Life after Coast

My focus for the last six months, and with good reason, has been the Kathmandu Coast to Coast. Everything seemed to revolve around getting myself over the line at New Brighton Beach. I don’t think I have ever been so organised for a race before. Ever. Lists of lists included. Exactly a week after the Longest Day, I headed south to compete as part of a team for Challenge Wanaka Half-Ironman, and the contrast between the two couldn’t have been bigger.

I did the swim leg of team Say Yes to Adventure, with Scottie claiming the bike and Jacqs the run and at the last minute, I joined a friend’s team who found themselves a man down on the run section. Because it seemed entirely logical six months ago to do the only part of the race that I hadn’t done any training for! I wasn’t nervous at all, though, even with minimal training. I had done a couple of swims in Mum and Dad’s irrigation ponds a few months ago, plus a few over Christmas in the new lake at Clarence (thanks to the Kaikoura earthquake). I knew I had the fitness and for me, swimming is about getting into a steady rhythm and keeping the arms ticking over. I lived in Sydney for three years, where I joined Bondi Fit, a triathlon club based at Bondi, and managed to go from someone who only ever made the ‘K Grade’ at school swimming sports, to someone who could do a two-kilometre ocean swim fairly easily (no records were broken, however). So far, I appear to be unsinkable, my bubble butt finally offering a small advantage.

It seemed like everything was against us not to compete in the event, though. A compulsory registration had to be completed before 6.30pm on Friday, which meant an early afternoon departure from Christchurch. Scottie and I got as far as Mum and Dad’s south of Ashburton, as they were coming down with us, picked up Dad then headed for Geraldine to collect Mum after she finished teaching for the day. Even with a very tight schedule, there was room for a brief stop for a Fairlie Bakehouse pie on the way – never a bad move – before we were back on the road and heading slightly too fast to Wanaka. Arriving with seconds to spare, we appeared to be a massive inconvenience as we were palmed from one race organiser to another before finally getting our name taken off the ‘Did Not Start’ list. Phew, Scottie’s bike got the once over and after the go head there (a few screws tightened) she racked her bike, and we headed straight to the beach for a pre-race beer!

Wanaka finally decided it was summer time and turned on a boomer for us. The lake was glass, only rippled by the swimmers and safety boats. After realising we hadn’t been given a swim cap the night before and told we would be disqualified if we didn’t have one, we managed to track one down with enough time before the start. I did a quick recce to check the goggles still worked and the wetsuit wasn’t going to rub in any wrong places. After a few strokes the ice cream headache was quick to appear, now realising why people had their own cap on underneath the compulsory one. So, it was quickly back to shore to sort that out before wading back into the water and heading for the start line.

Back on shore, and with less than a minute until our heat was to start, Jacqs and Scottie were chatting to a friend who mentioned their swimmer had almost forgotten to go between the flags to start their timing chip. They both looked at each other; I hadn’t done that. With no time to get me back out of the water they went and found an official to let them know. It must have worked though as we managed to get times on each leg of the race.

My goal leading up to the swim was to start nearer the back so as not to get dunked or hit on the head as we started. But with 30 seconds left to go, I found myself right up the front in the middle, all set and ready. The gun went off; it was all go. I managed to quickly get into a rhythm and control my breathing as I headed for the first buoy. People seemed only to be passing me, with one person even doing backstroke!! But as I rounded the first buoy it was incredibly satisfying as I slowly started to pick people off with the same coloured cap as me. A few passed me on the final leg back in, but they were from the mixed teams who started five minutes behind us. I was swimming blind with the morning sun blinding my vision, so just stuck on the feet of a few ahead and managed to take (I hope) a pretty straight line into the shore.

I had hoped to complete the swim in 35-40 minutes so was very happy to hear my time was 34 minutes. Only a few minutes slower than when I used to swim at least three times a week! I ran up out of the water, over the bridge and down into the transition area where I found Scottie with her bike all set to go. The hardest part was the sprint out of the water!!

Team Say Yes to Adventure ended up having a great day out, with both Scottie and Jacqs having great legs too, even with Jacqs blowing a calf muscle one kilometre in. We finished in 6:15:59and ended up 24th out of 63 finishers, a great result.

I also did the run leg for a friend’s team called Belgian Biscuits, which I loved. It’s been a while since I did a 21-kilometre flat run, though, and I couldn’t believe how sore my muscles were the following day. I have definitely slowed down on the flat; might need to look at that as an area of improvement over the winter!

It’s been all go in a good way since Challenge too. The following weekend my sister and her gorgeous family arrived from Kenya for three weeks for my brother’s wedding. Adding to the wedding week madness, Resonate Productions came to Mum and Dads to do some background filming for the Coast to Coast documentary they are putting together, which meant some interviewing of my family (can’t wait to see it!!) and some drone action half-way up Mt Peel. And as I write this, I am sitting in Mum and Dad’s campervan driving back (feeling slightly carsick) from a magical week in Twizel where summer had finally decided to arrive. I managed a few swims, runs and bike rides accompanied with a slight over-indulgence of eating and drinking!

I have a few races on the horizon, one being Breca Swimrun in Wanaka on the 25th March. I’m in a team with Scott, where we will run and swim our way anticlockwise around the perimeter of Lake Wanaka, starting in Albert Town and finishing at Edgewater. It consists of 18 transitions – seven checkpoints, nine swim legs and ten run legs – a total of eight kilometres of swimming and 42.2 kilometres of running. All while in a wetsuit and with sneakers! I daresay a lot of Gurney Goo will be used! I have never done anything like this before, and it’s the first time a race of this type has been held in New Zealand. Check out the course map here.

In other news, Volume Eight of Say Yes to Adventure magazine has hit the ground running and is now on sale in stores. If you haven’t seen it yet make sure you grab yourself a copy here or head into one of our stockists. It’s filled with some pretty awesome stories and contributions, a little hit of inspiration to help with your next adventure.

When you make everyone on the familymoon do press ups with you!

And on a final note, I have now been doing press ups for more than 70 days. This is the longest I have ever stuck to something before, more surprised that I have remembered to do them every day too! I can’t believe we are 70 days into 2017, yikes. I have cranked the number up to 30 and am feeling stronger. I think I’ll change the style slightly to make it harder going forward. My original plan was to up it by ten each month, but think this might be a bit ambitious! Will see how we go. Join me on Instagram @pressup365 to follow my progress, or better still, share your own #pressup365.

Fun is one of the most important – and underrated – ingredients in any successful venture. If you’re not having fun, then it’s probably time to call it quits and try something else. – Richard Branson

The Longest Day

The words below feature in Volume Eight of Say Yes to Adventure magazine. I had considered holding this post off until after it is released on March 5th – but there are many of you who have asked how my race was, so I’ve decided to publish it now. Plus my brother (finally) gets married the Friday before, so life will be pretty full-on! So here it is – my experience from The Longest Day that will go down as one of the best.

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On any other day, a 4am wake-up call has me hating the noise which has rudely awakened me, the body acutely aware that it still has a few more hours left before the light begins to shine on a new day. But not this day. I’ve been waiting six months for this moment, possibly years even when I think about it. Hours upon hours of training, covering too many kilometres to count via foot, bike and kayak. The penultimate of adventure races – The Kathmandu Coast to Coast Longest Day.

I glance around and glimpse the faces of competitors revealed by the spotlight, aware that I am surrounded by the best of the best, not just in New Zealand, but the world. My stomach does a flip; the butterflies increase tenfold. After a summer that couldn’t have been worse weather-wise, the gods are smiling down on us and have delivered what could be one of the best mornings ever known to Kumara Beach on New Zealand’s West Coast. The sea was dead calm, perfectly lit by the full moon sitting low in the sky. I touch the water; a ritual well-known to all who compete in this iconic event. The superstorm that rolled through a few weeks earlier has changed the landscape significantly, resulting in a cliff and river now between the 4WD track and the sea. Deciding that wet feet this early on is not the best idea, I opt for the new river to wet my fingers. I was more than OK with this.

Ahead of me, I have a mammoth task; three kilometres of road running, 55 kilometres of road biking, 33 kilometres of mountain running, 15 kilometres of road biking, one kilometre of gravel road running, 67 kilometres of kayaking, and finally to finish, 70 kilometres of road biking; from one side of New Zealand to the other, a total of 243 kilometres in one day. I know I can do it; this race is as much, if not more, mental than it is physical. Just how the day will unfold, though, is the reason for my nerves, the endless thoughts and the uneasy feeling that sits low in my stomach; a constant reminder of what I have voluntarily signed up for.

I hug Grant and Scott who are standing beside me and wish them all the best. “See you at New Brighton,” we all say. Two of my best friends and training buddies, they have pushed me in every aspect in the lead-up to this race, willing me to keep up with their longer legs and lightning pace, always waiting for me when I’ve been out of sight for a tad too long. Their smiles say it all; we are ready.

In a flash, I’m breathing hard, sucking in the cold morning air and waiting for the lactic acid burn to reach my legs, but it doesn’t appear. I push harder, managing to overtake a few, a few overtaking me. Finding a steady rhythm, I glance down at my watch and notice I’m running just over a four-kilometre pace. A smile spreads across my face, and a lump appears in my throat. I quickly snap myself out of it, it’s far too early in the day to get emotional. So far, so good.

Floodlights shine on the bikes racked in numbered order as competitors race to find their own, with most swapping their running shoes for road bike shoes as quickly as possible before getting back on the tar seal and starting the first bike leg of the day. I crank the big gear and start to wind up the legs (the ‘mongrel gear’ as I later hear it being referred to), catching the two girls ahead of me. After regaining my breath, I share some friendly “hello’s” while we work together to catch the group ahead, and it’s not long until we are caught by a group behind. Settling into a rhythm, our pack, minus one whose chain came off, end up riding the whole way together to Transition One (TA1). As night slowly gives way to the day, we find ourselves surrounded by the low morning mist and some breathtaking scenery. A truly magical morning on the bike, I couldn’t be happier as we cruise along at an average speed of 30 kilometres an hour.

Carefully crossing the train lines, I pull ahead knowing I have only a few kilometres left before the end of the bike stage. With at least 20 in my bunch, I don’t want to get caught up amongst everyone getting off their bikes. I rack my bike (just, it’s a little too small to touch the ground!) and wake up the legs as my eyes search for a familiar face in the crowd. With relief, I quickly spot Scottie, one of my support crew superstars, standing half way down the chute waving at me. Like clockwork, the shoes, helmet and bib come off, replaced by sneakers, pack and the bib back over the top. I’m buzzing; a crash, puncture or even just not being part of a bunch were my biggest fears. Mentally, if I can be in a good space right from the start, then chances are I’m in for a good day. Juj (Juliet) hands me my visor, and I can hear Mum and Dad cheering me on. I flash them all a smile, adding, “See you at Klondyke,” before running off through the gate and along the paddock towards the first river crossing.

Did that just happen? My two main support crew members, Scottie Scott and Juj Scott (yes, sisters) have never helped crew at any event before, let alone the Coast to Coast One Day. I’d printed out a schedule on how I imagined the day would unfold; what food when, the order of the gear to put on and off, and compulsory gear that needed to be scrutineered, etc. I told them to watch how other competitors ahead of me did it, although the speed that the top guys and girls go through, where every second counts, is something else. By comparison, I was having a cup of tea and biscuits! One transition down and they’d nailed it. Not that I ever doubted them, but they did tell me afterwards that they felt so much better after the first transition was over and everything had gone to plan.

The rivers are running at a reasonable flow, which to most is OK but to me meant I have to pick my lines carefully. I stumble down the bank to the first crossing and am just behind a group of guys making their way slowly to the other side. They are heading straight across, but I can see the tape on the other side is slightly downstream, so rip, shit and bust I hit the flow and charge on through. Within seconds it is tits up. I lose my footing and instantly find myself submerged, neck-deep in the river. Reaching out I manage to grab hold of a rock with both hands and pull myself back up, steadying my footing and making my way out of the main flow. “Refreshing dip?” comes a comment from one of the race officials. I smile and nod, I am now in front of the three guys and ready for my favourite part of the race.

The run up Goats Pass goes by in a blur. The track, now noticeably different after the recent superstorm, is well marked and easy to follow. The long flat stretches slowly change into rocks, which then turn into boulders. A couple of times I feel myself falling flat, instantly recognising the signs as not taking enough fuel on board. Reaching into my pockets, I pull out some wet scroggin (trail mix) and Frooze Balls – ideal energy food to eat on the run and which can easily survive many river dunkings.

One of the great things about adventure racing is the people you meet. Nearing the top, a guy catches up to me who I have spent almost six months kayaking with on Tuesday mornings, but have never said more than a “hello” to. We chat away, sharing our thoughts on the day and how we are both feeling at that current stage. It’s not always about racing hard and busting your gut, but being able to enjoy the unexpected moments that come with competing in these types of events.

Reaching the hut, we come across the compulsory gear check. This year we have to show our thermal top and bottoms, woollen gloves and waterproof jacket. There are plenty of marshals around to help, off comes the bib, followed by the pack and out comes the gear. It’s always the way; I just can’t find my gloves. Eventually, they fall out after pulling almost everything out of my pack, so everything is jammed back in, pack on and with help again, down comes the bib.

Taking on food, I walk up the last steep section before hitting the boardwalks. I am nervous how the legs will be feeling, I find climbing a lot easier than running on the flat, but I am feeling great. The weather is perfect – sunny but not too warm, and the legs quickly fall into a rhythm and don’t want to stop. In no time, I reach the beech forest followed by Dudley’s Knob, the last real climb of the race and a great indicator that I have only an hour left of the run.

The last three kilometres of the mountain run are well-known as torture. You can see the finish line, but you’ve got an endless amount of river bed to cross, rocky underfoot with no real path to take. I have been through a few times in training and can’t find a path down the grass bank, so I make the decision to pick a straight line from the railway bridge and go for it. Running over rocks is an art, and if you are confident it can be a huge advantage, not only for speed but also for the energy you save. Thankfully, over time this is something I have improved a lot, so that final stretch isn’t as painful as it has been in the past.

I can see and hear my support crew waiting patiently for me on the edge of the bank. I am wearing a tracker for the day, something I would highly recommend to anyone competing. Not for your own sake, but for the sanity of your support crew. The hardest part of helping crew these events is the unknown. Where are they? What time are they going to come in? Are they OK? At least with a tracker, they know exactly where I am (minus the section where the tracking system went down!), which also helps with the nerves and stress levels.

It is another boomer transition; these girls are on fire. Some Gurney Goo (that stuff is liquid gold) under the arms for chaffing, a salami wrap to get some real food into me, a quick drink of electrolytes and I am off to bike the section that connects the two biggest stages of the day, the mountain run and the kayak.

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Image: marathon-photos.com

Juj has been nominated to meet me at the top of the hill with some sneakers and food, running down with me to my kayak. She is brilliant, handing me water and banana as I make my way down the one kilometre of gravel road to the Mt White Bridge below. The spray deck is pulled on, followed by my lifejacket and helmet, then it is into the boat which is being held in the water by Dad. I’m sure my transitions are slow in comparison to others, but to me they are ideal. Calm enough that nothing is an issue, fast enough that no time is wasted. After checking the drinking system is working, and the paddle is handed to me, they push me off into the main flow to begin what up until this moment I would have described as my weakest leg.

Kayaking and I haven’t seen eye-to-eye. I think it’s due to my dip while competing in the Two-Day event three years ago, but ever since then, I have feared the water. Scared of the boils, scared of the wave trains, scared of the rock faces, and petrified of tipping out again. Because of this, I made the decision to stick with my Eclipse 5.2 – a beginner’s boat who I had affectionately named ‘The Battleship’. While I had spent many hours training on the Avon, the nor’westers meant I had only managed to get down the river once in the lead up to the race, and while I didn’t fall out, there was more than one occasion where I was floating uncontrollably backwards.

“Don’t be a wuss, Hollie,” is my mantra as I settle into a steady rhythm. No chicken runs are allowed today, avoid the boils and take the faster line. “You’re in the safest boat there is, just go for it.” And that I do, and in doing so, have the best trip to date down the Waimak, which is sitting at an ideal 80 cumecs. Maybe the boat won’t go on Trade Me on Sunday! Apart from the numb ass, I love it. And once again it shows that if I’m strong in the head, it has such an enormous impact on how I race. I am expecting to get overtaken by many, and as a female competitor flies past me before I hit the gorge like I am standing still, I tell myself that no matter the outcome, I am so happy with how I have raced. As one hour turns into two, then three and four, I keep looking back expecting to see boats gaining on me, but to my surprise there are none. Just me and the battleship for a little over five hours.

I know I have to get to the Gorge Bridge and the end of the kayak leg before 6pm to avoid wearing a high-vis vest on the bike back to New Brighton. But as I cruise past Woodstock at 5.45pm, with another hour of flat paddling ahead of me, I realise my chance of making it in time is gone. Pulling up to the beach at the end, the relief I feel is huge, the smile on my face says it all – no spills, no boils, no paddling backwards. Just one stage left to go.

Dad is there to pull me out, and Scottie and Juj ready to help where they can. It takes a few seconds to get the blood pumping again and the legs back in working order, but after a few ginger steps up the beach I am able to kick it up a gear and run up the hill. “I can do this. One more leg, that’s all,” I say, more to myself than my support crew, as I change my top and pour half a can of Red Bull down my throat. Up until now, I have managed to hold off on too much sugar and gels, but with the final stretch ahead of me I know I will need a bit of extra help as I head into the easterly headwind. Pushing my bike up the goat track to the road above, the girls pop out yelling and cheering. “See you at the finish line,” I yell back, crossing the bridge, winding up the gears and settling in for the final stretch to the finish line.

“27 kilometres of straight road ahead,” I read as I whizz past a sign zip tied to a power pole. Great, I think, that’s the most demoralising thing I have seen all day! With more shelter belts than not, I am crouched down as low as possible to reduce the draft and hide from the wind. A sign half-way down from a school friend lifts the spirits enormously, so grateful to have support along the way. Cars are leap-frogging me, and as they appear quicker and quicker each time, I know I am being caught. ‘Dig it in, dig it in,” I keep telling myself, but unfortunately, I am overtaken by two girls on the final stretch, one with 20 kilometres to go and one with six. I thought I would be gutted, but they fly by me, and I have nothing but respect for them. They both deserve to overtake me, and I vow there and then that if I was ever to do this again, I need to be stronger on the bike. Proof of this comes from both the male and female winners, Sam Clarke and Elina Ussher, who overtake the second-place getters on the final bike leg to take the wins. It isn’t over till it’s over.

Finally reaching the Southern Motorway it is beginning to get dark, and by the time I make my final turn onto Beach Road, it is night time. I had thought about this moment for so long, riding the last stretch down New Brighton Beach, and had imagined I would be emotional. But I am not at all. The pressure and expectations seem to lift off me, and the satisfaction that I know I am about to finish is enormous. I had a goal to do it under 16 hours, and I am on track to do it more than half an hour faster than I expected.

Pulling into the finish area, I dismount my bike awkwardly and take off. Never throughout the day do I feel that I can’t keep going, and now is no different. Running up the finishing chute and hearing my name and number over the loudspeaker is a moment I’ll never forget. People are clapping and cheering, and I can hear Mum and Dad yelling as I take the final five metres of the 243-kilometre day up the stairs to the finish. My smile says it all. Six months of intense training, of constantly talking and thinking about this race and I have bloody done it. I couldn’t be prouder of my achievement. The video below by Complete Performance sums up my Red Bull finish line high!

While the Kathmandu Coast to Coast Longest Day is an individual event, it’s anything but. Mum, Dad, Scottie and Juj live my dream with me throughout the whole day, while people from all over are watching me clock through each checkpoint on the App, cheering me on. To not only complete it but achieve a result that I am so incredibly proud of is fantastic. I cross the line in a time of 15:24:15, ninth in the Open Women and 11th overall. Just outside the top ten, I’m still undecided if I have unfinished business or not.

I put my heart and soul into the race and feel like I achieved an excellent result for everyone who has been part of this journey with me. With a few days now passed, I look back and wonder what I could have done differently, where I could have made up a few extra minutes, but nothing stands out. Yes, a faster kayak would have helped, but my goal was to get down dry and enjoy it, and I smashed that. Yes, I could have gone faster on the bike, but I was pushing as hard as I could throughout the entire race so I feel I did the best I could while in the moment. And the run, again I loved it. It’s still my favourite part of the entire day – the scenery, the challenge and on this day, the weather. I’m so incredibly lucky to be given the opportunity to experience this breathtaking landscape right on my doorstep.

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I can’t express how thankful I am to have such a supportive network of family, friends and sponsors. To my support crew – Mum, Dad, Scottie and Juj – the day was flawless. You were so great to see at each transition, I hope you had just as good a day out there as I did! More than happy to return the favour next year :). To Kathmandu, Bicycle Concepts, Suunto and The New Zealand Sock Company for your support and gear, it has made the lead up to my race so much easier. And lastly to Grant and Scott – the two best training buddies out there, I loved (mostly) all the days on the rivers, up the mountains and on the road as we chased the Longest Day dream. Congrats to you both.

You might notice some guys with some bigger-than-usual cameras in the background of some of the images. To add a few more nerves to the day, I was being filmed for a documentary which will be released later in the year based on the Coast to Coast and its connection with the landscape. Simon, Chris and the team from Resonate were awesome – they popped up in many unexpected places, and I can’t wait to see the finished result. Here’s hoping they edit out the belches on the kayak leg from the GoPro!

If anyone has any questions or comments, please send me an email or comment below – hollie@sytamagazine.com. I will do a post shortly for those inspired to take the leap and give the Coast to Coast 2018 a crack, and how to best go about getting this sorted. You won’t regret it.

All images featured were taken by Justin James, unless otherwise credited.

“If you’re nervous, then it’s worthwhile doing.” – Steve Gurney

I have this uneasy feeling that’s sitting deep in the bottom of my stomach, and it won’t go away. When I think about it, my palms get sweaty, so I do my best to not think about the thing I don’t want to think about. Stressful, and confusing. The reason? The Kathmandu Coast to Coast. Eight days and counting.

I’ve been a bit slack on the update front lately, but trust me, it’s not because there’s been a lack of adventures. Quite the opposite. Finding time to sit down and put a blog together has somehow been bumped down the list lately. I’m OK with that because my top priority over the last month has been training. And Say Yes to Adventure magazine. As they say, ‘When it rains, it pours.’ Or something like that.

Volume Eight is due at the printers the Tuesday after Coast, with a write up about my Coast experience. I’ve also held off writing the editor’s note as I don’t want to jinx it. I am pleased to say I am on the final editing and layout stages, which is super exciting. Again, it’s another bloody ripper volume.

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I’ve also somehow managed to keep a New Year’s resolution that lasts for more than the first three days of January. Looking for a way to document my year, I decided 20 press up a day was a good challenge, and so @pressup365 was born, which you can follow on my Instagram account. As I sit here, I have successfully completed 34 days and finally, it’s starting to get easier. A new month has seen five added to the daily quota, so for February, it’s #25aday. I’d love for you to join me, and if social media floats your boat, add a #pressup365 to your post!

The thing with Coast is so much of what happens comes down to the day. You can be as fit as you can be, but the weather plays a huge part in how the race unfolds. I’m confident I’ve put myself in a good position to get to the finish line. Yes, I wish I’d done more kayaking, biking and running (read – just more in general), but after ten years of competing in events, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is just part of racing (for those of us who don’t have the luxury of being a professional athlete).

And the weather has been less than ideal. Those nor’westers can [insert swear word] right off. But it’s all part of racing, and everyone is in the pretty much the same boat. In a way, I am one of the lucky ones having easier access to the course when it suits me (weather permitted).

I had a great Christmas break, which involved chasing the sun and getting out on my mountain and road bike, down the river and through the Pass with Scott. We managed to tick off part of the Old Ghost Road and I can’t wait to head back to complete the whole trail in one go. Grant told us about the Coppermine Trail in Nelson as another good day trip and I couldn’t agree more; I loved this track – highly recommend it if you are in the area with your mountain bike. After a few nights camping at Klondyke corner, the nor’west got the better of us after I literally got blown off my bike on New Year’s Eve. I now have a good gravel scar to add to the collection. Thankfully no lasting injuries but aside from that, I am all tickety-boo and ready to roll.

Last weekend I managed to get through both the run and down the river, which has done wonders at easing the nerves. Especially after the slight panic attack I had on Friday night with a mindset along the lines of “Why? Why do I think these races are a good idea?” The weather bomb has shaken things up, especially on the run. All the well-worn paths and cairns are now a bit harder to spot, with a few more boulders and trees to clamber over and around too. I’m hoping the river level drops between now and then; crossing with water up to my nipples is not my idea of fun. But high rivers through the pass mean a fast trip in the kayak, and I’m swaying more towards a faster trip in the kayak as the better option.

But please, no alternate course. The idea of running 33 kilometres on tarseal up Arthur’s Pass viaduct has my shins screaming at me already. And let’s not even go there with kayaking down the Avon.

I heard Nathan Fa’avae share his memory of his first 1-Day Coast to Coast and I feel the same. “I know I can get to the finish; it’s just how that plays out that I’m unsure about.” I’ve broken each section down into realistic goals, and if it goes to plan as I hope, I will be crossing the finish line in 16 hours. Shuks. Don’t think about it.

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Well worth the early morning start. Will go down as the best sunrise I have seen to date.

Support crew this year consists of my ever-supportive parents and the Scott sisters, Scottie and Juj, who have somehow been roped into it. I’m sure mum is already having sleepless nights. And if she wasn’t before, she will be now after reading this. They will (hopefully) update my progress over the day on my The Adventurous Kiwi Facebook page, so give it a like if you haven’t already and keep tabs on my race. And in a good omen, my race number is 1007. In the words of Bond himself, “You only live twice: Once when you are born. And once when you look death in the face.” Maybe my second life will come next weekend?

There are still a few items on the to-do list before we set off for Kumara, such as my sister-in-law’s hens party this weekend. The perfect preparation for a 230-kilometre multisport race, right? Hydration and low-strength alcohol are going to be key I think. I’ve already nominated a good friend Alex to be my drinks police, giving her full permission to confiscate any alcohol as she likes. On second thoughts, I should have chosen someone who doesn’t egg me on at these types of occasions! And as my cousin kindly pointed out I tend to get a little over excited sometimes (she’s dead right) so I am not too sure what I’m more nervous about!

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I just want to finish this off with a massive shout out to Kathmandu – who have been so amazing in supporting me in the build-up to this race. While I do feel the added pressure of being an ambassador, it’s a good thing and has kept the drive alive to do the best that I can. Also to the New Zealand Sock Company for the best socks (a new pair has been put aside for race day), Suunto for my watch so I know just how far I have got to go and Bicycle Concepts from Timaru for my kick-ass Cube bike. Thank you. I am incredibly grateful for your support.

Here we go…

“Always remember, it’s simply not an adventure worth telling if there aren’t any dragons.” – Sarah Ban Breathnach

It’s November. Yikes! Triple yikes. Less than two months until Christmas. Just over three months until the Kathmandu Coast to Coast. And then another week on top of that until Challenge Wanaka. Which reminds me, must start swimming…

Image Credit: Mt Hutt

The last five weekends have gone by in a blur of skiing (extremely poorly), biking, running, swimming (not really, let’s call it doggy paddle, see the first paragraph) and kayaking. It started with the Peak to Pub, an event I have always wanted to do, but while competing I was quickly reminded why I hadn’t done it before. It’s been a tad too long between skis. If I am to do it again (if), I plan on heading up the mountain at least once before the race. Oh, and practice running over rocks in ski boots. Yeah, that was a real killer. You can check out my blog about the event here.

The following weekend saw me head south and compete in the South Canterbury 12-hour Rogaine in a team with Jacqs and Caeley. It was a long day, but we had a blast managing to come away with the win in the female category. We had mostly clear skies and mint views, managing to avoid the snow dumps both before and after the event. You can read about it here.

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Image credit: Clarence Bridge 2 Bridge

In the middle of the madness, I headed north to compete in the Clarence Bridge 2 Bridge event, opting to swap the sneakers for my mountain bike. It was a 40-kilometre course which took us up the south side of the Clarence River, before turning around, crossing a bridge and making our way home on the north side. It was raining as we took off, which made for very slippery conditions and lots of mud. The perfect ingredients for good fun. I bought a shiny new Giant Liv Intrigue mountain bike a month or so ago, one that fits me (no, it’s not a child’s bike but it is as small as they come) and I can’t believe the difference. I am loving my biking now and can ride far more than I used to. Telling myself I am not allowed to get off until I fall also helps; it’s surprising what I manage to ride if I just keep the legs turning.

It was a challenging course, with some good steep uphills followed by some very rewarding descents! I had to stop once to put my chain back on and again when I took a wrong turn! As I headed up a hill, I watched everyone behind me sail on by along the correct flat road below! Damn. It was just the motivation/frustration I needed to take back the lead and consequently, the win (female category). It was a great community event, raising funds for the Kaikoura Hospital. I highly recommend giving it a go next year!

The following day was spent enjoying Bluff Station!

Labour weekend took me south again (my adventures do take me to beautiful parts of the country) to compete in the Meridian Twizel Hard Labour multisport event. This event is entirely different from the rest of events I compete in. Instead of it being one race, you enter each individually, and if you compete in all three (kayak, mountain bike and run) you qualify for the Hard Labour category.

Scott and I headed south on Friday night, loaded up with bikes and boats on his not-so-trusty Coon. The first event starting at 8am on Saturday was the Steve Skinner Canal Kayak. It covered 20 kilometres over Lake Ruataniwha and down the Benmore Canal and ended at Ohau Sea, which included two portages around the power stations. Once a year Meridian allows boats on the canal, this race being that one time, so a unique experience. It was a picture-perfect day with a good frost to kick it off; the fingers took a good half hour to unfreeze. But once we reached the top of the lake and turned around, heading down the south side, it was well worth it. I’m not going to say I loved it, but it was good to get out in the kayak for a decent amount of time (that wasn’t on the Avon). Those portages, though! I had been warned, but there’s nothing quite like experiencing it for yourself. At the first power station, I managed to get out, up the bank, over the fence, down the steep bank, across the paddock, over the next fence (wtf) and into the water without too many problems. It was the second portage that was not so much fun!

Out of the kayak, up the bank, a solid (at least) 600-metre walk/run down the road, all while carrying the kayak on my shoulder, before getting to the bottom, across the grass, down the bank and back on the water. About half-way down the road two people in front of me had a bloody good idea and were dragging their boats along the grass. My dead arms, bruised hips and shoulders and general ‘I’m over this’ attitude thought this was a great option, so I did the same. It wasn’t until we got home that Scott noticed my rudder didn’t work! But the final leg of the kayak was short and I managed to cross the line in 2 hours 20. We were off to a good start.

A quick turnaround was required with less than 45 minutes to have some lunch, unload the boats and load the mountain bikes before we needed to be at the race briefing for the Dusky Trail 40-kilometre mountain bike. Nathan had joined us for the bike section, so the three of us headed off for the start and race briefing.

It was a good course, just a matter of keeping the legs going. The first section was on the road beside the canal before turning off and winding our way over a very rough farmland track to the base of the foothills. It was a gradual climb, so I was not fast, but I managed to tuck in behind a guy and stick on his tail (much to his dislike as he kept trying to drop me by continuously changing wheel tracks!). It was worth the effort to stay in his draft, though!

I was so proud when I managed to ride a steep section that everyone else got off for (around me anyway), passing plenty on the way up. Admittedly I was just about dead once I reached the top, but I was not going to let it beat me!

Finally, I crossed the river at the top, turning in the opposite direction and heading for home. I managed to swallow a flying creature too (clearly a sign of sucking too hard for air) and spent the next couple of minutes coughing and spluttering in an attempt to dislodge it from the back of my throat. One person passed me at this time and commented later that he thought I was about to hoick on him. Good motivation for him to pass I suppose!

I crossed the finish line two hours and 20 minutes after I started (not a typo – turns out I mountain bike exactly twice as fast as I kayak!), very happy with how the day had gone but equally as glad that it was over! It was time for food and rest before the final event the following morning, the Pyramid Run half marathon.

Waking up with a tired body. I downed two coffees and some chocolate while making my way to the start line. It was another great day weather-wise, slightly cooler than the day before but still offering incredible views of the surrounding mountains. It had been a while since I had run a half marathon – even though technically they are finished quicker, the pace is faster, and I find them mentally harder than tackling longer distances.

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The run course was the last part of the bike course, just in the opposite direction. So, unfortunately, I knew how long the hill was, but I also knew the second half was mostly downhill. Wahooo. I managed to tuck in behind a guy (again) and stick to his pace the entire way. I doubt I would have gone that fast if I was on my own, but I hung on right until the end when I managed to pass him over the last kilometre. Yes, I hate people like me, but it’s so great when it happens this way around.

I finished the run in a time of one hour and 48 minutes, with a total time of 6:33:03 across the three events. I was glad when it was over, and we still had a day up our sleeve before heading back to Christchurch and work (magazine work doesn’t count here). It was nice to have time to be a tourist in my own country.

The final event in October Madness was the Enduranz Events Mission Mount Somers marathon, which Say Yes to Adventure magazine also sponsors. I had done this last year in its inaugural event, so knew what I was in for. In all my time racing, I don’t think I have done a race where two years are so completely different. Obviously, the course is still the same (slight change this year actually to avoid a swollen river crossing), but the weather was the polar opposite. Last year it was nor’west; warm, windy and completely dry under foot. This year – snowing, freezing and the tracks were a continuously flowing river. We did have sections of a brilliant blue sky as well, though!

This is as true as you can get to a mountain marathon, while still being in proximity to civilisation. Starting at the Stavely Store, we headed up to the Sharpland Falls carpark before heading on up and crossing the front face of Mount Somers. Here the views were magnificent; it would have been rude not to stop and take photos! I wasn’t in to win it, instead just get to the finish line and enjoy it, so I didn’t mind taking my time and capturing the views (or lack of!). I managed to make my way to the Woolshed Creek car park bang on the three-hour mark, and just under halfway distance-wise through the race.

Feeling good I managed to run most of the way to the hut before the long slog began up to the saddle. Once I reached the top it was snowing heavily (top effort to the Search and Rescue volunteers), making the downhill very slow and slippery. I seemed to take forever as I tried to reduce the number of slides, and consequently, falls. Thankfully no lasting injuries and it’s always a relief to get to Dudley’s Knob knowing there is only one more downhill to the road.

That last five kilometres of flat to the finish is such a killer, and just as horrible as I remembered to be. I was doing my best impersonation of a penguin trying to sprint when the heavens opened and hailed pelted down, turning the ground around me white in seconds. At least with hail you don’t get soaked quickly, they were all just bouncing off! I crossed the line just a fraction under seven and a half hours, half an hour more than the previous year.

As good as it gets – hail everywhere and the finish line is digger!

As good as it gets – hail everywhere and the finish line is digger!

It will go down as one of the most memorable races in New Zealand to date due to the weather. But that’s not a bad thing and exactly what you get when you sign up for a marathon in the mountains combined with the unpredictability of spring weather. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for next year!

On a side note – I am officially the unluckiest person when it comes to spot prizes. (Who doesn’t love a spot prize!) Over the five weeks of racing, I was eligible for eight different events (Hard Labour counted as four) and DID NOT WIN ONE spot prize. Scott the tinny bugger won one at every event he was entered in, and two at Hard Labour! Typical. I couldn’t even win a shit bag, and let’s be honest, if anyone needed to win a shit bag it was me!!!! (True story – Scott won two at Hard labour).

“If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.”   Katharine Hepburn