Team Merrell Magic
I am Heidi Cochran, the brand director for Merrell NZ. I live a life full of variation which makes me more of a Jack (or Jill) of all trades. Skiing, mountain biking, hockey, tennis and riding horses are my active passions. These get me out and about doing fun adventures whenever I can. I have competed in 5 Spring Challenge events and all have been full of many emotions, my favourite is the sense of community while participating with so many other women who love the outdoors like me.
I have done the 3 hour event up until this year, with my team winning our category last year it pushed me to set my sights on the next challenge - the 6 hour. This year my team was up in the air until a couple of weeks out from the event but I was determined to make it work. I called in my 68 year old mother Jenny to fill the last spot so we could make up the team of three we needed to compete.
My team consisted of Jenny and Caitlin who have both been to multiple Spring Challenges but for all of us it was our maiden 6 hour and without managing to do any training together was going to make it an interesting day. I have ambitions to be an athlete, however I really struggle to put time into fitness over the draw of an adventure. I did manage a few shorter lunch time runs which I think helped.
Together our team, Merrell Magic, all bring different skills. What we all have in common is a competitive streak that really comes to the fore when we get to an event day.
- Competition driver
- Uphill biker
- Brings the enthusiasm
- Recent fatigue fighter
- Team photographer and content collector
- Downhill biker
- The navigator
- Team morale and situation reader
- Communication and fuelling
- Overall tortoise for consistency
On the start line at 9am above the Waitaki Dam, we weren’t feeling prepared and were conscious that the distances were a significant jump up from both what any of us had done before. Looking at the maps and suggested time, I set us an ambition of completing the course in around 9 hours, with an aim to be finished before dark. The total length this year was 61km which broke down to 1km run to the rafts, 8km rafting, 17km biking, 8km hiking, 20km biking, 7km hiking to the finish. The weather for race day was cold because of the fresh snow on the very nearby mountains - nearly a perfect winters day for this “spring” event.
The run is great and a fun way to start the day. We had a lovely raft guide that motivated us with technique improvements while we rafter down the river, trying to pick the quicker water. The first few kms on the bikes were navigating along the river down and around to the back of the town. From there we started a good uphill slog, then onto the Awakino ski hill access road where we thought it had flattened out. I came to realise it was a false uphill, one where you cannot really see that it is uphill so I felt like I was peddling but not getting anywhere. This took a lot more energy out than we were expecting and really slowed us down. Coming up to the unmanned transition area it was then that I saw our hike was going to be right exactly where the new snow had fallen.
We dropped our bikes and set off for the 8km hike that we hoped would take us a bit more than 2 hours. The snow was slow going and incredibly slippery on the steep tussock hillsides. We had to haul ourselves up by our arms holding onto tussocks for grip because nothing could hold on the slushy melting snow. Some nervousness, disbelief and tired feelings set in at that moment so I realised we needed a regroup, some food and reset. It’s those moments of repair within a team that can make or break the energy for the rest of the day. We were lucky to get some well timed positive encouragement from other teams we met. On these hikes there are decisions to make around navigation but today I don’t think it mattered too much as there were so many other challenges to contend with that the snow and terrain bought. We climbed 3 hills in the 8kms with the snow, water and mud was sometimes over shoe height so you really had to focus where you placed each step which takes a lot of energy to concentrate to that degree. The hike was tough and took us far longer than we thought.
Then it was back on the bikes for our second bike and this time we were bound for the lake and joining back to the Waitaki river, where it all started. The terrain undulated resulting in a combination of exhilarating downhills and grinding uphills. We were so spent that each time we saw another hill our hearts would sink. For me the best way to get through is gritting my teeth and getting really determined to bike the whole way up, keeping the momentum. This is where my tortoise persona comes out and my tactic to get me focused on getting through the short term goal and to give me a little win.
Joining back up to the alps to ocean track along the river we were met with a bit of a headwind making the last few kms more tiring than we would have liked but the end was insight. At this transition area we had wet cold feet as the temperature had dropped and we were feeling delirious. To reenergise for the last hurdle, we drank some thermos tea, ate some chocolate banana cake and changed into my fourth pair of dry socks for the day. From here the second hike was up and over Kurow hill, which from this vantage point we couldn’t see the top of with the mist shrouding it. I hoped that the course times were right and we might be able to do this in just over an hour to beat the darkness, at this point we’d been out there for 9 hours already.
We left that transition area at about 6:15pm with numb and lethargic legs, finding that jogging was oddly unfamiliar on legs that no longer felt like your own. At this point I was still hopeful we would make it in an hour if we were on the faster side. It was another steep, leg burning climb up with fast elevation gain. The daylight was quickly diminishing, we were rugged up with our hoods cinched in around our heads and the mist gradually turned to rain as we climb higher into the clouds. I remember thinking at least 6 times as the terrain flattened out and felt like the high point, that this must now be the top where we will find the checkpoint. We were all starting to loose our marbles up there, and were incredibly pleased to see the race officials ready to guide us to the last four check points in the dark. It was 7pm now and there were still over 60 teams out on the course, nearly 200 women. At this point we had been going for 10 hours. It was dark, cold and for light we had a phone, one good torch and another that was not made for this sort of expedition. A good lesson is to make sure your last minute packed torches for “just in case” are up to spec.
There was a huge amount of comradely in the final stages and we quickly descended down the zig zag track nursing our tired hurting knees, hearing the sounds of the finish line blasting fun lively music, imagining and willing ourselves being over that finish line already. Before too long we were there…we’d made it. After just over 11 hours we had run those last few meters over the finish line! At that moment I am not sure I have been more happy about anything in my life. Although it had been a hugely long day and I was pleased it was over, I loved the day for the solid challenge it was.
At prize giving the next morning Nathan Faavae (the race director) with some tongue in cheek congratulated us for doing so well and in the same breath apologised for not shorting the 6 hour hike. That was met with a cheer. It was a real test for many (us included), a different type of challenge which I haven’t established whether for me it felt more mental or physical. Less race more endurance challenge.
I am so proud of our team. We managed to push ourselves, make it to the end and talk each other through some tough moments. It was a lot more than we bargained for but I think those are the times we get the biggest sense of achievement and learn the most about ourselves.
Spring Challenge is an amazing event. I just love everything about it. It gives women of all ages, abilities and experience a reason to push themselves. It attracts so many people with different stories but all share the same values. I would encourage anyone to push themselves to enter next year (2024) in Tasman (South Island) or the not yet announced location for the North Island (we will know that after this weekends event). You can tackle it however you like - with an aim to be competitive or collect a few friends together to join a day out in places you don’t generally go. Either way you will enjoy some beautiful scenery around new places in our wonderful country. This event brings the best spirit out of people and you never know, you may get addicted like me and return every year there after.