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Speights Coast to Coast 2015

Let’s all repeat together, ‘Never let Hollie sign up for the one-day Speight’s Coast to Coast’. Wow, I knew the longest day was a step-up from the two-day, but I wasn’t quite prepared for just how big the difference would be. Fast, fast, fast. I’ll repeat it, they are so bloody fast. Utmost respect to anyone who gives the one-day a nudge (and the Two-Day!).

As I stood on Kumara beach at 6.30am and watched the two-day athletes touch the water and quietly mingle between themselves, I could see the look in their eyes and knew exactly how they were feeling. For many it was a whole year of training, learning to kayak, running and biking, all in preparation for this moment. I had butterflies in my stomach for them, and for the first time, I wished I was lycra-clad alongside them too. But as I snapped away on my iPhone uploading images for social media and the event feed in the new app, nice and cosy in a warm jacket, the thought didn’t last long!

Driving in the van alongside them as they ran up the road to the first transition, then watching them cycle 67 kilometres to the start of the run I was pretty pleased to be on the other side of the camera lens. Things went smoothly, with only a few minor crashes and not before long we were waiting at Aickens corner for the first bunch to come in.

The Two Day event is very social, everyone is chatting and waiting for their competitor to cycle in, change their shoes, maybe their clothing too, refuel, pack on and then they’re off to start the run over Goat’s Pass. To me it’s this part that gives Coast such a good reputation, everyone cheering on strangers and people just getting out there and achieving their dream.

The first day had gone well. Richard Ussher, who is the new race director, had made some minor but necessary changes, which in my eyes were excellent. One being the first run was slightly shorter with a designated area for the bikes, which meant everyone now ran the same distance, unlike last year where the earlier you entered during the year, the closer your bike was to the start.

Day Two start line. Right from the beginning, you could sense the experience of these competitors had just stepped up a level. Fewer people meant it was quieter on the beach and starting an hour earlier than the two-day meant that it was still pitch black. Laura Thomas, who I trained with and raced with last year, was doing the longest day for the first time. I found her before she started and wished her all the best, she had one huge day ahead of her. She was nervous but excited, you could tell she just wanted it to start.

Bang, they were off and gone. Everyone raced to the media van quickly! And we needed to, these guys weren’t mucking around. I was the van driver (no pressure), which was filled with NZ Herald, The Press and Complete Performance guys so it was my job to cruise alongside the competitors so they could get the shots and stories needed. I loved it, being this close without the pressure of racing was awesome.

It still amazes me how fast they were. No love was lost here, and the first bunch consisted of 11 people, with the top eight seeds all there amongst the action. One guy rode the entire first leg with his feet on top of his shoes, such was the pressure and speed to stay with the lead pack. We were buzzing, it was going to be a great race.

They arrived at Aickens corner in no time at all, barely stopping before powering out and up the railway track to start the run. Jess Simson flew into transition and didn't stop at all, instead putting out her arm, catching her bag and continuing right through. Might have to work on my transitions from now on! They say for every second you have in transition, it will cost you six metres in the race. So if you can make up two or three minutes on someone, then this is a huge advantage. Clearly, this worked for Jess who was second at this transition and then went on to win the female race.

Klondyke corner was a lot quieter than day one as we sat there waiting for the leaders to come down the Mingha Valley. Braden was in first place followed very closely by Sam Clarke, and then again by Sam Manson. As Sam Manson took off on his bike, his chain not only came off but also broke! “Anyone got a spare bike?” was tensely yelled at the watching crowd. Fortunately for him, a car was parked on the opposite side of the road with a spare bike on the back. It was quickly pulled off, and he was away, but not before Trevor Voyce managed to sneak past him into third.

The river had dropped quite a bit overnight and now sat around 60 cumecs. For those who don’t know river levels, this was low and meant carnage. No chicken lines were left, just tight corners and a very slow paddle. I am so, so glad this was not me this year. After falling out last year, I have lost quite a bit of confidence. I know I just need to get back in the boat, but I was thanking my lucky stars I was taking the tarmac route to the gorge bridge.

People were freezing and very tired by the time they pulled into the end of the kayak leg. One guy I spoke to had fallen out three times. This was not only physically challenging but also a mental battle! Another change, and probably the best of the lot, was the last bike leg. Instead of heading down Old West Coast Road and into Sumner, competitors now crossed the bridge and cycled down the North side of the river and ended at New Brighton. Everyone I have spoken to has had only good things to say about this change, especially those who came in later in the evening. Those steps at the end though…!

I went back later in the evening to watch Laura smash her goal and cross the finish line. What an achievement, I was so proud of her! She looked buggered, not going to lie, but I wouldn’t expect anything less after she had just run, cycled, run, cycled, kayaked and finally cycled 243 kilometres from one side of New Zealand to the other, in one day! They even put on a massive fireworks display just as she crossed the finish line! Well done Laura, amazing achievement.

So my first experience of wearing sports clothes while in a design/media role was awesome. The media team, the people I met and the event itself is exactly where my passion lies and where I see myself in the years ahead. Roll on next year (from behind the camera lens…!)

Just a quick note, while I was training for this race last year, I would bore people with my training stories, and they would always say I was mad. (Actually, this is still happening to me right now.) But a colleague from work would always ask me how I was going, more often than not followed by him saying that he would never do anything like that. I would assure him that anyone can do it, the biggest challenge is your mind. So as I stood on the start line on day one and watched the two-day competitors make their way towards the beach, I was stoked to recognise Dan as he walked past. I followed him over the two days, yelling like a crazy woman each time I saw him, but so happy to see him out there giving it a crack. I caught up with him at the end with his finishing medal around his neck, where he thanked me for giving him the push he needed to give it a go. He joined the Complete Performance Group to help his training with Coast, and this is just the beginning of his sporting ventures. Congratulations again Dan, awesome achievement.

This is one of the main reasons why I write this blog, to inspire people to get out there and give it a crack. I'm no super athlete, I just love the challenge and to see how far I can go. No matter how big or small, set yourself a goal and work towards it. Trust me, when you cross that finish and achieve it, it’s the best feeling ever.

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