Described by the organizers as a race that will “test the mental and physical skills of participants”, GODZone is not for the faint of heart. This year’s GODZone, a multi-day adventure race, was held in New Zealand’s Rotorua thermal district and offered participating teams between 4-8 days in which to kayak, hike, raft, mountain bike, and navigate their way to the finish line. Carried out during all hours of the day and night, the race requires strenuous amounts of teamwork, resilience, and fitness.
We recently caught up with race participants Hannah Norton, from Team 29: MitoQ, and Tessa Dekker, from Team 63: Adventures Powered by MitoQ, to get an insider’s view into the race – and find out how MitoQ supported their training and recovery.
How did you and your team prepare for GODZone?
We all have pretty active lifestyles and generally keep quite fit and healthy. However, we started focussing on specifically preparing for GODZone from about November last year. We built a strong base over the winter and then kickstarted training with the National 24-hour Rogaine Champs in early November. Training over summer involved approximately 15-30 hours of training a week with about 3 sessions in each discipline - biking, kayaking, and hiking/running.
I found that MitoQ was a great help for both my training and for the race - especially in regard to recovery time and energy levels. During training, I was able to back up hard sessions a lot more frequently than I have in the past, and surprised myself with how I performed during the hard weeks of training.
This was the first GODZone for me, Lachie, and Brad. Our fourth teammate Rhys (our navigator) has lots of experience in multi-day adventure races. As I was training at the same time for Coast-to-Coast's “Longest Day”, I was spending lots of hours kayaking, mountain running, and biking. During those training months before GODZone, I started taking MitoQ and it’s amazing how much it has helped me in my overall performance. After big trainings, I would feel energetic the next day, whereas in the past I would be recovering for a few days. My energy levels are much higher, and I have never felt so fit in my life!
Rhys, Lachie and I met up for a few training weekends in Rotorua. We went into the wilderness to get familiar with the bush and to get to know each other a bit better. Nature in Rotorua is very different compared to the South Island (I live in Christchurch), and navigation is a lot harder as everything is overgrown and high trees make it hard to navigate or to orientate. Prior to our training weekend, we would set out a route where we wanted to go, and then we would disappear into the wilderness for a few days.
What were some of the biggest challenges you came up against during the race?
The bush navigation, especially in the dark and on little sleep, was probably one of our biggest challenges. We found it quite different to the South Island bush where the ridges are typically more defined, and you’re often only bush-bashing to get up to the open tops. In stage 4, we ended up on a different high point than we were aiming for and had to retrace our steps - losing about 4 hours in the process. However, it was actually quite satisfying working out where we went wrong, getting back on track, learning from the mistake, and then nailing the rest of the navigation from that point on.
A challenge for me was struggling with sore feet and blisters from stage 2 onwards. I was quite worried about how bad they might get - but I've learned heaps now about how much pain you can handle if you put your mind to it.
And finally, it was always a bit of a challenge to leave the warmth and yummy food that our support crew had on offer at transitions. A freshly heated butter chicken on a cold evening in transition 5 felt like the best meal we'd ever had!
Moving around and navigating during daylight is so much easier than when it gets dark. We had a couple of times that we had to race against the clock to find a certain checkpoint.
The weather has a big impact as well, the second night it started raining pretty hard and we were on mountain bikes. It just slows you down so much and it’s harder to navigate. If you're not careful, you will get cold. It just means you have to look after your gear as well because you don't want everything to get soaking wet.
And there was my knee injury. After one of the big stages, we were descending in the bush in the middle of the night towards the next transition when my foot got stuck behind a tree root and I twisted my knee. It caused immediate pain, but the boys were just amazing. Rhys taped my knee and gave me some painkillers while the other ones took my pack, so I was able to continue walking/limping with two walking poles for another few hours to get to the next transition where we had a 2-hour sleep.
How important was teamwork during the race?
Teamwork is definitely one of the most important aspects of GODZone. The challenge of getting four different people to the finish line after a very physically and mentally demanding week is only possible if you can work together - supporting each other during the highs and the lows. I am so grateful for the amazing team I got to do GODZone with and it's one of the main reasons I signed up in the first place - knowing we had a pretty special and unique team. We all worked well together, picked each other up when we needed it, and most importantly had lots of laughs along the way!
Super important, you can't be selfish or have an ego. You have to look after each other. You rely on teammates to help each other out when needed - like when I got injured.
What were some of the biggest highlights of your GODZone experience?
The whole course was spectacular - it took us to areas of the North Island that none of us would have experienced otherwise, and we got to see some really beautiful and diverse scenery. Hearing all the ruru (New Zealand owls) calling out at night as we were slogging through the bush was always a reminder of what an amazing country we live in.
Arriving at the finish line together as one team after an incredible week exploring Rotorua and its surrounds was definitely a highlight. We had an amazing amount of support both during the race and at that finish line, so being able to make it and celebrate with our support crew was a real buzz.
Just being part of such an amazing race! The overall experience is just so good, and it’s surprising how well you can do on minimal sleep. I love that it’s a team event and you get to know each other so well in such a short amount of time.
Also, how we helped each other as a team. When Lachie had a bit of a sore knee and needed someone to take his pack so he could recover while walking, Brad immediately offered to take his pack on top of his own one. It's a team effort and you're in it together.
Now that the race is over, how are you feeling?
It was hard to tell exactly what effect (MitoQ) had during the race as I've never done anything that long or sustained before, but I was definitely surprised after the race at how good I felt - I didn't really have any sore muscles and my energy levels came back a lot faster than I was expecting!
I'm now enjoying a bit of downtime and a quieter pace of life, and just enjoying the sense of satisfaction from completing my first GODZone!
Unfortunately, we were forced to step out halfway through the race due to my knee injury. I think we were all hoping that I could continue, but it became very clear in the last few kilometers of the mountain bike section that my knee was seriously injured. We arrived at transition 6 and medics immediately told me that I was not able to continue. A few tears rolled down my face because of pain and the disappointment to step out and let the team down.
The team was amazing. Obviously, we were all sad to stop, but it was an accident and could have happened to anyone. We've got some unfinished business and I hope to be back in the future!