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400 kilometres the hard way

Segger endures Southern Traverse adventure race with a minimum of sleep It wasn’t until the last day of racing that Whistler’s Jen Segger started to hallucinate, but after covering 400 kilometres by foot, boat and bike in just five days wit

Segger endures Southern Traverse adventure race with a minimum of sleep

It wasn’t until the last day of racing that Whistler’s Jen Segger started to hallucinate, but after covering 400 kilometres by foot, boat and bike in just five days with less than six hours of sleep, it had to happen sooner or later.

Segger recently returned from the Southern Traverse in New Zealand, one of the most challenging and prestigious adventure races in the world.

Although her team lost one of four members on the first day of racing and was relegated to the unranked category, Segger is proud of her performance and hopes to enter more epic races this summer.

"It’s slowly sinking in. It hits me more when people react to it, saying ‘I can’t believe you did a five day race’, and that’s when I start to think, ‘yeah, it is kind of cool," said Segger. "I was just super stoked to be able to go there, and get that experience, it was just unreal.

"I’m just happy that my body held out the way it did and that my knee didn’t play up on me at all.

"I showed myself that I could do it, compete at this level. I held my own, never needed a tow, I carried my own pack. I felt pretty good."

While it’s not uncommon for most of the teams that enter multi-day adventure races to lose members of their team, Northern Pride was in trouble even before the race got underway.

According to Segger, team member and co-captain Adrian Lasall-Lowe came down with Montezuma’s Revenge before the race got underway. Ten other competitors in the race had the same problem.

Although Lasall-Lowe was feeling better by the start of the race, his stomach was upset once again by the time he finished the first 50 km ocean kayak stage. He made it through the second 16 km coasteering section, where competitors donned dry suits and followed a section of rocky coastline by swimming, climbing, and surfing the waves. Segger actually was nipped by a passing seal.

On the third section, a 27 km trek, Lasall-Lowe pulled a tendon in his knee.

"We couldn’t believe this was happening. You know these things can happen, but we didn’t expect it to happen on the first day," said Segger.

"We felt pretty bad for Adrian, who was in a lot of pain, and we waited to see if it would pass, but the painkillers couldn’t do anything for him."

Lasall-Lowe was forced to evacuate that stage by helicopter, which meant that the team could no longer compete for a spot in the competitive rankings and would have to be relegated to a shorter course.

Northern Pride elected to go on as a team of three, and set out on day two with a challenging 50 km mountain bike ride that took them 14 hours to complete.

"There was some tricky navigation in that bike section that slowed us down a bit," said Segger. The section was also in the foothills of a mountain range, with alternating climbs and descents.

Segger felt her weakest skill going into the race was mountain biking, but she had no problems completing the stage. "We had a bike tow system set up on Aaron’s bike, but I didn’t have to use it. I had no problems at all getting through."

The next stage of the race was a 35 km kayak, this time upstream into a lake system. The shoreline of the lakes were overgrown with bushes, and the group went into several channels by mistake until they at last found the narrow channel that would take them to the next checkpoint.

Following the kayak was another 50 km mountain bike stage that was more challenging than the first.

They pulled into the next transfer area at around 11 p.m. at night, and decided to leave immediately on the next kayak section. They left about nine groups behind that were waiting until first light to press on.

Because the map of the lake was made during high water, it was more difficult to navigate the lake than they anticipated. At many stages they had to portage their boats over sandbars that didn’t show up on the map, where they passed other groups that had given up and were waiting for daylight.

Lasall-Lowe, who could still paddle with his injured knee, rejoined the group for that stage of the race.

"One of my low points was that night’s paddling," recalled Segger. "I kept falling asleep in the kayak, dreaming that I was paddling, then I’d wake up again and start paddling. I couldn’t keep my head up."

They found two out of three checkpoints on the lake, and decided to take the penalty at the next transfer point where the team managed to grab an hour of sleep.

The first stage on the fourth day was a short kayak followed by a 12 km trek through the Waipori Forest. After that stage was another short kayak into the wind.

"We had to paddle pretty hard just to make headway, and a section that should have taken use a few minutes took us half an hour of hard paddling," said Segger.

With the finish line getting closer, the group flew through the next 40 km bike section in six hours. During the night their team moved into second place among the unranked teams on the short course.

They took a long break after the bike section to warm up. Segger says she was close to being hypothermic, and needed to get her body temperature back under control before she could go on.

After an hour, Northern Pride were back in their kayaks and heading downstream on a 27 km route to the coast. Segger was once again falling asleep while paddling, but the group managed to pull up to the transfer area at about 4 a.m. on the fifth day.

The last two sections were 20 km on a road bike, followed by another 12 km coasteering section that brought them to the finish line by 7:30 a.m. almost exactly five days after they set out.

"On the beach is where I started to hallucinate a little," said Segger. "At one point I thought I saw these 10-foot people playing with tractors. There was one log there with a sign leaning against it that I thought was a sunbather reading a magazine.

"You know you’re seeing things, and your brain knows it’s making stuff up, but you still can’t help it. My hallucinations kept the rest of the team laughing, so it was probably a good thing.

"When you’re out there, you just talk about anything that jumps into your minds. We didn’t know a lot about each other when we first started out but now we know each other pretty intimately."

Her team, which included Aaron Pitt and Jim Doucette, is planning to enter more races together next summer.

"We just got along really well. There wasn’t any fighting or arguing, everyone had a sense of humour. Even when things were going wrong, we stayed positive. That’s part of what made it such a great experience," said Segger.

While they were racing Segger’s team also participated in a study by Otaga University on the physical and mental effects of adventure racing. Right after they crossed the finish line, they went to a tent to repeat a number of tests that they took before embarking on the race. The study was filmed, and should be broadcast on the Outdoor Life Network or Discover channel in the New Year.

"That was incredibly interesting to me," said Segger. "There were some things going on that you would never have expected.

"One thing that was fascinating was the fact that my body fat content had gone down nine per cent, but my body weight didn’t change at all. That had a lot of people scratching their heads, because that’s a lot of body fat to lose in a short period of time."

A lot of the women participating in the race also experience electrolyte imbalances, resulting in swollen hands, feet and faces.

"The after-party was pretty funny. A lot of the girls were walking around with these big faces and big hands, and everybody was smiling," Segger said.

For next year, Segger is hoping that they can land a corporate sponsor. Businesses back in her hometown of Duncan – Thomas Cooke Travel, Experience Cycling and Harper’s Recycling – helped her out with cash donations for this trip, and a member of her team with connections at Air Canada helped with the cost of the flight.

In addition to looking for sponsors, Segger will continue to train, working on her core strength in the gym and heading to the city once a week to do night training with another group of athletes she races with.

For more information on Northern Pride and the Southern Traverse, visit the official Web site at