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Thunderbolt at Hells Bells


The Thunderbolt Adventure Racing team has been one of the best performing teams over recent years including winning the 2017 Australian A1 Series Championship. Aussie Grit Apparel recently caught up with Thunderbolt’s Hugh Stodart soon after the Hells Bells adventure race held in the Great Sandy National Park (Queensland, AU).

Aussie Grit Apparel (AGA): Hugh tell us a little about the history of the Thunderbolt AR?
Hugh: Myself, Josh (Street), and Bernadette (Dornom) have competed in adventure races as a team together for a few years now, previously under a different name. Leo has been with us for a couple of years now. We’re a bunch of experienced racers who go out to have fun, and hope to get through the races without suffering too much, but that does not happen so much these days (laughs). We had a great year in 2017, winning all of the Australian A1 Series races and also achieving 2nd place in Expedition Africa. 2018 has been more challenging with a second in race 1 our best result so far. We have been let down by our own mistakes and some harsh penalties.

AGA: What’s involved in an adventure race
Hugh: Most of the races we do involving trekking, mountain biking, kayaking and other adventure disciplines. The courses are generally very challenging and are only revealed hours before the start. You must navigate the course unsupported and get to check points. The uncertainty that comes with this is one of the things we love with decisions on route choice and navigation being more important than outright speed. We just finished Hells Bells which is a 24hr, 120+km non-stop adventure race. It was a difficult race in the lead-up and during. Leo couldn’t race due to work commitments; and I did a grade 2 hamstring tear only two weeks before the race with my physio suggesting that racing was a bad idea! It improved over the week before the race so in the end I decided to give it a go (“I can jog for 40 mins so doing a 24hr adventure race should be fine!”). We were lucky to have former Ironman Guy Andrews step in for Leo. Guy had not raced a long AR race for some time but he was fit and his experience would be appreciated.

AGA: What were the race legs at the Hells Bells AR?
Hugh: Hells Bells is one of the country’s longest running 24hr adventure races. It’s a tough event and this year’s course included over 52km of trekking/Rogaine/running (including a swim run), 85kms of mountain biking, and 20kms of kayaking. Some highlights/lowlights included: Bern giving me a tow on the run to compensate for what was an angry hamstring; some navigation confusion on a MTB leg; trying to get all the checkpoints (CP’s) including optional ones on the Rogaine section for the time bonus only to determine later the time bonus to get the all the CP’s was not worth the benefit. While we had a significant problem with the time limit, we chose to complete the course over skipping CPs to (save time) in hindsight this was a big mistake. We arrived 15 mins late at the finish – finishing second only to be relegated 7 places for being 15 minutes late which was disappointing.

AGA: Wow, what a race. What’s so addictive about adventure racing?
Hugh: For us adventure racing is about working as a team to get things done as efficiently as possible, overcoming the adversity that generally comes at least once a race and completing the course. Adventure racers will tell you that the satisfaction of completing races is the addictive thing. For competitive types completing it fast adds more spice to the mix.

AGA: The team race in the Aussie Grit Trail T-Shirt. How has it performed over the long race format along with other items in the flint bike and run range that you train in?
Hugh: The shirts are great. The fabric is super comfortable wet or dry and is cool, but still holds some warmth under a jacket when needed. We are really enjoying using our Aussie Grit gear. I can honestly say that every piece is well designed for what it is meant to do and is comfortable enough for the long haul legs and training sessions. We spent 5 days in the tops non-stop in NZ and did not really feel the need to change them. The Light Gilet is perfect for adventure racing, very effective wind protection, but also super light and packs away to almost nothing. The long sleeve tops have been good.

AGA: What’s next for Thunderbolt AR?
Hugh: We will have the full team back for the last race of the A1 series this year, the Wildside 50hr race in the Myall Lakes region north of Sydney. We are hoping for a trouble free run to lock up second place in the series. Unfortunately first is out of reach for us now. Next year is in the planning as well. Hopefully we can fit in another international race (or maybe 2?).

Pic: Wild&Co

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