Coast to Coast; putting long back into the Longest Day – David Ayre
6am, Saturday the 13th of February saw me lining up on Kumara Beach amongst 100 other competitors. I was feeling quietly confident. It would be my 4th time on the start line of the Longest Day of the Coast to Coast and I was secure in the knowledge that I had trained harder than ever before for the race. Just two weeks previously I had run a PB of 3:22 through the infamous Goat Pass. 10 days before I had had my first win ever in a running race, clocking a time of 17:30 over 5 km.
My coach Trevor Voyce (and motivator/self appointed assistant coach Dan Bush) had set out exactly what I had to do, a short hard run should give me a good chance at making the first bunch for the 55km ride from Kumara to Aitkens. After that I was to conserve as much energy as possible, an easy task for a cyclist, until the start of the mountain run. From there it was a matter of running within myself but limiting potential losses. Running 3:30 through Goat Pass would see me lose half an hour on the top runners but leave me within striking distance of the podium in the second half of the race. With the mountain run behind me my race would start properly. From here I was to unleash on the paddle and then ride hard into Christchurch. With both disciplines being strengths of mine I should at least be able to hold my own for a respectable finish in Christchurch.
I could just make out the silhouette of Robin, balanced on a rock with megaphone in one hand and air horn in the other. The megaphone crackled into life and Robin’s enthusiasm filled the air 5, 4, 3… previous experience reminded me I would never hear 1, so I broke intro a headlong sprint up the beach. Beside me someone fell, a bad start to their day but no time to think about others. Arms failing I reached the rocks and by some miracle was the first person to reach the gravel road. As Trev had predicted those first 30 seconds would be effortless, riding the adrenaline that comes from the culmination of a summer spent training.
2 km later I had conceded just 10 seconds to the front few runners. A fast transition and short stint with the afterburners on saw me comfortably nestled on the back of the front bunch. I had made it for the first time! I could cruised up the road, talking shit, sharing jokes, posing for the media and at all costs shirking any turns on the front of the bunch. The long hours training over summer was paying off.
I wouldn’t go as far as saying my transition at Aitkens was fluid but I didn’t care. What was 30 seconds in transition? I had just saved myself 10 minutes by taking an easy ride with the front bunch.
I ran out of transition watching the others around me disappear up the rough farm tracks. Still I didn’t care. I was going to be at Klondyke Corner (the end of the mountain run) in 3:30 hours while half of these guys would still be running down the river with another 15 minutes of agony.
Goat Pass: Looking fresh but in a world of pain!
As I dropped into the first river crossing my carefully laid plans were washed away. A small twinge in my quads quickly turned into full blown cramp. I grabbed for my bottle of Crampstop and sprayed a few “preventative” squirts under my tongue. I was in denial, surely I was to fit for cramp. A minute or so later the bunched up muscles in my legs eased up a little, letting me run normally again. “Just run it out” I told myself, blissfully unaware that this mantra along with regular preventative squirts of the Crampstop would soon characterise my run.
I was painfully aware that I was missing time split after time split in the mountain run. Each time I missed one I would readjust my goal for my overall run time and try to reassure myself it would be ok. Halfway through the run I was caught by the leading female. Chick’d! I reassured myself I would see her again on the river. Besides Elina Ussher was still behind me. Not for long. Elina caught me not long after descending off Goat Pass along with a little possie in tow. As the third placed female shoved past, trying to keep pace with Elina, I reassured myself that she to would be caught on the river.
I finally staggered into Klondyke Corner clocking 3:56 for the mountain run. Identical to my time the previous year and a full 34 minutes slower than the PB I had run in training. I remember very little of the transition or the following ride except for excruciating bouts of cramp and the self doubt that had taken hold. What was the point of the sacrifices made to train over summer. The 6am starts on the water, followed by the 9pm finishes when I could finally unlace my running shoes after a full days work and several hours on the bike. What would Trev think? What would my friends think? What would Richard think after he had ranked me 6th in the seedings? What would my sponsors/employers at CHIA think who were possibly more excited about the race than me? This was supposed to be my year.
As I hobbled down to the Waimak and my kayak, in between bites of mouthfuls of big eat and gulps of CHIA I resolved that my one shot at redemption lay in the kayak. I promised myself I would give it everything. My first goal to claw my way back into first in the women’s race and then to shoot for the top 10.
The paddle started well. By Gooseberry Stream I calculated I had caught everyone from the second bunch including the top 3 women. At least I could tick off one long standing goal of winning the women’s race. I settled in for a long and lonely paddle. I kept reminding myself where I was; this is the Coast to Coast, your paddling down a stunning river, and if you keep his pushing yourself you just might make your long standing goal of the top 10.
halfway through the paddle I finally caught sight of another kayaker. As I got closer, I realised it was a friend; Graham, from Nelson who I had met the week before. In my excitement I made my first bad decision of the paddle, grounded myself and he disappeared out of sight again. Three precious minutes later I was back paddling again. Determined not to do anything else stupid. Eventually I pulled Graham back. I had finally crawled back into the front bunch.
By the end of the kayak I had pulled in another friend Bobby, who was racing against my team-mate and his partner Anna for the fastest paddle split of the day. I had to feel sorry for him as I went past. He was obviously suffering intensely from the worst nightmare of all paddlers; a numb bum. I was also somewhat concerned at his speed as I stood to win a bag of Tailwind sports drink if he could finish within 15 minutes of Anna so gave a little half hearted encouragement while at the same time hoping I could get out of the water sufficiently far ahead that I would not become a target for him to pick off on the bike.
The final ride into Christchurch seemed to be never ending. Early on I reeled in 9th placed Tane Cambridge. Every time I saw another bib up the road went through a temporary moment of Euphoria, hoping I was pulling back Australian, Jarod Kohler before realising it was another straggler from the two day race.
Coming home in 9th.
Brighton at last! I had finished in 9th place. 30 seconds off 8th place, 34 minutes off second and a full hour and a half behind winner Sam Clark. The smiles on the faces of my partner Lisa, Parents, Chloe, Ben and Flossie from CHIA and many other friends at the finish line soon helped to wash away the disappointment of not having that illusive perfect race.
Finally cracking the 10 man podium meant I could tick off a long standing goal of a top 10 finish at Coast to Coast however if anything it has left me even more hungry for that perfect race. Although disappointed by my run I can take comfort in some of the fastest paddle and final ride splits of the day.
After a week or so of rest I will look forward to enjoying more informal training as I prepare for the adventure that is GodZone.
That’s me over and out, thanks for reading.