COAST TO COAST

Adventure - - Events - Words and images by Ruth Jillings

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

The in­spi­ra­tional

team, ch­eryl and

ian wardrop

part is hos­pi­tal­ity,Grey­mouththe of south­ern­the Sea­sidestef at­trac­tion­from Top

10 put Hol­i­dayme up in Park her who 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!

in terms of the busi­ness end of the race, Sam Clark

was one to watch., aptly wear­ing the num­ber #1. 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.

Elaina year’s win­ner ussher, women’s who this

de­scribes her­self

as a “40-year-old

house­wife” and

refers to multi

sport as her “lit­tle

hobby” nar­rowly

beat French

Xterra women’s

champ Myr­iam >

Guil­lot-Bois­set

who trav­elled

to New Zealand

specif­i­cally for the

Coast to Coast.

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.

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