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Coast to Coast - Angela Newton

If you weren't aware, Ange entered the ballot for Coast to Coast about this time last year to try and get a spot in the 2024 edition of the race. If you're not sure what the Coast to Coast is, it is a race from Kumara Beach on the West Coast of the South Island across the Southern Alps to New Brighton in Christchurch on the East Coast of the South Island. The total distance is 243km and it consists of 6 legs of running, road cycling and kayaking. You can do it in 1 or 2 days and as a team with different people completing different legs or the entire thing by yourself. Ange decided she wanted to do the 2-day individual race and her journey of training and buying bikes, kayaks, shoes and various other accessories began in late 2022.

 There were 350 spots available for 2-day individual athletes and 1,350 people entered the ballot for those spots. In March last year Ange learned she had missed out on a spot and that there were more than 800 people ahead of her on the waitlist. The likelihood of lining up for the 2024 edition now seemed remote but chatter in online groups suggested that she shouldn't give up and that it wasn't uncommon for the waitlists to clear. So she continued to train more or less as though she would get a spot eventually.

 So throughout 2023 she continued to develop her kayak skills including getting certification to paddle grade 2 rapids, frequently run up, down and around the Mount, and spent many evenings in the garage on her bike attached to a virtual trainer. Every now and then the organisers would release an updated waitlist and she found she was steadily moving forwards as people pulled out for whatever reason. As it got closer to the end of the year the organisers were asking people who hadn't kept the training up and no longer had any intention of competing in the 2024 event to remove themselves from the waitlist. She was in 344th position on November 1, 92nd on November 24, 76th on November 28 and 51st the very next day! And then finally on December the 5th she got the offer of a spot in the race, an offer she was never very optimistic about getting, and eagerly accepted! In the end they cleared the entire waitlist of 1,000 people for the 2-day individual.

 So with a spot secured we were finally able to book leave, ferries and camping spots for race week. Then we realised that Otumoetai Primary, where Abigail would be starting school, weren't starting till Wednesday February the 7th, the same day Ange needed to be on the ferry in order to make the race registration and briefing on the Thursday. So we hatched a plan whereby she would drive down as she needed to and I would stay behind to be there for the first day of school. I then hopped on an early flight on the Thursday morning, she picked me up from Blenheim airport and we carried on down to Greymouth.

 We tented at the Kumara Racecourse and were up bright and early on the Friday, race day 1, to break camp. Ange headed off to the start line while trying to fuel up despite the nerves and I took off towards the mountains and a place called Aickens where I would meet her almost 4 hours later for her second transition. Support crews need to be far along the course before race start so the competitors on their bikes aren’t sharing the roads with hundreds of support crew vehicles. Start time was 7am on the beach from where they had a short run to Kumara Junction where the Arthur’s Pass Road meets the main West Coast highway. There it was a 55km cycle along the highway into the Southern Alps to where I was waiting at Aickens. These first two legs went well for Ange and she arrived at Aickens at 9:30am at exactly the time she had estimated and without incident.

 She then transitioned into the toughest leg of the entire race: a 30km mountain run up the Deception River Valley and over Goat Pass, the next valley to the East of the one that the main road goes through as it climbs the Otira Gorge, across the Otira Viaduct and through Arthurs Pass Village itself. Goat Pass itself is the highest point on the course at a little over 1,000m above sea level and having climbed over 700m in since starting the run. After passing Goat Pass it's mostly just straight down to the finish for day 1 at Klondyke Corner where the Bealey River (that runs through Arthurs Pass) and the Mingha River (that the athletes follow down from Goat Pass) meet the Waimakariri River on it's journey out of the Alps to cross the Canterbury Plains.

 As Ange found out though just because you're going downhill it doesn't necessarily equate to big gains in speed because the terrain is so steep and/or uneven. The final part of the run is basically rock hopping in the Mingha riverbed and slow going unless you're a mountain goat! This meant that Ange underestimated her time for the run by about an hour and arrived at the day 1 finish a little before 5pm, almost 10 hours after leaving the beach at the start of the day but still with plenty of time to have her compulsory kayak gear checked, some dinner and a pre-booked massage to ease the aches and pains of the day! We were off to bed pretty early knowing we had a 4am start on day 2.

 4am arrived and we packed down the tent and I was on the road by 4:30pm for a short drive further along the Waimakariri River to Mt White Bridge where the competitors would be hopping on their kayaks. The athletes would be biking from Klondyke Corner along the same road and would be released in waves 2 minutes apart with Ange due to start at 7:52am. This meant a very long wait in the cold and dark for her before she would set off, some people even bought thin inflatable mattresses and sleeping bags to the start line and tried to get some extra sleep! While Ange was waiting I was getting her kayak and lifejacket scrutineered before putting it in it's allocated spot on the riverbed and awaiting the sunrise.

 She arrived bang on time at 8:30am and had a smooth transition into her kayak and set off for the 70km paddle down the Waimakariri River to the edge of the Canterbury Plains. Estimated time for the paddle was five and a half hours but would depend greatly on how many swims were taken. Every time you come out of your kayak costs you about 15 minutes while you swim your boat to shore whilst trying not to lose the paddle and then get as much water out of the boat as you can. "Swimming" also uses a huge amount of energy and makes it more likely you will take further swims and lengthens the recovery time for each one.  At some stage during day two the weather was also forecast to turn for the worse with a southerly change accompanied by rain expected.

 Thankfully the kayak went well for her with no swims whatsoever which she was thrilled about. Especially since the only other time she had kayaked the course had been in a more stable boat than hers. She did have one small incident with 5km to go where she found herself in rather too shallow water and ended up bending her rudder on a rock. This made the going a bit slower for the last part but thankfully there are no big rapids on the final stretch. She ended up coming in bang on time and the kayak leg was the highlight of her race. By now it was 2pm and the change in the weather had not yet eventuated so it was hot with a strong norwester blowing along the Canterbury Plains.

 The next and final leg of the race was a 70km road cycle along the Canterbury Plains, into Christchurch and out to the finish line at New Brighton Beach. The strong norwester was exactly what the competitors dream of as it's a tail wind all the way home! So Ange took full advantage of that tailwind and brought it home at an average speed of 28kph despite all her legs had been through over the past two days! Her watch ran out of battery during the cycle so she was unsure just how close she was getting to the finish until finally she was cycling alongside the beach and could see the bike dismount area ahead. From there they make you run along a finish chute of soft sand and up some steps they've covered in the same soft sand to go across the finish line! Then it's a short walk to join all the other competitors celebrating and swapping stories while the Pacific Ocean laps at their toes having all completed their Coast to Coast journey! The change in the weather arrived about an hour after she finished and saw temperatures drop by more than 10 degrees and the wind swing to the South. There were still many competitors out on the course with the last of the 1-day athletes not finishing till after 11pm. Most unpleasant!

 Ange is definitely proud of her achievement, as she should be! She knows she would probably have trained a little harder if she'd had a spot from the start but also knows that she'll never be able to train as much as she'd like to with a full time job and a young family. She definitely intends to do it again but probably not till 2026, to give her plenty of time to work on her mountain goat skills!

- Mike Newton

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Coast to Coast - Angela Newton
Tags: Home Members  

Posted: Friday 16 February 2024

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