This year’s coast to coast will surely go down as one of the most memorable in my experience with the event. Getting to the start line often made me feel like what it must be like trying to land a Boeing 777 at Wellington airport in a gusty nor-wester. It never felt guaranteed, but we had to just commit and hope for the best. Eventually we had touch down and after a turbulent summer it looked like we’d have a race. Full credit to the event team for forging ahead when almost every other event seemed to be succumbing to you know what. A last minute entry from Braden had me scratching my head initially, but realising he’d have seen a likely kayak cancellation or shortened river section alongside his Ironman NZ hopes being dashed, I could see the logic.
We kicked off at 5.40am, straight into 3min/km pace uphill. I’m 36 years old now and my body doesn’t need that speed at that time of day, but it seems a rite of passage now in this race, so I just hung on for dear life and knew I’d be fine once we hit two wheels.
The first ride didn’t really throw up any surprises. There were a dozen or so of us, with about four or five of us doing the work. It took longer for the darkness to dissipate with the earlier start waves system, but it was mild and pleasant enough riding our way into the beckoning mountains. I always enjoy some small talk with the crew on the first ride as we share a combined nervous excitement about what is to come.
My support crew had taped “dickhead” on the front of my bike to remind me to remove my helmet at my bike before running to my waiting backpack at Aicken’s corner. The idea came about because I knew if I didn’t I would feel like a dickhead having to run back to my bike to drop my helmet. Turns out I am actually quite a dickhead and I was last to leave Aiken’s after having to run back to drop my helmet off after forgetting.
Into the run and I am always horrified by how quickly we head off towards Goat Pass (3.45/km with a backpack through paddocks and bleeding time to Braden and Bobby). I decided to tuck in behind Sam Manson and see if I could settle my heart rate down. We could see Braden and Bobby disappearing ahead with Ryan holding fairly steady at 1-2 minutes ahead. It stayed this way for much of the first hour or so. The rivers were high and Sam reached out to collect a couple of mountain run competitors who were being washed away on some of the crossings. Such a smooth operator.
I figured I could probably afford to lose up to around 15 minutes to Braden and still have a shot of pulling that time back on the bike and kayak. So I wasn’t too fussed to get a 8.30 minute split at Goat Pass. It was approximately what I expected. What I didn’t expect was to be lying on the ground a few minutes later after a high speed crash coming downhill and rolling my ankle. I got up pretty quickly and didn’t have much fun with my first few steps. But I knew that if I stopped, I wouldn’t start again, so just kept moving. Thankfully while it was really sore, it wasn’t getting worse and suddenly my hopes of getting to the finish were looking much brighter again.
After arriving at Klondyke with around 14 minutes deficit to Braden and in 5th place, I smacked back a few boiled potatoes from Blake and got into my work on the 112km revised bike stage. I passed Sam and Ryan along the original middle bike stage section then took another hour or so to get past Bobby. I had heard a few splits to Braden and knew I wasn’t cutting into his lead but just kept doing what I could. I really didn’t know what to expect on this ride as it was all new to us, but certainly would’ve liked to trade in my current legs for the ones I might have left somewhere up near Goat Pass.
The short run (actually hobble) down to the kayak was a good test for the pain thresholds as my ankle had swollen a lot on the bike and was no longer appreciative of weight bearing over rocks. But once Simon pushed me off downstream I was away again and into my work. The river was tricky to read with multiple channels, flat light and no real knowledge of this section to help guide my decisions. Luckily most channels were moving quite freely, so I knew it wouldn’t be a major if I wasn’t getting things exactly right. I felt I paddled OK, but really had no idea (I think I ended up fastest individual on this stage, but there wasn’t really much time available on a higher and shorter river stage).
The lowest point of my race came with the 200 metre walk to my awaiting bike. I was fighting back tears due to the pain in my ankle and had to put my arm around both Simon and Blake once through the timing chute in order to make it up to my bike. The final ride to the finish felt like a formality in many ways, given I knew Braden would have won by now and I seemed to have a safe distance on Bobby behind. I have to admit I did feel a little anxious about getting down the finish line chute unaided, but figured I would deal with that when I got there.
Glen and Braden were waiting at the start of the finish line to assist me if I needed. It was a nice gesture, but I felt it was important I finished the job myself. I’m glad it wasn’t a sprint finish because walking was enough of a challenge by this point. I crossed the line, acknowledged the well wishes, hugged my family and went straight into the medical tent.
So that was my 10th race on it’s 40th anniversary. I cannot honestly say I am happy with the outcome, but I’m OK with that too. It’s not the first time I have fallen short of my expectations and certainly won’t be the last. I’d loved to have won, but was truly outclassed. I have so many other things to balance around my training these days which I consider assets rather than hinderances. I just hope I made the important people in my life proud. Those people are my family, support crew, sponsors and close friends. The truth is, I wasn’t sure I could even summon the capacity to make the start line this year after happening upon a newfound relationship with some sort of anxiety that has really affected my ability to sleep. But I’m starting to win that game and am looking forward to getting my ankle sorted and back into some adventures. At the time of writing I am about to go and have an MRI scan and will soon know if I can still take part in the Godzone with Team Topsport on March 3rd. I will keep you posted.
Nga mihi nui,