A week out from the big day I was getting pretty nervous about the race. I knew I was capable of a fast run time and my positioning in the race was probably going to come out of a good solid run time. It wasn’t until I was driving over to the west coast on Thursday that I had time to think about it and came to the realisation that I was lucky enough to be going to my 7th World Championships in different sport number 4 (4 x World Orienteering Champs, 1 x World Rogaine Champs, 1 x World Mountain Running champs). So in reality I had been in this position a few times before and there was nothing much to really worry about at all.
I kept a low profile (not too hard…) at the dinner and the briefing before heading back to Arthurs Pass that night to escape the rain and the chaos. By being back in Arthurs Pass on Saturday I was able to have the whole day to sort out gear away from all the hype and by the time I went down to watch Hilary (2nd!), Hollie (3rd!) and the other two day competitors come in I was feeling pretty good and relaxed.
I didn’t need both the alarms I set at 4am on Saturday morning, I was awake, rested and ready before they went off. Getting up and ready wasn’t as much of a chore as I thought it was going to be and before I knew it I was off rolling down the road to the bike racks. From the bike racks it was a quite a walk to the beach in the intimidating darkness. I made it down with plenty of time to dip my hand in the sea on the West Coast, then found my way to the start line.
Time went pretty fast from then on, the hooter went off and 126 of us converged on the narrow gravel road from the beach up to the bikes. Once underway I could make my move up to the front group of runners with all the bunnies out of the way already. The pace was pretty hot, and soon enough we reached the bikes where more chaos ensued. As I went to grab my bike from the wire it got caught and in the process of breaking it free the bag on the back unhooked itself. I tried to quickly flip it back in but failed and had to just go with it hanging down… The front bunch formed right there and zoomed away ahead of me. It was just far away enough that I didn’t bother chasing and waited for the pack to form around me… it took what seemed ages but would have only been a minute I had two guys come up and form behind me. They were going hard and trying to bridge the gap to the front bunch and I realised that I couldn’t stay with them and let them go for it, while I sat up and waited for the next group to come through as I arrived in Kumara. It took them until the outskirts to catch up and they thankfully pulled me on board but I quickly found myself out the front on the first real section of uphill. I was lucky enough that one of the guys jumped in and rescued me to which I was very grateful.
The second bunch was fairly well organised and made solid work of it. After around 40mins we picked up the two guys I was initially with which never reached the front bunch, so it turned out to be a good decision not to go with them early on! The work was rotated around fairly evenly and there didn’t seem to be many freeloaders… although I did feel like I did a good chunk of work on the front at various times. The bunch ride part of the race was my most feared stage and I was pretty happy when we crossed that railway line and prepared for transition.
Having watched the Aitkens transition last year I knew sort of what I was in for and it was just as chaotic as it looked. Bikes and people running everywhere! Thankfully the Bivouac top Tim was wearing was fairly distinctive and I headed straight to him. He grabbed me and pulled me through the people standing at the edge, shoes off, shoes on. Greta was there banana and hat ready, pack on, then I was away onto my section to make my mark…or so I thought…
I was pretty happy to be off my bike and running but my legs were not too sure about all this, but I got quickly into a rhythm and was leading my group straight away. This lasted all but 3mins and Trevor powered past me, I figured I should just conserve myself for the flat bit first just to get everything sorted. Once we started up the Deception I deviated from my original planned route as Trevor was taking a slightly different line and it looked faster. In hind sight I should have stuck to what I thought was best and gone with that but I didn’t… The guys behind me gradually fell away but Trevor got further and further in front of me too. It was at this point I started to feel a bit ill and not quite as good as I would have liked. I struggled for a bit and took a bit of a fall cutting my shin in the process… I was a bit surprised when I looked down to see that it was foaming, which I figured was a bit weird and maybe this meant it was quite deep or something. It didn’t seem to hurt to bad so I powered on.
Finally the long lonely run headed into the big boulder section and I thought I caught a glimspe of someone that looked a bit like Tom. The sight of someone ahead got me moving again, not quite as fast as I would have liked but the heat was back on. It wasn’t until the top of the big boulders section that I finally tracked him down. There was another guy there which we quickly got away from but Tom and I managed to have a bit of a chat before he let me go. Being so close to the pass I got an extra boost of energy and I was quickly up and over onto the boardwalks. Food time and then time to open the accelerator a little bit.
Unfortunately I hadn’t made my goal for the pass in under two hours, so I lost a bit of the motivation, plus the sensible side of me told me there was a long long way in the race still to go. On a section where I had previously had the most fun, powering along with not a care in the world in training I was mentally struggling and just keeping up enough speed to maintain momentum. At the bottom where the river bed opens out I stumbled out to a bunch of excited Cory-Wrights cheering hard, which while a surprise was an awesome boost and go me really going for the last 20mins or so. Interestingly enough the toughest part of the run I found was the section along the gravel road and I couldn’t wait to get back on the river stones, my favorite part!
Across the grass Riki, my brother and Support crew (who had just got back from the states the day before and I hadn’t seen since he got back) grabbed me off the run, sorted me out and sent me off down the road with a nice tail wind. I was feeling good to be on the bike on the way to the kayak and off that damn run… until I got to the bridge across the upper Waimak. There was traffic control over the bridge, but when I came to approach it a car had ignored the stop/go sign and was waiting to giveway right in my way. The traffic person yelled unsuccessfully a few times to get the car to drive on ahead of me, but there is no way they were ever really going to hear the guy yelling out, so in the end he yelled at me just to pass them. So I pulled out, spotted a road cone in the centre of the road next to the car, hesitated, decided that shooting the gap between the car and the cone was not safe, and going around the cone was safer except I had left the decision a fraction of a second too late and clipped the cone as I went past. I think my rear wheel ran over the top of the base of the cone and flicked my wheel out, sending me into a fish tail and I must have come seriously close to falling off but somehow managed to recover.
As I regathered myself I realised some thing was not quite right with my bike and looking down I could see the wheel was buckled, shit. It didn’t seem too bad and I didn’t have too many options other than to keep going and deal with it, so I did. Unfortunately I had to take it easy on the downhills on this short section, as I was pretty scared the whole bike was going to wobble itself to pieces. The short little rise to the top of the Mt White transition couldn’t come soon enough and I was pretty glad to toss the bike aside. Liz met me with my booties and jogged alongside me helping to feed me and grab any unwanted gear off me. It was a pretty quick jog down the hill and over the bridge where Joe took over with the gear, sprayskirt, life jacket, helmet, bib and into the boat complete with a camera crew right there to keep my support crew on its game!
It was a bit of a relief to sit down for a bit and let the arms do the work, although maybe it was the running or the cycling but my arms started to hurt after only a few minutes. Anyway due to the low flow and having only taking up kayaking almost a year to the day I was in a big fat eclipse and it made the paddling hard work! Soon enough as I expected about an hour towards the gorge I started to get passed by the faster boats. The rock gardens came and went with no issues, probably the first time I had been down the gorge though with the rocks exposed! I was really looking forward to getting into the actual gorge by the time I arrived there. Two weeks earlier I had drifted a little close to the gorge entry rapid and came very close to tipping out so this time I was on my game and got through fine…well actually I got knocked around by the wave train following it and was again very close to the edge! I enjoyed the upper part taking what I thought was some good lines, and got some good speed up.
The Salmon rapid was the next challenge and I could tell because there was some cameras right there, and safety crews waiting. Again I picked the line ok, but got sucked into the wave train and knocked around a bit having another very close moment. As the time ticked along I tried my best to use the bluffs and pick fast lines to get me down quicker, but at one point I got really really close to a bluff. I drifted into it in control and waited for the flow coming back off the wall to push me away….but it never came and BANG! the nose of my boat plowed into the bluff, and I bounced straight back off, which flicked me back into the flow and I was away again just like that. From then on I was quite worried that I had sprung a leak, and managed to pump quite a bit of water out of the boat. I got a bit distracted by this and worried I was going to be caught up by more and more people coming through in faster boats.
Just before Horseshoe bend I grabbed a glance behind me and spotted Jess coming. I thought I might have gained just enough on the run to hold her off on the paddle but a slowish time for me in the run put that hope to bed. I sat up straight, kept paddling strong and kept taking the best lines I could which seemed to hold her back for quite a while. Eventually she did get in front of me just before Woodstock. I kept her insight as long as I could, through Woodstock my support crew were jumping and running around willing me on and letting me know they had fixed my bike, but there was no time to chat! Jess was right in front of me until we got just past Halfway rock and I was back to paddling alone. I kept pushing into the strong headwind as much as I could but eventually Elina and another guy in a Rockstar came past me with about 10mins to go. Rounding the last bluff was pretty exciting, my bum was fairly sore and I was excited to be getting out of my boat.
Into the transition and after a whirlwind of activity I was out of the boat and up the hill before I knew it. My support crew were asking me all sorts of questions but i have no recollection of it at all. My bike was pulled out onto the road like a carrot in front of me as all I wanted to do was to sit down, but I knew if I didn’t I wouldn’t be getting up again in a hurry!
The whole time I was in the kayak I was trying to pee, but I hadn’t quite mastered the art of peeing in a kayak which was much harder than I thought…so once on the road the need to pee became much more urgent. Into the headwind there wasn’t much going on in my mind other than “get to Sumner” and “need to pee”. The road became longer than I remembered and the TT bikes wizzing past me didn’t help the confidence as I dropped down yet another place….I made it into Christchurch just in time to catch the police at every intersection waving me through which I was fairly glad for. The last obstacle in my way was the causeway, and with the Nor-easter at its best it was going to be tough but it seeing the estuary as I rounded the corner was comforting to know the journey was just about over. The last km was a real grind and to make matters worst the urgency to pee came flooding into my thoughts, but I could pee in just a minute, the shoot was just there. Tim had managed to get into his favorite position as bike catcher and was there to greet me.
At last it was good to get off that bike, and to run again, the urgency to get over that finish line was willing me on and I sprinted across the line. Steve Gurney was there to welcome me and shake my hand, then after the pictures I was handed over to Robin Judkins who grabbed me and helped me find the toilet! After emerging from the toilet I was pretty happy to see my support crew along with Hilary (and her dad) and a whole heap of others all who had helped me on the journey before the race had even started!
Before heading home I had to head down to touch the water then visited the first aid tent to get my cut shin checked out. They initially thought it didn’t look too bad, but once it was cleaned up they decided on putting a few steri-strips on it! and two days later I was on anti-biotics! Overall I was left feeling a little bit disappointed by my race, and in particular my run. I know that I am capable of a much better time than that, but I guess its a different game when you have ridden hard for 100mins beforehand. I knew before I started that cycling was one of my weak points and needed work, also I’m sure a faster and more reliable bike wont go a miss next time (already talking myself into it all over again…). I really enjoyed the kayaking though, it went from being one of my most feared sections a few months ago to one of my most enjoyable on race day! After 5 trips down the gorge now I have fallen out once, so I think for next time (there I go again…) I could step it up to a faster boat.
Finally… it was a long day and its probably taken a long time to read this through to the end too… but thanks have to go to Bivouac Outdoor for supplying me with all sorts of race gear, my support crew: Tim, Riki (my brother), Joe, Liz and the extras, Greta and Seamus, Dave, and of course those who were there training alongside me, helping with driving, sorting out logistics etc: Hilary (2nd in two day!), Hilary’s Dad, Hollie (3rd in two day!), John, Tim, Timur, Annie, Emily (4th in one day!) and many more!