Nathan Fa’avae – Nelson, New Zealand
What initially attracted you to adventure racing?
AR was a natural progression for me from multisport. I’d been racing Coast to Coast and other multisport events for a number of years and I wanted a bigger challenge, something more adventurous. I’d followed the sport for a decade and was eager to get out and do the major events, Southern Traverse, Raid Gauloises, Eco Challenge at the time. I also believed I’d be really good at it which attracted me also, with my sporting background and outdoor background, I saw adventure racing as a sport where I could use all my skills. It’d be fair to say I do get bored fairly fast and like constant action, can’t find a sport that delivers that better than adventure racing.
What keeps you coming back to race after all these years?
To be 100% honest, I enjoy the training and lifestyle leading up to an event more than the event itself in many ways. For the past 20-years I’ve always been training for an event coming up, that’s the part I don’t want to let go of, I love racing still, the adventure and travel, good times with teammates, but for me know it’s far more about lifestyle than racing. The lifestyle of an adventure racer is dynamic and interesting. You have to be fit and strong, training for at least three disciplines and other outdoor skills. It suits me and how I want to live, I tend to gauge the success of a week by how much adventure sport I have fitted into it.
You’ve often said that New Zealand lends itself particularly well to adventure racing, why do you think that is?
I think NZ is set up for AR and training, there are so many accessible outdoor opportunities plus regular events on with high calibre athletes. There is a legacy now that a few generations of Kiwi athletes have set and for the rising athletes they measure themselves against the top teams and past history, it’s a self perpetuating cycle, we’re good at AR because we’ve always been good at AR.
How have you managed to juggle training, racing, work and time with the family?
Juggling these things is very difficult, if the balance is not right I end up compromising everything and nothing gets done well. I have accepted that I won’t ever be able to race at the level I once used to partly due to ageing but mainly because of demands from life. I’m getting to the point soon where I’ll step back from racing. Up until now I’ve managed things by carefully planning out a year, committing to events and doing my best to protect the 4-weeks before a big race to dedicated training. I’m always active and stay fairly fit but if I can string together a solid 4-6 weeks before a big race I can get very fast and strong.
Can you talk us through some particular highs and lows that you’ve experienced whilst racing?
I find the highs and lows are more reflective of what physical state of health you’re in at any given time, you can be racing through the most majestic scenery on the planet but if you’re struggling, ill, feeling real bad, you couldn’t care, you just want to be tucked up in a warm bed somewhere going to sleep. On the flip side, if you’re feeling strong and healthy, you just seem to enjoy yourself, perhaps because you’re just happy not to be struggling. My worst moments in racing have been when I’ve been sick, altitude sickness or some other condition, it totally sucks but you just have to dig deep and keep going. The highs are when we get to do fun activities, see amazing views or curious things. Because I’m a competitive racer I also thrive on the racing, outwitting and outracing the competition, I get a thrill from that when it works out.
After Chapter 3 you said “don’t wish it were easier – wish you were better”….how does someone with your experience get better?
There is always another level to aspire to. I think for me now it’s about staying current in the skills I have, regularly using them so I don’t lose them. I can still be better in races if I can manage to allocate the training, I don’t struggle with motivation to train, I just struggle to justify the time. I’ve raced the AR World Championships for the last 4-years in a row, in my view, I have only raced really well in one of those races, France. In Spain, Tasmania and Costa Rica, our team made errors we shouldn’t make, mistakes that we should be above. To me that highlights that there is always room to improve. I’m not one to be complacent, but sometimes I do relax a bit much because the racing environment is so familiar. We can improve as a team in a number of ways and that’s great to have things to work on.
What key advice would you give to a first time team at GODZone?
I think many teams have little idea about pacing, but I’ve seen the GODZone teams over the years getting better and better. I think teams new to GODZone have to be realistic that these races take years to perfect. I’ve done over 30 races now and I’d say I have done 2 races that didn’t need room for improvement. Start slow is the key for many teams, take the race stage by stage and most of all, keep moving forward, even if it’s slowly. Inefficiency is the biggest enemy on course, there are unlimited opportunities to waste time but very few places to make time up. Being competent in all the skills will help immensely, water skills, navigation, bikes skills, running on rough ground, it all helps. Nutrition is a big factor also, making sure people have nutritious energy dense tasty food during the race. Then there is team dynamics, making sure the team have fun, look after each other and keep the race in perspective.