Updated: Sep 28, 2018
I have thought about this post since the first time I decided to start writing a blog, but never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be filled with the content below. In my last post I said when someone asked me how my race went I wanted my answer to be simple; awesome. I’m struggling to find words that suit how I feel. While ‘awesome’ still springs to mind, there are also others like overwhelmed, amazed, relieved and many more that I can’t actually put a finger on it.
The lead up to the race wasn’t ideal in terms of preparation. I was down in Gore with work and came back on Wednesday night. A two-hour delay in Invercargill meant I couldn’t pick up a few things I needed before the shops closed so this would have to be pushed to Thursday morning. I finally arrived home to discover a front flat tyre. Bike tyres and I don’t really seem to gel, in fact, my biggest fear about the race was getting a puncture and having to change it under pressure! The weekend before I went home with all my gear to sort it out and brief the family on transitions! It was Mum’s turn to sit there with the itinerary I had printed off of what was to be put on where and when.
In typical female fashion, I had bought a gas canister the day before to use to blow up my tyre if I got a flatty. This would make it super quick and easy (supposedly) to get air back in the tyre and on my way. I had had my bike serviced that week, and both spares checked too, so as far as I was concerned, I was doing everything within my power to eliminate a roadside stop! Things didn’t quite go to plan though; the gas canister broke off the valve from my tyre, and when I managed to remove it, it exploded in my face!! A few stressful words were uttered, while Mum reassured me it would be fine while most likely thinking ‘she’s screwed!’ Not to worry, I changed it with my spare (now only one left) and just prayed I would be fine!
So when I arrived home from Invercargill late and found the tyre was flat, the stress levels took a steep climb! Grant my flatmate (and also support crew member) was an absolute calming saint and sorted everything out for me. Relief, although this did mean I was out of spares. Roll around Thursday morning and d-day! I had a few jobs on the list and aimed to head away before lunch, so I was horrified to discover that the new tyre we had changed had also gone down! Great. Deep breathe, bike loaded onto the car and straight to the bike shop for 8am when it opened. My bike is tiny though, so their tyres aren’t your standard size, which meant they didn’t have any in stock. Deep breathe again! Smile sweetly, use the fact that you’re a small, blonde, female to your advantage and the guys in the bike the shop were awesome. I left my bike with them and picked it up on my way over to the West Coast, two brand new spares included!
Race registration was at the Kumara Racecourse from 3pm-7pm. The plan was I would get registered then head to our Motel, check us all in (there were 10 of us!), get my gear sorted for the next day then head back to Kumara for the Race briefing at eight pm. There are two weekends of the year when Hokitika is packed out; the weekends of Coast and Wild Foods. So when I discovered our four rooms had been double booked it was time for another deep breath and find a solution, quick! There was no way we could book anywhere, and we only had one tent between us, so the owner of the Motel gave us the keys to her Bach 15 min up the valley at Lake Kaniere. It wasn’t ideal, but it was better than nothing! So I waited in Hokitika until Fraser, Ben and Liv arrived, as there is no cell phone reception at the Lake, before heading to the house.
The saying that things happen in three’s couldn’t have been more accurate. When we were still driving 40min later on a windy single gravel road, the nerves were tested once again. Luckily the boys had taken a wrong turn also and were ahead of us. Liv and I just looked at each other with no words needing to be spoken. You could feel the tension in the air!! It turned out we had taken the wrong road so when we finally arrived Mum, Dad and Cath Preen had been waiting there for ten minutes already! The house was fantastic though and in hindsight was probably even better than the motel. Sue and Chid arrived just as we were leaving to go to the briefing and we brought Bids back with us who was there working for Sportsmed. We got home about 9.30pm with everyone finally in one place, fed, watered and headed to bed at about 10.30pm with the rain falling outside.
A 4.15am start had everyone up, quick cup of coffee and on the road by 5.10am. We were actually on time (I had told everyone the leaving time was 5am though!). All cars had to have left Kumara by 6am as they closed the road through to Jacksons for three hours for the first bike leg. Bids dropped me off where I met Jacqs (I was #351, and she was #350), racked our bikes (triple checked the tyres were still up!) and walked in the drizzle with our ponchos on to Kumara beach and the start of the Coast to Coast 2014. I was surprisingly calm, and a few smiles crossed my face when I realised that this was actually it, I was finally ticking off a massive event on my bucket list. A couple of photos, the fourth loo stop, a touch of the Tasman Sea and it was time. It was three minutes until seven as we all lined up on the beach ready for Juddy to blow the horn for the beginning of the race.
Bang. It’s all a bit of a blur really. Jacq and I quickly set ourselves in a steady rhythm, and by the time we ran through the round-a-bout we were passing quite a few people and feeling good. As our numbers were quite low (Individual two-day are 300-500) this meant our bikes were closer to us, so we didn’t have as far to run. We both had a super speedy transition on to the bikes, and now it was just a matter of head down and power up the road. I could see a group up ahead of me pulling away, and I knew I had to catch them, so I cranked the gears and just went for it. Looking back it was this small part of the race that made it for me. I finally managed to catch them and looking behind, the next group was quite a way back, so well worth the effort. These were big guys, so I tucked in behind them, settled into a rhythm and caught my breath. My headspace was good, this is what I had hoped and prayed would happen and it was now just a matter of hanging on for the 55km through to Aicken’s corner. Hilary Totty was in the bunch, as well as a few other girls but not many, which at my guess was sitting at about 40-50. I had never ridden in a group this large before, but Bids had told me to sit about 1/3 of the way back and on the outside. This was to avoid getting dropped, but also in the case of a crash you had room to move. So this is where I sat for the majority of the bike, getting pulled along and loving every single second.
Time flew, and before I knew it, I was pulling into TA2 to ditch the bike and start the run. In a time of 1:53:00 my support crew couldn’t quite believe it. Ben told me I was in the second group (wow) and pretty much up the front with the leading females. This was like a dream. I had a smile a mile wide as food and drink were passed to me, shoes changed, backpack on and I was off, ready to tackle Goat’s Pass. My support crew was incredible. I had divvied up jobs for everyone to do; Fraser’s role was holding the pink flag so I could see him when I came in off my bike. I spotted him almost immediately (no need to guess why he was landed with this role!). The rest of them had their own jobs but just the fact they were all there was enough, each with words of encouragement and probably shocked that I had come in so soon!
I set off on the run feeling fantastic, but had in the back of my mind I knew that it might not last. I once again settled into a rhythm, took on food and water and knew I had three km’s before I hit the first river crossing and started to head up the Deception Valley. It was drizzling most of the way up which made the rocks very slippery. I followed people’s footsteps where I could overtake people with only a few males passing me and just lived in the moment. It was awesome. Surprisingly the good feeling didn’t leave me, and it wasn’t long before I was up at the top hut, hitting the boardwalks and ready to stretch the legs down the other side.
It was clearing while heading down the Mingha Valley, so at least the support crew wouldn’t be waiting in the rain! I ran by myself from here on, thinking random thoughts but mostly about one of the most amazing people in this world who is currently fighting a battle far harder than most of us ever will. Nicki Mitchell, you are an incredible person, and I did this race for you.
Running out of the Beech forest and on to the riverbed was a bit of a mind game. I knew that the end was close but also the hardest part of the run was ahead of me. There are hardly any tracks here, so it was full concentration as I tried to pick the best route over the loose rocks. I crossed the Bealey River then it was up on to the track with home in view. I was hurting by now; I had pushed myself through this run and with a quick check of the watch knew I was going to come in under five hours (a goal that I didn’t tell anyone in case I jinxed it!).
I could see Sue and heard Dad’s whistle (how appropriate!) plus many more people yelling for me and calling my name. It was up the bank and around the last bend to run up the finish shoot. My support crew were easy to spot decked out in their green icebreaker tops, all yelling and clapping as I did a couple of fist pumps on the way to the finish line and my can of Speight’s from Steve Guerney. This was up there with the best part of the whole two days; the immense satisfaction and relief were very easy to see on my face. I crossed the line in a time of 6.36.18, which meant my run was 4.42.54, over an hour faster than I had done it before. You’d think I had bloody won the thing the way we hugged and laughed and enjoyed the moment. I knew I had done well; as I was running past a checkpoint near the end, someone told me I was in the top five girls. I think I said ‘that’s pretty awesome’ in reply, but was in disbelief when the results were posted, and I was sitting in third. Wholey cr*p. That’s on the podium! Considering I had told my support crew the night before my race goal was to be in top ten.
We mooched around in the sun and watched people come in, the boys making sure they got their fair share of the free Speights on offer before heading back to our accommodation in Arthur’s Pass. From here it was a sort through and organise of the gear for the next 4am start the following day. Gina and Grant joined us taking my support crew up to 12 (most likely the biggest crew there!), then it was dinner, massage and early to bed. I slept like a log, waking up feeling fresh, although a lot more nervous than the previous day. The pressure was on. There were only about six minutes separating third and the sixth place and I knew the kayaking was definitely my weakest leg. In fact, I hadn’t made it down the river dry yet, so fingers were crossed for third time lucky!
I was dropped off at the tent at Klondyke corner where Ben, Gina, Fraser and Liv had had a restless night’s sleep, no thanks to Fraser’s snoring! A rooster noise woke them early, and they left thinking multisporters are mad. Most probably dead on the money there! All cars had to have departed by 5am in time to get the boats scrutineered at the Mt White Bridge and ready for the kayak stage. Jacqs and I hopped into their warm beds and waited an hour and a half or so before we made our way to the road and the start of day two.
We were set off in waves of 10 depending on your number, so I was in the fifth wave leaving Klondyke bang on 7.35am. I had a good start with one other guy and hung on to him for at least 3/4 of the way before he dropped me going up the hill. From here I was by myself before someone caught me going up the last rise to the gravel road and down into the kayak transition.
It had been an intensely debated topic in the weeks leading up to the race; what shoes were you going to wear on the first bike? We had about an 800m run down the gravel road to the bridge before getting into the kayaks. You could choose from many options like regular bikes shoes, use mountain bike shoes (swap your pedals) or carry sneakers or your booties with you. I decided to go with the mountain bike option, to be honest, I still don’t know what would have been the best!
Because the river was so low, it meant we had to cross through the water and over to the far channel on the right. This was tough work in the bike shoes, and I have Jacqs to thank for holding my hand and keeping me upright! Once again it was a very smooth transition, and before I knew it, I was pushed off the bank and heading down the river.
It took about an hour and a half before we hit the gorge. Because of the low flow, we were paddling quite hard, and I knew we were in for a slow run on the river. I was beside Jacqs and Laura, so we talked and laughed our way down enjoying the early morning sun and getting in the first lot of energy before the river tightened and the rapids grew. And that they did! Second rapid and before I know it I was upside down! Aggghhh. I couldn’t believe it. I can’t roll, so it was a wet exist and back up to get air. Thankfully I had my paddle in my hand still and was right by my boat, so I manoeuvred myself around to the front to grab the cord. I was hyperventilating, probably from shock and the cold water. Jacqs went past and offered very kind words, which pulled me back to reality, and I knew I was going to be okay. The guys on the bank tried to chuck me a rope, but it came nowhere near. Small issue, a huge rock was now directly ahead of me. I rolled around onto my back, so I was heading down feet first and took the full force of the rock on my bum! Up and over and somehow still holding the kayak which was super heavy due to being filled with water, I yelled at the guys to get in their jet boat and help me (hopefully I wasn’t too rude!). Anyway, they were great and came up beside me to push me to the shore, helped me empty my boat and I was off. I am not too sure how much time this took me. In some ways, it felt super quick, but I watched a lot of people paddle past me before I got back on the water. Damn, I was now on my own and knew this would be a long and lonely trip to the Gorge Bridge.
The nerves were definitely shaken at the start, and I probably took corners too cautiously at times, but as my confidence grew things were starting to get back on track. In my mind, I knew this would have dropped me back in the placings and at one stage I was feeling pretty low, so I had a quick talk to myself, told myself it wasn’t the end of the world and just fight harder to get it back. I got through the gorge without any other significant dramas, a few circles in eddies but thankfully nothing I couldn’t get myself out of. At one stage I was going down a rapid when a guy in the boat right beside took a bad line and went head-on into a rock, smashing the nose of his kayak. I yelled out the token ‘are you OK?’, but to be honest there wasn’t anything I could do, plus there was a jet boat at the end of the rapid that I knew would help him.
I was pleased to hear from others that they found the river tough too due to the lack of flow. This meant corners were tight and technical and there were no chicken runs left for us newbies! Coming into Woodstock was a huge relief and surprise as I recognised Jacq and Laura in the distance. It took me another half an hour to catch them, just in time to yell at them to take the far right channel. I had been down this part of the river on Waitangi day, so luckily had inside knowledge that this was by far the best line to take. We overtook a few here and chatted our way down for the last half an hour on the river.
I pulled into the Gorge Bridge transition after five hours and 17 minutes on the river, where Ben and Fraser took control. I was hauled out of my boat and off through the timing transition to start the last leg of the race. I was buggered. I knew I hadn’t eaten enough due to trying to catch the other girls and my support crew could easily tell this from the start. That hill run was tough (it was only about 500m!), I wanted someone to push me, but this wasn’t allowed. As I was wet through from my tip in the river, I changed tops, got my cycling gear on and was on my bike up the cutting to crank out the final leg back into town.
Once again there were the three of us, Jacqs, Laura and myself, with another guy just up ahead. We caught up with him, and slowly our bike pack grew from four to about 15 as we picked people up and others caught us. It was fast, and my legs were screaming at me. I managed to hang on until Yaldhurst (a massive thanks for the sign Anna McCone) where I got dropped off the back. I had nothing left. I was starting to go dizzy and knew I needed food fast. After one very, very crusty peanut butter and honey sandwich and two packs of Gu Chomps I began to come right (these took full effect at 4am!). It took about ten minutes to kick in, and by that time a girl had caught me who I ducked in behind. I wish I could remember her number to thank her, but she saved me and pulled me all the way into Sumner. I tried to do some work on the front but she kept passing me, so I just hung on and used every bit of energy I had left.
Crossing that finish line is what I had dreamed of for the last year, in fact probably the last 20 years when I first heard of this fantastic race. Running over that sand for the last 100m I put my arms up in pure joy and again relief, but this time it was over in a time of 14.50.26. My support crew had doubled with people coming from all over to watch me achieve my goal. There were hugs and tears. My sister who lives in Kenya had been up all night too nervous to sleep, so there were more tears when I spoke to her! Touching the Pacific sea, Cath came over to me with the news; somehow I had managed to hang on and still be in 3rd position! Unbelievable, never in my wildest dreams did I think this would be the end result and even now when I think of it I can’t help but smile.
It has been the best experience; the text, calls and messages I have received have blown me away. For the last eight months of writing this blog and putting myself out there, your support has been amazing. I have loved putting pen to paper (actually fingers to keyboard) and sharing this experience with you. Already I have had emails from people wanting to do it next year and asking how to go about this (next post), so I am glad I have had a good influence! I guess now I can take the word ‘novice’ off my blog title!
Just before I sign out and without it sounding too much like a speech, I have some huge thank yous to say to so many, not only from the weekend but also the last year. You hopefully know who you are, but I especially want to say thanks to my support crew; Sue and Chid, Fraser and Livvy, Bids and Grant, Cath and Sophie and Brader. My family; Mum and Dad, Flis and Sam from afar, Gina and my number one support crew member my awesome big bro Ben (who also bought four bottles of Moet!). Thanks to Hils and Laura for the endless hours of training and finally to Jacqs. We started this together, we pretty much did this race together (I think the race commentators even mentioned this!) and we (almost) finished this together. The Monday catch-up phone calls when we both had no idea what the hell we were doing were amazing and so supportive!
I’m not too sure if there is the one-day in me, that again is a whole different level, but if anyone out there wants to give it a crack and do a team, I may have one ear listening…