Annabel Anderson's career has a long way to go, but she's already cemented herself in the hall-of-fame of adventure sports.
She's been a top-three SUP Awards Paddler of the Year for four years running. She's the seven-time New Zealand SUP Champion. She placed fifth in this year's Red Bull Defiance race–a two-day, eight-discipline, 142km multi-sport adventure race around the hills and water of New Zealand. And as of late, she's threatening the world's top adventure sport athletes for an overall victory in this weekend's Ultimate Mountain Challenge (UMC) at the 2017 GoPro Mountain Games in Vail, Colorado.
"The Ultimate Mountain Challenge is like the Ironman of adventure sports. It may be the craziest thing I've ever signed up for," Anderson said on day one of the Games.
To be clear, this is not your average Mountain Games experience. Where other athletes typically compete in one discipline, Anderson is going for broke in 11 events and four different disciplines in an effort to win the event's overall women's title.
The Ultimate Mountain Challenge is a staple of competition at the Mountain Games with a new format this year. Each registered athlete earns points in their respective event(s) toward the overall title. The events are graded on a point system and given multipliers based on their degree of difficulty. To tally the most points toward the overall Ultimate Mountain Games championship, an athlete must tally finishes in the most difficult events.
Of the 11 events Anderson entered–that's three or four competitions per day for three consecutive days–some of the most rigorous include the Big Mountain Enduro Bike Race, the Apres 5k trail run, the Downriver Kayak and SUP Sprints, the Expert XC Mountain Bike Race (three laps at 7 miles and 2,000ft elevation change per lap) and the always intense SUP Surf Cross race. Three days into the four-day competition, and she's currently winning.
This morning she beat the world's fastest women river paddlers for first-place in the Downriver SUP Sprint. The Kiwi hasn't competed in a whitewater standup paddleboard event since the 2015 Payette River Games.
More difficult than that is managing the logistics of competing in so many events. With minimal support, Anderson is literally sprinting from race to race.
She acts as her own mechanic in the mountain bike divisions. She borrowed a friend's dog to podium in the Rocky Dog 5k Race. She finagled a hard-tail mountain bike for the Enduro race (virtually no one races that event on a hard-tail) and she adopted aerial yoga into her repertoire to limber up and round out her points total.
"It's a total suffer-fest," Anderson said. "Getting comfortable being uncomfortable; that's my motto for 2017."
The strategy is working.
Currently an unsponsored athlete, Anderson has quietly been sweeping podiums at events in 2017. She championed the Graveyard Race at this year's Carolina Cup–the east coast's flagship SUP event–for the fifth consecutive year this April. She took gold at the Olukai Ho'olaule'a the month after. Later in May she won the Devil's Island Challenge–one of the longest open-ocean SUP races in the world–beating out the nearest runner-up (a man) by more than 15 minutes. And now with the GoPro Mountain Games Ultimate Mountain Challenge, she's taking her SUP savvy to a whole new spectrum.
We're calling it early: This SUP woman could win the Ultimate Mountain Challenge. Why? Because she's just that freakishly motivated. And the results she's achieved so far this year in Vail speak for themselves. Anderson's taken top-five in four of the seven events she's competed in at the GoPro Mountain Games thus far. She won first for her age group in two of those events. She took first in the Downriver SUP Sprint having not competed on the river since 2015 and cleaned the Downriver Kayak Sprint having never competed in whitewater kayaking. Tomorrow, she'll take on the remaining lot of four grueling events.
If that doesn't qualify her for the adventure sport's hall-of-fame, maybe you can tell us what will. We'll keep you posted on how it works out.
More Annabel Anderson.