Six stages. 252km. Mountains, rivers, valleys. Fierce winds, hot temperatures and biting cold. It's the RacingThePlanet Ultramarathon, currently taking place somewhere between Wanaka and Queenstown.
And down there, tired, probably filthy, possibly smelly and stumbling along on their fifth day on their feet is Team Search and Rescue, consisting of Taupō volcanologist Nico Fournier, National Park police officer Conrad Smith and Taranaki DoC worker Marie Manley. The fourth team member, Sarah Sharp, is not with the rest of the team out in the wild but has been helping manage preparation and logistics.
The race began last Sunday, March 3 in Wanaka and finishes on Saturday near Queenstown. Some 180 competitors have signed up, although 13 pulled out after just the first day, finding the going tougher than expected.
Conrad says the three members of Team Search and Rescue represent the different strands of search and rescue. He works for NZ Police, who are usually the co-ordinating authority behind missions, Nico is a Ruapehu Alpine Rescue Organisation (RARO) volunteer and Marie is a wife of a Land Search and Rescue member, representing the spouses and partners who support Land SAR members.
While many of the competitors in the hard-as-nails ultramarathon adventure race challenge RacingThePlanet are there to challenge themselves physically and mentally, Team Search and Rescue is there to raise funds and awareness of the important work that Search and Rescue does.
Money will be divided between RARO and Taranaki Land SAR. In RARO's case, it would be used to fit out an equipment storage area in National Park, and in Taranaki the money will be used to upgrade communication gear.
Speaking last week while still in Wanaka doing pre-race preparation, Nico says the team came to the challenge relatively late, only about three months ago.
The team members are not unused to racing in the outdoors, even if a seven-day multi-stage endurance race is something new all together. Conrad is an experienced hunter and mountain tramper, Marie is a runner and does events such as ultra marathons, Nico enjoys mountain running and volunteers for events such as round the mountain and Ring of Fire.
RacingThePlanet Ultramarathon covers six stages, which most days consists of 40-plus kilometres of running or walking, plus a two-day stage known as The Long March which is more than 80km long. The early stages saw teams slog their way up Mt Pisa and over the Pisa range, cross the Kawerau River, head to the gold-mining area of Bannockburn and pass the Cardrona Valley Snow Farm.
Each person must carry everything they need with a long list of mandatory gear, plus enough food to see them through the seven days of racing.
Nico said race organisers had kindly agreed to waive the race entrance fee of around $4000 per person which was "quite amazing" and Radix Nutrition was donating all the food, but the team members still had to fund their travel to and from Wanaka and their own gear.
The team is relatively new to adventure racing and to each other and had just one training session together, volunteering as tail end charlies at the Rotorua Tarawera ultramarathon.
Nico said a week together 24/7 would be a test of team dynamics but things had gone well so far.
"We're underdogs in many ways, we're not going to win but to make it. We've got really good team support and a good sense of humour around the team.
"The overall plan is we'll take it as it comes but there's quite a lot of elevation gain over the 252km, we've got about 8800m elevation gain so a lot of the uphills we'll be walking them and running more on the flats and downhills but it will depend on the terrain."
Nico said a week of nothing but racing, eating and sleeping would mean the team would be hot, tired, sweaty and not smelling good and he anticipated that when they finished they would be longing for a hot shower, a hot meal and some fresh vegetables or fruit.
While Conrad said two days before the race that he was "nervous and freaking out", Nico said he didn't have nerves — yet.
"We are really super-excited and the key thing we're trying to do now is get as many people to go to our Givealittle page. We haven't set a target for the fundraising but we are hoping to raise as much as possible. [This] won't be the end of it and we'll be thinking of other stuff we can do."
To support team Search and Rescue, visit their Facebook page Team Search and Rescue — Racing the Planet NZ 2019, or donate on givealittle here.