Lake to Lighthouse 2011 Report

Biggest and hardest event I’ve done so far. This race meant so much to me. As I talked about in my Bio – it was all situated where I grew up and was the catalyst to me being where I am in sport today. The feeling of finally doing it then completing it was pretty overwhelming. This write up’s reasonably long so I hope you can spare the time. Grab a cup of joe or something.. 🙂 If you make to the bottom there are some videos!

Mum on the ground holding the next sock and Dad in the far left with a Leppin gel ready and waiting.

The Lake to Lighthouse (L2L) multisport event is situated in the small township of Wairoa, Lake Waikaremoana and everything in between. Both hidden treasures of the North Island, Waikaremoana is located at the bottom of The Ureweras National Park secluded by dense bush and towered by the magnificent Panekeri Bluffs – Wairoa is at the northern end of Hawke’s Bay and is iconic for its lighthouse which sits between the Wairoa River and the main street.  The 183km race/obstacle course is both extremely challenging and spectacular with impressive views of the areas beauty spots. A very scenic route for those who have time to admire it.

L2L has been a long term goal for me as I have wanted to compete in it since Richard Ussher paddled past my house during the 2008 race. I lived in Wairoa – the town the event is orientated around – the majority of my life and vowed to challenge these athletes, feeling it was my duty to defend my home turf. Needing money for sports gear and spare time for training, I managed to finally prepare myself and enter for the 2011 race.

I took leave from work for the week prior to ‘pre up’ – ensuring my support crew (Mum) and myself had each transition perfected, that each stage had been broken down to every meter and piece of food, and all equipment was running in best possible condition to prevent any faults during the race. I spent the whole week worried. Had I trained correctly? Am I eating correctly? Is my gear ready? Am I ready? Always thinking of something to improve or add to the notes.

Friday came quickly and was in Tuai – a small village just below Waikaremoana – registering my gear and receiving the welcome Powhiri by lunchtime. More organising of gear and transition practice squeezed before dinner as well as a pre race spin of the legs down to Piripaua and back.

That night’s feast was superb and the great entertainment helped ease the nerves by distracting me from thinking about the next day.

Not the best pre race sleep I’ve ever had, a very cold night in the pop up caravan. Alarm woke me up at 0430 but there was no resistance from me to get up – too anxious. I forced down my breakfast which did not go down well at all.

All geared up – sunscreen on, Mum set off to Home Bay early before race start to ensure best set up for first transition. I spent the final minutes warming upon the bike, as were most.

Finally the starter horn went off and the day began. The first stage was a 15km Mountain bike straight into a 12min uphill climb up to the lakes edge then undulating along to Home Bay. The start sprint was as fast as I expected but I still remained cautious, I didn’t want to bust myself to early. I passed all the people I wanted to on the way up first hill anyway. A very fast paced leg, it was over very quickly. Coming down the steep hill into Home Bay I decided to save time by undoing Velcro on one shoe and pulling my bike pants down as far as I could. I got me some weird looks from spectators but it worked pretty well in transition (Don’t worry I had my run-shorts underneath!).  Ran into the lake, slid into the boat, thanked my support crew and was off into the open water. I was the only one wearing a singlet on the bike and it seemed also on the kayak leg, I was slightly regretting it as the sun faded away. Within 10mins the wind picked up strongly – in the worst possible direction, big waves with white tips were lashing me and the boat side on. No speed in this conditions, my boat was designed for flater water than this, luckily my whitewater skills kept me upright. I didn’t help with steering that my toes were cold and numb from the kayak entry and were having trouble with rudder control. Couldn’t eat or drink either because I didn’t want to risk letting any hands free of my paddle. About 40mins in, we reached the Mokau inlet and finally were sheltered from the waves. Scoffing down some fuel and water, I picked my pace up quickly and gained placings back I had lost to the more stable boats that had passed me in the chop. Coming into Hopuruahine I grabbed an outstretched hand that belonged to a local mate and was catapulted from the boat. Mum was all prepped up on the bank, dried the feet, running shoes on.

This next stage was a 46km trail run. I knew from the start it would be tough but began the long jog focused and determined. It was within 400m of the run start that the days major barrier revealed itself, a small burp and my priceless fuel came out of mouth and onto the ground, wasted. My body had been revolting food all morning since the early breakfast. This stomach upset remained with me the whole 6 hours of the run. The first 26km to Korokoro involved a bit of yo-yoing between other individuals and me but I kept ahead by the time the transition area came up. Very quickly stocked up on fuel and water at Korokoro thanks to a random race marshal having my chilly bin open and their banana peeling assistance!

The final 20km was always going to be sore but it was a lot slower than I wanted it to be. Some fresh legged team runners flew past me at the start but I wasn’t tempted at all to chase them. The extremely steep climb up Panekiri Bluffs was pretty much entirely walked. The thighs were on fire and I was really wary that I didn’t ruin my legs for tomorrow’s activities. I found out at the top Hut that the one guy I’d been trying to catch was still the same 9mins ahead of me as he had been since an hour ago so I picked the pace up. Short random bursts of hail through the beech trees were welcomed because it cooled my overheated engine nicely. Eventually the final long descent down the Bluffs came. 2km of steep downhill. I used gravity to its advantage and made it down fast in what felt more like controlled falling. I burst out of the bush into the open grass and painfully climbed onto my Mountain bike. A short hill before riding the gravel road 5kms down to Tuai to where the day had begun. The lady at day 1s finish line refused to give me a beer because I looked too young, but I was soon distracted by the camera crew who were keen to interview me.

A very hard day overall – it was especially annoying when I checked my pack bladder to discover I had carried over 1Litre of fluid for 6hours for no reason. More entertainment that night and a delicious Hangi kept everyone in a good mood. I kept going back to the massage tent taking advantage of the fact that they were free and felt amazing too.

Compression tights were on that night and by the morning I felt I had enough energy restored to give the second days stages ahead a good crack.

Another super-fast paced mass start, first up was a 23km mountain bike. It went straight into a very steep and long climb up a 4wd track made of wet clay, deeply rutted courtesy of the local farmer. Most found they could not maintain grip and walking was involved. The track is amongst bush and kanuka branches overgrew a lot of it. The first downhill was really technical as the track had a lot more washouts and ruts here, so mixed with speed it made for lots of thrills and spills. It soon opened up to farmland and the average speed rose a bit but there were still some ridiculously long and steep hills to ascend and descent.

Just leaving transition after Day 2 MTB – blackberry torn arms!

1.5hours later I arrived at Ohuka School – arms torn open by blackberry, body caked in mud and I could smell the farm animals muck that had attached itself to my face. I quickly swapped to my road bike. 300m into the 43km ride the uphill starts. 400m vertical climb over 3.5km. The legs did not approve. Once the final peak was reached the descent to the Main road was just as steep. I clocked a new top speed on my bike, at this point and time gravity was my friend again. I spent 20min in the wind on my own before a small bunch past me so I hitched a ride on the back. Despite protection from the wind, their pace was still too much for me and another 20mins in I lost them on some uphill. 12km from the end another bunch caught me, I hung on to them and the pace was perfect. I dreaded my turn to lead and spend time at the front but I put my best effort in to share the work load. Frustrated that one guy would not take his turn to lead the bunch because he was too sore, it also happened that this guy was one I was competing for a finishing placing. He made an amazing recover when I told him who I was and sprinted well ahead of me 2km from the stage end.

Now the painfully hot kayak stage began. Steep banks and Willow trees curl over the Wairoa river blocking wind most of the way which creates a real sauna on a sunny day. 21km from Waitahora to the Wairoa Rowing club. I overtook a group just under the Frasertown bridge and soon the competitor who leeched off our peloton earlier on. The river has a tidal flow so I made sure I had done my research and knew it was incoming while I paddled,  I focused on the river edge to avoid the main flow. No one else seemed to have the same idea but I felt better mentally, thinking I was using less energy than the others. A huge motivation booster arrived when I came past my house about 50mins in, Mum was on the bank cheering and just ahead was the Railway Bridge which a large bed sheet hung with ‘Go Sam!’ painted, just above it were my Sisters, also cheering for me. Very happy to see them, it definitely boosted my morale.

However 30mins later my technique and posture was getting terribly poor and I knew it. My sheer exhaustion caused the shoulders to slump over and my mind convert to a robotic state just to ensure I kept moving forward. When I arrived at the rowing club I was looking forward to getting off the uncomfortable seat, two guys grabbed my underarms and raised me up and out of the boat. As soon as my feet touched the ground I yelped with pain and thought sitting down wasn’t so bad after all. Never the less a race was still on and I shuffled as fast as I could up to the transition area.

The final leg had come – a 16km run around the town over some steep farm hills.

It began navigating through the back streets of Wairoa before ending up on SH2 south, following the river upstream where we had just paddled down. It took about 3km before my legs and body could establish a steady pace. Seeing that some were clearly still kayaking down to town was motivation that at least I knew I wasn’t last. 5km in we turned off the state highway into the farmland. At the base of the first hill I caught a vital competitor – he had beaten me by 12min in the first day so I had to beat him by this much today to ensure a better final placing. It seemed he had worked himself dry of energy and strength. I dug in an extra level and pushed past him. Halfway up this long steep hill, I saw a bright pink outfit, I knew exactly who this had to be – Elina Ussher, the top female Multisporter. My targets were immediately locked in, I had to beat her! I chased until the top of the hill, grabbing a drink from the marshal the same time as her. A small section of technical downhill along a sheep track and that was the last I saw of her.

I could see the sea and the coast where we were heading directly to. My speed was going great until I reached the bottom of a valley. My legs were really upset. I was still meeting heaps of marshals that were locals and knew me, shouting support. Hearing my name from them was enough to break any wall that got in my way. Eventually I was at sea level and was heading straight for the Wairoa river where it met the ocean. As soon I got to the footpath that follows the river there was a crowd of people cheering, some including my family. The footpath followed the river upstream all the way to town – to the finish line. 5km of this windy path to go, pain shot through the body every time a foot slapped down on the concrete. I ran as fast as I possibly could (which really wasn’t much).

The last two days and the amount of ground I had covered were going over in my head. I got reasonably emotional as I recalled the amount time and effort I had put in training for just these two days – the race I had devoted myself to over the last 6 months was almost all over.

The last stretch weaved through Pohutukawa and Willow trees, amongst them I could hear finish line.

Suddenly I broke through into open ground and ahead of me, standing tall was the gateway to the end. A crowd lined the final few meters and they were cheering loudly. As I crossed the line I put my head down and hit the brakes for the last time – Exhausted and delirious. The mayor shook my hand and placed the medal around my neck, another hand awarded me a cold beer. The whole scene was overwhelming and it was hard to comprehend that the race was over. I had enjoyed every minute of this challenge and was proud that I’d accomplished it.

My overall time was: 14:57:15. I had scraped into 5th place with 6th place being only 37seconds behind.

Unfortunately the event no longer exists as the organisers had trouble with numbers in recent times. Apparently it was too hard. Some Aussie media even claimed it the hardest Multisport race on the planet! The Lake Waikaremoana Challenge evolved from it and is still a brilliant event in the area. Can’t beat the original though.

Part 1

Part 2 – I’m in here! 5mins 27secs

Part 3 – Here too… 7min 54secs

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