About 4 years ago, when I was sat at work daydreaming about a life on the other side of the world, I did a google search for iconic races in New Zealand. We’d been cleared to work, had the visas and jobs ready, and flights were booked. The dream was becoming a reality, and so what better way to seal the deal than to enter some races in our new home country.
Ali was on the Ironman bandwagon and had entered Taupo for 2017, and I was focused on attempting to become better at cycling and climb up the ranks in my age group, so had entered the 70.3 for that December. But as I searched, I found a few more races which captured my imagination and involved kayaking as well as running and cycling. How hard could that be, I thought. I emailed Ali and told her we both needed to do the Coast to Coast. We just needed our grade 2 kayak qualification, should be all good…sounds easy.
The longest flight of my life, a year or so later and I was sat bolt upright in a multisport kayak. The likes of which I’d never seen before. When Tim from Ruahine Kayaks took the boat off the roof of his car I wondered if I’d even fit in it let alone stay up right. I felt myself tense up as soon as I got in, my legs were involuntarily shaking, and my shoulders hunched up to my ears. After some words of encouragement, I managed to relax enough to reduce the throbbing sounds of blood rushing through my ears, like an influx of lactic acid had overwhelmed me, and all I’d done was sit in a kayak. I think the sight of Ali falling in almost immediately was both reassuringly terrifying and heartening, and allowed me to feel pretty smug once we’d finished the session and I was still dry. Possibly the one and only time!
But after that first session I just felt I needed to do more, I wanted to become better and be able to control this 5 metre length of fibreglass with the most uncomfortable seat that I’d ever sat on. I can’t explain the drive that I had to succeed, or perhaps it was the will to not look so ridiculous doing it. Following that initial session there were several more attempts which involved multiple dips in the river and an inability to stay dry on most occassions. At times I wondered if we needed to evaluate our future race plans, but with each session I felt something new and learnt something more, taking away gems from friends teaching and supporting us, and I didn’t want to let go of that idea.
Although we were starting to take the small steps into multisport kayaking, both Ali and I were still very much into triathlon during this time period, and that was taking up the vast majority of our training. Head down follow the lines on the road was my main focus, possibly why I wasn't getting any faster! As such, months rolled by as we swam, run, biked and continued to dip in and out of kayaking, and the river, with varying levels of enthusiam. So slowly but surely over the next year, with our stubbornness and determination, we both gained confidence and stability and were able to paddle down the grade 1 river without falling in.
Ali bought a kayak which was probably slightly too tippy but also decided on a surfski which had more stability, and by practising with both of these we were able to progress our technique and skill set. One other issue we had was how to transport these new pieces of equipment. The van we had was too high to get kayak cradles on, and so logisitcs made it way to easy to skip the kayak training, which likely made the progression of our skills take even longer.
However, we were progressing, and it was at this point that one of our friends said we should try to go down some grade 2 water, which would invole some white water. So, after borrowing all the extra safety equipment I was yet to buy, and the kayak too, the 3 of us set off down the Waioeka river. Not 5 metres from where we had disembarked, and Ali was already practising her swimming skills in full kayak getup. The river in May, as we both found out, was really, really cold. However, we fought on. Several minor trips back into the water and around 5kms in, I was so cold I could barely feel my body, let alone paddle anywhere. So with our heads in our hands we abandoned the river and clambered up the bank through the brambles and thumbed a lift back to the car where our intrepid adventure had begun. A debrief over some terrible tea and we decided to attempt it again at another point in time – perhaps in 10 years.
Were we deterred? Not in the slightest…well maybe a little. But if it was easy then everyone would do it, right? So off we went back to the grade 1 river, and over the following few months and into our second year we both got stuck into some proper kayaking, learning how to read the water and which lines to take, along with staying upright. We got more stable boats and took some more words of advice from some very patient friends. It was approximately 1 year to the day when we decided to attempt the same trip on the Waioeka. With more confidence, more stable boats, and a few more skills down my kayak pants, we made it down the 30km stretch with minimal swimming along the way (3 for me, 1 for Ali – damn it). What a difference a year can make... still a long way to go.
I think the desire to try new things, learn new skills and experience different sports and activities has been something I’ve always enjoyed doing. I learnt to swim from a really young age and that was likely a key component to my determination and stubbornness to see something through. I like a challenge. And although I truly enjoyed triathlon, I was losing the drive to train and be in the pool, quite possibly because I’d spent half my life in a swimming pool chasing the black line. Currently for me there are so many more possibilities now we are living in New Zealand, and I wanted to have a go at them and experience as many of them as possible. I think at some point I’ll do some more triathlon, but not for the minute.
Over the past few months I’ve started to work towards a more multisport focused training schedule which has included kayaking, mountain biking, road biking and trail running. We went back and completed RedBull Defiance again, which combines a few of those disciplines, and allowed us to experience some more kayaking in water which wasn’t flat this year, and which allowed me to be dragged along by Ali for 2 days. But independently, I’ve been able to complete in the Whangamata Multisport Challenge and the Nugget Multisport Festival, in which the latter included some road biking, and to also try out some multisport kayaking for a team in the 3D Rotorua Multisport Festival. This was great because it meant I could see how fast I could go in the kayak without having to worry about completing the other disciplines afterwards. All of these have allowed me to have a taste of multisport events, and prompted me to take the chance and finally enter the Coast to Coast for 2020.
Now, as if by some force of nature giving me a sign and striking me down, I pretty much immediately got an injury after I’d entered it, and so my running has been taken out of the equation currently. However, it has allowed me to have a little bit of a break and re-charge, in the sense that I can mess around in the gym and do some bicep curls rather than worrying about sets and reps and progressing anything just now. I’ve been able to sit on my bike and daydream, rather than looking at the numbers, and a well-timed trip back to the UK ensured I could cycle around the South Downs, the Surrey hills, and the Yorkshire dales with family and friends.
I had eyed some events to lead up to the Coast to Coast, with 2 builds occurring in my training. One would have been for the Motu Challenge and then the second for Coast with some recovery between them, but with my current injury it’s difficult to plan too far ahead in terms of running. So perhaps a Motu 160 bike race might be in order, and maybe a chase for the podium this year after last year’s 4th place (always the bridesmaid...).
The essence of long, endurance racing, which initially thrust me from swimming and running into the world of triathlon, has now captured me once more and I am being swayed into the world of multisport. From the small amount of experience I have gained so far, I am inspired and encouraged by those people who participate and the community that it encompasses. Coast to Coast is quite a few months away yet, but before we know it’ll soon be around the corner. If all the stars align, and injury permitting, we both might make it to the start line. We just need some support crews….if anyone’s keen?