COAST TO COAST
It starts before dawn on a windswept Kumara beach where headlamps pierce the darkness revealing athletes dipping their hands in the west coast water. This is the first step in their 243km journey to the opposite coast. To get there they will have to run 3kms, bike 55kms on a road following the Taramaku River to the foothills of the southern alps, run 33kms up a rocky river bed and through giant boulders and over the stunning Goat pass, kayak 70kms on the tricky Waimakariri River and finally ride another 70km straight shot towards the finish line at New Brighton pier. The start is an understated affair. multi-sport is an understated discipline. These are the type of athletes who speak with actions rather than words. Multi-sporters, even those who don’t know each other well, are a tight knit group. No matter whom you talk to from the elite to the slower elites, everyone mentions the camaraderie and the spirit that an event like the Coast to Coast engenders. The most common theme is the desire to challenge yourself and there is common acknowledgement that helping someone else along the journey just adds to the adventure.
Part of the challenge is overcoming pain. The Coast to Coast is an iconic event with glorious scenery and lifelong boasting rights. As a result, it is not for the faint-hearted. Pain is a given. All coast to coast athletes have their own personal philosophy on pain. Dave Menzies is competing in the two day event for the 5th time as part of his 50th birthday celebrations with half a dozen likeminded mates who collectively agree that their motivation to go fast is to start their celebrations earlier. He is a lifetime adventure seeker and, among the various fascinating things in his past, he was one of the helicopter-pilots first on the scene to the aromoana massacre and was also previously with the Peace Corps in Bosnia.
His take on the suffering experienced in the event is consistent with many of the more experienced multisporters. Firstly he downplays the whole concept of pain, insisting that pushing your body to the limit is fun. When pressed on the topic he reveals some hard-won insights. According to Dave, “until you learn to flick the pain switch off, you’ll struggle. You realize you have to learn strategies to switch off the pain and enjoy it, otherwise it is just suffering.”
mary clark initially came to the coast to coast as support crew when her son was competing. She describes seeing the sun come up over the athletes on race day and being awed by the beautiful scenery and thinking, maybe I could do this. She had never played sport or been particularly active but watching the event inspired her to complete her first Special K triathlon, aged 40. now she competes in the two-day
event in the “Lady Danger” team and encourages everyone to think about having a go. As she says, “pain goes with the territory, but a lot of pain is in your head”.
Sometimes flicking the pain switch off is not such an easy option. This year’s event saw a broken leg, a bike pile up that left several injured and head and body lacerations from trees and rocks. Then there was the lovely sunny weather which brought lots of cramps, a bit of vomiting, some dehydration and plenty of sore bodies.
multi-sport is full of interesting characters and everyone competing in the Coast to Coast has a story. Ian and Cheryl Wardrop, both of Tainui origin, but living in Aus for the past 19 years made their first ever trip to the south island to compete as a team in the gruelling event. Ian, 48, has been dabbling in multi-sport but they thought that it was out of reach for them as a couple until they heard about the opportunity to use a tandem kayak. Cheryl, 45, pulled out a hugely gutsy effort competing just nine weeks after having a hysterectomy (fyi if you are a man, this is major, major surgery, recovery is tough and your hormones go haywire which often men just don’t properly appreciate). Despite Cheryl clearly struggling, they were an inspirational team completing the entire event together while wearing cool maori designs on their cycling gear and smiling through each transition.
David Duff had always wanted to do the event and finally treated himself for his 57th birthday. He had a pile of enthusiastic fluoroclad family supporters waiting at each leg and insisted that “failure is not an option” but unfortunately the river had other ideas and he was defeated by the long kayak leg pulling out late on the second day.
if you need any further inspiration, 77-year-old John Livingstone was the oldest competitor in the pack. He competed (and finished) in the team event with his son (with his grandson as support crew) and was feeling pretty frisky at the start after recently completing a 100km cycle race in the heat in Taupo. The youngest competitor was only 14 years old.
It is easy to see why such a variety
of people are drawn to the race. Part of the attraction of the event is that it is scenic beyond compare. the mountain run in particular is eye-poppingly beautiful. Running or walking through the aptly named giant boulders might hurt but that section is also distractingly lovely. Cresting Goat Pass is like being on top of the world and the boardwalks, constructed to protect the fragile alpine environment, make a lovely running surface (no rocks, boulders or tree roots and downhill!) in a stunning environment.
southern hospitality is also part of the Coast to Coast’s charm. Due to an accommodation snafu, i was homeless. This was sorted with lightning speed by Stef from the Greymouth seaside top 10 Holiday Park who put me up in her absent daughter’s bedroom in her own home. The next morning Stef zipped up and over the 1017m Goat Pass with a smile on her face as part of a team in the mountain run!
the race also has its share of charm and quirks. The first day saw some unexpected hassles with the timing mats because Keas were chewing through the cables. Supporters form strong bonds while waiting to assist their athletes and strong friendships are made on the course.
In terms of the business end of the race, Sam Clark is one to watch. He chewed up and spat out the competition claiming his first win in a fast and furious time of 11 hours, 37 minutes and 7 seconds. This was a full 52 minutes faster than second place getter Bob McLachlan. Bob, from Wanaka, is a self-described “gnarly old veteran”. Aged 42 he wasn’t included in any of the press briefings and his bib number was 29 (indicative of rough seeding). The average age of top half dozen male athletes tipped for success was 24 but in a nice turn up for slightly older athletes, the devilishly handsome Bob smashed out the final 70km kayak and cycle legs to secure his second place.
The women’s race was a tighter affair. elaina ussher, wife of current race director Richard ussher, describes herself as a “40-year-old housewife” and refers to multi-sport as her “little hobby”. She claimed the $10,000 first prize narrowly beating French xterra women’s champ myriam GuillotBoisset who travelled to New Zealand specifically for the Coast to Coast. Both women overcame their race-day demons. Coming from Finland, Elaina has worked hard on her nerves on the water and now feels less like the mountains are falling in on her during the river sections. She struggled badly with cramps throughout the run but paddled strongly and held her nerve to take the lead from behind. Myriam ran and cycled extremely well but was plagued by equipment troubles on the kayak which cost her dearly.
You heard it here first, multi-sport is a growing discipline. It is on the cusp of exploding with more and more young people and school teams participating. The Coast to Coast prides itself on being a bucket list event for active Kiwis and is a destination event for adventurous visitors. It is one of the world’s longest running multi-sport events with more than 18,000 competing in its 32-year history. The event strikes the balance between being accessible with the
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various entry options whilst still remaining a huge challenge. if you want to get amongst it with a group of fascinating likeminded people united by their love of adventure and desire to push their limits, take a look at the website (http://www. coasttocoast.co.nz/), find an option to challenge you and get out there.