After a 5 year absence I felt it was about time to go and have another crack at the Coast to Coast. When I skipped being a part of it in 2020, I had come to the realisation that I had ended up as support crew more times that I had actually raced, so I needed to fix that. Added motivation for another crack was Aaron Prince was thinking about lining up also!
Initially I think my training motivation was quite high, I knew it was a tough task, but I had a bit more experience than previous years and felt I was a bit tougher and more skilled all around. The task of training for Coast to Coast is pretty encompassing and from previous experience I didn’t want to go too hard with the training too early and burn out too early on. When it came to the crunch in early January I was feeling a little too under cooked and I think this gave my motivation and confidence quite a knock…. anyway I pressed on and probably didn’t enter into my final preparation in the best mindset.
The nerves got to me a little over night on Friday and early into Saturday morning. By the time I actually got out of bed I had been awake for probably close to an hour after a fit full sleep. Once into the car and Mum had dropped me off I was able to calm my nerves a bit as I wandered down to the beach with the one and only Scott MacDonald. I made a quick pilgrimage to the West Coast waters edge, then it was go time.
The Start as always was crazy with a full on sprint of the beach. There a good dose of shoulder barging and the front pack separated itself out from the rest of the field. Despite not doing any real interval training in the last month (whoops!) I was reasonably happy how comfortable I felt in getting to the bikes. I was almost a little too comfortable and casual in getting on the bike, and found myself hanging out at the very back of a fast moving bunch. I figured it must have been the front bunch, and the power went on for a good 5kms into Kumara before it dramatically slowed into a bit of a cake walk.
The bunch was kinda causal for the next hour, as it was so big it was a little frightening on the downhills where I was almost topping out, and the corresponding uphill’s where I had to slow down to avoid running up the back of those heavier boys up front (the joys of being a lightweight). Then all of a sudden there was a few extra people on the bunch and it turns out the second bunch had caught us up. The new bunch was massive, probably 50 or 60 people….and of all abilities… there was no order whatsoever, there were riders that were wobbling all over the place, slamming on the anchors, the number 1 bib even relieving himself mid pack into the faces of those following… The chaos started to sort itself out a little bit as we neared transition.
Thankfully this year transition was not as chaotic as I was expecting it to be, I dumped my bike and slipped my shoes on as quick as I could but by the time I was underway there as a stream of runners already ahead of me. I spend a few minutes sorting myself out and set about calmly working my way along. I passed Simone and Elina at the Otira river crossing, then caught Ali Wilson after the first cross of the deception. Aaron was not far ahead of me, and the group of about 2 or 3 guys I was around had a bit of a battle where sometimes I won, and then sometimes they won.
About 1 hour into the run and my stomach started to have that empty feeling… it was time to get some fuel in. I struggled a bit to maintain pace and get enough energy back into the tank and thats where the wall started to appear in front of me. I started to die a bit at Doreen Creek, I dropped back, I was on my own for a bit and on struggle street. Every step up I was fighting cramp, mentally I didn’t think I wanted to be there. Some serious self talk went on, trying to keep myself moving forward. Somewhere in there I managed to smash my head quite hard on a tree branch. I had a vague recollection of hitting the same branch in Coast to Coast on a previous occasion too… Anyway the blow to the head was hard enough to draw blood, which didn’t really help me climb out of the deep hole I was in.
By the time I got to Goat creek I allowed myself to steal a glance backwards and saw that not too far behind was the leading women and they were all gaining on me again. Just after the hut I let them through and walked my way up to the pass. I kept them in sight most of the way down the hill, even though on the ups I was unable to get the legs moving without cramping, the downhills flowed relatively easily. For a large part of the bottom end of the run I had plenty of company, running with Ali and Alister at various stages. Once onto the flatter stretches I started to see some light at the end of the tunnel and was able to get some momentum back. The irony was not lost on me when the cramp set in as I crossed the final stream. A day earlier I had watched with some wry amusement the 2 day competitors crossing and suffering intense cramps…karma I guess.
As I finally climbed out of the river bed I spotted my Dad who was there to cheer me on, unfortunately all I could say when I saw him was something along the lines of I haven’t had such a good run! (sorry Riki and Emily for running too slow and making him late for your transition!) . Anyway it was over now, I needed more food, luckily my Mum was there with some raspberry jam buns to stuff into my mouth as I jumped on the bike to head off to the kayak. I really made an effort to eat and drink as much as I could on this ride. My field position unfortunately suffered a little bit as a result, and I was passed by a couple of speedy bikers.
More food went into the tank as I ran down to the kayak, jumped in and I was away. The first 40mins my arms really suffered. I felt reasonably comfortable in the river however and begin the long descent. I tried my best to paddle as solidly as I could as I knew that was the only way to make solid progress.
As I approached the gorge proper I started to worry a bit and came into what the seem to call the Esk pool way too fine and ended up beached. The only way out was to portage…. a bit embarrassing and I lost another place in the process. My concerted effort to keep the paddling up never seemed to gain me much momentum and I felt demoralised as pass after pass occurred. I probably didn’t get enough paddling practice in and by far and away the paddling skills across the field have markedly improved in the last 5 years.
Woodstock and then the gorge bridge couldn’t come soon enough, and as predicted the easterly wind was pretty fierce already. I was mentally prepared for a battle on the final bike ride. I had again made a reasonably good (for me) effort to eat and drink well on the kayak. Finally out of the kayak I began to run up the hill when I heard over the loud speaker Claire, my team mate for Godzone was coming in quickly. This provided motivation for a good quick transition and away on the bike I went.
As I settled in for the long haul I was passed by one very speedy cyclist…. which again blew my morale almost immediately. I tried hard not to let it get to me too much and set about my business. Supprisingly I was able to push alright through the first part of South Eyre road with shelter belts on either side, but there were times where there was no hiding from the headwind. Only just as I approached Marshlands road I was able to pass a few people, mostly 2 dayers but there was at least one 1 dayer who had blow out, there was also one poor soul that had had an accident only 5km from the finish. They were being attended to by emergency services so I just kept on keeping on right the way to the finish. Once again pretty satisfying to cross that finish line for the 3rd time.
It wasn’t really the race I was looking for, I can only blame myself really, I don’t think I was really prepared as well as I could have been. My initial lead up had been good, but I think all the racing I did in November (24hr rogaine, SI orienteering Champs, 24 Adventure race followed by another 9 hour adventure race) and then the removal of my top wisdom teeth in December didn’t really leave me with much time to sort my shit out. I also let myself down mentally, I really struggled to find the fire to race hard, I intimidated myself into thinking I wasn’t good enough, then started to believe myself, in particular in the kayak. Besides all that, I neglected to do any real speedwork and that’s probably where the cramping issues crept in. However I wasn’t my worst Coast to Coast, and maybe it was just the kick into action I was looking for as we roll into Godzone in a week and a bit!
Thanks heaps to my support crew, my Mum and Graham, and especially Hilary and James who made my transitions go super smoothly and looking after me all day!