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Fearless: Countdown to the Uncle Russ Coffee Adventure Challenge (Team FEAR)

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As kids across DB count down to the Uncle Russ Coffee Adventure Challenge on November 25, Samantha Wong asks four local athletes just how fit the young competitors need to be to cross the finish line in one piece.

The Uncle Russ Coffee Adventure Challenge, run by Team FEAR, started out as plain old Team FEAR back in 2001 and the original name has stuck. Held annually, the event sees kids, aged eight to 18, race around Discovery Bay’s trails and coastline. The name fits because Team FEAR is well… a team challenge, but also because what the kids are asked to do strikes fear into most parents and all but the very bravest competitors. Team FEAR is an adventure race, designed by adventure racers. It’s not child’s play.

Team FEAR comprises three courses of varying length and difficulty – one each for the juniors (under 9, 10 and 11 categories), intermediates (under 12 and 13) and seniors (under 14, 16 and 19). Juniors compete in teams of three, intermediates and seniors in teams of two. Juniors are looking at completing a gruelling 10-kilometre course, while the senior course, at 15 kilometres, is the most demanding.

A multi-sport adventure

Course design varies from year to year but in previous years all participants have had to mountain bike, swim, trail/ road run, coasteer and clamber through an assault course. In addition, both intermediates and seniors have been asked to complete a kayak leg, with seniors also tasked with abseiling and, though this was not compulsory, jumping off a boat or pier into the sea.

As with all adventure races, participants are not allowed to see the course beforehand but the route is well marked, and there are over 300 marshals along the way to provide guidance and back-up. The first competitors usually cross the finish line in two hours, and all competitors are expected to finish within four hours.

How many 18-year olds – never mind eight-year olds – have the skill set and stamina to mountain bike, swim, coasteer, run and complete an obstacle course in just two hours? How many would even want to enter such a challenging multi-sport event? The short answer, at least in our neck of the woods, is over 900. That’s the number of students competing in Team FEAR on November 25, with a great many more on standby, waiting in the wings to see if any of the registered teams drop out due to injury or… fear.

Open-water challenge

Needless to say, competitors take the race very seriously, and they train extremely hard in the lead-up. The kayak section of the course is one of the most gruelling, since it tends to be one of the last legs that weary competitors are asked to complete, added to which not all of the kids have kayaked before.

“The kayak section is a real test of patience and teamwork,” opens Anthony Said of the Lantau Boat Club (LBC) Paddle Section, who has been marshalling the kayak leg of Team FEAR for the past two years. “My advice is for teammates

to try and get in any sort of kayak ahead of the event to practise but, if this isn’t possible, they should try to relax and listen to the tips that the LBC marshals will be offering from their positions on the beach and in the water.”

Rather surprisingly, endurance coach Olivier Baillet of Beyond the Line advises competitors not to train too much. “A big part of Team FEAR, as with any multisport race, is the surprise effect. Training too much would spoil the fun,” he says. That said, kids should have a few practice swims in the sea with their clothes on before race day. As Olivier says, “It’s a very different feeling from swimming in a pool in your bathing suit.”

Olivier also advises competitors to get into the water (from the beach or from their kayaks) slowly – walk don’t run. “While both the air and the water will be warm, there might be some temperature difference, and the body might be in a bit of a shock for a few seconds if suddenly immersed in water,” he says. “To minimise that risk, kids need to spray their faces and bodies with water before swimming.”

Hitting the trails

The bike leg of Tear FEAR is another tough cookie to crack, particularly because of the hills. “Riding to and from school whenever possible will help young muscles adapt, as there are usually one or two hills on route,” says Daniel Mullin of the Lantau Buffalos, who has been training his son’s team since 2016. “The kids can also familiarise themselves with each other’s strengths and weaknesses through some fun, relaxed rides around DB.

“The kids need to remember that the team is only as strong as the slowest person – they must finish together, so they have to find out who needs encouragement during the race and keep them thinking positive,” Dan adds. “Leaving someone way behind on a hill can destroy confidence.”

Zoning in on the cyclists’ safety, Tony Pringle of Bike Energy Lab, who has been involved in the Team FEAR bike check (held the day prior to the race) and as a marshal since 2009, says: “It is absolutely critical that parents ensure that their kids’ bikes are in safe working order. It is vitally important that brakes work and can stop the bike, that the derailleurs (gearing, if installed) don’t make the chain jump off, and that there are no other safety shortcomings, for instance loose bottle cages or chain guards.

“The kids can bring their bikes to businesses like mine to be checked,” Tony adds. “Alternatively, checking a bike at home can be made into a fun and educational family activity. There are plenty of YouTube videos that can be used as reference on how to do this.”

For Stefano Passarello of Kapuhala Train-in-Space, who regularly finishes first for Hong Kong in the Hong Kong Marathon, success in the running section of Team FEAR is almost totally dependent on regular training. “If you want to excel in sport, sport should be in your daily routine, just like brushing your teeth,” he says. Stefano also places an emphasis on diet, suggesting competitors look to nuts, healthy shakes, fruit and vegetables in order to fuel up on race day.

As for staying the course and keeping motivated, Stefano suggests kids focus on the way Team FEAR enables them to give to charity, specifically to Youth Outreach, which supports homeless and disadvantaged young people in Hong Kong. “Athletes are machines that generate power,” he says. “They can turn every bead of sweat into something good for society.”


CYCLE: “It’s not a team time trial at the Tour de France, seconds rarely count, but it’s free speed downhill and this can help those at the back group up to the leader. Riders can quickly close a gap of 5 to 10 metres, and maybe even pass the person in front of them, while using up less energy.” Daniel Mullin of the Lantau Buffalos.

RUN: “The race is run every day when you train. If the kids hit their groove every day they will just rock it.” Stefano Passarello of Kapuhala Train-in-Space.

SWIM: “Freestyle is the fastest, most ef cient stroke. The only drawback is that the kids won’t really see where they’re going, unless they sight every 10 to 12 strokes and check that they’re going in the right direction. It’s pointless to be a fast swimmer if you swim double the distance.” Olivier Baillet of Beyond the Line.

KAYAK: “The kayaks used in Team FEAR are in atable and they can be quite hard for the kids to manage. The key to going in a straight line is for teams to ensure that their paddles are entering the water at the same time, and they need to tap the water gently with the paddle. The tendency is to get frustrated and really dig the paddle in hard but all this does is make the boat turn.” Anthony Said of the Lantau Boat Club Paddle Section.

Beyond the line Facebook page

• Bike Energy Lab, www.bike-energy-lab.com

• Kapuhala Train-in-Space, www.kapuhalaspace.com

• Lantau Boat Club Paddle Section, LBC Facebook page

• Lantau Buffalos, www.lantaubuffalos.org

• Uncle Russ Coffee Adventure Challenge, www.team-fear.com

Photos by Team FEAR’s official photographers for 2017, courtesy of James Branch

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