This post was meant to be the next five year instalment of my 35 year review of my involvement in endurance sport, however, there are just one or two aspects that I want to expand on from 1982 – 1987 first, concerning Wanting It and Winning! Opps, this expanding one or two aspects did indeed expand!
Wanting It! Re-reading my 1982-1987 review one feeling really stood out, my need to be able to classify myself as a good runner. This need to feel content with one’s achievements I think is an in–built human trait. It always feels nice to be praised for doing something good, but what I find more satisfying is being able to praise oneself. What is really strange though is that there also seems to be a human trait to put oneself down, which seems to be in direct conflict with the need, the want to praise oneself. Looking at some of what I wrote in my last post, it appears that for whatever reason, I tried to contend myself by accepting that ‘scraping’ into the good category was all what was possible for my limited talents! I’m not sure how content I was with this approach, but looking back over the last 35 years I would say that in some ways this attitude was probably the one thing that inhibited my performance the most!
I have just finished reading Scott Jurek’s excellent book Eat and Run – My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness. Within the sub-title of his book, the term "Unlikely" gives a hint that Scott Jurek also felt that he had limited talents. However, the words “Ultramarathon Greatness” indicates that he obviously did something different which enabled him to become a great athlete! On page 123 Scott states “If I thought biology was destiny, I would have given up a long time ago. I’ve got scoliosis, my left foot toes out, I had high blood pressure in elementary school, and my marathon time of 2:38 is nothing special ... which makes my brain that much more important.” You can probably now see from this quote why I liked the book so much, with his highlighting of the importance of the mind. And from page 161 “I have always run better than I should have, given my physical gifts and my marathon time. I have always said that ultra is a mental game.” There are many, many very worthy messages within the book, but the one Scott Jurek quote that really jumped out at me, as I was progressing through my 35 year review of my endurance sport was the following:
“I didn’t need to remind myself how much I wanted to win. That hunger burned.”, page 91, and on page 154 “No one wants to win more than I do. I reach for it with every sinew and tendon and muscle of my being.”
Yes although it appears that Scott Jurek and I have similar ideas on what factors influence ultra performance, however, as we developed as athletes there was one aspect where we were quite different, not in our perceptions of our talent, but in our ‘Wanting It’! Time to delve a little deeper!
Thinking back to when I was a young lad, I think like every kiwi boy there was the dream to be an All Black. As mentioned in previous blog posts I started playing rugby at the age of eight, and pretty well immediately I knew, that being an All Black was never going to be anything than just a dream, I wasn’t going to be a Grant Batty. An All Black wing from Wellington who was one of my favourites as I had got his autograph whilst he was only a provincial/county player before becoming an All Black. Yes, I was able to identify talent, but unfortunately I didn’t see much rugby talent within!
The next key moment from my memory is from January 1974, so I was aged eleven. It is the iconic win by Dick Tayler in the Christchurch Commonwealth Games 10,000 metres. If you speak to any New Zealander aged 10 or more in 1974 I would guarantee that they would be able to describe to you the amazing achievement of Dick Taylor winning. He became an overnight celebrity. He won the New Zealand Sportsperson of the year award. Watching a video of him winning on the computer last year still had such an emotional affect on me! Click the following link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYgMwd_69YQ to see some really good footage of a David Bedford press conference prior to the 10,000 metres. This starts at 14:09 into the video. Portions of the 10,000 metres race is then shown, although unfortunately not the entire race, but I can still remember it reasonably clearly combined with reading Dick Taylor's book titled Golds Aren't Easy last year. The other day I also found a different clip of Dick Tayler winning, which also shows a little bit of his famous dramatic victory collapse. Click this link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vi35FuwB1CU of John Key, the NZ Prime Minister recalling his memory of the race.
Please excuse me, I am going a little off track here, but after watching the videos again, I can't continue without some comments. David Bedford, the current World Record holder in 1974, with 27:30.80 took off at World record pace but was continually jostled by the African runners. Dick Tayler at one point was 150 metres behind, but then gradually makes his way back to the front group, with the assistance of the energy from 35,000 New Zealanders shouting as loud as they could. (The atmosphere looks very similar to the London 2012 Olympics with Mo Farah.) "Once he sensed the gap wasn't widening, a perceptible change came over him; his pace quickened, he suddenly became more relaxed. Dick had started to move on lap 11." from page 24 of Golds Aren't Easy. Then Dick comments; "I began to feel good within myself again. Gone was the mental block of past occasions (Dick Taylor had competed for New Zealand on many occasions prior to 1974 including the 1972 Munich Olympics where he ran a disappointing 10th place in the heat of the 5000 metres in a time of 13:56.2.) when I'd start to flag once a big gap had been opened up on me. Then I'd had the strength, but didn't have the heart and the will-power necessary". So this small excursion commenting on Dick Tayler isn't totally unrelated. Dick Tayler also recognises the importance of "Wanting it, the burning hunger!", although it refers to it as the "Will-power, the heart!"
Dick continues; "I get a terrific mental and physical boost as I passed that first runner. A cheer went up from the crowd. It was me they were cheering on. It was nice to know your efforts were being appreciated." Yes, this inner desire to be praised, for your achievements to be recognised. "On the 18th lap I'd caught up. I heard the crowd going wild and I felt myself starting to grin. "Go on and cheer" I thought. The Silver Fern is up where it belongs." Yes, the importance of enjoyment, being in the present moment and taking it all on board, experiencing it, loving it, feeling the buzz, the excitement, yes the overall enjoyment. "Feeling excited now, I opted for the cautious approach, reinforcing my decision by going over Arthur's advice; "delay your run as long as possible Dick", he'd stressed, and Arthur had been right so far." The Arthur Dick is referring to is his coach Arthur Lydiard, mentioned in the my blog post review 1978 - 1982.
Dick Tayler went on to win in a time of 27:46,40, taking 43 seconds of his personal best time for 10,000 metres which he had only set eight weeks earlier at the National Championships / Selection Trials. This PB set at the trials was already a 19 second improvement on his previous PB that was set earlier in 1973. So within less than a year, he improved his PB by over a minute. Yes, performance is clearly influenced by much more than just the physical/physiological. The energy from the crowd, the Wanting It, etc. So the thought of perhaps running for New Zealand, wearing the black singlet (vest) with the silver fern, became my dream. On the final day of the 1974 Commonwealth Games, John Walker also burst onto the scene with his second place to Filbert Bayi in the 1500 metres, also breaking the previous world record. Click here to see one of the best 1500metre finals of all time, unfortunately only the last two laps.
For the next few years, track running was a big deal in New Zealand, as John Walker went on to set the world mile record in 1975, and then won the Olympic 1500 metre gold medal in 1976. Unfortunately, just with my rugby experience, joining Hutt Valley Harriers in 1977 confirmed that my running talents similarly weren’t going to really turn my dreams into anything close to reality. The big difference here, with regards to running compared to rugby was that I still really enjoyed running, especially the racing, even though I would finish in the second half of the field. It didn’t really bother me that I wasn’t near the front of the field. Yes, it would be nice, to finish higher up, or even to win would be fantastic, but, yes, I was quite different to Scott Jurek, I just didn’t really ‘Want it’. I didn’t have the hunger!
As I have described during my two five year review posts, I wanted to be ‘good’, even ‘very good’, but being ‘very good’ didn’t mean everything to me. I made myself content at just being a ‘good’ runner, nothing more. But then in 1983, the sport of Multisport arrived in Wellington with the Greta Point Tavern Gutbuster.
The next race within the Wellington region wasn’t until January 1984. In anticipation for the next multisport race, I started going for the occasional bike ride and by the end of 1983 I had logged 205 miles of cycle training. Not many miles, but a start into the sport of cycling, and as mentioned in my previous post, I was introduced into the sport under the wise guidance of Tony Clegg.
It is January 1984 and I head up the coast from Wellington to the small town of Otaki, and even though my kayaking was still really poor and slow, I didn’t capsize this time and finished overall in a very creditable 14th place from the 71 finishers that had travelled to Otaki from all over New Zealand. Looking at the result sheet for the 1984 Otaki Multisport Triathlon, it is basically a who’s who of New Zealand multisport from the mid eighties: 1st John Jackson who was actually the race director, who did absolutely loads towards the development of the sport during the eighties, including getting the sport on National TV with the introduction of a team competition that enabled the sporting celebrity team of Kayaker Ian Fergusson (4 x Olympic Gold Medallist), Runner Rod Dixon (New York Marathon winner and Olympic Medallist), and Cyclist Graeme Miller (Olympic Rider and later to become Commonwealth Games Gold Medallist) to compete. 2nd Roger Nevatt, a New Zealand representative cyclist but winner of probably over 50 multisport races during the eighties. 3rd Bernard Fletcher, a multiple kayaking National Champion. 4th Neville Palmer, a firemen from Wellington, the first out and out multisporter, always a top finisher in multisport races. 5th Brian Sanders, a county level runner, but later became famous for winning the 1985 Coast to Coast multisport race. 6th Michael Bassett, a National Champion in Surf Lifesaving, also I believe a National Champion kayaker. 7th John Howard, winner of the 1984 Coast to Coast just one month later, as well as multiple winner of other multisport events down in the South Island. 8th John MacKenzie, another out and out multisporter that always finished near the front of the field in multisport races throughout the eighties, including a top finish in the 1990 Xerox Challenge, that involved 22 days of racing from Cape Reinga at the tip of the North Island, to Bluff at the bottom of the South Island, the same journey that Jez Bragg is currently running in New Zealand. 9th Mark Trotman, a 2:19 marathoner and frequent winner of multisport duathlons - running and cycling events during the eighties. Other names worth mentioning that raced that day, who all went on to achieve great things within multisport or the individual sports include; John MacDonald, Jamie Martin, Michael Tate, Rod Tindale, Sandra Fletcher, Hans Vlaar and David Murgatroyd. Yes, the 1984 Otaki Triathlon was definitely a multisport who’s who, and little me, complete novice, was right up amongst it in 14th place. Sorry for the long paragraph, I just got a bit carried away seeing all of those names, bringing back loads of good memories of great times with great people.
Then just two weeks later in the Burkes Cycles / Living Simply Mini Multisport Triathlon involving cycling, kayaking, and running I finish a close third behind John Jackson and Brian Sanders, from a field of 44 finishers. Strange, even though I didn’t have any desire to be ‘good’ at multisport, whether it was due to the sport being very new, so not that higher standard, I’m not sure. But reflecting on it now, I would say probably the main reason for the high placings I achieved was simply due to the buzz, the excitement I was getting while racing. Yes, although I didn’t appreciate it at the time, the affect of one’s emotion on performance can be quite influential. Yes, there are many aspects that influence performance in endurance sport; the emotion, the hunger, and as illustrated in my previous post also the anger!
The remainder of 1984 was focused on running, my sub 2:30 marathon goal, then the National Road Running Championships. In preparation for my entry into the 1985 Coast to Coast I got out on my bike more, riding a total of 1295 miles during 1984. Then come the end of the year, I commenced cycle racing at Aotea Lagoon. The Aotea Lagoon cycle racing was just the perfect introduction into cycle racing. It would be around an hour bike ride from the Hutt Valley, over Haywards Hill to Aotea Lagoon. Followed by the return ride back to the Hutt down Ngauranga Gorge. At the Aotea Lagoon race you would be allocated to a starting group, with the slower riders starting first, and it would be a handicap race involving three laps. I absolutely loved it; the speed, the bunch riding, the drafting. It didn’t take me many weeks to move up into the Break Group, the second to last group to start.
It was whilst riding to and from the Aotea Races when I first met Graeme McLay. He always rode in the last group to start, the Scratch Group and more often than not he would win the Scratch Group sprint for fastest time. Yes, Graeme McLay was your ‘natural’ winner. I guess he was like Scott Jurek. He really wanted to win. He had a real passion, that real hunger to win. It was quite a contrast to my approach to the cycle and multisport racing, which was simply doing it for the buzz, the excitement of the racing, without any real regard to the actual finishing position. Yes, the higher up the better, but the finish position was a distant secondary focus to the enjoyment of the competition.
Out of the hundreds of races I have competed in over the last 35 years, the 1985 Coast to Coast race stands out as being one of my favourites. Still now, I have very vivid memories of the two day race, as it was back then (now the main event is a one day race). So if you want to share my memories of this race, keep reading, otherwise skip a few paragraphs, although not recommended, as I guess it would then be a bit like only completing the marathon rather than the ultra distance!
The 1985 Lion Brown Coast to Coast race, day one, consisted of: a 1km sprint up off Kumara beach on the west coast of the South Island to the awaiting cycles. Then a 60km undulating, road cycle before back on with the running shoes for a very demanding (33km) off-road, tramping track mountain run over the Southern Alps to finish day one at Klondyke Corner. I am supported for the race by good mates Tony Clegg, and Martyn Ritchie (one of the Wilby Training Group from Naenae College). As I was still quite a novice in the kayak, and with day two involving a 67km down river kayak in between 15km and 70km cycle rides, there was no expectation of finishing high up the field. The race was simply an adventure to complete such an awesome looking event.
Yes, even leading into the 1985 race, its third year, it is already a classic event. The 1984 race took place in very demanding wet conditions, combined with also a strong wind on day two. A 50 minute programme of the 1984 race made national TV, as well as the publication of a book on the 1984 race. The TV programme really grasped the imagination of the New Zealand public. It showed loads of ‘down to earth’ competitors, many of them with the stereotypical bushy beard, battling their way across the width of the extremely scenic but dramatic South Island. There was the chaos of the first cycle stage, with many of the competitors not used to riding in a bunch. Then the community aspect of the event as the athletes work together, linking arms in order to safely navigate the many rivers crossing of the mountain run. Next the vulnerability of the kayaks was clearly illustrated, not only due to the sight of many capsized kayaks floating aimlessly down the swollen river, but also viewing plastic kayaks being literally picked up and tossed around across the shingle river beds as a result of the gale force winds. The programme also illustrated the extreme contrast from the isolation and at times devastating kayak carnage in the Waimakriri Gorge, to the large crowds and noise, as the finishers are welcomed onto the white sands of Christchurch’s Sumner Beach. Finally to top it off, Mountain Man John Howard complete with his bushy beard wins the two day race in record time. For the next year or two, John Howard becomes a National recognisable figure as he is the feature athlete within the Fresh Up Apple Juice advertisements, featuring the rugged multisport athletes, that appeared frequently on TV.
1985 Coast to Coast Start - I am visible in the background, race number 317
Yes, the Coast to Coast was already a huge event as I am lined up in numerical order along Kumara Beach for one last safety check to record the numbers of those starting the exciting adventure! I am race number 317 from a field of 323 starters, so once my number is ticked off, I am well aware that the start isn’t too far away. There is a real sense of anticipation. There is the sound of a lone bag-piper, then to really add to the drama, a helicopter appears with a cameramen hanging out the side, but instead of hovering above, the helicopter heads off out to sea. All 323 competitors turn to follow the path of the helicopter. Then as the helicopter starts heading back to the shore and the noise from its rotating blades gets louder as it nears, there is the sound of a loud hooter, and we are off! It is a flat out sprint. Unbelievable! Even though I am at the very start of the most challenging demanding event I have ever competed in, there is absolutely no fear, and I am racing the 1km to the awaiting cycles, as if the entire duration of the event is exactly that, one kilometre. Yes, talk about being ‘within the moment’. I am totally with the present, without any worry about what will follow!
The overhead helicopter - Photo from 1986 race - notice the sunshine!
I run off the beach really fast to ensure I am in the lead cycling bunch. Off with the running shoes, and on with the cycling shoes, which I have got used to over the previous few months, that with their stiff soles really aid the transmission of the power form the legs to the bike. Although in terms of the number of months I have been cycling, I am a novice cyclist, in reality though I have the knowledge and tactical awareness of an old cycling pro, courtesy of cycling partner and coach, and support crew leader today, Tony Clegg. As it turns out during the first few kilometres of the cycle, there was no need to rush as the pace of the front bunch isn’t that quick, and so the bunch is around 30 – 40 riders large. Having been used to the 20 minute explosively quick cycle racing at Aotea Lagoon, I find the leisurely pace quite foreign so I start attacking whenever there is a climb in the road. The overall route gains quite a bit of height so there are plenty of opportunities for the front bunch to be split apart as the gradient increases. It therefore doesn’t take long for the front bunch to massively reduce in size. I am absolutely loving it! Although I am breathing hard, this is what I love. Challenging myself, pushing myself to the limit, to see what I am capable of. Cleggy and Ritchie, overtake me and all of the other riders, honking the horn loudly of my old, pretty beaten up Austin J2 van with my fibreglass down river racing kayak delicately perched on the van roof. They are hanging out of the window screaming their heads off as they pass. Back in the mid-eighties in New Zealand, at the very embryonic stage of multisport, yes it was pretty chaotic. There weren’t the same risk assessments and health and safety that now bans the supporter’s from driving alongside the cyclist, so being able to watch the opening cycle stage. No, back then it was pure joy, without a worry in the world. Cleggy and Ritchie repeatedly leap frog me on the bike, every time with absolute noise and excitement. Yes, it was just fantastic.
As we get near to the start of the mountain run, there are only around seven or eight of us left in the lead bunch. Then a few kilometres out from the transition, three or four cyclists, I think mainly team riders (there is also a two person team relay competition) start going flat out as their day is complete once they tag their runner, and pull away. Interestingly, recently looking at a book that included the results of the first 25 years of the Coast to Coast, the fastest time ever for the first cycle leg is from 1985, so once we got moving we weren’t hanging around! (Although the run off the beach has since been extended slightly to 3 km, in order to spread the field out a bit before getting onto the bikes).
During the previous night and whilst on the bike there had been quite a bit of rain. As we head up the river on the mountain run the rain continues to pour. The mountain run is basically run up one river bed on the west coast of the Southern Alps, then head up a small creek near the top of the river, to cross the alps at Goat Pass (The name of the pass gives some indication of the steepness and the demands of the route.) Before descending down into and along a different river bed, now on the east side of the Southern Alps. I am moving along at a pretty good pace heading up the river bed, and overtake the other competitors that finished ahead of me or with me off the bike. Without really realising it, I have reached the front of the field, as I can see no one further up stream As I progress higher up the valley, it becomes narrower, so the river gets deeper thereby making it more difficult to cross. I am joined by Brian Sanders, and Neville Palmer, both from Wellington and who I have raced a number of times. We realise that it is now not really safe to cross the river by oneself, so we decide to stick together and assist each other across the multiple river crossings as we make our way up to Goats Pass. During the whole time running, the rain is just absolutely pouring down. Back in the mid eighties, there wasn’t really the high tech outdoor clothing like there is now. I think I actually raced that day wearing a woollen vest, which by the time we reached Goat Pass it was absolutely soaked and we were all pretty cold!
Coast to Coast Mountain Run - Actual photo from 1986 race
At Goat’s Pass we reach a tramping hut, and as we approach the hut, although the three of us ware leading the race, we all look at each other, and without any discussion, we all head into the hut for shelter. Luckily there is a race marshal at the hut, and he has a really good fire raging inside the hut. He asks if we would like a hot drink, all three of answer yes. So us three leaders of the race sip on hot orange juice, actually probably a Raro powdered sachet popular at the time in NZ, and chat away about the conditions outside for at least 10 minutes, during which time one following runner, Greg Dobson, (who went on to win the 1986 Coast to Coast event) joins us. Those ten minutes in the hut at Goat’s Pass, actually the entire mountain run, were amazingly special. Yes, we were racing, but we were more battling the elements, so the comradeship between us was quite unique and worth treasuring. Interestingly later that afternoon at Klondyke Corner I got a chance to chat to the marshal from the Goat’s Pass Hut. I asked him how busy he was in the hut. How many hot orange juices did he make? What was amazing was that he said that at least an hour passed after we finally left the warmth of the hut, before any other competitors went inside the hut for a rest. He commented that they were all too serious, too conscious of losing more time to the leaders in front! I recall thinking at the time, that it was really strange that only us leaders decided to stop, in order to have a small respite from the elements outside, so we were refreshed and able to take in and relish the further challenges we would encounter on the downward journey. Now I realise just how important the need to enjoy the actual race at that specific moment in time is, in terms of its impact on performance. Although the mountain run was extremely demanding. I know that I found it a real challenge, but most of all I recall that it was an extremely enjoyable challenge. I finish day one in a time of 5:37:44, a tired but very happy competitor in fourth place. On the descent down from Goat’s Pass our group of four split up. Greg Dobson finished the day in 3rd place in 5:33:48, but both of us had been overtaken by two competitors with the leader after day one being Terry Newlands from Auckland, a little over 8 minutes ahead of me in 5:29:37. Did I regret stopping for 10 minutes at Goat Pass. Not one tiny bit. What I experienced during the mountain run was more precious than the joy of leading after day one. I was there for the adventure, not for the need to win! Brian Sanders drifted back a little and came in 8th at the end of day one in a time 5:41:07, and Neville Palmer, running not being his strength, a few minutes further behind Brian.
We set up camp at Klondyke Corner, and have an enjoyable time chatting to the other competitors and their support crews. Then really late in the afternoon, actually in the early evening, after 13 hours and 5 minutes, a huge crowd gather to cheer in the last competitor of the day, Harry Docherty. He crosses the line, not really believing the reception he is being given. His smile is from ear to ear. Another very special moment from the 1985 Coast to Coast.
Paddling in my Down River Racer Kayak - Actual photo from 1986 race
Having gone through the quickest portion of each rapid, without any hesitancy, combined with the fast flowing river, after only 4½ hours I am at the end of the kayak leg. I get out and start looking for my support crew of Ritchie and Cleggy. Nowhere in sight! I see a guy who is supporting another competitor who camped next to us at Klondyke Corner. He comments that he saw Cleggy and Ritchie drying out the tent, and then he comments that they told him they were then going to find some tearooms for lunch. He wasn’t very optimistic of them getting to meet me at the end of the kayak, much before my predicted 6 hour kayak time. Fortunately, he says that he has a spare ten speed bike in the back of the ute (pickup) that I could use. So I immediately respond, yeah, great where is the ute? He says no problem and he’ll get it for me and casually starts walking up the gravel track from the river bed up to the road where his ute is parked. I 'politely' ask him if he could quicken up a wee bit. I think he senses my urgency so we start jogging up the track. So after probably losing around ten minutes in total I jump on the borrowed bike and start cycling to Sumner Beach, Christchurch, where the race finishes with a 100 metre sprint on the sand.
I have my head down and am cycling as fast as I can on the ‘beat-up’ ten speed I have been lent, wishing that I had my own racing bike, and my cycling shoes. Cycling in running shoes feels very inefficient. Luckily, after only around 20 minutes of cycling, just before I am about to make a left hand turn onto the road directly to Christchurch my support crew appear in my van coming from the opposite direction. They head down the road to Christchurch to around 400 metres ahead and jump out of the van with my bike, shoes and helmet ready. It is really quiet as I swap bikes, they don’t say a word. I later discover that they were scared that I was going to be really angry and shout abuse at them for not being at the end of the kayak, so decide to say nothing rather than say something that could ‘wind me up’ even more. I am simply relieved to see them, and so am extremely grateful that I met them before the turnoff to Christchurch. It doesn’t take me long to be back on my way, head down again, now going heaps faster on the final cycle leg to Sumner Beach
The ride is going really well, now on my own bike. Because day two starts with a staggered start, in bunches of ten riders at one minute intervals, in order to spread the field out prior to entering the river, throughout the day you have no idea where you are positioned in relation to the other competitors. Due to, for me but not in relation to the quick guys, my extremely quick kayak time, I have a feeling that I may not lose the hours of time I had been anticipating. I am therefore pedalling as fast as I can. As with the other cycle stages, and typical of multistage races at the time, bunch riding is permitted. As I overtake various riders heading to Christchurch, I shout at each of them to ‘jump on’ and we can ‘lap it out’ together. Unfortunately none of the riders I overtake are able to stay with me for more than a few minutes. Then luckily, I get the fright of my life as a rider overtakes me! Great, I immediately jump onto his wheel, and for the next hour or so we are motoring as we lap it out. We enter Christchurch, but as if instantly all of a sudden I am totally weak and get dropped as we go up and over an overpass. I realise that I haven’t taken on board any food since the kayak leg. Where are Cleggy and Ritchie, surely it shouldn’t take then that long to pick up my kayak from the river, after giving me my bike? From cycling really fast, I am now down to an absolute crawl, and still around 10 kilometres to the finish.
Just as I am beginning to get really worried at how long it will take me to ride the final bit to Sumner, Clegg and Ritchie appear, again to the rescue. They give me some ‘magic biscuits’, also known as ‘squashed fly’ biscuits, but I think officially called Garabaldi biscuits in the UK, or Golden Fruit in NZ. Whether it is the energy from their excitement and enthusiasm or the energy from the biscuits, I think more likely the former, I manage to pick up the pace and not too much later, jump off my bike and sprint in my cycling shoes the 100 metres across the sand, down to the water’s edge, to be greeted by the one and only race director Robin Judkins. Robin greets me with a huge smile, a handshake, and a can of Lion Brown beer. I had made it, across the entire width of the South Island, from Coast to Coast. I was pretty shattered, but the sense of achievement was huge. My overall time for the two days was 12:47:35. I have no idea in what place I have finished, it wasn’t really that important to me. I know it is now a well used cliché, but the 1985 Coast to Coast was definitely more about the journey rather than the destination, i.e. the finishing position!
The next morning there is a prize giving and finishers banquet at the Christchurch Town Hall, where the results are revealed. I don’t know my place, but I have heard that it was extremely close for the overall win, with the winning margin being only 26 seconds, in a time of 12:26:23. It is running friend from Wellington, Brian Sanders, with Greg Dobson closely behind in second, with third place finishing some time back, in a time of 12:40:34. I finish in 8th place overall, only 7 minutes one second behind third, having finished day 2 in 19th place. I immediately think what if I didn’t lose time at the kayak changeover, which was at least 10 minutes. I could have got third! There is a little bit of disappointment, but there is more real excitement. Here I am still pretty well a novice in the kayak and I could have got third. Immediately I discover the hunger that I have always had lacking. The hunger, the thirst, the desire, the need to win. Yes, in words now similar to Scott Jurek, I now so much wanted to win. That hunger burned. I couldn’t wait until the 1986 Coast to Coast to arrive!
Returning, from the 1985 Coast to Coast, McLay and Cleggy decide that I need to get my act sorted out, to go back and win the race in 1986. Cycle training dramatically increases, and a cycle racing plan is mapped out for me. I also realise that my kayaking needs quite a bit of attention, so arrange for my kayak to be stored at running mate Steve Hunt’s house, that backs directly onto the Hutt River. I reduce the running training, but with the new competitive hungry approach, the run race performances do not decline during the year. The first ever National Multisport Championships are scheduled to take place in Otaki in May of 1985. I recall basically being ‘told’ by McLay to go out and win it! As part of the huge promotion the event is attracting, they have put up quiet large prizes for the fastest times of each of the individual disciplines of cycling, kayaking, running. McLay likes the idea of winning a substantial prize, which I recall was $500 of running kit to the quickest cyclist, and even though he has never been in a kayak, he enters as well. (Note: to receive the fastest discipline prize you had to finish the overall event!) So for the next three months, I am training full on, quite a bit on the bike with McLay, and I find his winning attitude is really ‘rubbing off’ onto me.
Come race day, the first discipline is a 36km cycle, then a 7.5km run to a lake, next a 9km paddle (3 laps of the lake), before finishing with a return 7.5km to the start/transition/finish area. It is a rolling bunch start, which is pretty quick, as a few other specialist cyclists have the same idea as McLay, i.e. to be a ‘pot hunter’ for the fastest cycling prize. It doesn’t take long for McLay to put in a strong attack, which is successful as he manages to stay away for the remainder of the cycling and wins his prize. I distinctively remember thinking, job done by McLay, now I need to execute my win. Previously the idea of winning a National Championship would have never entered my mind, but with a changed ‘hungry, wanting it’ attitude, the idea doesn’t seem that foreign to me, and I begin to believe that it could happen.
I finish the cycle ride in the front bunch of probably around 12 riders. I quickly put on my running shoes, sprint out of the chaotic transition area and immediately hit the front of the race. Yes, I am leading the National Championships. I run strongly during the entire 7.5km to the lake, and only relinquish my lead near the very end of the run to elite runner, I believe a sub 2:20 marathoner, Patrick Meffan, who had come up from Nelson. I don’t panic and quickly regain the lead once we get into the kayaks. Although, I had worked a bit on my kayaking, there is only so much one can achieve in 3 months. I am therefore overtaken by the big names of multisport, Roger Nevatt, John Jackson, Bernie Fletcher, David Murgatroyd and Terry Newlands, and drop down to 6th place at the end of the kayaking. With a final 7.5km run, I am hopeful of gaining one or two places, but know that I have lost far too much time to regain the lead. I only actually manage to gain back one place, and finish in 5th place overall, in a time of 2:37:36. Only27 seconds behind 4th, but a little over 1½ minutes behind 3rd, with the winner Roger Nevatt nearly 5 minutes ahead! In reality, a great result, but with my new ‘Wanting It, Hungry’ approach, there is disappointment! McLay eventually finishes in 95th place out of 113 finishes, 56 minutes after me, but he is $500 richer!
Spenco National Multisport Championships Results 1985
Within this post I wanted to expand on this Wanting it, Needing to Win, The Burning Hunger aspect, as I think it is quite an important attribute. Apologies for getting side tracked on some of my memories, but hey, it is my blog! I will try to stick more to the topic. So Wanting it, Needing to Win, The Burning Hunger are important attributes, but not absolutely necessary in order to win, but definitely does aid performance. However, as with establishing/identifying factors that contribute to endurance performance, it isn’t as simple as it seems! Which I will try to explain a bit further on.
The rest of 1985 I train for the 1986 Coast to Coast with renewed vigour. I achieve some good cycling and running performances, as described in my previous 1982-1987 review post, but come race day in February 1986, I just don’t perform on the mountain run, running only the 8th fastest time. So instead of leading at the end of day one, my strong day before my weak discipline kayaking, I am only in 6th place, 11 minutes behind the leader. I again am disappointed. I finish up after day two in 6th place overall. The only reassuring aspect of the result was knowing even if I did run to my anticipated running potential I still would have only finished third overall. So the disappointment was tempered a bit. Yes, having the desire to win is important, but there are so many factors that contribute to endurance performance, both physical and mental! Looking back at my disappointing 1986 Coast to Coast performance, I definitely didn't perform on the run as I should have. Reflecting back now I can identify a number of factors that contributed to the poor run, such as too much focus on the destination rather than the journey. Not enjoying the present moment etc. But the most interesting observation from my review of 1986 is that at the time, I never spent time reflecting on my race performances. I didn't really see race reflection as being important. Whether the race result was good or poor, I tended to just accept it, and think either my physical training was going well, or I needed to do more. So I never really learnt much from racing. Hence why it took over 30 years before I really began to get a better understanding of what it's all about, and hence the improved performances.
End of Day One 1986 Coast to Coast - Really Disappointed - McLay (headless) trying to cheer me up!
End of Day Two 1986 Coast to Coast
Less than one month after the Coast to Coast, I start on a new life journey, as I commence a Sports Science degree down at Otago University in Dunedin, having ditched my architecture studies the previous year. With it being the first time I have lived away from home, at the ripe old age of 23! Although, I really enjoyed having the ‘Winning’ attitude whilst training, as it really helped with the motivation, in terms of having to do more that the others in order to win. The subsequent disappointments when one doesn’t win, even though in reality one has performed really well was causing confusion and uncertainty! Going to Dunedin was therefore a great opportunity to re-evaluate my approach to endurance sport, whilst settling in to my new life.
Within the first month of being in Dunedin I compete for ‘fun’ in a swim triathlon and a quadrathlon, and finish in the top ten in both races. A week after the quadrathlon there is a multisport event called the Silver Peaks Enduro, consisting of a very hilly 30km cycle ride, a 8km cross country run, a 15km down river paddle, and then a final 7km flat run. Having borrowed a very slow slalom kayak from the University Canoe Club for the quadrathlon, my elder brother Graham, who had been living down in Dunedin for a few years, suggested that I should get my downriver racing kayak sent down from Wellington for the Silver Peaks race in order to be competitive. Although at that moment in time, I was wanting a bit of a break from the 'Winning' approach, Graham’s enthusiasm was immense. He had agreed to be my support crew for the race, so with the desire of winning so present within me, and combined with satisfying Graham's really enthusiastic competitive desire, I got my kayak sent down, fortunately arriving just in time, the night before race day!
Although, over 25 years ago, I can still distinctly remember the race in very fine detail. For some reason there was a 10 – 15 minute delay to the start. It was a nice sunny morning, and I recall just lying down on the grass, totally relaxed, nearly falling asleep. It was quite bizarre. For the previous year’s racing, prior to every race I was really wound up. Really anxious, in response to the need to perform, the wanting it, the burning hunger in the races that mattered. This race was totally different. I was totally calm as I got onto my bike for the hilly bunched massed start cycle ride.
I didn’t know any of the other competitors. There is both an individual and a team relay competition. After a flat section, as we reach the first big climb I am in the lead bunch, when one cyclist attacks, and explodes out of the bunch. I instinctively latch onto his wheel, and only a few other cyclists jump across to join us. Our small group then simply ride away from the entire field. There were a few more huge climbs and our lead group gradually gets smaller due to repeated attacks from the same cyclist. I manage to stay with him the longest, and for a while it is just me and him leading the race. He finally drops me going up the last of the big climbs, but we have gained a reasonably lead over the rest of the field so I get to the run changeover second, over one minute ahead of any of the following individuals or team riders. I later discover that the awesome cyclist was Del Woodford, a New Zealand representative cyclist, who was competing in the team relay competition.
At the end of the cycle leg, Graham is massively excited at my leading the individual race. He is screaming out encouragement and it really has an effect. I immediately overtake the team runner and reach the kayaks in first place. As I progress down the river I am re-overtaken by the leading team, and then by an individual, Brett Marshall, the second best triathlete in New Zealand at the time, (second to Rick Wells).
Again, as I reach the end of the leg and get out of the kayak, Graham is mega excited. He gives me a time split of 2 minutes 16 seconds behind Brett Marshall and he is totally confident that I can pull in this time gap over the final 7 kilometres run leg. I soak up his positive energy and take off in pursuit. Within probably two miles I have already pulled back the two minutes and overtake Brett Marshall and head to my first ever win. Yes, since entering the world of endurance sport nine years earlier at Hutt Valley Harriers, not counting small under 20, or under 18 harrier club events which often involved only a handful of runners, I had finally won my first ever race! And surprisingly, when I didn’t have the absolute burning hunger, the massive wanting to win approach!
So finally, the second aspect I wanted to cover in this blog post. I had finally won a race! How did it feel? Well, yes it did feel good. Not so much due to just winning, but more due to the way I had performed and who I had managed to beat. I had rode really well on the bike, being the only guy able to stay with NZ cycling representative Del Woodford for the majority of the ride. I had paddled okay, always my weakness, but only lost 6 minutes in the kayak in a paddle that lasted more than an hour. And then I had ran really well to beat Brett Marshall, one of NZ's leading triathletes by nearly 4 minutes, and smashing the course record by over half an hour. Yes, it felt good!
Since that first win, I have won many races, a few multisport events including the 1987 Silver Peaks Enduro, a few cycling races, but mostly running races, on the trails. Do I still get the same 'feel good' response? Well, to be honest no, not all the time. What I think made that first win extra special was that it coincided with me feeling like I had really performed to my best on that day. The win was really just an extra bonus. Since I got into trail marathons in 2001, and then ultra trail racing in 2008, I have won a total of 17 trail marathons, and 9 trail ultras. Looking back at these wins, for some of them I didn't get that much satisfaction from winning, as I knew inside that I hadn't actually ran that well on the day. The one race that probably does stand out over the last eleven years was my 15th place at the IAU World Ultra Trail Championships. I finished 30 minutes behind the winner, but on that day, I felt that I had run a pretty good race, so there was much enjoyment. So, yes, winning is nice, but I think what is more important is how you deep inside feel you have performed, in relation to what you think you are capable of achieving on that day, in relation to everything else that is happening in your life at that particular time. In addition it is important to acknowledge when you run well, as it is always very easy to conclude that you could have performed better. I recall doing that even with my IAU World Champs performance!
What I didn’t realise back then, but have since, is that sometimes wanting to win, wanting to perform can be detrimental to one’s performance. Remember there are many, many aspects that contribute to endurance performance, or in terms of my Race Focus Energy (RFE) model, the many, many aspects that can rotate the RPE to RFE arrow upwards or downwards. In some ways, too much focus on winning, too much focus on the finish result, ignores the really important aspects of enjoyment, and being within the present moment, which I discussed in my 2011 UTMB DNF blogpost. A ‘wanting to win hunger’ can result in too much emphasis on the destination, rather than the actual journey. So it is all about getting the balance right. Yes, I think the burning hunger that Scott Jurek describes is important, but without ignoring the other important factors that contribute significantly to performance.
One thing I have noticed when reflecting on my 35 years of endurance racing is that often my best performances occur when I haven’t ‘overcooked it’ in terms of the burning hunger to win. It seems to be when this ‘wanting to win desire’ is just that little bit less, that the best performances eventuate. It seems that Scott Jurek has also recognised this, but he doesn’t really elaborate on it within his book. No doubt as it could result in sending out a confusing message. He touches on it a little bit on page 209; "Is there any value in winning? Competition drives me, but I know that losing myself is the real key to fulfilment. ... Was I too focused on winning? Had I lost the capacity for being in the moment that had - paradoxically - brought me my greatest recognition." Yes, the whole issue of achieving successful endurance performance can be quite confusing.
I will sign off tonight with a few more of Scott Jurek’s words, from page 212: “How in order to win, one had to realize that winning didn’t matter.”
Enjoy wanting it, but not too much!