Running, kayaking and cycling the GODZone - the toughest challenge of my life

Ben Gibson gives a first-hand account of endurance racing with the Merrell team in New Zealand
April 17, 2014

Earlier this year I completed the Coast to Coast, New Zealand’s longest single-day multisport race. There was a time when I would have said this was the toughest challenge I had ever faced. Not anymore: since then I have found myself at the start line of another one of New Zealand’s toughest and most testing events: The GODZone. With minimal endurance racing experience and almost no adventure racing experience, it was safe to say I was completely outside of my comfort zone and, in truth, had no real understanding of what was to come. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.Merrell GODZone Alphas

Jumping in head first and tackling big and scary challenges is familiar territory.  There was one catch: GODZone adventure race is a team event and our particular team had never met one another before. To top it off, three of us had no adventure racing experience whatsoever. We all met up a week before we lined up on the starting line. With piles of gear and bikes and boxes and food that all needed to be sorted, filed, and packed. Once done, it was time to pack trail running shoes, outdoor clothing, spare bike parts, paddle equipment, etc. Packing turned out to be almost as time consuming as the event itself!

Off like a shot and into the waves at GODZone

The days leading up to the race start, where I got to meet the rest of my team, shot by in the blink of an eye. The next thing I knew, I stood shoulder to shoulder with the three people I barely knew, whose performance I would have to rely on. The gun goes. We are off on the first event of the race – kayaking. For me this is home territory, but for Tobias this is something he was alien to. We took to the waves and instantly got a face full of salty sea water. I settled into it and relaxed as I guided Tobias around the stunning sea course. With stage one done it was straight into stage two, which is like a town fun run with seals as obstacles around Kaikouras peninsula.


Stage three is where the real race begins - from here on in, nothing would be easy. As daylight faded, our first big route choice arose. With little light left and a decision made we started our bike hike up the hill, which turned to bush, and pushing, pulling, scraping and throwing our bikes, we pushed on for 6 long hours through the night. Finally we made it to gravel tracks, with the epic bike hike behind us we began to roll our bike wheels on smooth gravel, it felt great and I saw smiles on the faces of my teammates.


The Merrell adventure racing team experiences their first casualty of the course and gains a new member

They say highs are followed by lows, and when Catalina fell off her bike, we feared the worst. But a bit beaten and slightly bruised, she picked up her bike and soldiered on. We pushed on into the trek, but it wasn’t long before Catalina admitted that her knee swelling rendered her leg useless over the boulder terrain. We decided to walk 50 minutes back to the transition to get her medical attention.

Worried that this would be the end of all of our races, I was relieved that we were allowed to carry on as a three man team, albeit unranked. Already several hours behind, we pushed into the heat of the morning sun which was already well perched in the clear sky above us. After stopping to pick up some others whose teams had disbanded, we pressed on, stopping only to enjoy the most incredible sunrise the next morning. There would be no more stops until we got over and off Tapuae o Uenuku.

GODZone Merrell Day 2

We rested for a few hours at the transition before hopping back on our bikes for a 160km ride through the Molesworth estate - a welcome respite from being on our feet. This passed in the blink of an eye, and before we knew it, we found ourselves in Hanmer springs in time for a pie and hot chocolate. Re-fuelled and energized for the day ahead, which included another big trekking leg, we bumped into another competitor, Sabrina. She was all alone and her eyes were fluttering – hoping to join our team, but we’re initially reluctant, as the last strangers to join slowed us down a bit. But after meeting her again at the next transition, her persistence and attitude persuaded us and we were back up to four again.

Pushing on through trail running, canoeing, swimming, biking and kayaking

After an amazing ridge run and rock scramble while chasing sunlight with no water, we made it down to the creek to get to the Hurunui and the canoe leg – much to my excitement. But then team leader Graham and I crashed. My mental powers told me I was fine, but my legs thought otherwise. Falling and stumbling into the creek, I lost my cool and screamed profanities into the cool clear sky. Sabrina realized Graham and I were too tired to continue and made us sleep by the side of the river. I didn’t realize it at the time, but she was spot on. Awaking invigorated, we pushed on hard.

GODZone Kayaking Merrell Day 5

The canoe stage arrived, and with it a chance for me to relax and enjoy my favorite sport. With some fun rapids to negotiate, I could let my brain stop working and start enjoying the ride. Just to get to this moment, I’d overcome so much more than I thought I ever could and now I could relax for a while. Why? Because we’d managed to reach the long course cut off, symbolized by a simple bridge that we had to pass by Thursday at 1p.m.

With a camp fire, food and friends, this didn’t seem like a race anymore and we enjoyed a few hours camping before bedding down after a relaxing evening. The next morning, with the smell of salty air, we could tell we were back on the coastline. We all smiled at each other, got our gear sorted and headed off on our bikes. Before we knew it we were at the next trek which proved to be a good one, with orienteering and swimming. It was really becoming a great adventure.

GODZone Kayaking Merrell Day 5

Nighttime had well and truly settled in as we hit the beach, with waves crashing on our right, cliffs to our left and a bright white moon to light the way. It was a perfect and special moment. A fun bike leg later – complete with laughter as all of us, at some point, fell off our bikes in hilarious fashion – we carried on to the kayak. I had often daydreamed of landing on the beach with my kayak and my co-pilot successfully, but instead we were given 5 kilometers to walk to the finish. The safety boats pulled us in to South Bay early and we had to trek the last section around Kaikoura’s stunning peninsula. It was disappointing, but a worthy finish nonetheless.

Reflections upon getting through the GODZone adventure race

Merrell GODZone Final Day

What we’ve achieved still hasn’t quite sunk in, even now. This was the toughest challenge I have ever done: Highs, lows, too hot, too cold, mistakes, success, sleep deprivation and so much more. Thanks, Merrell Team: without you, I would still be up Tappy now.

  • Dan Whitney

    well done team merrell! amazing job….


Ben Gibson

Kayaking, Ultramarathons
Favorite Gear
All Out Rush
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