He works on his uncle’s 400-cow dairy farm, just south of Rotorua.
Straight Furrow asked Mr Birchall how he juggled farm work and endurance training as he sets his sights on this year’s Southern Traverse.
“It’s hard trying to sort everything out for the Southern Traverse — the big factor is getting sponsorship, because the entry cost alone is $6000.
“I missed out on the event last year as it falls at a bad time through AI and mating. I have done a few other adventure races, including the Coast to Coast for the past five years.
“The top guys put in 30-40 hours of training each week; because of work I’m lucky to put in 12-20.”
The Southern Traverse is a six-day, non-stop adventure race for co-ed teams of four and is a key feature on the international adventure racing calendar.
The course covers more than 400km through some of the South Island’s most spectacular scenery.
Details are not revealed until the eve of the race. It can include mountain biking, mountain trekking, abseiling, kayaking, rafting and orienteering.
This means competitors have to be ready for anything.
“It will be full-on down in the West Coast this year. There is some hard country down there and some big hills to climb.
“The first 36 hours you have to go hard to stay with the front runners and then take quick naps of about 30 minutes if you need to.
“The race is always tough — only 12 out of 30 teams finished last year.”
As a team they carry as little as possible, although they do take race food such as sandwiches, fatty foods, powerbar products and carbo shots.
The constant stress of staying awake for long periods and the prolonged physical exertion starts to play tricks on the minds.
“When you haven’t slept for two days you can start to see things. While doing a race in New Caledonia once I thought I could see a pirate ship.
“No one else can see it, and when you flip out they have to try and calm you down.”
With all the challenges and commitment required for adventure races, you can be forgiven for wondering what drives someone go through it all.
“I like to see how far I can push myself,” Mr Birchall says.
“It will be good to get out of work for a while and go down there. With prize money on offer there is a bit more of an incentive to participate.
“If you have a passion for something go out and do it.”
The winning team will receive $30,000 out of a total prize pool of $40,000, as well as free entry to the 2005 World Adventure Racing Championships.
His main goal is to race overseas — there are around seven really big events worldwide annually.
Mr Birchall is sponsored by Eco-lab and Saucony shoes/race gear. His team is cross-sponsored by Adventure magazine, while Bike Fix Rotorua does all his bike tuning.
This year’s Southern Traverse runs from November 15-20.