*Scroll past the section in bold if you wish to skip the d & m and get to the race day story.
It is over a week since I stumbled through the green archway, the 2021 race finished and my result was clear. I am still left with a foggy brain for plans on where to next. The amount of people supporting vocally and through messages on race day and afterwards is more than any other day in my life. I spent most of the day on a high. Messages and comments afterwards from nearly every one of them tells me the words “You will win this race”, “Next year’s your year”, “Just a matter of time”, “We wanted you to win”. It was and is overwhelming to understand just how many people were cheering for me on the day, wanting me to get to the east coast beach first. To win is not easy, it will never be easy so long as the sport remains competitive (which it currently is). I am incredibly grateful for the support out there, new and long term. It seems I have convinced a huge number of people that I can win this event. More convincingly than ever. But, I have known I can win this race, I always have since I started in late 2010, I don’t exactly know why, it began as an extremely strong belief and has never stopped. This is my 7th Longest Day and 10th year training for Multi-sport. I would not be where I am without the support of my partner, my family and friends. But this new support of the public is strange in a way, so much support that I am concerned already about how it will affect my typical psychological approach to preparing for next time, with more expectation on me than ever.
For me, to be the best athlete I can possibly be, means to do whatever it takes. Keeping this on track kept me happy most of the Summer. Everything from diet, training session execution, sleep quantity, recovery, power naps, stress levels, race equipment and its condition. However, this has also created a distinct loss in contact time with my girlfriend, family and friends and loss of financial income. Most of my close contacts totally understand what I am doing which I am very lucky for. With their support and as long I can afford rent, living expenses and the gear I need then that’s all I have needed for the last few months.
There were still moments during the Summer that I realised just how much I had focused on almost nothing else other than myself and the athletes that I coached. I had no mental energy left to contact family and friends. My supporters, the people that backed me more than anyone, trusting that I was doing it all for the right reasons. That I wasn’t ‘just mucking around’, especially when they ask me what I have been doing at midday and I tell them I just woke up from a power nap or been fiddling with my kayak seat position for 5 hours straight then end up kayaking 6pm at night (especially as I don’t have full time job). I did in-fact have a couple of mini breakdowns, one mid December and another about three weeks out from the race. Both lasting only a few hours. The first one due to trying to squeeze in three quality sessions totalling 5.5 hours, all before 3pm, so that I could take part in a social activity with close friends that afternoon. Before I got into the shower I found myself lying down, torn with emotions about how behind I was in training for C2C. Here I was ‘cramming’ a key training day in, compromising on quality so that I could spend time with my friends who I already felt I’d become distant from. Both incredibly important parts of my life. The other time was two weeks out when I had spent a full day on the phone to my athletes that I coach, helping them organise their final weeks of training, final key sessions and mental states. Meanwhile, I was having an issue with some of my own gear and with my confidence in my training block. It was a sudden realisation of how unprepared I was feeling and it felt partly due to putting so much energy into organising others over myself. It was short term again and possibly a combination of feeling the pressure to perform more than ever before, plus having huge a to-do list (almost as long as a this blog is becoming).
At age 29 and motivated to improve, naturally I am confident I will continue getting better. But, after 10 years of non-stop dedication to this goal I am concerned with how much the important people around me can put up with it. Balance is incredibly important as I often discuss with the clients I coach. To do everything I can to improve doesn’t always leave energy for much else in the day. There is also other project goals in my life: other sports and adventures, my coaching, and my work and a share in developing the TopSport business. Some of those I feel I cannot give 100% while I am still trying to win this event. So much to do, so little time, and I can’t stand the idea of doing everything at the same time to an insufficient standard.
So, the main reason I feel unhappiness about not winning is knowing that there will be another season where I will need another year of support and trust of those around me to commit to this event again. Wanting them to believe that I am doing everything I can to justify that I have made the right choice to keep at this goal without affecting anyone or myself negatively.
But I did have a great summer of training with huge gains in many areas, skills wise, course knowledge and cycling strength. I was performing well and I knew I needed to focus on the same thing everyone should: doing the best I can with the time that I have each day and working around whatever tried to effect that journey.
Last year was almost completely dedicated to preparing for the race. I had planned for a rather solid running block which quickly turned into most of July-September off running completely with an Achilles injury. I still had cycled and kayaked plenty before competing at Motu Challenge. I had a good day and finished 2nd, behind Dougal Allan. Tired legs from the run stage made the rest of the day slower than hoped but I was happy overall that I was still strong without the running. The Achilles injury flared up again and I got in touch with a specialist who was working hard to diagnose what it was. With the consistent help from Optimal Performance Physio to keep the inflammation down, I made my own decision that I was going to run through it for the rest of the season and hope for the best. It has caused its fair share of problems through the summer but nothing major, mostly creating worry that my running wasn’t where I wanted it to be. (Current diagnosis is Haglund’s Syndrome, with plan is to get an injection in next few weeks, hopefully not surgery, followed by a decent break from running… )
The win at Clutha Classic in late December was a huge boost of confidence in kayaking but was humbled at the Waimakariri Classic where Dougal Allan reminded me that he is strong across the field. My cycling power numbers were about 40-50 watts more than two years ago for time trialling and very sustainable, running was sufficient with a big focus on rock skills to maximise efficiency. Taper went smoothly and with help from some close friends I was more organised with Support Crew and gear preparation. This allowed for a race week that was less stressful than usual.
Standing on the start line, heart rate is at 120bpm, nerves were high and I wanted the race to start just to get rid of them. I dig my foot into the ground to compact the sand and ensure the first step is effective. Within 10 seconds of the gun going off, I am at the front but keeping shoulders with others. The run was not quite as intense as I have experienced in the past and no one was really pushing ahead. Typically, all it takes is one keen runner to try and pull away to increase the intensity. At the transition I get on the road with my bike in 2nd behind Ryan Kiesanowski, allowing me time to smoothly fit my shoes into the pedal plates without rush.
I rode at the front at a very mild pace waiting for someone motivated to come through, but it never happened. I pull aside and brake, forcing it to change. I look back and see a large number of white lights among the darkness, it was then I could tell that the bunch was bigger than ever, most likely due to the less aggressive run off the beach. I yell for the group to rotate and for everyone to take short turns at the front but it was ineffective. Soon there is a keen group of around 5 of us, mostly people I do not recognise that are rotating, but it is inefficient as some are doing too long on the front and then others are not always supported and they try to pull aside. To describe it as messy is an understatement. I drop back mid group to ensure they can all hear me before yelling again for everyone to do some work, this time with some colourful words. No reaction again, I move back to the front again to set an example. 5 mins later I drop back again and open my mouth to the sea of around 30 blinking white lights, with more colourful words. It is still dark and I can’t figure out who is who. It became clear that nothing was going smoothly, I had my own race to think about but I remain frustrated with the lack of elites at the front. I immediately wanted to escape this free ride but I knew 15kms in was pushing it for a breakaway that might not work.
At around 38kms I reassessed, nothing had changed and so I started looking for an opportunity. The very next uphill was the best chance as the group would all have to work equally hard to stay together as drafting was less affective uphill. I surge to a higher power level but nothing outside my limits. After 40 seconds I look back and see there was about a 100m gap to the main group! Even more conveniently was two riders with me, Jamie Piggins, a guy who had been contributing a huge amount to the front of the bunch already and Markus Wourtersen. I say to them, “Are you guys keen?”, they both nod, hoping they knew what I meant. We take off a bit harder and rotate well. After 15-20mins Markus appeared to be suffering a bit despite wanting to do his bit. I encourage him to do less on the front but unfortunately on one of the climbs, he dropped back too far and we lost him. Jamie worked hard and did slightly more than his fair share, we moved efficiently further away from the main bunch. One of the climbs I ride next to him and we chat about where he is from, Piha, and I joke about where he could ride a time trial bike there. A testament to the intensity we were going, definitely not too hard, I was very conscious of that, but loads faster than that scrappy bunch that was now already over 1 km back.
1km from the end of the ride I tell Jamie, who is a first timer, to chill out and prepare for the transition. We spin lightly while getting final food/drink, removing ankle reflectors, arm warmers and loosening the Velcro to my shoe plates. I think about the process of what I need to do for the transition. Dismounting, I run to exactly where we planned to find my crew, chuck my excess gear at their feet, slip into my SCOTT pack and I’m gone. It was slick and fast, exactly how I’d hoped, thanks to my crew.
After 500m I look back and can’t see anyone, immediately knowing that the race is now under my control. I no longer need to burn matches to escape so that no one can follow my lines, focusing on pace, restricting it to respect the full course and prevent fatigue. My heart rate is 10 beats lower than last time and I am feeling efficient and smooth on the rocks. Every year I get to know this course even better. Instead of knowing all sections and lines, I now feel I know every rock above and below the water. Consistently thinking about efficiency and speed at the right times and, of course, fuelling. I felt totally in control.
None of the officials and volunteers can offer time splits to me, but I feel good and keep push faster. I do manage to make a small slip on the descent from Goat Pass and roll my right ankle, an inversion while plantarflexed. It was no normal roll and created a lot of pain, the blood in my body was affected as it tingled with shock and I went a bit pale. I take a few deep breaths and walk for a bit before forcing myself to push on. Incredibly after 10 minutes I am almost completely back to normal performance aside from the pain. Once on the final river bed flats, I open up the stride a bit more and try to get to Klondyke as fast as possible. The large crowd at Klondyke is cheering loudly! My girlfriend, Lisa, is shouting splits to me from across the entrance chute, I’m told its around 5mins+ to the next person which was damn good news to hear. Every other year in this race I’ve arrived at Klondyke tired and fatigued. Today I felt great, fatigue was low and energy was high!
Onto the bike, I ride strong, but with a lovely strong tailwind it wasn’t efficient to ride super hard. I eat and drink on any uphill’s. Thinking my support crew member needs to get past me to meet me at the top of Mt White road I wave my arm to urge the 10 vehicles stuck behind me to pass. Eventually, among some very dangerous manoeuvres from some of them, they all get past and I realise none of them are my crew. Oh well, I will just run to my kayak alone.
But Deklan, my crew member is there at the end of the stage waiting and yelling. I wanted to run down to the kayak strong and fast but while I felt good the legs were starting to feel a little sore. He briefs me on everything he knows that I need to know and we sprint into the transition area. Grant, support crew number 2 throws my kayak gear on me and I’m quickly in the boat and on the river. The crew nail their job once again without error. Super slick.
The paddle stage was on, 70m3 flow so not as much slow water to catch out those who don’t read the river well. I settle into a good rhythm and power. I feel great with only 3-4 moments around 5 mins long when energy lowered and mostly due to digestion from consuming copious amounts of the Em’s bars (all to plan). Despite finding out at Woodstock (56km mark) that Dougal had a taken a few minutes out of my lead, I didn’t increase my intensity, I still felt great but wanted to have a strong last cycle stage more than ever and refrained from digging myself into too much discomfort just yet. The easterly wind was strong, it slowed me down, but I didn’t mind, I just hope it slowed everyone else down more.
The transition out of the boat was great, I pop out of the boat, the legs were a bit unhappy but only for a moment. I still felt good despite the odd hobble. The gorge bridge is a just a big screaming, cheering crowd but I don’t have time to think about it. I have a job to do.
Grant takes my kayak gear, Deklan gives my cycle gear. It’s on. My leg muscles are all go as I power up the hill and Deklan advises that maybe I should hold back a little and save it for the bike. Up on the bike I do what I can to prepare the body for the final stage. By about 5mins in I am finally feeling like I am warming into it. Good breathing, good power, good body position, Aero. I decide I am very comfortable and that at the 10km mark, turn off to South Eyre road I am am going to increase it 10-20watts and maintain that to the end of the stage. I have the lead vehicle out in front with the orange lights flashing, media vehicles driving all around me and I’m ready to dig deep.
Locals are on the road side screaming their support. But I am suddenly not feeling that great. Muscles are fine but energy is decreasing. About 15kms I get the split that Dougal is 1.5mins back. I ignore it and focus on my plan. I am still unable to increase my intensity. I feel something touch my back which makes me flinch but within a second I know what it is. It is Dougal. He lightly plants his hand on my back and then continues past. I let him go about 50 meters before increasing my power to what is required to match the same speed. The numbers I see are not high and all within my plan, but I just couldn’t do it. I feel ill and weak. Slowly, he and the lead vehicle, a vehicle I spent most of the day with get further way. I’m not sure what’s going on, am I just giving in psychologically? Is it nutrition? or is this truly just me reaching my physical limits? I eat 1/2 a bar at 35kms in and I do feel much better so it must be nutrition, but the boost only last minutes. My bottle of gels are missing, or was there ever one supposed to be there? (Turns out the bottle fell while I crossed the gorge bridge). But I still have plenty of back up.
Now I am drooling and spewing and creating quite the mess over my nice bike. I keep going. Energy is now lower than ever and the wicked easterly wind is taking away any momentum. It’s tough, I try the other half of my bar at 50kms to see if that would work again but barely any of it stays down. I find my speed is rapidly disappearing and can barely keep it above 30kmphs. 15kms to go I am almost completely empty and begin to worry about maintaining 2nd place. I’m now struggling to keep bike over 25kmph and I feel hollow. Then, 5kms to go, I am actually empty. I can’t see properly and the only way I can keep the bike going forward and over 15kmph is to stand on the pedals and use my body weight to create power. I begin to think I might not actually make it to the finish line. The desire to stop and lie down on the pavement was huge. I try one last idea to help me finish, instead of sipping at my coke, I scull back the remaining 300mls at once. This worked, I didn’t throw it up and I now felt I could pedal getting the bike back to the upper 20’s kmph.
I manage my way to the end of the tarmac but haven’t really thought about the dismount and nearly forget to get off. I try to make my self run but it is tough, real tough, especially in sand. The crowd is once again cheering, super loud this time. I keep my head down because I don’t want to make eye contact with anyone. I notice hands sticking out wanting a high-5. I high-5 no one, a mix of thinking I didn’t deserve one and health/safety – you really didn’t want to touch my hands.
I stumble my way up the stairs, hugely appreciative of the crowd support, but feeling overwhelming disappointment. Handshakes, then Dougal comes over for a quick 1-armed hug. I’m pretty close to tears but push it back when asked for a radio interview. The day was over. All the preparation for race had been put to use and the result was final. I executed my dream race but couldn’t hold myself together to the end. A huge Congratulations to Dougal Allan on his race, I understand he has been through many experiences like this and has persevered to become who he is today.
It is now the following Monday from the race and the mental wounds have started to heal. I am incredibly proud of the day I had and am so happy I was able to show my supporters that my time dedicated to this sport has come through in my race execution. More people believe in me than ever before and those that already did, are reminded just how possible it is. It just means I’m going to need everyone’s support for (hopefully) one more year.
Thank you: TopSport – Specifically Kate and Len for their undying support when I’m supposed to working they let me train and also support a huge amount of time and energy into ensuring I get to race day as prepared as possible. To support crew Deklan Hodsell, who flew up from Invercargill especially, it was worth the effort mate and incredibly grateful to have you keeping everything in line. Support crew Grant Guise nailed the multisport race support and for having perfect banter. Also huge support all year round with the SCOTT shoes and gear and Julbo Eyewear, both equipment essential to a good race and they were exactly what I needed. To Kristin McNaughton, a talent for ensuring that everything is organised well in advance, planning my race week, preparing my meals and kicking me into gear at the right times. To my Coach, Cameron Durno, the man who has such a reliable process and always full of wisdom. To Lisa, my girlfriend for being my number 1 any day, anytime and always understanding my lifestyle. To my understanding family, my parents who flew down form the North Island to be with me the day before and at every transition – They have been at every C2C I have done, sisters supporting from afar, cousins, aunties, uncles and grandparents out on the course cheering the loudest. My friends that I have around NZ and overseas, And of course: the crowd I managed to win over for the day. The endless support provided while I gave everything I could to stay at the front. A day like no other.
A final thanks to sponsors: Topsport Kayaking – SCOTT Running – Julbo Eyewear – Flow Kayaks – Leppin Sport Nutrition – Torpedo7 – Hub Cycles (Hub Cycles sorted me with my new Time trial bike)
4 thoughts on “Kathmandu Coast to Coast – Longest Day 2021”
Great documentary on both the race and your determination to overcome injury and self doubt.
We all ( whanau ) applaud the positivity and dedication you have and continue to have and will always be behind you 100% in your dreams and future endeavours.
Sam this is a very moving and emotive Blog, you have written it so well and I don’t think there will be many dry eyes by the end as we all feel your pain. We are so proud of you and you should be proud of yourself with the effort you have put in to get you to where you are now. Yes we all believe in you and the 40th anniversary has a better ring to it for winning that one any way LOL. Love Mum and Dad xxoo
Mate, the reason you have such incredible support and people rally behind you so readily, is the simple fact we appreciate your honesty, hard work and ethic behind Sam Manson. Such a great read into what makes you tick, thanks for sharing bro.
Awesome read Sam! Honest and nothing hidden, apart from a solid race strategy!
Behind you (from a distance) all the way to the C2C crown.