Lessons in Adventure - with Ryan Thompson
By Emma Darragh
Whangamata resident Ryan Thompson’s first taste of adventure racing was New Zealand’s premier expedition race; GODZone, five years ago. Adventure racing includes mountain biking, trail running and kayaking, with a navigational component making it an exciting and enjoyable way to race. Multi day expedition races are between three and nine days long, and cover hundreds of kilometres of challenging and diverse terrain. What’s required? “Determination and tolerance of discomfort,” says Ryan. More than anything, he loves the team element and strategic thinking required. It also satisfies his competitive streak and passion for adventure and exploration.
Ryan is captain of the Bivouac-Inov8 Adventure Racing Team, ranked in the top 20 worldwide. The four friends met when living in Christchurch and now they are spread across the country, getting together to train and compete in New Zealand and beyond. This year’s GODZone race saw a satisfying fifth place finish for the team. They have competed at World Champs in Costa Rica, Ecuador and XPD Australia, consistently achieving top five placings.
Ryan still refers to that first GODZone race as his biggest challenge. The team found themselves in the first night of the race, retracing their steps, locked in a navigational loop. They were gutted, thinking they’d finish at the wrong end of the fleet. It turned out the other teams all faced the same navigation nightmare, and they came tenth out of more than forty teams. He learnt from that experience; “if it’s tough for me, it’s tough for everyone else too. It was a good lesson to never give up and just keep on going regardless of how you think you’re getting on.”
“Finishing our first race was incredible,” said Ryan. He says every expedition provides incredible moments. Adventure racing allows teams time to enjoy the extraordinary environments the course covers. Sustaining a traditional race pace for the duration of a multi-day expedition would miss the point of the journey. Ryan says there is always time to talk and laugh and have fun with your team during the event.
Bringing Adventure Racing to Whangamata
To showcase Whangamata’s natural beauty, perfectly suited to multisport, and to fund their international races, Ryan and teammate Bex Law founded Whangamata Events. They deliver the Whangamata Adventure Race, Multisport Challenge and Adventure Rogaine, as well as a number of paddling events on the water.
This year’s Whangamata Adventure Race attracted 450 contestants; the youngest was seven and the oldest in his 60’s. There are three, six and 12 hour courses, and the shorter team event offers an ideal introduction to the sport for families andfriends. To the uninitiated, Ryan describes adventure racing as a ‘treasure hunt for adults’. His advice to anyone considering it is to have a go. The navigation is relatively easy in the beginners course and is a great way for families to get outdoors and do something together.
Ryan has also found a way to share his passion with adventure racers of the future. He works as an outdoor education and Te Reo teacher at Opoutere School, near Whangamata. Last term the school developed their curriculum around an adventure racing theme, which drew on skills such as map reading, goal setting and team building. To conclude the term, senior students took part in the school’s first adventure race. Ryan is visibly stoked when he says every child completed the event. Unlike the traditional school cross country, an adventure race is not reliant on physical ability alone. He acknowledges that though not everyone is wired for exercise, adventure racing calls on different qualities. Being part of a team allows people to find their strengths, contribute and excel.
The World Adventure Racing Championships are in Australia in November and Ryan and his team will be competing in what he says will be the hardest race of the year. Recovery from a five day race can take up to a month. Ryan has to be strategic about how many events he does in a year as there is no question they are incredibly tough on both body and mind.
“I’ve definitely pushed my limit of what I thought achievable. Goal setting is hugely important, having pre race goals is vital,” says Ryan.
When not training, competing, organising events or teaching, Ryan is involved in Waka Ama, Whangamata Community Board, and is chairman of the local Marae committee, who are working to establish a marae in the Whangamata area.
Last year, as a personal challenge Ryan ran the ‘Nine New Zealand Great Walks Challenge’, completing it in a record breaking six days and 15 hours. We can’t wait to find out what inspiring challenge he will set himself next!