Summer Challenge 2024

Summer Challenge 2024

Official Race Report

Women's Adventure Race Concludes with Exciting Finishes 

The Merrell Summer Challenge women's adventure race, which was held on Banks Peninsula at the start of March, took place in the French-themed seaside village of Akaroa. The event itself was situated across the harbour in Wainui Bay. The event comprised of three categories: the 3, 6, and 9-hour events, essentially beginner, intermediate and advanced. All teams participated in kayaking, mountain biking, hiking and navigation. The event is the sister event to the ever-popular Spring Challenge, with key differences being the season and the inclusion of kayaking instead of river rafting in the Spring Challenge.

One hundred fifty teams lined up for the event in Akaroa, with three women per team, totalling 450 participants. All teams started with a 4km kayak stage from Wainui Beach to Otuterereinga, then to Cape Three Points, finally crossing Anchorage Bay to return to Wainui Beach. Teams had four checkpoints to collect in any order they chose. Exiting the kayak, the teams entered Transition Area 1 to collect their gear and mountain bikes, embarking on their respective courses.

The 3-hour teams had a 3km bike stage that climbed towards Rocky Peak to reach a Remote Transition Area. From this point, they parked their bikes and hiked to Rocky Peak, 426 meters above sea level. There were scattered controls to collect while ascending and descending the peak, which provided teams with multiple choices and demanded navigation. Once the hike stage was completed, they remounted their bikes for a quick 2km downhill to Beacon Hill, into Wainui Valley, and onto the finish.

Leading off the kayak stage was team Harrythomcoch, with Erin Harrison, Laura Thomson & Philippa Cochrane. They moved swiftly through the hiking stage and onto the finish, stopping the clock in a whirlwind time of 2 hours and 32 minutes. In second place was veteran team Awesome Accountability, Jo Hoyle, Bevit Jensen, and Michelle Greenwood, finishing in 2 hours and 56 minutes. Third place also saw an impressive result with the super veteran team Happy 60th Birthday Sis! Lara Coker, Fi Hammond, and Astrid Coker, finishing in 3 hours and 43 seconds.

The weather for the day was idyllic, but very hot. The morning started off cool and calm with a delightful sunrise into the harbour, with Hector's dolphins surfacing in the water. As the sun climbed, so did the temperature, with the high reaching 30 degrees Celsius on the course, adding to the already monumental challenge the teams had to overcome. As the name suggests, the checkpoint at Scenery Nook was incredible, with huge sea cliffs, wild seas, and a large seal colony in naturally designed pools above the surging swells. After summiting Lucas Peak, the teams traversed on bikes through farm tracks to Maginness. After the climb to the ridgeline, they enjoyed a fast ride back to Wainui Bay. They still had one more remaining challenge: a short, sharp, and steep bike loop to arrive in the Wainui Valley and finish.

With the 6-hour teams starting at 6:30am and 9:00am, the race was both a time trial on the course as well as a race within each category. The first team to finish the race was open team Thrupled Up - Esther McNally, Emily Cambridge & Alannah Murdoch, stopping the watch at 6 hours and 3 minutes. However, they clearly won the open category, but they would have to wait to find out if their time was the fastest on the course for the day. As it transpired, the first super veteran team Never Eat Soggy Weetbix - Sharon Scott, Karen McMillian & Brigitte Masse raced home in 6 hours and 1 minute, taking the glory of fastest of the day. Incredibly, the top three teams all finished within minutes of each other, making for close and exciting racing.

The 9-hour teams followed the same course as the 6-hour teams until they reached Maginness. From that point, they continued the bike traverse to Island Bay Road and then climbed to Carews Peak and onto Peraki Saddle. The teams then had a difficult technical descent towards Rocky Peak and the final hiking stage. The hike was a scramble around some farm and forest area, then back on bikes to Wainui Valley and the finish. Open team MitoQ with Eloise Fry, Susie Wood & Jane Orbell quickly established a lead and were unchallenged, moving through the course with constant speed to finish in a rapid time of 7 hours and 29 minutes. The second team off the course was Lost Swamp Rats, Amy O’Neill, Julia Gwynne Jones, and Madeleine Long, finishing in 8 hours and 41 minutes, and making up the top three was Orient Expresso, Sarah Lees, Freya O'Donoghue, and Rachel Hynds in 8 hours and 46 minutes. A special mention must go to the super veteran team, Adventure Before Dementia, Jenni Blyleven, Louise O'Connell, and Claire Le Gric, who finished fourth overall and went under 9 hours, in 8 hours and 58 minutes.

Overall, the event was a great success. Event Director Jodie Fa’avae commented, “It was a terrific day, perfect conditions for the kayaking stage and clear skies. It was really hot, but we can’t complain for having such a stunning day. It was a really challenging event; the terrain is steep on the peninsula, but the teams did so well, gritting it out physically and maintaining an awesome attitude, embracing the task in front of them. Welcoming the teams home, I could tell many of the women had given it their all, a huge accomplishment.” 

The Merrell Summer Challenge location for 2025 has not been released yet, but entries for the event will open on April 1st.


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