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Expedition Africa - Blog

Expedition Africa - Blog


For the Love and development of Adventure Racing. Expedition Africa established in 2006 and has organised over 150 adventure races in Africa and Internationally. This blog is about our story over the years and our personal views.

Doing an Adventure Race with My Sister

Theunis Grobler – The Extreme Sports Traveller – 2019/08/06

Hello to all my fellow extreme sports enthusiasts. My name is Theunis A.K.A. “The Extreme Sports Traveller” and I travel to amazing locations and do exhilarating extreme sports. I love to travel, I love to participate in extreme sports, and I love to help people with their sporting and fitness needs.

If there is one thing that will definitely get this Extreme Sports Traveller super excited, it’s the mention of doing exhilarating activities like hiking, running, mountain biking, abseiling and kayaking. Combining these disciplines into one event and adding the element of navigation, calling it a competition… well, now you’ve got me hyped!

Adventure Racing, also known as Expedition Racing, is exactly that! A team sport that requires competitors to navigate through an unmarked course. The course is laid out across a variety of outdoor environments. Usually, these races are carried out anywhere from a one-day event, lasting a couple of hours, to two weeks of racing and navigating different elements. Teams are given a map with a number of checkpoints (CP’s) on it and are required to find the CP’s while completing a range of sporting disciplines.

When it comes to the adventure racing scene in South Africa, these types of competitions have become more and more popular year by year. A company called Kinetic Adventure is leading the way when it comes to running an A-class event of this nature. Kinetic Adventure organizes a year-round adventure racing series which includes sprint races of 25-kilometres called the Kinetics Sprint Race, medium distance races covering a 100-kilometres called, the Kinetic Half-Moon Race and a multi-day race event covering more than 400 kilometres, called the Expedition Africa.


I feel fortunate to have competed in the Kinetics Sprint Race as well as the Kinetic Half-Moon Race events. The crown jewel of the series, Expedition Africa, I am yet to compete in. Top teams in this race manage to complete the event in an incredible four days, while the backmarkers can take up to 7 days to complete the event. During the race, each team is required to mountain bike hundreds of kilometres, trek or run more than 150 kilometres, kayak up to 40 kilometres, abseil off sheer cliffs hundreds of meters high and climb over natural obstacles before reaching the finish line. This sport truly tests an athlete’s limits of endurance and determination.

I am a competitive racer, and each time that I have competed in one of these races, I can proudly say that we finished on the podium. Occasionally, I offer myself the opportunity to compete for fun and the enjoyment of doing what I love; adventure sports events. I have a younger sister and we are fortunate enough to have a strong and loving relationship, but we have never had the opportunity to compete together as a team before. When I arrived home from my time in China, I knew that I wanted to finish an adventure race with my sister because she had never done one before. We decided to set the date and entered the 25-kilometre sprint race as it is the perfect entry-level event in adventure racing.

The sprint race comprises of three legs, a 5-kilometre trek/run, a 19-kilometre cycle and a 1-kilometre kayak. Before the start of an adventure race, teams receive a map of the first leg of the race, which could occur anywhere from hours to just minutes before the start of the race. At this event, we were given our running route’s map for the first leg of the race only 5-minutes before the starter's gun would go off. All the athletes, filled with excitement and determination, scrambled for a map causing an exciting yet crazy frenzy of athletes trying to get their hands on a map. As we grabbed our map, it was now time to decipher the best route to take in order to get to all the checkpoints in the fastest time possible. I could see the excitement and nervous tension in my sister's eyes as she searched the map, trying to figure out which direction we needed to start off in and where to find the first CP.

When the race announcer signalled the start of the race we had our route planned out and set off for the first CP. The adrenalin was flowing and I knew that we were setting off at an over-eager pace but I was enjoying running with my sister so much that I let her lead and set the pace. Eventually, the adrenalin wore off and we settled into a steadier pace. Running through the beautiful South African Highveld is an amazing experience and we got to see a wide variety of animal and plant life, truly experiencing outdoor living at its finest. My sister and I weren't in the race to win it, this was our opportunity to make the special memories that we would look back on and enjoy sharing with others as we retold the moments of our special adventure. This is what fuelled my motivation and it was such an incredible feeling running next to her and taking in all the splendour that the South African outdoors had to offer.

Even though we had this special adventure, there was still a race to run and my wish for my sister was to do her best and set a good time for herself that she could be proud of. As we reached the first CP in good spirits, and in good time, I gave my sister the honour of punching in at the first CP, which indicated to the race officials that we were still on the correct route.

South Africa is known for its amazing wildlife and there are many large nature reserves where animals like antelope, rhinos, lions and many other wild animals roam free. While running to our third CP, we encountered three rhinos, a male, female, and a calf. Rhinos are extremely dangerous and because they are unfortunately on the brink of extinction, these Rhinos had a ranger patrolling their territory. This meant that we couldn’t get to our third CP as we had to be cautious. This afforded us the opportunity to see the rhinos and even though it was from a distance, it was such an amazing privilege and soon we realised that every competitor had stopped for a few moments to marvel at and appreciate these majestic animals. It might just be the last time any of us got to see a live rhino at the rate at which they are being poached. After the brief pause, the race was on again and halfway into the run, I made a daring navigation decision that managed to save us about five precious minutes and a kilometre or two. Being reminded of the fact that we weren't in the race to win, advantages like this only mattered as it fuelled our adrenaline and kept us motivated, but if you are in the running for a podium gains like these could be the difference between first and third place.

I was so proud of my sister at this stage of the race and she surprised me so much during the run. She is a dance instructor and not really a runner, but she was maintaining such a good running pace, way faster than I expected. After completing the run we transitioned into the bike stage of the race and received our cycling route map. We were now well into the race and I could see the competitive flame burning in my sister's eyes. We took a few moments to map the best cycling route and set off in hot pursuit of the CP’s we had to find. Mountain biking in the South African Highveld is not easy because of the rough rocky terrain, undulating cycling tracts over steep mountain slopes and technical single tracks.

The nature reserve which we were racing through is a lot smaller than most in South Africa and because of this many of the animals are used to the presence of humans. While cycling we came across a giraffe that was somewhat too curious about us, walking towards us while we cycled passed him. Even though this giraffe is used to people it does not mean that he is not dangerous and wild. One kick form an animal of this size could mean instant death. Understanding this and respecting the giraffe’s space we were forced to take a more evasive route around him. After taking a few pictures we set off again to collect the rest of our CP's.

As is the nature of races like these, navigation plays a huge role in your success and as rewarding as good navigating decisions can be, poor decisions can be detrimental. There is a fine line between risk and reward when it comes to making the right navigation decisions, as I was about to find out. Unfortunately, I made a navigation error shortly after our encounter with the giraffe, negating all the time we had made up during the run section of the race. I learned a valuable lesson; that even on short races like this, one can make mistakes when you don’t read your terrain carefully, paying the price with time. After carrying our bikes for a few hundred meters and a few carefully selected swear words, I got us back on track. Even though we had lost some time and our competitive edge had taken a dip we carried on nearing the end of this amazing challenge. Fortunately, we only had a few kilometres left to cycle before we could move onto the short kayak leg of the race.

Kayaking is always great fun! Whether you are competing for the lead of the race or just having a social day out. It’s the best feeling taking a kayak into the water and dipping your whole, exhausted and dirty body into the refreshingly cold water. After the cool down, we were ready to take the paddles and row with renewed energy and determination. We got into the water with two other teams and even though we were racing in the midfield, this awakened a drive in us to try and beat them, creating our own fun competitive race within the main race.

South Africa is a sport-loving country and competitiveness is a part of our DNA. Without a word said and a few quick glances, all three teams knew that the race was on. We were neck in neck for the first few hundred meters as we all reached the first kayak CP together. Shortly after that, the pain and exhaustion became evident for one of the teams and they drifted back. Now we were only two teams left. We stayed next to each other, paddle stroke for stroke. After a big effort from my sister and me, we beat the other team to the second CP. This gave us an advantage of a 10-meter gap and from there on we managed to keep extending our lead right to the end of the kayak leg.

Once we dragged our tired bodies over the finish line we rejoiced in the satisfaction of completing the race together. That is what I love about this sport. As a team, you go through the same pain and suffering creating a bond between you that will stay with you for a long time after the race. Doing this race with my sister strengthened our relationship and I recommend anybody with a brother, sister or loved one to do a race like this together.

If this instalment of my Extreme Sports Traveller Blog has inspired you to get fit and ready for an event like this then subscribe to my blog where my next instalment will reveal a complete training guide to do exactly that. The training guide will help you prepare for the different types of terrain that you are most likely to encounter in adventure races. During these types of races, you will also experience some level of pain and discomfort, no matter how short the race is and the training guide will help you put a plan in place to combat this discomfort.

I hope to see you on the track soon my fellow Extreme Sports Travellers!

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