Introducing our GODZone alphas
Earlier this week, we told you about our Merrell Alpha Pack adventurers jetting off to New Zealand to take part in the GODZone adventure. This grueling 300-mile-plus, multi-discipline race takes in the mountainous Kaikoura region of New Zealand's southern island.
Athletes are told the exact route hours before the beginning of the race, and then have to navigate their route which takes in trekking, mountain biking, kayaking, canoeing, fixed ropes and a host of other optional disciplines. The eventual winners are expected to finish the adventure in three to four days, but competitors are given up to seven days to make it, giving them plenty of time to take in the region's stunning scenery and explore.
It's up to each mixed gender team of four to decide the route to take, when to rest and when to power on through. So who's representing Team Merrell at GODZone? Let's meet the Alphas flying the Merrell Flag in the South Pacific.
Graham Bird - Experienced Adventure Runner
Graham is our team captain and our only experienced adventure racer. He's been involved in top-level sport since the age of 15, representing South Africa in marathon canoeing, taking part in adventure races and MTB races and successfully organizing a series of trail running races.
"I took up adventure racing in 2004. Having competed at the top level in canoeing since 1986, I was looking for a new challenge. I had already started MTB and doing some running the in the early 2000s, and wanted to try in one day. I did my first 30km event in March 2004 and instantly loved the sport.
I love the sense of accomplishment I feel on completing challenges like this, knowing that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. It helps that I love being outdoors, away from the maddening crowds.
The big challenge is going to be exploring new territories, and competing with three people I don't know yet. So it will be a challenge to develop the dynamic needed to get us through the adventure. My expectations are that it will be a tough event, but extremely rewarding and satisfying once completed."
Ben Gibson - Expert Kayaker and Local
Our native New Zealander was a competitive slalom kayaker and enjoys sea kayaking around the New Zealand coast. He's also a trail runner, a trained climber and keen mountain biker who is currently in training for this year's New Zealand Coast-to-Coast run, bike and kayak race.
"I have a huge craving for adventure so I'm always finding myself in new places and meeting new people. This time around I'm adventure racing! I'm excited by the challenge, the people and of course the adventure! I'm driven by breaking down barriers in my mind: pushing myself to new limits and achieving goals that at some stage I thought were impossible.
The most terrifying thing I've ever done? I once watched a huge icefall collapse down a mountain gully, stood all of 50m away from the avalanche. Naturally, I filmed it all!
My strengths are my kayaking ability and my mental toughness. I'm also positive and can cheer even the darkest moods up! A weakness? Not being able to give up until I cant go on anymore.
I'm sure this will give me a story to remember, and one to tell for the rest of my life, and I hope to make three new friends to enjoy all the highs and lows of GODZone with. The event is perfectly timed for me, having just completed the grueling coast-to-coast longest day event. Having recovered, I'm now itching to get back out there and have FUN!"
Tobias Mews - All Round Endurance Athlete
The Pack's consulting editor is a former British Army captain and is now one of the UK's leading adventure journalists. He writes for The Telegraph, Men's Health and Runner's World about topics ranging from zombie fun runs to jungle ultramarathons.
"This is my first visit to New Zealand, so I'm pretty excited. I haven't done too much adventure racing as such, but I've done a few one day events (Hagalofs Open 5, Trail Plus, Rat Race, and so on) and a couple of Original Mountain Marathons. I love the concept of adventure racing though: being able to explore a country off the beaten track with a map and getting out of your comfort zone - that's exciting!
I'm a bit worried about the mountain bike leg - I know I'm fit enough, but I've not done much biking recently. Kayaking will also be a challenge - I'm not a big kayaker, although I did do the Devizes to Westminster in the UK. It's a relief to know there are two people on the team who know how to kayak!
In terms of strengths and weaknesses, my endurance is definitely my strong-suit. I can keep going for weeks on end! I'm pretty fast on most forms of transport, and keep a positive attitude. Navigation is definitely a weakness, but I'm more out of practice than anything else. I also have a slight fear of heights, which is ironic considering what I do for a living!
The most terrifying thing I've ever done? Bungee jumping off the world's highest bridge - 216m! Jumping off the car ferry at the start of the Norseman was equally scary.
It's a long race, so I imagine we might get short with each other sometimes - tired and grumpy inevitably makes people become short-tempered!"
Catalina Gerstle - First Timer Adventure Runner
One of our Chilean Alphas, Catalina is a Product Manager for Merrell Chile and a keen sportswoman. A talented triathlete, accomplished runner and competitive hockey player, Catalina is the youngest and least experienced member of our GODZone squad.
"I've always wanted to run adventure races, but this is my first time! I've always been an athlete, but working for Merrell in Chile has brought me to the world of adventure and the outdoors. GODZone appeals to me because it's unique and it'll really challenge my limits. The experience of living as a team, the landscapes, the adrenaline and the excitement - I can't wait!
I think my main qualities are my determination and my mental strength. I persevere, offer leadership and positivity. If I had to pick a weakness, it could be my physical capacity, and worrying too much about what others expect from me!
I expect the trip to be a truly memorable experience! I think team spirit and the role of each team member is vital to pull us through. It's the biggest challenge of my life, but I'm happy, motivated and willing to do my best at all times - exploring and challenging my limits!"
We'll be checking in regularly with our Alphas in New Zealand, so keep an eye on The Pack for more updates soon.