It was Friday the 13th – not the most auspicious of days to begin the most challenging race of my puny multisport ‘career’ but I’ll take anything. The morning was far from bright and after dragging ourselves from the relative warmth of our sleeping bags, performing whatever morning ablutions we could in the cold, we were off in separate directions. I had to cycle a couple of kilometres to the bike stands where I would drop off my bike and then walk over to the start point on Kumara Beach. The support crew had to drive for an hour to the transition point. It was dark, it was cold. it couldn’t possibly get any worse. Friday the 13th probably heard that thought. And sniggered.
Bleary eyed and unsure if the bike or kayak starts first
Five minutes into the ride to the bike stands it started drizzling. No biggie, I thought, just a light Kiwi drizzle. Exactly two minutes later, the light drizzle turned into a full blown kiwi-approved rain. So it was dark, cold and extremely wet. I was not pleased. But the rain stopped as suddenly as it began and so the walk to the beach wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It was getting a little lighter as the sun slowly peeked over the horizon, shedding a little light on the dreary beach. It was still fairly overcast and the competitors were huddled by the rocks by the beach in a vain effort to stay warm. The excitement was palpable as Robin Judkins, the race director, hollered time checks to us.
And they’re off!
And before I even realised it was time, the horn went off and sand was flying everywhere. With a mumbled prayer, I followed the crowd up the rocks and onto the dirt road. The 243 kilometre odyssey had begun. With the knowledge that it would be a long day, I opted to hang back near the rear of the pack, waiting to settle into a comfortable rhythm. Problem was that as soon as I did settle into that rhythm, the bike stands came into view and it was pandemonium all over again!
Reminding myself to be calm as I headed into transition, I swapped shoes and clipped in for the 55km cycle to Aickens. Realising that riding alone in the rolling course wouldn’t be the best idea, I sought out a largish pack to ride with. I was actually able to overtake a couple of individuals and pairs enroute to finding a smallish pack of about 5 or 6 riders who seemed to be riding briskly but weren’t too fast. This pack slowly grew as the kilometres piled on and pretty soon we had almost 20 going at a comfortable pace. I gave up any pretensions of wanting to pull (go to the head of the group to set the pace) and realised that all the 2-Day Individuals were content to draft off the Team riders who were going to rest after the ride anyway.
The ride was lumpy but uneventful and pretty soon the mess that is the Aickens transition came into view. As I pulled over to the dismount line, I scanned the crowd for gang and was greeted by a vision in orange. There was Jean, in a bright orange jacket waving a bright orange camp chair. Visibility was not a problem. Following her to our transition area, I was greeted by a flurry of ‘Do you wants..?’ – the crew offering me everything but the kitchen sink that we sadly did not bring along. In their enthusiasm to help me prep for the mountain run, they shoved my shoes on my feet before I could divest myself of my tights. So after some struggles with the wardrobe, thankfully with no malfunctions, I was off, waddling through the transition point, dreading what was to come.
Making sure the shoes go on the correct foot. Important that.
And how right I was to have a certain sense of dread. The run started out most benignly across nice grass which led us to the first of many (and I mean many) river crossings. Words cannot sufficiently describe the shock the cold water does to one’s system but ford those rivers we had to. The first 7-10km of the course was fairly flat though I was slowed considerably by the river crossings, rocks of all sizes and more rocks. The mountain run basically took us along one of the trekking trails across the Southern Alps and culminates in the crossing of the alps at an appropriately named Goat Pass. It takes a mountain goat to get up and down quickly. I obviously wasn’t as shown by my slow progress up the river.
Trying to look happy – a little over halfway through
I was relieved to have been able to join a couple of fellow competitors on the route up to the Pass that reduced the tedium of the run (that quickly devolved into a walk for me). As we scrambled across boulders, crossed and recrossed the rivers so many times that I started to lose feeling in my toes, I began to question my sanity. Seriously. I could go down the route of saying that getting that far was already an achievement for me who came from a humble, extremely unathletic background. But on the other hand, I was there to do something and sanity aside, I was there on a mission. To do the Coast to Coast and do it as well as I could.
Getting over Goat Pass was a relief – especially after the 5-6km of hard ascents that we went through. The wind on top of the pass bit into us as I tried to jwobble (jog down with wobbly jelly legs) down into the relative safety of the valley below. The twisty rooted and rocky paths that greeted me further banged up my already sore knees and I was slowed to a shwobble (wobbly shuffle) down the Mingha River valley, vainly trying to look out for the end of the run. When we did reach the final stretch where we crossed the Bealy River enroute to the end of the run, I felt a wave of relief but still couldn’t muster more than the shwobble as I tried to keep up with the companions I had for the tail end of the mountain section.
Shwobbling through the rocks with the end in sight
And so the run ended with a handshake from the man who flagged us off in the morning, a pat on the back and a can of Speights. And it was over. The trial by mountain, river and shuffle was done and I was safely in the able hands of my ever-concerned support crew whose sole aim was to sit me down and stuff me silly with as much food as I could handle. Hot soup and pasta never tasted so good.