“He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata”
“What is the most important thing in the world? It is the people, it is the people, it is the people”
Winning the Kathmandu Coast to Coast World Multisport Championship had plenty to do with the people in my life. There are of course too many to name, but it remains true that if you surround yourself with good people, anything is possible.
I rang Gordon Walker twelve weeks before the race to seek guidance and direction around my preparation. He stepped up to an extent I could only have dreamed of prior, willingly coaching me day to day with firm intent to position me for a tilt at the title. Those twelve weeks evolved into one of the most consistent and enjoyable training blocks of my life. Although not immediately apparent, they also angled very specifically towards a race day strategy that would become the formula for my eventual success.
The plan in a nutshell was to make the race honest from the beginning but keep it sustainable and consistent all day. This involved keeping my ego intact on the run in particular, so I could continue to hold or even lift my intensity as the day progressed. It certainly didn’t fall into place exactly as planned, but it wasn’t far off.
The day started out wet which in road cycling terms means slippery. I hoped our lead bunch would be lightly populated but heavily involved. We were a group of thirteen as it turned out, perfect in terms of safety and efficiency. Luckily too, there were plenty of honest riders that were happy to keep the momentum rolling towards the mountains. James Pretto, Alex Hunt, Tim Boote, Sam Manson and a few others deserve special mention. In my opinion, if you want to feature in the overall, you’d better expect to contribute from the start. I was comforted to see the integrity in elite multisport is as prevalent as ever.
Into the run and I elected for a shoe change. So too did Sam. As he and I set off to close the gap to the runners ahead I did my best to convince him and myself of the efficiency losses some of the front runners would later sense, when riding 55km hard in running shoes caught up. The jury is still out on this age-old debate, but I was feeding myself positive energy at least.
Following Sam up as far as Doreen Creek was hard going. I was working above the level of effort I had committed myself too, but also benefiting from his smooth and direct line choices. Alex and Bobby were ahead, but were struggling to make significant gains, as Sam was crafty and kept cutting back the advantage with the subtleties of line choices. Despite this, my heart rate was still elevated. A couple of heavy falls trying to keep pace with a mountain goat seemed to reinforce that I was trying too hard. In the big boulders section, I bit the bullet and fell back to find my own rhythm. Alone in tiger country. It was my first big mental test of the day. Time to put my head down and focus on executing my race plan.
The run over the pass then down through the Mingha Valley remained lonely, which was how it needed to be. I wasn’t prepared to be dragged into the pace of the guys ahead, nor was I going to wait for those behind. Lucky I am happy in my own company. That is until, my left adductor cramped like it had never cramped before. It was a few hundred meters before the Bealey river confluence. I was standing on the spot, looking to the sky, in agonising pain, screaming, waiting for my adductor to relax. Cramp isn’t foreign to me, but it had never stopped me moving forwards until now. After what felt like an eternity, but was likely a minute or less, I gave up waiting for it to subside and started hobbling forwards. Luckily by Greyney’s corner I was back moving in a respectable manner. It was also a massive boost to hear that Alex was only four minutes ahead and Sam and Bobby around two.
My plan was always to move quickly through the Klondyke Corner transition and ride with intent to Mt White. I got passed both Sam and Bobby but could sense it wouldn’t be a move that would stick, still just cat and mouse at this stage.
Into the kayak and I felt solid immediately. My Nautique paddle seemed crisp and light in the water and I had decided my race strategy would place a big focus on enjoyment for the paddle stage. Within a few minutes however, I was already questioning my enjoyment levels as I was completely grounded in shallow water. Even more concerning was that Sam (who had started the paddle behind me) was no longer in sight, meaning he had taken a different channel.
By the time the trickle of water I was in finally reconnected with a significant braid, Sam was just ahead of me. It was a huge relief to realise that while his route choice was better, it wasn’t a massive difference. My kayak was violated, but still floating well and I was still in the thick of the race. Together we paddled away from Bobby and up to Alex, who we caught before the gorge.
I was intentionally honouring my commitment to enjoyment by looking around and taking in the surrounds as we made our way into the gorge, while remaining acutely aware that the three main contenders were literally within arms reach of each other as the race neared a crux. Sam was valiantly pushing the pace from the front while Alex and I did our best to find an efficient position in his wake. I knew I had a good chance if it remained this way by the end of the river, but I was also conscious that my body was feeding me strong vibes in the kayak. A slight hesitation entered my mind as my smoothie mix hadn’t worked from the start, so my available calories needed to be rationed, but suddenly Alex faltered. A gap opened to Sam and I shot around to close it, which happened quickly and without great exertion. Alex disappeared backwards quickly, and I started to grow more eager to lift the pace further. I came around Sam and explained it was about time I contributed. I didn’t surge, I just went in front and kept the pace honest, but as quickly as it had happened with Alex, he also fell back. We had about 20km left to paddle and I was now leading the race with my best ever opportunity to stake my claim for victory.
The last 20km of the paddle demanded great focus to stay on top of the effort. The gorge bridge played its usual flirtatious game of appearing to near on the horizon long before the final paddle strokes are delivered. But nothing lasts forever, and the kayak stage finally expired. I had a lead of around three and a half minutes on Sam.
Onto the bike and I knew what needed to be done. There are few places in this world I am happy to suffer, but my time trial bike happens to be one. Six hour indoor training sessions in the garage have a tendency to harden the mind as much as the body, so a 70km ride on straight, flat, windswept roads seemed digestible, even if my gels no longer were. I put my head down, turned the pedals as smoothly as I could and stayed in the moment.
By the time my feet hit the sand in New Brighton I was ready for the new feelings to suddenly arrive. Being new, I had no idea what to expect, but I knew I was ready to feel them. I was also ready to hug my children and my wife. Then my mum and dad. Then my support crew Jenks and Doc. Then Glen from Korupt Vision and my brother-in-law Andy. Then all my friends and family who would have still given me a hug even if I had finished three or four hours later. If Gordy was there, I would have hugged him too. His plan, his training and guidance, his belief and support had finally got me there.
As I said, there are too many people to name, but it remains true that if you surround yourself with good people, anything possible.