Heroes & heroines

Adventure Racing Thailand

Local Master’s team Jongsak Kaewin (shown right) and Kriattisak Preamanan have proved hard to beat in the past and so it proved again in the North Face River Kwai Trophy back in February.

Held in and around the famous river (said ’Kway’ not ’Kwai’, everyone was informed), the race attracted nearly 80 teams split into two divisions: Extreme and Adventure. All faced a mix of trail running, biking, kayaking and both a river and a lake swim, but race organiser Serge Henkens was sure of where the biggest challenge lay: the jungle run. “It’s hostile territory there,” he said during the briefing, advising teams to consider wearing gloves against the thorny bamboo.

Race day dawned to reveal a heavy haze hung over the countryside from fires set to clear brush – a common sight this time of year. At least the haze diffused the fierce sun and the faster teams quickly drew the field out in the first, easier, trail run. Kayaking on the Kwai was next, followed by the first biking leg and a swim back in the river. Then teams turned into the bush and began a stiff climb – the jungle run.

The humidity closed around them and the crumbly dry earth made the uphills a constant battle to find traction. Downhill were helter-skelter style, checked only by a grab for the odd bamboo stand. This is where the gloves came in handy for some of the bamboo here was covered in spiny young shoots that easily snared careless hands. Many agreed with Cameron Walker’s comment afterwards: “You can’t call it a run,” he said, “Interesting terrain though.” Other people used stronger adjectives.

There were some who found strength in humour. “We’re giggling too much, I think,” said Jasper Lawrence, at the transition to the second bike leg. Together with teammate Jo Collins they headed off in high spirits – to finish an impressive fourth overall in the Adventure category.

At the finish line, Simon Thomas who took second in the Extreme event behind the powerful Thais Kaewin and Preamanan, told Henkens, “You must have something against the human race.”

Thomas was more impressed with the exploits of Struan Robertson.Robertson had lost the sole of one shoe on the jungle run, while the other had dangled uselessly from the toe only. Coming into the transition back to the bike, he had borrowed a knife and swiftly re-engineered his shoe, hacking one side of the sole and half the heel off and making the outsole into an insole. Within minutes he was on the bike and moving.

Not finishing had never entered his mind: “You don’t DNF unless you break a leg,” he said at the end. It transpired he was speaking from experience. Thomas was awestruck: “What kind of a hero are you,” he said. “They give VCs [Britain’s highest award for gallantry] for less”.

Results

Extreme Overall
1 Jongsak Kaewin, Kriattisak Preamanan 05:44:17 Masters’
2 Simon Thomas, Surachai Keawlone 05:48:52 Men’s
3 Mick Callan, Marty Birkinshaw 05:59:03 Men’s
9 Leah Brownell, Ryan Kirchner 06:25:37 Mixed
29 Kee Leng Tan, Catherine Siew 09:42:11 Women’s

Adventure Overall
1 Brian Van Den Berg, Gordon Montgomery 05:29:37 Men’s
2 Armand Guillemoteau, Clement Pelletier 05:54:19 Men’s
3 Herve Thieblemont, Matthias Huck 06:09:56 Men’s
4 Joanna Collins, Jasper Lawrence 06:12:44 Women’s
12 Struan Robertson, Mark Chewter 06:33:23 Masters’
20 Gordon Preston, Catherine Naylor 07:35:53 Mixed