Experience is the key

Chris Forne (right), Fleur Pawsey and Nathan Faavae during a training trip in North Canterbury...
Chris Forne (right), Fleur Pawsey and Nathan Faavae during a training trip in North Canterbury two weeks ago. Photo: Supplied
Six-time world champion Chris Forne will get on a plane on Friday bound for Reunion Island, the location of the latest edition of the Adventure Racing World Championships. Guy Williams caught up with the Queenstown athlete as he prepared for five days of steep terrain, exhaustion and sleep deprivation. 

A wise man once said old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance.

In the case of Chris Forne (41), swap "treachery" with "expert navigation" and you have got one of the keys to his success.

He will again be joining forces with Tasman Bay’s Nathan Faavae and Auckland’s Stu Lynch at the starting line of the Adventure Racing World Championships in Reunion Island on November 8.

Joining them on the island — a French colony sitting in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar — is newcomer Fleur Pawsey, from Christchurch.

Pawsey is a late call-up to replace Wanaka’s Joanna Williams, who broke a leg in a skiing crash about six weeks ago.

Formerly known as Team Seagate, the team is now named after their new sponsor, Avaya, a California-based tech company.

Despite the changes, there is no escaping the fact this team of 40-somethings will be starting as favourites on a course organisers expect will take five days to cross.

As well as his swag of adventure racing world titles, Forne has tasted national and international success in rogaining and orienteering.It is the navigation skills he has honed in those sports that will be a key on the island, a place he "hadn’t really heard of" before.

He was expecting the terrain to be hilly, ranging in altitude from the tropical climes of sea level to potentially freezing temperatures at more than 3000 metres.

The terrain was likely to be mainly partly-formed forest trails, but the teams would also traverse the ocean, canyons, caves, whitewater rivers and lagoons.

Natural hazards would include mosquitoes and sharks.

Chris Forne (left) and Nathan Faavae during the 2015 GodZone race near Wanaka. Photo: Supplied
Chris Forne (left) and Nathan Faavae during the 2015 GodZone race near Wanaka. Photo: Supplied
Forne said there was not much to gain from studying topographical maps of the island beforehand, and instead he would rely on his experience to "get in tune" with the supplied maps and terrain once the race started.

Although Avaya would not have the top-end pace of many other teams, he was optimistic the deciding factors in victory would be navigation and maintaining a consistent pace.

"So long as we don’t have to manage major issues like injuries, sickness or equipment failure — and race sensibly — our lack of pure speed won’t be a big disadvantage."

As far as his fitness was concerned, he admitted to being "a little bit slack" with his multi-disciplinary training, having enjoyed ski touring and ski tramping over the winter.

But the lower intensity of adventure racing meant he was confident the thousands of miles under his belt from years of training and competing would stand him and his teammates in good stead.

"With this racing, it seems like a kind of strength and fitness that you lose or gain more slowly.

"It’s kind of cool that you can still be competitive at an older age."

Although the organisers had set a minimum number of sleeping hours for the race, he expected the team would exceed that anyway.

Their rule of thumb in the past had been to race through the first night, sleep for three hours on each of the following nights, then race through the final night if the finish line was close.

Cohesion between team members was vital, something made easier by the team’s long combined experience.

Chris Forne sorts gear at his Queenstown home. Photo: Guy Williams
Chris Forne sorts gear at his Queenstown home. Photo: Guy Williams
"Stu, Nathan and I have probably done more adventure racing than anyone else in the world — of those who are still active.

"That doesn’t mean we won’t do something stupid, but it’s about dealing calmly with equipment breakdowns or other issues."

He believed most teams did not focus enough on the "balancing act" of keeping the team moving at a steady pace while closely watching each other’s mental and physical states.

If one of the team was struggling, it was important to "catch it early" before their performance spiralled downwards.

"It’s really important to stay as consistent with your energy as you can throughout the race. You don’t want to be smashing yourself and then recovering."

When asked whether adventure racing was mainly a physical or mental test, Forne said there was a strong correlation between the two.

"Sometime you think your body’s failing, but actually it’s your mind."

He still found it strange that he tended to feel more energised when going upwards than when travelling across flat terrain.

"If you’re hungry to do well and mentally motivated, then physically you will do better."

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