; I love the desert and sea kayaking between the islands and mangroves off the city’s coast,” adds de Speville. Temperatures in December are mild and pleasant: a little cooler than a warm December day in Pretoria.

Team Mzansi is lead by Alex Pope, who was a novice member of Team http://www.AR.co.za at ADAC in 2009. At 22, Pope will be one of the youngest competitors; and certainly the youngest team captain. A member of the South African orienteering team, Pope’s sporting experience belies his age. He is accompanied by Tim Deane and Alan Neate, both experienced adventure racers, and Jane Swarbreck.

The third South African team to race in Abu Dhabi is Team Cyanosis, South Africa’s top team. The team is led by Nicholas Mulde. Clinton Mackintosh, Brian Gardner and Landie Visser complete the team. Mulder and Mackintosh have competed in a number of international events – most recently the Adventure Racing World Championships, which were held in Spain in September.  Gardner, who has been racing for many years, and Visser are new to this team.

“I’d love to see Cyanosis notch a Top 10 at ADAC,” says de Speville. “But, it’s a high-intensity race – much higher than the non-stop multiday expedition races where Cyanosis excels. And, ADAC attracts an incredibly competitive field. So, it’s really hard to say where I see them placing.” Navigation at ADAC is straight-forward and GPS-assisted, which renders Cyanosis’ strong strategic and map-and-compass navigational skills obsolete.

ADAC is a race quite unlike traditional adventure races. It’s a staged event, where only the 120-kilometre desert-trekking stage goes through the night. Optional and compulsory checkpoints are included in the desert trekking and 128 kilometre sea kayaking stages. “Time penalties for missing optional are very heavy,” explains de Speville. “If you want to place, visiting all the checkpoints is non-negotiable”. Mid- and back teams chose to skip optional checkpoints to complete stages within the required time periods.

The event provides breakfast and dinner catering at most overnight camps, except for the two where the teams are self-sufficient. Bikes and race crates are transported by race organisation to transitions and camps. And, unlike every other event, ADAC provides competitors with bikes. “This makes travelling so much easier – and cheaper!” says de Speville. “You don’t get better value or organisation than at ADAC. Although the race is very competitive upfront, for midfield and back of the pack teams, it’s the best introduction to international racing.”

The event’s online tracking systems are excellent. Each team carries a transponder that transmits their location during the stages. The teams can be followed real-time through the event website at www.abudhabi-adventure.com. De Speville predicts that Cyanosis will be seen in the squabble for placings just behind the front pack, while her team – http://www.AR.co.za – and Mzansi will be around mid-field.

The three teams leave for Abu Dhabi from Monday, 6 December 2010. The race starts on Friday, 10 December 2010 and runs until Wednesday, 15 December 2010.

For more information on the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge and to follow the real-time tracking, visit www.abudhabi-adventure.com.

For information on the sport of adventure racing in South Africa, as well as news from the race, visit www.AR.co.za.

Team http://www.AR.co.za’s blog is www.teamwwwarcoza.blogspot.com; and Team Cyanosis’ website is www.teamcyanosis.co.za.

Team www.AR.co.za selected for ADAC

In June, six adventure racers – four women and two men – were selected from written applications for the Team www.AR.co.za squad. Over a period of two-and-a-half months, these Gauteng-based squad members have attended paddle coaching sessions, training on dams twice a week through the dead of winter to improve their technique and proficiency. They’ve practised their rope skills and they have participated in sprint and one-day adventure racing events including the recent non-stop, multi-day adventure race Swazi Xtreme. Now, with just over three months until the start of the 4th edition of the annual Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge (ADAC) in December 2010, the members for Team www.AR.co.za have been selected.

The process of selection for the three places on Team www.AR.co.za began with the submission of written applications from which six squad members were recruited. After three months of training and racing the three racers to make up the mixed-gender, four-person team captained by experienced adventure racer, Lisa de Speville, were chosen. “In previous years, my ADAC teams were chosen from written applications. This year, because I received notice of our entry, which is sponsored by Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, earlier, I was able to change the selection process,” de Speville says.

“Managing and choosing from a squad has been more difficult for me because I have gotten to know and train with these talented, competent and compatible racers; all super people with common racing objectives,” she adds. “We ‘lost’ Ilze Jansen van Rensburg in early July after an emergency eye operation put a halt on her training and racing for weeks.”

The choosing of only three from the five squad members – Adri van der Westhuyzen, Keane Ludig, Lizelle Smit, Lizelle van der Merwe and Steven Erasmus – has weighed heavily on de Speville’s mind. “I’ve played over and over with all kinds of combinations and they would all work well. But, I had to settle on just three. In making my final selection I’ve looked at age, experience, ambitions as well as opportunities that they currently have or could have as a result of being part of the squad and team.”

The selected team members are Adri van der Westhuyzen, Lizelle Smit and Steven Erasmus. Keane Ludick and Lizelle van der Merwe are the team’s reserves, ready to jump in should they be needed. “In previous years we’ve had stress fractures, injuries, illnesses and lost passports crop up weeks and days before departure. The role of a reserve is not an easy one, especially when you really want to go to Abu Dhabi. Keane and Lizelle’s ongoing commitment to training and the team is really special and reassuring,” explains de Speville. They will all continue to paddle together and work on skills and disciplines needed for the six-day semi-staged race in Abu Dhabi.

Although the most common team composition is three men and one woman, Team www.AR.co.za has flipped things around with their female-weighted team, which will be a first at the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge. Erasmus is the only man in the team. “The women that have been chosen are great people and they are all really strong. It is going to be different to the standard team format but I’m also sure that it’s going to be fun too. Women bring a special balance to teams,” he says.

With three months until race day, the team is looking ahead as they focus specifically on paddling and running.

Team Blog: www.teamwwwarcoza.blogspot.com

Event website: www.abudhabi-adventure.com

Team www.AR.co.za squad announced

A squad of six adventure racers has been selected from 21 applications for places on Team http://www.AR.co.za. Only half of the squad members will make the final cut to join adventure racer Lisa de Speville in an unusual three-women-one-one team format at the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge in December 2010.

With six months from squad selection until the 4th edition of the six-day Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge, Ms de Speville decided to establish a squad instead of choosing a team outright as she did in 2008 and 2009. “Six months is a long time and anything can happen; from passport issues to injury, a family crisis, work drama… The final team will be chosen after Swazi Xtreme, a 60hr non-stop adventure race in early August,” she explains.

As with previous years, Ms de Speville received applications from many suitable candidates. Her deciding criteria were youth, inexperience and location – selected squad members reside in Jo’burg and Pretoria. “Some applicants had too much experience, which is great for everything else except ‘development’ initiatives like this – they could probably teach me a trick or two,” Ms de Speville adds, laughing. “Others live in outlying areas where I am unable provide them with sufficient support and infrastructure to prepare them for the race; and a number have the benefit of already racing and training with people with experience who can teach them what I can – minus a trip to Abu Dhabi, that is.”

The Team www.AR.co.za squad members are: Adri van der Westhuizen (28, Jo’burg), Keane Ludig (26, Pretoria), Ilze Jansen van Rensberg (22, Pretoria), Lizelle Smit (21, Jo’burg), Lizelle van der Merwe (27, Joburg), and Steven Erasmus (28, Jo’burg).

“I’ve got a great bunch here,” says Ms de Speville. “Choosing only two of the women and one of the guys will be a difficult task. But that’s something for August, not now. For the next two months my focus is on equipping each squad member with skills and experience in the disciplines of paddling, navigation and ropes. These skills will benefit their racing long-term.”

The squad meets for the first time on Sunday, for a paddle coaching session.

Team www.AR.co.za to have girl power

South Africa’s adventure racing website, www.AR.co.za, has received confirmation of their third consecutive entry to the six-day Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge (ADAC) in December 2010. Every year places on this team have been opened to applications from the adventure racing community. Although this year is no different in terms of the application process, the team’s composition will differ.  Going against the usual one-girl-three-guy team format, Team www.AR.co.za’s captain, Lisa de Speville, is looking for two women and one man to accompany her to Abu Dhabi.

“I had superb teams in 2008 and 2009,” says de Speville. “Both teams had a mix of youth and experience and the international experience that these six racers gained at ADAC will stand them in good stead to build their own teams and lead them to international events in years to come.” Some of these racers plan to bring their own competitive teams to ADAC this year.

South Africa has a shortage of competitive female racers with distance experience. “That’s why I want a ‘girl power’ team this year,” she adds. “We need to develop more strong women with experience in multiple disciplines and longer distances to feed into local competitive teams – with a view to see them racing abroad within the next few years.” The team will have one male team member, complying with race requirements for a mixed-gender, four-person team. “He will be one lucky guy to race with three women,” de Speville laughs.

Entries for Team www.AR.co.za are open and racers are invited to complete and submit their application form by mid-May. De Speville will choose a small squad of racers to begin training immediately in the race disciplines of paddling, running and mountain biking. The squad will be required to participate in various events including Swazi Xtreme in early August, after which the final Team www.AR.co.za for ADAC 2010 will be chosen.

“I am very excited about this year’s team already. The squad setup is daunting and I don’t look forward to having to select the final three, excluding the rest,” says de Speville. “But, with eight months to go to Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge I’ve got time to ‘groom’ a bunch of eager young adventure racers. The final three will be chosen for the best combination of personalities, compatibilities and competence for the team.”

The application form and additional information can be found on www.AR.co.za and the team’s blog at www.teamwwwarcoza.blogspot.com.

 About Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge

The fourth edition of the annual Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge takes place from 10-15 December 2010. This six-day race is staged and supported where teams sleep each night after completing long and challenging stages and race organisation provides most – not all – breakfasts and dinners. ADAC provides teams with mountain bikes and double sea-kayaks, minimising the hassle and expense of travel and the teams’ equipment is transported, during the race, from one stage to the next by race organisation. Most of the stages are long and challenging, especially the 120-kilometre sea kayaking and 36hr desert trekking stages.

About Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority Award

Team www.AR.co.za’s participation in the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge is made possible by an Award entry from Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, which sponsors the team’s flights and entry fee. Four other countries also receive Awards, which are awarded “to help and encourage new, strong teams and competitors who wish to pursue their racing career internationally”.