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Making NZ’s Toughest Race More Accessible

Making NZ’s Toughest Race More Accessible

New Zealand’s icon endurance event is becoming more accessible to more people than ever before as new categories attract a wider range of experience and ability to the race that has always been New Zealand’s challenge of choice.

The Speight’s Coast to Coast has long been considered New Zealand’s challenge of choice; the ultimate test for elite and recreational athletes alike. Three years ago race organiser Robin Judkins participated in his own race for the first time, teaming with multisport legend Steve Gurney. He finished, but it wasn’t easy and the creator of New Zealand’s best known endurance event got a valuable insight into the who, why and how of people participating in his event.

While Judkins agreed wholeheartedly and painfully that it was still the ultimate Kiwi endurance experience, he finished with a feeling that it could be more accessible to people like himself who were keen but maybe didn’t have the experience or confidence or time to take on the full challenge.

Established in 1983, the Speight’s Coast to Coast is the world’s longest running multisport event. Recognised as the World Multisport Championship, it starts on the West Coast’s Kumara Beach and races 243k across the South Island to finish on Sumner Beach in Christchurch.

In the 32 years since, almost 20,000 people from 46 countries have completed the six-stage event, comprising a 3k run, 55k road cycle, 33k mountain run, 15k road cycle, 67k kayak and 70k road cycle.

Traditionally the challenge has been taken either as an individual doing the entire race solo, or as part of a two person team, which is how Judkins raced it. In 2013 he opened the event up more, with a three person team option and also an option for people just wanting to experience the mountain run.

“We want the Speight’s Coast to Coast experience to be more accessible to more people,” explains Judkins. “Participants love everything about their experience, but not everyone has the time or expeience to take it on.”

“There are cyclists and runners or kayakers out there who would love to participate but haven’t because they don’t want to do the other disciplines, or haven’t got time to train for them, or to organise a support crew to help them race. Now those people can do it.”

The new categories open up the options to how participants can take on the event. A runner without previous multisport experience can now take on the iconic Goat Pass run without any issues except the physical effort and arranging transport between the finish and start.

Similarly, three people can now put together a team where they all do their own favourite discipline and don’t need to organise a support crew because one of them will always be free to organise the others.

The 2014 Speight’s Coast to Coast is scheduled for February 14 and 15, and Judkins expects around 600 entrants. Thus far there are almost 50 entries for the Mountain Run option and 69 within the three person teams.

Almost all the entries from the new categories are Speight’s Coast to Coast rookies and the age varies from two school boys teams to a trio of retirees.

Kaiapoi sztudents Michael Allison, Nico Cronshaw and Sam Doyle all attend Christ’s College together and will be racing the Speight’s Coast to Coast together, as will Christchurch mates Angus Ashcroft, Jonathan Calder and Ben Henderson.

All six boys are just 17 and Judkins says, “Their entries are a classic example of how these new categories can reinvigorate the sport, because these are young guys trying it out for the first time and they’ll probably have a blast and come back in the future to take on the entire challenge as individuals.”

Judkins says the mateship created by the Speight’s Coast to Coast is a big part of the event. Friends and family do the event in teams, and most participants have friends or family support crew them. It creates a huge family culture where support crews often come back as competitors and where generations from the same family end up being involved for years and years. These new categories will encourage this aspect even more.

Indeed, three North Island retirees – Brian Grace from Porirua, Vic Hewson from Waikanae and Paul Stuckey from Palmerston North – are looking forward to their boys-only South island road trip. All three have been taking on endurance challenges for years, but are teaming up to take on this year’s Speight’s Coast to Coast for the first time.

Judkins is also impressed by how the mountain run option is bringing more women into the event.

“Traditionally, female participation in the Speight’s Coast has hovered around 20 percent,” he says. “But the mountain run category is looking like 40 percent female, so that’s also boosting another aspect of the sport.”

I think the future of the Speight’s Coast to Coast is making it more accessible to a wider range of age, ability and experience,” says Judkins.

“As more people experience the Speight’s Coast to Coast it becomes a stepping stone to taking on the entire challenge… because it’s very rare that a first time participant isn’t inspired for more.


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