In Multisport Circles The First Weekend Of May Means One Thing... Wellington's “Huttvalleynz.Com Crazyman”!
Scheduled for Saturday May 1, the HuttValleyNZ.com Crazyman offers something for fitness enthusiasts of all age, ability and experience. Designed around a challenging yet achievable tour of Wellington’s icon outdoor elements – the harbour, hills and Hutt River – organisers this year expect more than 500 entrants from all ends of the country to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Wellington’s premier multisport race..
Established in 1991, the kayak, run and mountain bike event has been around almost as long as the sport, yet it continues to grow in both popularity and reputation. With a prize pool totalling $20,000 the Crazyman is one of the richest multisport races on the national circuit. Coast to Coast legends Steve Gurney, Kristina Anglem, Jill Westenra, Emily Miazga, Richard and Elina Ussher, Fleur Pawsey and Gordon Walker all cut their teeth at the Crazyman.
Gurney won the event in the mid-90s, but only narrowly ahead of local legends Dave Abbott and Brian Sanders, who won the Speight’s Coast to Coast way back in 1985. That same year a young Kristina Strode-Penny (later Anglem) triumphed in her very first multisport race, which of course led to world titles in both multisport and adventure racing.
In those days the Crazyman was a two-day event and Gurney called it tougher than the two day Coast to Coast. But the toughest part was actually organising it. The Crazyman encompassed two city councils, two harbour boards, Transit New Zealand, the Regional Council, almost 100 volunteers, increasingly dangerous roads and increasingly difficult and expensive safety and concession issues.
Until 2000 the Crazyman had been organised by a keen group of local multisporters. As is often the case, all had been involved in the Speight’s Coast to Coast and came home inspired for a similar race across the Wellington region. This has happened dozens of times all over New Zealand. Old-timers will remember races like the Mountain to Sea, the North Island Coast to Coast, the Head to Head, the Akitio Challenge and Pub to Pub; all races that thrived for a while only to disappear for reasons varying from increasing costs and decreasing sponsorship to lack of organisation and plain old lack of interest. The Crazyman was no different, except it survived.
By 2000 the group of training buddies who had founded the event were gradually disappearing to the usual challenges of changing interests, lifestyles, addresses, jobs and sports. In 1996 the Crazyman had 350 participants, but by 2000 it had been left to one person to manage an event that was becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to organise. At the same time the local scene was in something of a lull and entries had diminished to around 100 when a former winner decided to step in.
John Cussins won the Crazyman in 1997. His partner, Paula Stricksen, was one of the founding organisers, so Cussins knew how hard the event was organisationally and worried it might disappear he and training partner Michael Jacques stepped in and revamped the Crazyman into an event that would be sustainable for as long as someone cared enough to organise it.
Cussins thought the event was too tough to organise and perhaps too tough for people new to the sport. Back then it started in Eastbourne with a 16k bush run over the Eastern Harbour Regional Park to Wainuiomata. Then they took to mountain bikes for a 30k ride up onto the Eastern Hutt Hills and down to the Hutt River for a 10k paddle to the finish in Petone. The second day started again with another 16k run along Petone Foreshore and through Belmont Regional Park. Then they took to road bikes for a 56k ride over the Haywards Hill and Paekakariki Hill around to Porirua Harbour for a 10k paddle before finishing with an 8k mountain bike.
It was marketed as “The Race from Hell” and many considered it the toughest race in the country. In total it involved more climbing than the Speight’s Coast to Coast. But it was also a hell of a race to organise, so they cut the second day and re-launched the event as an iconic tour of Lower Hutt. With support from Hutt City Council, the Crazyman became easier to handle, and not just organisationally. Making it a one day race made it more accessible to a wider range of people, which also led them to change the motto to “A Hell of an Event”. So whereas once many thought you were crazy for taking on the Crazyman, now they say “you’re Crazy not too”.
Cussins and Jacques also recognised that to make an annual event successful your region had to have a consistent multisport scene, so they organised smaller events at different times of the year ranging from kayak races to mountain bike duathlons and lower-key multisport races. And while it didn’t happen overnight, it did happen. From just over 100 entries in 2000, by 2005 the Crazyman had exploded to more than 500 entries. When Richard Ussher returned to win the event that year he was taken aback at the difference between the race he’d won five years previously.
After 20 years the HuttValleyNZ.com Crazyman now has a permanent place as central New Zealand’s premier multisport event. And while the course remains essentially the same as the first day of the old event, it is also vastly different and more popular.
The race now starts with a 13k kayak from Petone Foreshore across Wellington Harbour to Eastbourne, where they take on a a slightly longer 18k version of the same rugged run over the Eastern Harbour Ranges to Wainuiomata. The race then finishes with the same mountain bike section, but that too has been upgraded; lengthening it to 36k along the Eastern Hutt Skyline and down the Hutt River Trail to finish outside the Town Hall in downtown Lower Hutt.
This year’s 20th anniversary race will feature further refinement to the mountain bike ride, with the first 6k of ride taking in glorious single track on the new Wainuiomata Mountain Bike Park.
Cussins and Jacques are hoping to get as many past winners as possible back for the 20th anniversary event. But more than anything they want to continue refining what has become an institution. Outside of the Speight’s Coast to Coast, the Gold Rush, Motu Challenge and Crazyman are the only multisport events in this country attracting truly national fields and the country’s top athletes.
To confirm this fact just take a look at some of the past champions. The 2000 Crazyman was Richard Ussher’s first major win after less than a year in the sport. He beat local legend Al Cross that year, who had won the last two day Crazyman the previous year, and would win it again, as well as other top races such as the Gold Rush. Gordon Walker was another to cut his teeth at the Crazyman, with a win in 2003. Emily Miazga (2004), Jill Westenra (2000) and Elina Ussher (2005, 06, 07) all scored wins at the Crazyman before taking out Speight’s Coast to Coast titles, while Kristina Anglem took out the Crazyman both before and after becoming one of the best female multisporters in history.
In recent years, however, it has been the Usshers who have dominated. They have now won the Crazyman three times each and both hold their respective race records. But there’s been the odd upset too, like in 1998 when mountain running world champion Jonathan Wyatt won the old two day Crazyman as what he called “a bit of cross-training”. Similarly, but at the other end of the sporting spectrum, former wild water kayak world champion Andrew Martin crashed the party in 2001 with a stunning win at age 38.
First and foremost, however, the Crazyman is a community event embracing all ages, abilities and backgrounds from school kids, house wives and corporate professionals to tradesmen and retirees – some of them experienced endurance athletes, some of them relative rookies looking for a new challenge. And if the full 66km seems too daunting there is a team option that includes a popular corporate category. A popular duathlon option also caters for non-kayakers.
Indeed, the Crazyman is anything but crazy. In 2008 it was voted the third most popular multisport event in the country (Sportzhub.com). In short…you'd be crazy not to experience everything that is the Crazyman.