All year long we’ve known that Covid-19 could affect this event, and always we have known that the event could well be affected by the weather. But so far luck had been on our side. Never have I been affected by weather changing the course on me since I first competed in the Longest Day in 2013, and last year, in 2021 we were fortunate for the event to run smoothly despite in the midst of the pandemic.
2022 threw a bit more at us.
Since the epic 2021 event I spent 2 months working for Topsport Kayaking then during the first week of May I received a corticosteroid injection in my left foot to help reduce the inflammation I had had since the previous May. It had cause so much trouble I had spent many months without running. Through great help from Optimal Performance I had found a way to manage it through the 2020/21 season to make it to C2C 2021. But now it was time to try and get rid of it completely.
The injection in May 2021 did not work well for me, it caused extra inflammation and pain for longer than suggested. After 1 month of being couch ridden I tried 2 minute jogs to test it out and it wasn’t very effective. By end of July I hadn’t done much training at all, I wanted to do Motu Challenge in October so along with more great rehab help from Optimal Performance I began a training block. Remarkably, it started to come right! A short 7 week block of training (after no training block since before the 2021 C2C) had me at the start line for Motu Challenge 2021. I was very happy to finish in 2nd place behind Dougal Allan, albeit a long way back. I knew how much time I’d had to prepare for it and so knew I could get much better.
As everyone loves to remind me, more time on the bike was the aim again this Summer. I have spent more time on my bikes than running or kayaking for the past 3 year and my cycling has certainly improved.
The 2021/22 Summer was fantastic. I had incredible support from the people around me, from my partner, Lisa, my family and incredible crew at Topsport. My training was almost flawless (one rolled ankle with crunch in late Jan), session were high in quality, recover was faster than ever and stress levels were lower.
Then, at the end of January, we were told that if the country did change to ‘Red’ Traffic light the 2022 C2C could not be run. Just 2 days later, on Sunday afternoon, the country went ‘Red’.
This was always a possibility. I pride myself in being adaptable and capable of managing change. That Sunday afternoon I received over 20 messages from people passing on their sympathy with words such as ‘gutted for you’, ‘I know how hard you worked for this’, I was still trying to be optimistic but these messages weren’t actually helping. I didn’t really know what to do, I felt quite lost and unsure. I forced my myself to make plans to help with moving on and decided to do some GODZone training missions later that week in the alps, keen to get away from the busy world. Ryan and Eric, the top guns of Topsport, took me out for a few drinks that night.
Monday morning was full of phone calls with athletes, drawing positives on what a great training season they had had. Then at 1130am we receive a email from C2C say that the 2 day events are definitely off, but the 1-day event MIGHT be on still, update later in the week. It is only 2 weeks until race day. Psychologically the momentum of racing enthusiasm and driving force had completely stopped. Finding out that the race could still be on did not flick any switches at all. The next week was spent finding that fire again, because without it my fitness was no good to me, I need that psychological strength too. Friday we find out that they are going to run our event. Phew.
Race week came and and heavy rain hits the west coast and the alps. It’s touch and go about whether the 1-day will be the standard course, Plan B course or even Plan C course. No one could really guess it for certain. It all depended on how much rain fell and how quickly the river dropped.
Friday, the day before the race we find out that the alternative course is locked in. We will still get to do the mountain run stage (awesome!) but then we miss paddling the normal 70km Waimakariri section, instead we will cycle 112km from Klondyke Corner, over Porters Pass and halfway down the Canterbury plains to a lower section of Waimakariri, a location known as ‘The Willows’. From there we will have a 30km paddle stage then a 17km Cycle from the SH1 bridge to the New Brighton finish line.
It is what it is, and I maintain a positive attitude to having a great race day still, I had still had had a great training block, my cycling was stronger than ever and I knew those roads well too.
Deklan and Grant, my support crew are staying with me in Greymouth helping with the setup and preparation for the day, absolute legends and ensure everything is well organised.
Race morning: We are starting in different waves to meet the government guidelines for Covid-19. All elite males get to start together but it also means starting the race at 5:40am, an early start! The usual start line vibes are there despite everyone wearing masks.
On the line, 2 minutes until the gun, I finally see some of the guys I want to keep an eye on, Braden, Dougal, Ryan Kiesanowski, Bobby, Sam Goodall and others. Hands shake then back to looking ahead.
The gun goes, everyone sprints, then 100 meters later most of them slow down, I find myself squeezing my way to the front. Braden quickly pulls a gap on the front of the group but there is no way I am willing to run quite that fast. I’m doing around 3:15-20minkm pace so he must but near on 3 or sub 3. By the end of the 2.2km run Braden’s gap is around 40meters.
A smooth transition to the bike and the group of us merge together and slowly pull Braden into the main group. There are 12 of us in this group: Dougal Allan, Braden Currie, Ryan Kiesanowski, Sam Goodall, Bobby Dean, Brad McNamara, Jamie Piggins, Caleb Hill, Paul Gow, Nathan Sheppard, Marty van Barneveld and myself.
I reminisce on my first 3 Coast to Coast longest days, 2013, 2014, 2015. During the first cycle stage of these years, everyone worked together well. Occasionally someone needed a break and missed 1-2 turns but they always came back. Never again have I seen this. Braden, Dougal, Jamie Piggins and I rotate on the front and the rest just sit in, eat, drink and enjoy their free ride. I’m sure there may have been some that were just hanging on, but there were plenty that weren’t. This is disappointing, I have worked hard for this event, all I want is to have a strong day as I’m sure the others do. I don’t want to have to work any harder than I need to, but there is a 55km cycle stage to be completed. If don’t go out to the front, who will? It would just becomes a pitiful stalemate where everyone expects someone else to carry them to the finish line. I take turns at the front not because I am happy to burn extra energy but because I am trying to set an example, we’ve all run well off the beach to create this bunch, now lets work together to get to the finish line quickly and efficiently. By working together everyone collectively does less work and the ride goes much quicker. If I sit at the back, that leaves Braden, Dougal and Jamie there alone to do the work, while I want to beat these guys I don’t want to unfairly make them work harder than me. Some say that this is cycling, But this is not cycling this is multisport and I’m still sure a pure cycle race would be quite different if you watched a bunch of 12 GC riders race with no ‘team mates’ working for them.
I rotate my turns on the front of the bunch with the other 3 boys, but I am careful still, I stick to my power and heart rates limits, all lower than the previous year, I’m not there to wear myself out, just to keep the the rotations rolling and give the other 3 a short break.
We roll into Aikens Corner, then end of the stage and beginning of the 30km Mountain run over Goat Pass.
The stage begins with a 2km run through grassy paddocks and 4wd track. I stick to my plan, I had a great run the previous year and my running is going better this time round. I had just ridden slightly less power than the previous year and now all I had to do was be smart on the run stage and I can achieve a strong 2nd half. I run at the same pace and heart rate: 4minkm pace and around 166bpm.
Then the first river crossing happens, momentum is stopped and I notice that I am the only one of the guys around me that is wading through the crossing instead of running and jumping through the water. I tell myself I’m being smart and conserving energy but deep down I feel sluggish and not particularly nimble.
The next 2km I find Braden well out of sight and Bobby/Ryan disappearing quickly. I maintain my lack of agility and stumble my way over the rocks. I remain optimistic, consume my nutrition and slow down bit more in the hope that the body ‘catches up’ and switches on.
Dougal is on my tail but he shows no signs of wanting to pass me. Then on the 4th crossing just above the twin slips I lose footing in the flow, almost completely under, I look back and Dougal gives me a hand back up, next second, Dougal slips and I grab him to support him back up. That connection took me out of race mode and reminded me that while we are both here to race, we still respect each other would never let the other get washed down a river.
2km later I find myself assisting athletes doing the mountain run event (they started their run event just 20 mins prior to when we started the run), so many seemed to be struggling on the deeper crossings, I would quickly link up with one as I was crossing the river at the same time.
My agility and power still lacked as I continued through the stage, I come across four Whio (the endangered Blue Duck), I smile and point them out to Dougal, I’ve never seen four at once before on any of my training or guided Goat Pass trips with Topsport. This suggests again how I was likely losing some of the race mode focus, but this was only because I began to accept that my body would not respond to it’s commands. But having Dougal with me was reassuring as that helped me to believe that it was just slow conditions and that the others were certainly going to blow up from going too fast.
Unfortunately by the end of the run stage the slow pace hadn’t meant I was fresher, my legs were sore and tired. Energy however was great.
There were so many awesome spectators jumping around with signs and cheering, family and friends had come out for support. It was a real buzz and brings a lot more joy to a tough day out.
I jumped on the bike for the long cycle stage, 112km over the hills and plains. The legs were aching so bad that I couldn’t really feel them and my feet felt numb. I loosen off my shoes and hope again that after 30mins or so of a bit of power that my legs would warm into the sport and they would get on with the job.
Dougal comes flying past around 4km in and I let him go knowing that I was focusing on my own race and getting my legs to work. After 30mins the legs only felt worse. It’s now been a total of 4 hours of feeling sluggish tired legs I am starting to lose my positive touch and optimism that things would get better. The power I’m holding is equal or less to that I would hold during a long aerobic easy training ride.
This ride was tough, I know the course well, it wasn’t course that was hurting me, it was sucking up that things weren’t going to plan and the unusually fatigued/damaged muscles. The ratio of pain:speed was well out, I was in agony yet power was miniscule. I started having thoughts of pulling out, why suffer my way to finish line? I know I can finish this race, I’m not worried about that, I have come back for the 9th time because I want to get faster. In training I had adapted well and certainly got faster, so why on earth would I bother continuing when I was not achieving any of this, not performing well, nor enjoying myself.
It was the people on the side line that kept me going. The crazy amount of good people who had come out to cheer, people I knew from grade II kayaking courses over the year, mates dressed up in costumes with huge signs and family yelling with cool signs too.
Despite the desire, pulling out really was not an option. At the top of Porters Pass I get handed some tasty potato crisps and my crew swap out my food and bottles. 57km of downhill to go to the kayak stage. Apart from the steep descent from Porters Pass, this is all on the flat Canterbury Plains.
My neck and back is starting to hurt from holding the aero position which is frustrating as I have spent many hours in this position over the past year with no issues.
The never ending stage ends, but the side line supporters continue all the way!
Running from the bike rack to the kayak, Grant offers a bit of banter, after a second of not wanting a bar of it, I switch to a smile and offer some back. I tell myself to sort my attitude out and I soak up more of Grants humour. I’m also stoked to be in my boat, I do like kayaking.
I paddle well for the first 30mins and then suddenly my butt pain arises. The cause of this pain is damaging. I can easily manage losing skin from seat chafe but this is very different. Every time it happens in a race and I try to push through it I end up with serious muscle damage to makes it difficult to sit down for over a week. I have spent all year every year working on my kayak seats to prevent this from happening, and I really thought I had it dialled. Unfortunately not and my speed decreased as I had to reduce my leg drive and rotation to ease the pressure points.
I hadn’t received any time splits at the last transition. I knew my crew hadn’t forgotten to tell me and was simply withholding due to me being in no mans land. I’d gathered that there was no one within reach either behind or in front and it was a matter of grinding my way to the finish.
It had now started pouring with rain, Deklan pulls me out of the kayak, and I hobble across the stones due to the damage in my glutes from my seat.
On to the bike and I’m easily clocking 40kmph at my low wattage, must be a tailwind, awesome! I can barely see as the heavy rain and cooler temperature has caused the inside of my visor to fog up, tilting my head right back to see underneath.
Despite the rain there are still plenty of die hard supporters out on the side of the road, cheering hard.
At the finish chute it’s no different, it’s still pouring rain and the area is abundant with friends and family. I pull off my visor so I can finally see and my legs allow me to run to the finish tent.
It is strange, my energy levels are still very high, it was the extraordinary muscle fatigue that prevented me from going any faster. I’m relatively clear headed and chat to Grant and Glen Currie about my day, ask how the guys in front of me went and who won, while enjoying a fresh burger and beer.
It’s a bizarre feeling when reflecting on my day. I was proud of myself for not pulling out. I acknowledge how lucky we were to race at all and the hard mahi that Glen, Gemma, Ritchie and the rest of the Kathmandu Coast to Coast crew did behind the scenes to make it happen.
I appreciate that in previous C2C events I haven’t experienced such a non-compliant body after such a positive training block, I’ve had it pretty good so far!
So my take-away’s are:
- Figure out why my body didn’t perform on the day, was it my taper, was it the run off the beach or the first ride that affected my day? Was it nutrition? etc.
- Be more open minded and accepting that the course can change, it has always been a possibility. I thought I was already good at that but apparently not.
- Appreciate that while I made my life revolve around this race for the past 11 years that it is still just a race, I don’t have to have a good race or a good training session to be happy. There are many other ways around the year I can enjoy myself and appreciate that I’m lucky to have the skills and ability to run, bike or kayak with great people in such great parts of the world.
- Appreciate how lucky I am to have so many good people in my life.
Thanks to my long term coach and all round good bloke Cameron Durno.
Thanks my partner, Lisa for your everlasting support. To my family and friends for always having my back.
Thank you to Topsport – Without their support things would be very different. They support me in so many different ways. I work for Topsport (when I’m not training) but they look after me even when I haven’t turned up for work for over a month :).
Thanks to Tom Kearney from Canterbury Feed Assessment for your support this past year, I’m very fortunate to have your backing on this campaign. Your contribution made a great difference on a lot of decisions made last year!
Thanks to SCOTT Running NZ for having amazing footwear for all terrains, I use them because I do believe they are the best.
Thanks to Julbo Eyeware NZ for incredible sunnies, such a huge range of quality glasses for almost every sport, kayak specific, Mountain bike, road cycling, running, and more.
Thanks to my athletes that I coach. While I am there to help them, they often help me. Sometimes it might be them setting the example and offering the advice. Thanks for continued dedication and great attitudes.
Bring on 2022/23