Racer to Organizer

April 04 — 2019 | New Zealand

Planning the NZ Enduro

Words by: Anka Martin
Images by: Sven Martin


Event organiser, what!? Nah, not really my cup of tea, thanks. I’ve spent far too many years at mountain bike races racing, so putting on events was the last thing I wanted to do once I stopped racing. Anyhow, stranger things have happened and Sven and I have just wrapped up the third NZ Enduro race here in New Zealand (which is in its 5th year).

How did this happen then? I guess once a racer always a racer, but this time from the other side. We wanted to offer racers a professional event in a fun, laid back, beautiful backcountry, but totally stress-free environment. We wanted to take the seriousness out of racing, but on a very well organised platform where it’s all about the racers, the locals and the amateurs. Of course, we welcome all the pro’s and all the visitors, but we try to remain true to the locals, supporting local all the way from start to finish in all aspects of our event.

We put a lot of thought into everything. Our trophies are NZ Greenstone (Poenamu) pendants to remind the racers to feel connected to the land, along with Silky saws to help them do trail maintenance on their home trails. Over the past three years, whenever we get more support or more sponsors on board, we literally put everything back into the overall experience of the riders. More food, beers, snacks, better prizes, bigger raffles, etc, while sticking to a very affordable entry fee. That’s what it’s all about for us, it’s definitely not to make money. This is a passion project for us.

I never imagined organising an event would take up so much time though, or be such a stressful affair. It seemed like a great idea at the time, to put together a three day event during our “off season” back home in NZ. It’ll be easy as. I mean how hard can it be, right? It all started off with a bet from a friend claiming that we’d never get access from the Department of Conservation to be allowed to run a MTB race on these specific, sacred, dual use trails in the Marlborough Region. Ian Goldschmidt always likes a good challenge and so he went ahead and got the concession. 

It’s amazing how much time you have when you don’t have to train for racing.

At that stage, Sven and I were too busy racing and working to even consider taking on an event, so Ian went ahead and started the NZ Enduro race and ran the first edition in 2015. He ran it for two years before Sven and I bought it from him and put on our first edition in March of 2017. That was when I stopped racing the Enduro World Series, which freed up quite a bit of time on my side. It’s amazing how much time you have when you don’t have to train for racing. What I didn’t know was that running and owning a race would make for very fit fingers from spending way too much time on the computer and in front of spreadsheets and pretty much zero time on the bike. It was a shock to the system and we realised then that we’ve just sacrificed our precious downtime and summer at home.

The times you do get out on the trails are spent doing trail work, clearing foliage, putting up event notification signs, spotting hazards, marking tracks or riding with rakes strapped to your bike. When you’re not on your bike, you’re busy with never-ending paperwork and documentation, filing for special permissions from DOC to use certain trails, meetings with DOC to discuss your race, traffic management plans, race entries, race transfers, safety plans, websites, social media, environmental impact plans, insurance plans, waivers, back up plans B, C and D and then organising everything from the food with caterers, drinks, course tape, prizes, pegs, maps, easy ups, to the toilet paper, hand sanitiser, bug spray and sunblock. 

I always have a giggle when I reply to e-mails signing off with “Cheers from the NZ Enduro Team”, but there is no team other than the two of us. We do absolutely everything ourselves.

These are just the obvious things, then there are the things that nobody sees like our very detailed medical plans with extraction points, the boats and helicopters on standby for evacuations, the four top ER doctors that float through the race amongst the riders, all the comms, we have 20 radios and 3 sat phones on course every day for rider safety and of course all the shit that hits the fan - literally! Like when you transport the porta loo’s and the trailer wheel comes off on the freeway to leave shit splattered everywhere. Every single little detail is discussed and planned by Sven and myself. I always have a giggle when I reply to e-mails signing off with “Cheers from the NZ Enduro Team”, but there is no team other than the two of us. We do absolutely everything ourselves. Of course we have an amazing volunteer team of about 20, a media team of about eight and most of them have been with us for all three editions now, so everyone knows exactly what to do, and we couldn’t put on an event without this vital group of amazing individuals that help us during these three days of the event. The rest is up to us to get done, and it literally takes up our entire summer. Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way, it’s our own fault, we are both slightly obsessed with detail and both of us being perfectionists, we’re never happy until everything is perfect and exactly how we envisioned it. If we could organise the weather and the sunshine, we’d be over the moon.

Three years down the line, it has become slightly easier to get everything organised, but it never seems to get easier in terms of getting things done earlier, or getting sponsorship from companies and then, of course, the ever-changing New Zealand weather that we get in the summer that leads to many sleepless nights and way too many backup plans to keep track of. When it’s dry, these trails are technical but amazing.

Luckily most mountain bikers and Kiwi’s are pretty darn tough and they weren’t going to let a mini cyclone ruin their weekend.

When it’s wet, it’s pretty much survival and the old skoot technique comes out in full force. During our first year in 2017, we had torrential downpours which led to us having to cancel day 3 due to the weather making it impossible for us to evacuate any injured riders by helicopter. In 2018 we got lucky with the most stunning weather, making the weekend seem easy and smooth. Day 3 was all go with the helicopter shuttles and the racers were all smiles. During times like these you forget about all the hours you’ve spent in front of the computer, and all the work you’ve done to get things running smoothly - it almost seems easy.

This year we were dealing with a drought and no access to any forests for biking or any activity, at one stage we were expecting to have to cancel the whole weekend due to the fire restrictions with all other earlier MTB events having been cancelled already. We had additional fire plans in place, event cancellation insurance, back up plans galore, you name it. It hadn't rained since Christmas day and this was so unlike New Zealand where we’re used to getting rain at least once or twice a week - I mean, that’s why it’s so green, and deep down, I knew this wasn’t going to last. It had to break at some stage and Murphy’s law is a bitch. We were going to get rain, and it was going to be huge. I’m not talking misty, moody, drizzly rain, I mean buckets of torrential rain causing everything to flood and easy ups to collapse under the water heavy-kind-of-rain. What is it with bloody Murphy and bike races huh? Anyhow, what can you do? Luckily most mountain bikers and Kiwi’s are pretty darn tough and they weren’t going to let a mini cyclone ruin their weekend.

As event organisers it turns the stress levels up to 11 and everything becomes harder. Our worries skyrocket, but you just have to adapt, adjust and keep things as smooth as possible without the riders and volunteers picking up on the stresses. Keeping the spirits high is priority number one. Keeping our volunteers warm and happy is key and then the safety of the racers is vital. Back up plans come into place, and you try to just deal with one obstacle at a time. To us, it’s just a bit sad, as the weather definitely robs you of the atmosphere that you’re trying to create, especially on Day 1 when we start at the beach. If you can’t have sunshine and swims, then at least we had coffee and delicious food to cheer everyone up with. Wet races only add to longer days trying to pack up, getting dry and clean for the following day. Again, we had to get creative with our Day 3 as we were welcomed to really low lying clouds in the morning which is not ideal for flying, but the silver lining was that it wasn’t raining. Hallelujah! Of course, you can’t help but feel a bit disappointed, but hey, we had an amazing backup plan and you just have to make the absolute best with what you’ve got. Everyone needed this. The riders were stoked not to navigate steep, slippery roots in the pouring rain, we were relieved and the good vibes were high.

As soon as you feel you’ve got the hang of things, something else will pop up, so you’ll never stop learning, improving and improvising. Kind of like racing, just from a different angle, with different obstacles to overcome, but creating that same kind of adrenaline rush within, with the same amount of high’s and low’s to deal with. That drug that keeps you going back for more, only selectively remembering the high’s.

I always thought racing was hard, but man, in hindsight, it’s pretty simple.

Two weeks ago I was questioning why on earth we were doing this, but time is an amazing tool, as you forget about the mud, and the mess is all cleaned up, you start thinking about the next event and how you can improve on and offer the riders an even better experience. It’s going to be a sunny one next year right? Easy as. I always thought racing was hard, but man, in hindsight, it’s pretty simple. You just have to train, get fit, ride your bike and show up to like right or so races a year and then you’re either going to do well or not, and then move on to the next event and try again. Ride, race, ride, race, and you just have to worry about yourself and not 200 people relying on your logistics and planning.

The stress of being an event organiser is unreal, but also really rewarding to give back to racers, to create an adventure for them, not just another race, it’s more like a festival vibe for them to enjoy while showcasing the beautiful trails that we fell in love with when moving to New Zealand. To see those massive smiles, countless high five’s and buzzing energy at the finish line of the race is something pretty special. When I hand over their finishers patches to them, I feel really bloody proud of what Sven and I have put together and I feel that same sense of relief that the riders are feeling - we survived another NZ Enduro. That sense of pride keeps repeating itself every time we see someone wearing our event T’s, we kind of feel like proud parents.

Hopefully, we can add a few more days to the race while providing a full-service camp village vibe, feeding and moving everyone around for a full Trans- like experience. We better get planning then, but first, some bike time!

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