By Ian Stewart
For Greg and Denise McHale, 2006 was a good year.
After four seasons of competitive adventure racing, the Whitehorse pair is finally finding their way to the podium.
“It’s taken a long time to find the right team,” said Denise McHale over coffee last week at a downtown café.
“You’ve got to have the personalities and the skills.”
“It’s been a progression,” added Greg. “Now, the team has come together, and we’re ranked top five in the world.”
A multi-skill sport like adventure racing draws people from various backgrounds — Denise is a successful marathoner, and Greg has a mountaineering background.
With longtime teammate and navigator Bob Miller, team Supplierpipeline found the missing ingredient in its recipe for success this year with paddler Scott Ford.
“We’ve come together at a similar level,” said Greg.
“We’re all on the same playing field, but everybody brings different assets to the team — it seems to complement each other, everybody has different skills in different disciplines.”
This season, the McHales and team Supplierpipeline (including Torontonians Miller and Ford) finished in the top four in three of their four races.
Although this has been their best season, it got off to a rocky start at the X-Adventure Raid Series race in Boise, Idaho, in June.
“Well, it started out bad,” said Denise with a laugh. A bad pizza the night before put the team off their race from the start.
“The whole team ended up with food poisoning before the race,” said Greg. They soldiered on, finishing in the middle of the pack — the worst finish of their adventure-racing career.
They regrouped for the premier event of the season, the Primal Quest in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“It was a bit sketchy, only two weeks after the food poisoning incident,” said Denise. “I thought, ‘Are we ready for an 800-kilometre race?’”
They were more than ready, finishing fourth overall in a field of 100 teams from 19 countries.
“We had a good race — after six-and-a-half days we were two minutes behind third place, and it was a fight to the end,” she added.
With their best finish in an expedition-length race under their belt, team Supplierpipeline headed to Mexico for two races with a newfound determination.
“For the first time, we got a result that we knew we could achieve,” said Greg.
“We knew we could be one of the best teams in the world, and it came together with the Primal Quest.”
“It all builds on itself; now we have the confidence to go to any race and say: ‘I can win this, I don’t care who we’re racing against, whether it’s Team Nike or the Finns or the Swedes or whatever.’”
In the first Mexican race of the season, the Extreme Adventure Hidalgo in October, the McHales passed another milestone while racing to a second-place finish.
“We beat Nike for the first time ever, which was a long-term goal,” said Denise. “They’ve dominated the sport since … the beginning really, more than 10 years.”
The hot streak continued into the last race of the season, the Nouveau Leon Outdoor Challenge, in Monterrey, Mexico, at the end of November.
There, they posted a third-place finish.
With the team in place and barring any more freak food disasters, next season looks promising for even better results.
“When we started racing, we were in the middle group; we’ve finally made the jump to the top level,” said Denise. “It’s experience, you just have to put your time in.”
“We’re certainly fitter than we were a few years ago, and our skills are more rounded than they were,” added Greg.
The Primal Quest is the top priority for next season, and they hope to compete in more races next year if they can.
“I think a six-race season would be ideal,” said Greg. “Three expedition length races would be good, too.”
Travel and seeing new places are big parts of the appeal for them as well.
“It’s great to race somewhere new; it would be great if they announced the Primal Quest in Argentina, we’ve been wanting to get down there.”
Closer to home, the McHales are planning the second Yukon Adventure Challenge, after the success of the inaugural event in the spring.
“It’s definitely going to happen,” said Greg, adding that they will announce a date by the end of January, when they have their own competitive schedule mapped out.
The course is already set, but Greg isn’t giving up any details, except to say, with a grin, “it’ll be a lot tougher than last year.”