Journey to the Coast to Coast

Kayak leg

I’ve always had this perception of a multi-sporter as a genetically gifted, natural athlete. While I’ve had a keen interest in health and fitness over the years, I would never have considered entering a multi-sport event.

Then, two years ago I read a book, Conquering the Coast to Coast, the journey of Kelly Barber to the start line. A few months later at a business networking function, I heard the CEO of one high performing company give a presentation on their policy of encouraging all staff to get involved in the same event in some way (team, individual or supporter). He felt this had been key to their success. I was intrigued, and while discussing peak performance over drinks, I decided to sign up for the 2020 Coast to Coast. This iconic Kiwi event crosses spectacular mountain scenery over 243km across the South Island, from the Tasman Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Biking, running and kayaking – how hard could it be?

Set your BHAG, then break it down

I needed a coach, and Richard Greer from Team CP created an action plan for me, with my first goal of making it to the start line. We began a skills building focus starting with kayaking. A Grade 2 Certificate is a requirement of the event, so off to the team at Topsport I went. Bike bunch riding skills are essential too, and I entered in some milestone events along the way like the GrapeRide. My skills began to improve along with my fitness and confidence. I managed to get myself over Goat Pass and down the Waimakariri Gorge. It was time to bring it all together.

>>> Fast forward to Feb 2020 >>>

Day 1: 2.2 km run, 55km bike ride, 33km mountain run

First goal achieved – I had made it to the start line! It was such an amazing atmosphere at Kumara Junction on the West Coast. I touched the Tasman Sea and picked up a small stone from the beach to carry with me to the other side.

Bike leg Coast to CoastAfter the first short short run up to the bike transition we were well underway. A magical early morning, through stunning West Coast scenery past Jacksons to Aickens Corner.

Otira Viaduct Coast to CoastThen, a gear change for Plan B of the mountain run section. Due to river flooding the decision was made to switch the route for 2-day competitors to run up the road along the Otira Viaduct, then from Arthurs Pass along a series of tracks to the riverbed. Absolutely spectacular, who gets the chance to cross the Viaduct on foot?Quite brutal on my L achilles, but thanks to the medics and compression strapping I made it, the last little dot on the GPS tracker arriving to an enthusiastic crowd at Klondyke Corner. 

Day 2: 15km bike ride, 69km kayak, 70km bike ride

The body was weary, but the mind quietly determined. The hardest part about the first bike section from Klondyke to Mt White Bridge was hobbling my bike down the hill to the kayak transition. Now, this was going to be gnarly, with a fast river at 80 cumecs. The Southerly was starting to kick in and it was bitterly cold, so I gave myself one goal for this leg – to stay in my kayak.

Kayak leg

I took the ‘chicken lines’ where possible, and managed to make it through the trickier rapids and wave trains, past jet boat rescues and upturned kayaks. In fact, an upturned kayak or two was a good indication of a really tricky upcoming section and a reminder to be on high alert. The Gorge is majestic, and even as the driving rain set in I remembered to look around every now and then and remind myself that here I was, kayaking down a decent Grade 2 river flow in the iconic Coast to Coast. And I stayed in!!

Shout out to MAProgress for live tracking of athletes through the event, which ensured I was handed a hot coffee as soon as I pulled in to Gorge bridge. I also had whanau and friends following my progress enthusiastically from afar, no doubt relieved the dot was moving faster on Day 2.

If you’ve ever tried to walk after 6 hours and 18 minutes of kayaking, you’ll know it’s tricky. Final transition for the bikeride back to Christchurch though, woohoo! “Jump on the back”, said my two new burly mates as we worked together into, naturally, a head wind. We slowly caught up to the guy who’d gone speeding past us and he joined our little group. Team work in cycling is the way to go and we kept up a steady cadence.

Finish line Coast to CoastThat finish line was beckoning. Along the way groups of supporters would cheer us on, it was a real morale boost. Only one thing left to do – hobble down to touch the Pacific Ocean. Made it to the finish line!

Never give up

This was, without a doubt, the toughest physical challenge I’ve ever had. Almost 50 people withdrew during the race across all categories for a variety of reasons including gear failure, cycle crashes, kayak incidents, hypothermia, exhaustion, and not meeting cutoff times. The weather threw in driving southerly rain and head winds for a bit of extra fun.

The power of the mind is extraordinary, and self-belief and confidence will take you a long way. I’ve learned a lot about myself and what I am capable of, and I’m now proud to call myself a multi-sporter.

Plus, of course, NEVER GIVE UP!!!

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