THE LONG­EST DAY

On any other day, a 4am wake-up call has me hat­ing the noise which has rudely awak­ened me, my body acutely aware that it still has a few more hours left be­fore the light be­gins to shine on a new day. But not this day. I’ve been wait­ing six months for this

Say Yes To Adventure - - Fea­tures - H ol­lieWood­house

I GLANCE AROUND and glimpse the faces of com­peti­tors re­vealed by the spot­light, aware that I am sur­rounded by the best of the best, not just in New Zealand, but the world. My stom­ach does a flip; the but­ter­flies in­crease ten­fold. Af­ter a sum­mer that couldn't have been worse weather-wise, the gods are smil­ing down on us and have de­liv­ered what could be one of the best morn­ings ever known to Ku­mara Beach on New Zealand's West Coast. The sea is dead calm, per­fectly lit by the full moon sit­ting low in the sky. I touch the wa­ter; a rit­ual well-known to all who com­pete in this iconic event. The su­per­storm that rolled through a few weeks ear­lier has changed the land­scape sig­nif­i­cantly, re­sult­ing in a cliff and river now be­tween the 4WD track and the sea. De­cid­ing that wet feet this early on is not the best idea, I opt for the new river to wet my fin­gers. I am more than OK with this.

Ahead of me, I have a mam­moth task; three kilo­me­tres of road run­ning, 55 kilo­me­tres of road bik­ing, 33 kilo­me­tres of moun­tain run­ning, 15 kilo­me­tres of road bik­ing, one kilo­me­tre of gravel road run­ning, 67 kilo­me­tres of kayak­ing, and fi­nally to fin­ish, 70 kilo­me­tres of road bik­ing; from one side of New Zealand to the other, a to­tal of 243 kilo­me­tres in one day. I know I can do it; this race is as much, if not more, men­tal than it is phys­i­cal. Just how the day will un­fold, though, is the rea­son for my nerves, the end­less thoughts and the un­easy feel­ing that sits low in my stom­ach; a con­stant re­minder of what I have vol­un­tar­ily signed up for.

I hug Grant and Scott who are stand­ing be­side me and wish them all the best. “See you at New Brighton,” we all say. Two of my best friends and train­ing bud­dies, they have pushed me in ev­ery aspect in the lead-up to this race, will­ing me to keep up with their longer legs and light­ning pace, al­ways wait­ing for me when I've been out of sight for a tad too long. Their smiles say it all; we are ready.

In a flash, I'm breath­ing hard, suck­ing in the cold morn­ing air and wait­ing for the lac­tic acid burn to reach my

legs, but it doesn't ap­pear. I push harder, man­ag­ing to over­take a few, a few over­tak­ing me. Find­ing a steady rhythm, I glance down at my watch and no­tice I'm run­ning just over a four-kilo­me­tre pace. A smile spreads across my face, and a lump ap­pears in my throat. I quickly snap my­self out of it, it's far too early in the day to get emo­tional. So far, so good.

Flood­lights shine on the bikes racked in num­bered or­der as com­peti­tors race to find their own, with most swap­ping their run­ning shoes for road bike shoes as quickly as pos­si­ble be­fore get­ting back on the tar seal and start­ing the first bike leg of the day. I crank the big gear and start to wind up the legs (the ‘mon­grel gear' as I later hear it be­ing re­ferred to), catch­ing the two girls ahead of me. Af­ter re­gain­ing my breath, I share some friendly “hello's” while we work to­gether to catch the group ahead, and it's not long un­til we are caught by a group be­hind. Set­tling into a rhythm, our pack, mi­nus one whose chain came off, end up rid­ing the whole way to­gether to Tran­si­tion One (TA1). As night slowly gives way to the day, we find our­selves sur­rounded by the low morn­ing mist and some breath­tak­ing scenery. A truly mag­i­cal morn­ing on the bike, I couldn't be hap­pier as we cruise along at an av­er­age speed of 30 kilo­me­tres an hour. Care­fully cross­ing the train lines, I pull ahead know­ing I have only a few kilo­me­tres left be­fore the end of the bike stage. With at least 20 in my bunch, I don't want to get caught up amongst ev­ery­one get­ting off their bikes. I rack my bike (just, it's a lit­tle too small to touch the ground!) and wake up the legs as my eyes search for a fa­mil­iar face in the crowd. With re­lief, I quickly spot Scot­tie, one of my sup­port crew su­per­stars, stand­ing half way down the chute wav­ing at me. Like clock­work, the shoes, hel­met and bib come off, re­placed by sneak­ers, pack and the bib back over the top.

I'm buzzing; a crash, punc­ture or even just not be­ing part of a bunch were my big­gest fears. Men­tally, if I can be in a good space right from the start, then chances are I'm in for a good day. Juj ( Juliet) hands me my vi­sor, and I can hear Mum and Dad cheer­ing me on. I flash them all a smile, adding,

“See you at Klondyke,” be­fore run­ning off through the gate and along the pad­dock to­wards the first river cross­ing. Did that just hap­pen? My two main sup­port crew mem­bers, Scot­tie Scott and Juj Scott (yes, sis­ters) have never helped crew at any event be­fore, let alone the Coast to Coast One Day.

I'd printed out a sched­ule on how I imag­ined the day would un­fold; what food when, the or­der of the gear to put on and off, and com­pul­sory gear that needed to be scru­ti­neered, etc. I told them to watch how other com­peti­tors ahead of me did it, al­though the speed that the top guys and girls go through, where ev­ery sec­ond counts, is some­thing else. By com­par­i­son, I was hav­ing a cup of tea and bis­cuits! One tran­si­tion down and they'd nailed it. Not that I ever doubted them, but they did tell me af­ter­wards that they felt so much bet­ter af­ter the first tran­si­tion was over and ev­ery­thing had gone to plan. The rivers are run­ning at a rea­son­able flow, which to most is OK but to me

means I have to pick my lines care­fully. I stum­ble down the bank to the first cross­ing, just be­hind a group of guys mak­ing their way slowly to the other side. They are head­ing straight across, but I can see the tape on the other side is slightly down­stream, so rip, shit and bust I hit the flow and charge on through. Within sec­onds it is tits up. I lose my foot­ing and in­stantly find my­self sub­merged, neck-deep in the river. Reach­ing out I man­age to grab hold of a rock with both hands and pull my­self back up, steady­ing my foot­ing and mak­ing my way out of the main flow. “Re­fresh­ing dip?” comes a com­ment from one of the race of­fi­cials. I smile and nod, I am now in front of the three guys and ready for my favourite part of the race.

The run up Goats Pass goes by in a blur. The track, now no­tice­ably dif­fer­ent af­ter the re­cent su­per­storm, is well marked and easy to fol­low. The long flat stretches slowly change into rocks, which then turn into boul­ders. A cou­ple of times I feel my­self fall­ing flat, in­stantly recog­nis­ing the signs as not tak­ing enough fuel on board. Reach­ing into my pock­ets, I pull out some wet scrog­gin (trail mix) and Frooze Balls – ideal en­ergy food to eat on the run and which can eas­ily sur­vive many river dunk­ings.

One of the great things about ad­ven­ture rac­ing is the peo­ple you meet. Near­ing the top, a guy catches up to me who I have spent al­most six months kayak­ing with on Tues­day morn­ings, but have never said more than a “hello” to. We chat away, shar­ing our thoughts on the day and how we are both feel­ing at that cur­rent stage. It's not al­ways about rac­ing hard and bust­ing your gut, but be­ing able to en­joy the un­ex­pected mo­ments that come with com­pet­ing in th­ese types of events.

Reach­ing the hut, we come across the com­pul­sory gear check. This year we have to show our ther­mal top and bot­toms, woollen gloves and wa­ter­proof jacket. There are plenty of mar­shals around to help, off comes the bib, fol­lowed by the pack and out comes the gear. It's al­ways the way; I just can't find my gloves. Even­tu­ally, they fall out af­ter pulling al­most ev­ery­thing out of my pack, so ev­ery­thing is jammed back in, pack on and with help again, down comes the bib.

Tak­ing on food, I walk up the last steep sec­tion be­fore hit­ting the board­walks. I am ner­vous how the legs will be feel­ing, I find climb­ing a lot eas­ier than run­ning on the flat, but I am feel­ing great. The weather is per­fect – sunny but not too warm, and the legs quickly fall into a rhythm and don't want to stop. In no time, I reach the beech for­est fol­lowed by Dud­ley's Knob, the last real climb of the race and a great in­di­ca­tor that I have only an hour left of the run.

The last three kilo­me­tres of the moun­tain run are well-known as tor­ture. You can see the fin­ish line, but you've got an end­less amount of river bed to cross, rocky un­der­foot with no

real path to take. I have been through a few times in train­ing and can't find a path down the grass bank, so I make the de­ci­sion to pick a straight line from the rail­way bridge and go for it. Run­ning over rocks is an art, and if you are con­fi­dent it can be a huge ad­van­tage, not only for speed but also for the en­ergy you save. Thank­fully, over time this is some­thing I have im­proved a lot, so that fi­nal stretch isn't as painful as it has been in the past. I can see and hear my sup­port crew wait­ing pa­tiently for me on the edge of the bank. I am wear­ing a tracker for the day, some­thing I would highly rec­om­mend to any­one com­pet­ing. Not for your own sake, but for the san­ity of your sup­port crew. The hard­est part of help­ing crew th­ese events is the un­known. Where are they? What time are they go­ing to come in? Are they OK? At least with a tracker, they know ex­actly where I am (mi­nus the sec­tion where the track­ing sys­tem went down!), which also helps with the nerves and stress lev­els. It is another boomer tran­si­tion; th­ese girls are on fire. Some Gur­ney Goo (that stuff is liq­uid gold) un­der the arms for chaffing, a salami wrap to get some real food into me, a quick drink of elec­trolytes and I am off to bike the sec­tion that con­nects the two big­gest stages of the day, the moun­tain run and the kayak.

Juj has been nom­i­nated to meet me at the top of the hill with some sneak­ers and food, run­ning down with me to my kayak. She is bril­liant, hand­ing me wa­ter and a ba­nana as I make my way down the one kilo­me­tre of gravel road to the Mt White Bridge be­low. The spray deck is pulled on, fol­lowed by my life­jacket and hel­met, then it is into the boat which is be­ing held in the wa­ter by Dad. I'm sure my tran­si­tions are slow in com­par­i­son to oth­ers, but to me they are ideal. Calm enough that noth­ing is an is­sue, fast enough that no time is wasted. Af­ter check­ing the drink­ing sys­tem is work­ing, and the pad­dle is handed to me, they push me off into the main flow to be­gin what up un­til this mo­ment I would have de­scribed as my weak­est leg.

Kayak­ing and I haven't seen eye-to­eye. I think it's due to my dip while com­pet­ing in the Two-Day event three years ago, but ever since then, I have feared the wa­ter. Scared of the boils, scared of the wave trains, scared of the rock faces, and pet­ri­fied of tip­ping out again. Be­cause of this, I made the de­ci­sion to stick with my JKK Eclipse 5.2 – a be­gin­ner's boat who I had af­fec­tion­ately named ‘ The Bat­tle­ship'. While I had spent many hours train­ing on the Avon, the nor'west­ers meant I had only man­aged to get down the river once in the lead up to the race, and while I didn't fall out, there was more than one oc­ca­sion where I was float­ing un­con­trol­lably back­wards. “Don't be a wuss, Hol­lie,” is my mantra as I set­tle into a steady rhythm. No chicken runs are al­lowed to­day, avoid the boils and take the faster line. “You're in the safest boat there is, just go for it.” And that I do, and in do­ing so, have the best trip to date down the

Waimak, which is sit­ting at an ideal 80 cumecs. Maybe the boat won't go on Trade Me on Sun­day! Apart from the numb ass, I love it. And once again it shows that if I'm strong in the head, it has such an enor­mous im­pact on how I race. I am ex­pect­ing to get over­taken by many, and as a fe­male com­peti­tor flies past me be­fore I hit the gorge like I am stand­ing still, I tell my­self that no mat­ter the out­come, I am so happy with how I have raced. As one hour turns into two, then three and four, I keep look­ing back ex­pect­ing to see boats gain­ing on me, but to my sur­prise there are none. Just me and the bat­tle­ship for a lit­tle over five hours. I know I have to get to the Gorge Bridge and the end of the kayak leg be­fore 6pm to avoid wear­ing a high-vis vest on the bike back to New Brighton. But as I cruise past Wood­stock at 5.45pm, with another hour of flat pad­dling ahead of me, I know my chance of mak­ing it in time is gone. Pulling up to the beach at the end, the re­lief I feel is huge, the smile on my face says it all – no spills, no boils, no pad­dling back­wards. Just one stage left to go.

Dad is there to pull me out, and Scot­tie and Juj ready to help where they can. It takes a few sec­onds to get the blood pump­ing again and the legs back in work­ing or­der, but af­ter a few gin­ger steps up the beach I am able to kick it up a gear and run up the hill. “I can do this. One more leg, that's all,” I say, more to my­self than my sup­port crew, as I change my top and pour half a can of Red Bull down my throat. Up un­til now, I have man­aged to hold off on too much sugar and gels, but with the fi­nal stretch ahead of me I know I will need a bit of ex­tra help as I head into the east­erly head­wind. Push­ing my bike up the goat track to the road above, the girls pop out yelling and cheer­ing. “See you at the fin­ish line,” I yell back, cross­ing the bridge, wind­ing up the gears and set­tling in for the fi­nal stretch to the fin­ish line.

“27 kilo­me­tres of straight road ahead,” I read as I whizz past a sign zip tied to a power pole. Great, I think, that's the most de­mor­al­is­ing thing I have seen all day! With more shel­ter belts than not, I am crouched down as low as pos­si­ble to re­duce the draft and hide from the wind. A sign half-way down from a school friend lifts the spir­its enor­mously, so grate­ful to have sup­port along the way. Cars are leap-frog­ging me, and as they ap­pear quicker and quicker each time, I know I am be­ing caught. ‘Dig it in, dig it in,” I keep telling my­self, but un­for­tu­nately, I am over­taken by two girls on the fi­nal stretch, one with 20 kilo­me­tres to go and one with six. I thought I would be gut­ted, but they fly by me, and I have noth­ing but re­spect for them. They both de­serve to over­take me, and I vow there and then that if I was ever to do this again, I need to be stronger on the bike. Proof of this comes from both the male and fe­male win­ners, Sam Clarke and Elina Ussher, who over­take the sec­ond-place get­ters on the fi­nal bike leg to take the wins. It isn't over till it's over.

Fi­nally reach­ing the South­ern Mo­tor­way it is be­gin­ning to get dark, and by the time I make my fi­nal turn onto Beach Road, it is night time. I had thought about this mo­ment for so long, rid­ing the last stretch down New Brighton Beach, and had imag­ined I would be emo­tional. But I am not at all. The pres­sure and ex­pec­ta­tions seem to lift off me, and the sat­is­fac­tion that I know I am about to fin­ish is enor­mous. I had a goal to do it un­der 16 hours, and I am on track to do it more than half an hour faster than I ex­pected. Pulling into the fin­ish area, I dis­mount my bike awk­wardly and take off. Never through­out the day do I feel that I can't keep go­ing, and now is no dif­fer­ent. Run­ning up the fin­ish­ing chute and hear­ing my name and num­ber over the loud­speaker is a mo­ment I'll never for­get. Peo­ple are clap­ping and cheer­ing, and I can hear Mum and

Dad yelling as I take the fi­nal five me­tres of the 243-kilo­me­tre day up the stairs to the fin­ish. My smile says it all. Six months of in­tense train­ing, of con­stantly talk­ing and think­ing about this race and I have bloody done it. I couldn't be prouder of my achieve­ment. While the Kath­mandu Coast to Coast Long­est Day is an in­di­vid­ual event, it's any­thing but. Mum, Dad, Scot­tie and Juj live my dream with me through­out the whole day, while peo­ple from all over are watch­ing me clock through each check­point on the App, cheer­ing me on. To not only com­plete it but achieve a re­sult that I am so in­cred­i­bly proud of is fan­tas­tic. I cross the line in a time of 15:24:15, ninth in the Open Women and 11th over­all. Just out­side the top ten, I'm still un­de­cided if I have un­fin­ished busi­ness or not.

I can't ex­press how thank­ful I am to have such a sup­port­ive net­work of fam­ily, friends and spon­sors. I put my heart and soul into the race and feel like I achieved an ex­cel­lent re­sult for ev­ery­one who has been part of this jour­ney with me. With a few days now passed, I look back and won­der what I could have done dif­fer­ently, where I could have made up a few ex­tra min­utes, but noth­ing stands out. Yes, a faster kayak would have helped, but my goal was to get down dry and en­joy it, and I smashed that. Yes, I could have gone faster on the bike, but I was push­ing as hard as I could through­out the en­tire race so I feel I did the best I could while in the mo­ment. And the run, again I loved it. It's still my favourite part of the en­tire day – the scenery, the chal­lenge and on this day, the weather. I'm so in­cred­i­bly lucky to be given the op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence this breath­tak­ing land­scape right on my doorstep.

Hol­lie Wood­house is the pub­lisher of this mag­a­zine you're hold­ing in your hands. She has no more ma­jor events planned to date, al­though chances are this will change over the next few months.

www.hol­liewood­house.com @thead­ven­tur­ouskiwi @hol­liewood­house

OP­PO­SITE PAGE: Glory – Holly Nekonam is a Scot­tish graphic de­signer and il­lus­tra­tor, who has a pas­sion for na­ture, sci­ence and art, and ap­pre­ci­ates the in­tri­cate beauty which can be found in the world around us. She en­joys fus­ing both il­lus­tra­tive and graphic el­e­ments in her work to cre­ate del­i­cate and unique pieces.

www.hol­lynekonam.com www.be­hance.net/hol­ly­rosenekona www.etsy.com/uk/shop/Hol­lyNekon­amDe­sign @hol­lynekonam

Im­age: marathon-pho­tos.com

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.