Like any good relationship, we have had our ups and downs. But when I consider the many factors that have brought me back to this iconic NZ multisport event, the main one is the tendency I feel this event has to shape my existence in so many positive ways.
In 2007 I volunteered to help Steve Knowles from www.sportzhub.com who was doing the official race media coverage that year. I remember being blown away by how much goes on behind the scenes to bring the public the professional footage of the race. Steve impressed me with how much he produced with limited resources. My other main memory of this race was watching Gordon Walkersurprise pre-race favourite Richard Ussherwith a frantic first 55km bike breakaway, which eventually wrecked Ussher’s legs and left Walker to take the finish line tape.
In 2008 I lined up for the first time in the 2 day event. I’d spent the summer picking Matty Graham’sbrains on how to prepare myself for the race. He grew up in Hokitika and was a guru on all things Coast to Coast. I was thrilled to win the 2 day race that year and remember thinking that without Matty’s influence I never would’ve achieved that in my first crack at the race. I was also standing at the finish line in Sumner to see Ussher smash Walker and the other One-day competitors with a near-perfect race, winning the overall and having the fastest run, kayak and final bike splits.
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2009 was my debut in the 1 day race. I had enlisted a coach called Val Burke who I would form a successful partnership with for the following 8 years and I’d moved to Wanaka to pursue training and racing in more of full-time capacity (while working 25-30hrs a week at the pool). I was a tad star struck when I stood on the sands of Kumara next to some of the best multisport athletes in the world. Notably absent was Ussher who was pursuing Ironman that year. Walker blew us all away, while I managed to finish 8thin a relatively content state of mind – its hard to be disappointed after negotiating the endless variables that link the race route from one side of the South Island to the other under one’s own physical power.
2010 will forever be remembered as the “Weather Bomb” year as a massive storm hit the West Coast as the race was due to start. Consequently, we ran on the road, biked a long way, then kayaked down the Avon in Christchurch. I spent all day within arms reach of Gordon Walker, again quite star struck. With the race ending in the kayak (and short bike to the finish) I was never going to pull away from Gordon, so settled very excitedly for 2ndplace. There were mixed reviews from competitors that year, many seeming to regret not being able to do the ‘real course’. I, on the other hand was aware the usual course was impossible to access with rivers in full flood and was just grateful the organisers had still managed to host a run, bike and kayak race that took us from the same start to the same finish point.
2011 was back on the real course. No Gordon Walker this time, but Ussher was back. I had been getting some bike mentoring from Jon Andrews which was leading to me beating basically everyone I came across on two wheels. The big question would be if my run and kayak would be competitive enough. On race day we had tail winds most of day and a good river flow which led to some super quick race times. I broke the final bike stage record (which still stands) but was again demoted to 2ndplace by a classy Ussher. A small consolation for me was being one of just a handful of athletes ever to go under 11 hours for the 1 day race. At least I had also proven myself on the normal course, after a few folks had told me I got lucky the year before with the course changes. These comments had certainly fuelled me nicely in my training over the summer.
2012 became a year where I really threw everything into trying to win the race. Val, Jon and I enlisted Grant Restallto help me get my kayaking up a notch. Grant was a wonderful teacher and a very supportive mentor for me. Many of his teachings and key sessions still play a role in my training today. The trouble was, Richard Ussher was the best in the world and beating him just wasn’t going to happen. I was managing to get through the race ahead of really strong athletes such as Trevor Voyce, Braden Currie and Sam Clark, but beating Ussher was still an elusive undertaking.
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In 2013 I think I had burned myself out a little with the race. I was probably in denial as the race still meant as much to me as it ever had. But the truth was I felt I was starting to go through the motions with my summer being dedicated almost entirely to trying to win the 1 day race for the 5thyear in a row. In the back of mind, I knew how perfectly I would have to race in order to win and that just didn’t seem realistic. Somewhere along the 5 hour paddle I came to the realisation that I wouldn’t be racing next year. I needed to get away from the race. I held some composure to go on to finish 3rdbehind Currie and Ussher but knew I wouldn’t be back in 2014.
Admittedly I didn’t realise at the time how long I would be away. A career in iron-distance triathlon unexpectedly ensued and there have been many times I doubted if I would ever return to the Coast to Coast. But now, six years on, with one month until race day, I am back. More excited, motivated and prepared than I have ever been. Ironically it is the great Gordon Walker who I have enlisted to help prepare me for the big day. I feel very fortunate to be receiving guidance from a 3x winner and now 2x Halberg Award’s recipient for NZ coach of the year and hope to put his teachings to good use on February 9th.
While I know there are a group of very strong, clever and prepared blokes to contend with on race day, my mentality has shifted and matured since my last tilt in 2013. For me this race is about celebrating so many things that I love about being a kiwi. Its about accessing wild and beautiful places, taking risks, sharing the race course with friends and a like-minded community and being a good role model for my family. Dad has been at every single Coast to Coast I have done and will be there again this time, managing to persuade mum (for the first time) to join in the spectating. So many things have changed since my last race in 2013, but the most significant is that I am now a proud husband and father. It is fair to say that there will be plenty more to race for than ever before.