Motu Challenge 2022 (+the months leading in)

A recap of the past 9 months before the Motu Race report written down the bottom:

Just 3 weeks after the Kathmandu Coast to Coast 2022, I was in Team Topsport for Godzone, an expedition race that took us 7 long days to finish. After that (GZ is a story for another time) my body went into its usual defence mode. Basically caves in, and no matter how well I eat and sleep, everything is a struggle. For me, a multi day expedition race like GZ is something I can race well in at the time (except, it seems this time, the skin on my feet part) but pay a large price once the game is over. I expected this as it has happened every other time I’ve punished myself this many days in a row, however receiving my turn of Covid-19 just 1 week after finishing made for an increase in the challenge of getting myself back to good health.

GodZone finishline for Team Topsport!

I used the approach of zero physical activity for 2 weeks post Covid (3 weeks post GZ), then 3 sessions per week of very light exercise keeping my HR low (for me around 130bpm maximum). I felt terrible. I set a plan/goal of being healthy enough to begin a training block by early May, restricting myself from anything above 140bpm until then. It was definitely needed. I wasn’t able to do much and missed a lot of my Topsport instructing work, thankfully Eric was there to work with Ryan. I used the time to heal the body and mind as best as I knew how, visiting family in Hawkes bay + a very chilled road trip on the West Coast, Lisa drove, we got away from devices for 5 days, sat around lakes and rivers and I slept.

By May I had set some goals for the year for training and racing, developed some new training plans and started another endurance sport science online course. 

During May, despite the lack of training I entered the King of the Harbour surf ski race in Auckland and one of my favourites: The Picton Portage kayak race. Both pretty hard events but I couldn’t resist them, then a few final guided trips for Topsport, it was great to squeeze those in before winter. 

Picton portage race

My training block has begun! Motivated by Godzone I entered the local Rogaine winter series, I was highly motivated and ready to improve my navigation skills along with my running. BUT at the first event, in early June, I severely rolled my ankle with 20 mins left in the 2 hour event. I knew it was pretty serious straight away as I could barely move, but I was stuck on a trail up on the Port hills in the dark and in the rain so had to do something. I rang Lisa, who promptly began the drive over. I had ridden 20km on my bike to the event (multisport!) so I knew I had plenty of time to crawl down the trail before she arrived.

Once home I couldn’t walk at all and crawled from the shower to bed.

The Cankle

It was a rollercoaster few weeks as the ankle looked pretty serious, a week later I finally got an ultrasound, and I was told immediately one of the ligaments was completely detached from the bone. 

I thought my running and C2C was over for the next year.

Over the next week, several people told me of similar stories and how they were still able to run on off-road terrain once the area healed (without the ligament/s), I began to feel a little more positive about it. Then I had another consultation with my favourite physiotherapists in town: Optimal Performance, now that the swelling was slightly less they were able to assess it a bit more. The conclusion very quickly was that the ultrasound had to be wrong and they were very confident that the ligament was very much still intact! Great news! Just needed to get it to heal. 

Topsport had a new kayaking race series so I helped with the organising of it and competed in the first 2 events in July.

I had an entry (thanks to SCOTT Running) for a trail marathon at the end of July: Wellington Urban Ultra (WUU2K). I still really wanted to do it. Running leading into it was limited, I stayed on the road and kept the ankle strapped. I took the risk and ran the race, albeit very carefully on the technical sections, and managed to come 3rd. A great boost of confidence.

Sam and Sarah (one of my awesome coached athletes!) at the WUU2K start line – 43km trail run

Early August I spent 2 weeks in Noosa with team Topsport, while a bit of holiday it was mostly a self made training camp, I was finally riding, running and kayaking all relatively well, getting some solid sessions completed in great weather.

It ended on a slight low, pinching something in my knee making me unable to run downhill… The drama never ends :).

I caught a cold (not covid) on the way back from Australia so had an enforced recovery week and missed the final of the Topsport winter races. 

This knee niggle has stuck around for 1.5 months, reducing my running for 3 weeks then I stuck to flat running for a while. Optimal Performance came to the rescue again.

Despite all the drama I managed to get good quality sessions in most weeks in the sports I was able to do, cycling and kayaking!

I knew I was working towards getting into a team for the Tour of Southland too so this was good motivation to spend loads of time on the bike.

Finally it was October and it was time again to test the multisport fitness!

Motu challenge is the great north island long distance multisport event. It has been around for nearly 30 years and creates a spectacular but hard course though the Eastern Bay of Plenty/East Cape area. Beautiful bush and river gorges to get amongst.

This was my 5th time here, it’s run very well by volunteers, has a real positive multisport culture with a strong community buzz.

I tapered early due to finding I wasn’t recovering at all post a 8km run during a relay race (which went well). 

I arrived at race day feeling pretty good and positive that I was going to have a faster day than in the past knowing I was much better prepared for it than other years. It’s a cycling dominant event too and I knew that I had improved in this in the past few months.

Motu Challenge 2022

Stage 1: 65km Mountain bike stage

The start went smoothly and a big bunch was created. There was a small break about 15 mins in where a guy in front of me let the lead pack go so I went to the front of this group to re-join us. I worked probably a bit hard doing that and in hindsight there might have been a team rider behind me that would have done that job instead if I waited a bit longer.

Trying to bring the bunch back to the front group. Photo by Brian Young

Soon we were on the gravel and in the hills, intensity got a lot higher, then we had a first main climb. I worked hard for the first 5 mins before deciding to ease it back and find my own suitable speed for a long day ahead. This meant letting Dougal Allan and Tayla Harrison get ahead of me on this climb. There were plenty of riders around not in the main multisport event (only cycling) and they were great to have around to work with once the head wind got stronger. Eventually the rain came and the temperature went from feeling around 14 degrees to around 4-5 degrees + wet and windy. Rolling into transition well fed (but wet!), I was ready to get stuck into the run stage.

Hard to tell the extent of the wind and rain and cold here! End of MTB stage. Photo by Brian Young

Stage 2: 17km Gravel + bush run stage

I ran fairly well, feeling well controlled, slightly slower than target pace but it felt right based on all the signals from the body. It starts with 5km of Gravel before we go through a beautiful section of native bush track. In the final 4km of the run, once back on the final gravel section I could see Dougal and Tayla running side by side around 600m ahead. I kept running as best as I could and managed to have it down to about 200m by the end of the stage, this was great for my morale. I possibly could have caught them but knowing how far we had to go knew to be smarter than that. 

Near the end of the run stage, rain getting a bit heavier. Photo by Brian Young

Stage 3: 52km Road cycle stage

I had a quick transition again thanks to my parents who are now pros at supporting me. I planned to work hard at the start to catch the boys in front. Immediately got stuck behind a truck on the single lane exit road so I couldn’t get above 15kmph for about 30 secs, then once past that I had plenty of leg muscles cramping. It wasn’t long until Dougal and Tayla were out of sight again. Rain was heavy and the wind was still strong, making for a slow first 13km. Once at Matawai it became a tailwind, things suddenly got a lot faster. I worked hard, had gotten slightly cold but otherwise all was good. Eventually beginning the main descent off the top of Traffords Hill. It was steep as always, the road was rough, it was still wet and windy, wild and cold, and the brakes on the carbon wheels were not very effective! It made for scary descent and at times came close to slipping off the bars. I was cold but managing it, not as cold as it sounds some others got.

I caught Tayla just as the steeper section was tapering off and rode with him down the fast winding valley road for around 10km, at this point Tayla rode to the front (drafting legal race) and within seconds: swerved and rode straight off the road into the gutter full of stones and road debris. He instantly punctured. It seemed like an unfortunate lapse in concentration and said later he was pretty cold and numb at the time. He didn’t crash, we made eye contact both thinking similar thoughts, I was stoked Tayla was having a great race and a puncture sucks! It would have been pretty exciting racing if was able to continue smoothly (he did repair and keep racing after this).

I carried on and shortly arrived into transition, the rain had stopped and the air temp had increased by quite a bit. 

Sam Clark showed me to my kayaking gear and I ran down to my boat feeling surprisingly good and nimble. 

I finally got a new split to Dougal, only a few minutes ahead. I knew it would be tough but also set out strong to catch him. 

Stage 4: River kayak 27km

It takes 10-20mins for me to get my heart rate and breath rate into a more stable rhythm.  Annoyingly I was still cramping in my legs a lot but I did my best to ignore it as giving it attention seemed to make it worse.

I was very surprised to see Dougal at the end of a straight section of river early on and also find I was gaining time on him quicker than expected. I kept working hard, I felt strong, I knew my intensity was high for this time of the day but when I thought about it I decided that I wasn’t fatiguing at an alarming rate, so I maintained it.

As I get closer, Dougal stops to rip his arm warmers off (Dougal tells me later this was him preparing for the battle). Sure enough as I go for the overtake, the pace increases and it’s not so simple as that. We get close to team paddler: Scott McDonald, I see we are getting close to one off the higher volume bluff turns with a big buffer wave. I decide to use this technical rapid to make the move, I surge ahead just enough to force Dougal to drop back, he’d know you wouldn’t really want kayaks side by side in there. On the way out of the rapid I surge past Scott and keep going. I don’t look behind me much but occasionally can notice Dougals blue boat in my peripherals which assured me he was still there. 

Then another 20 mins later I can’t notice anything, I look back properly and realise that he is nowhere to be seen, I check my opposite shoulder to be sure and it’s all clear. 

I carry on, still paddling hard. I think to myself, I’ve got this, especially now the tailwind is more behind us. I remind myself though that I could have mechanical or puncture on the last 8km bike stage, this motivates me to keep paddling fast. 

Coming into the end of the paddle stage. Photo by Brian Young

At the end of the stage, Dad helps me out of my boat. We change gear and I chuck on my bike helmet. I begin the 300m run up to the road and it made harder due to my damage LH glute muscle from the kayak seat. 

Photo by Brian Young

Mum has the bike on the road for me.

Stage 5: 8km Road bike

On the bike I’m ready to send it, but again the damaged glute is causing some serious issues. Nevermind, I’m still putting out a higher power number than any other year.

This is a FAST short and sweet stage done in just over 10minutes.

I nearly over shot the bike rack as it was hidden by some logging truck parked in front.

Stage 6: 3km Road run down the streets of Opotiki

I set out and find myself in an awkward limp due to the glute damage but the pace is ok at around 4:30minkm pace, I hope the blood flow will get the muscle working again soon. I get the pace to around 4:10minkm pace and realise that is all I can do today with the muscle damage. It didn’t really matter, I knew now with the space behind me that I had this race in the bag.

I finally make it to the finish chute and the result is sealed. I’ve taken the win. I am tired and it feels good to stop, I am also very happy to have had a strong race. 

Finish line relief. Photo by Brian Young

Dougal comes in a few minutes later. This is the first time I have come ahead of Dougal in a multisport race and it certainly is a huge confidence boost for me. I’ve looked up to him many times, watching him race at elite level before I even started the sport.

Dougal and I. Photo by Brian Young

I thought it would be a lot harder battling with Dougal on the river this day, we’ve had some tough races on the water many times and I know how hard it can get. When I made so much time on him during this race on the kayak stage it led me to believe that he wasn’t in his normal shape. So if he is at C2C next year I won’t take this for granted!

Traditionally I have had a tough time at the Motu Challenge, it is a tough course and the MTB stage can be ruthless enough to make the remainder of the day a bit of a drag. This time was a bit better!

Dad and I. Photo by Brian Young

I have come a way forward in my cycling and endurance racing and look forward to testing it again at this weekends Tour of Southland.

Thanks to Motu Challenge for another epic multisport race. Thanks to my parents for being a great support crew.

Thanks to the incredible Topsport family for their endless support.

Thanks to my equipment partner/sponsor for pro race gear: SCOTT Running NZ and Julbo Eyewear NZ, honest gear I can rely on for performance

2 thoughts on “Motu Challenge 2022 (+the months leading in)

  1. A great commentary Sam – thank you!

    We are so very proud of you. Your focus, determination, clinical approach to your training yet personable communication style are the envy of us and no doubt many others.


    Mum and Dad.

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