”Not just high tide, a King Tide” was the call on the starting line of the 2014 TotalSport Coastal Challenge.
We crammed together on the last remaining meters of sand, each athlete braced themselves for the 33 Kilometers of rough and tumble running. Whangaparaoa through to Devonport on Auckland’s North Shore; The Coastal Challenge tests the speed, strength and toughness of its races. And it has been on my “to do list” for some time now.
The final seconds ticked down, and to the beep of a hundred watches,we set off down the coast. Hopes of staying dry were quickly put to rest. The lead bunch all plowed into the water, doing our bes marine mammal impressions and finding it awkward to swim with shoes on.
The first few kilometers were through knee deep water and across slick rocks. Champion mountain runner Nick Hershfeld and I bartered for lead and I was able to pull away in the first mandatory swim. Swimming in shoes felt like towing a sea anchor,I panicked a flock of Godwits who took to the sky when I hauled myself onto the sand, bedraggled.
The next swim section was a real doozy.I ran around a headland to find my way barred by half a kilometer of water. “Surely we don’t have to swim that” I scrambled around the rocks and pohutukawas, until the safety crew in an IRB pulled alongside and yelled “You should start swimming now!”
I looked back over my shoulder to see swimmers 100 meters ahead out in the bay! I cursed myself for daydreaming during race briefing then dived Salmon-like back into the water.
With a great awkwarness I flailed my way to the distant shore and the reassuring Terra Firma. Ahead in the distance, though figures scrambled around rocks, the chase was still on.
By the 11km mark I had reclaimed the overall lead, and was determined to keep it. Passing through the Long Bay aid station, it was good to see crowds of people watching the race and enjoying the beach.
Kilometers gradually ticked down, and drank generously at each aid station, washing down energy gels which I had stashed in my shorts. Nutrition and hydration are key to a good performance, and I had chosen not to carry water.
Insided the final 10km Nick was closing my lead down. Quick glances over my shoulder confirmed that he was less than 20seconds back .Nick is a top trail runner and could match my speed across difficult terrain, so my only option was to open the throttle on the beaches and hope the Coastal Challenge finished, before my energy reserves.
Inside the final 2km and I was breathing hard. Each step on the soft sand sucked more energy. For once I was relieved to be running on pavement. Compared to sand, the pavement seemed to acutally propel me forward! I rode the wave of added momentum along the road and up the finishing chute, to where a cold Speight’s was awaiting my arrival.
The Coastal Challenge is an absolute must do for anyone who likes their races rough and tough. The people of Totalsport deserve a big pat on the back for hosting such a classy event. The impending Coastal Challenge National Series is sure to be a cracker too, so bring a friend.
Be sure to follow me on Strava for all my latest exploits.