Taking the Plunge in New Zealand

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C2C2020. Coast to Coast New Zealand 2020. Even the abbreviation caught my attention a year ago when I first heard of this race. My reasons for signing up were varied: see a new country/hemisphere; try a new sport; commit to something big in the distant future that would give me purpose and direction when I felt lost. The bittersweet reality is that it’s over. But the ride was amazing.

As many of you know I was petrified of the kayaking. Due to a variety of reasons (including my father’s passing and an impromptu trip back to Greece) I couldn’t train enough on whitewater before it got too cold, and while flatwater kayaking was ok, it didn’t give me the confidence to tackle the dozens of rapids and bluff turns. Thankfully the support crew that I hired, Team CP, had me covered with an excellent, stable kayak and fantastic advice. This proved to be vital for the race, as for the days leading up to it the skies opened up and dumped so much water on the mountains that the run course had to be modified (nicknamed “Plan B”) to avoid drownings (which have occurred on the course by hikers in the past).

This race was the most technical I have ever done and the most challenging regarding gear and transitions. It made Ironman planning feel easy. It was a run to bike to run to camp to bike to run to kayak to run to bike to run 😬. In addition to several miles on the road, including a 16% grade that seemed to go on forever, the run for me was basically a fast hike that took 5 1/2 hours. Ankle-breaking rocks were everywhere. The river rocks you see in the pictures are the actual run course and there were about a dozen river crossings. There were also virtually no aid stations; you carried everything you needed. When I finished I was warmly greeted by Dean Kennedy who had won his age group in the Mountain Run! Team CP did an amazing job having snacks, tents and sleeping bags ready for us after the first day, and Dean took care of me while I did my best to recover enough to race the next day. I slept a solid 9 1/2 hours that night.

The next day’s kayaking was even more challenging than I imagined as the river was swollen and the volume of water was greater. People were getting dumped out of their kayaks constantly and had to be rescued. Then the weather turned and a big rainstorm hit, bringing with it a hefty headwind and low visibility. Fortunately I managed to stay in the boat and 5 1/2 hours later emerged, shivering, soaked, and stiff- and ready to cycle 70 km- and wearing about five layers of clothes, including my paddle jacket that I refused to remove. At the end I ran up the sandy ramp to the finish line, cold, wet and sore, but incredibly proud of an accomplishment that I had been striving for over an entire year.

Two days after the race we went back to the mountains and hiked the “Plan A” run that we missed due to the water levels. The scenery was truly jaw-dropping. Pictures don’t do it justice.

Tradition for C2C states that you must touch the water on the west coast before you start and the east coast after you finish. It’s also tradition to take a rock from the west coast and throw it in the water of the east. 15 minutes before I left to head to the start line in the first day, my good friend Nissa Marie texted me from the Johns Hopkins ICU to wish me luck. She had been there two weeks already and fighting way harder to stay alive than I was about to. I decided that I would dedicate my race to her. The rock I picked up was my constant reminder that I was fortunate to be in beautiful country with the ability to achieve a lofty goal. Some people are not as fortunate.

I’m about to head in to work, and the quote in my tea bag says the following: “Tag, you’re it! The chance may not come again, so take the plunge! -Heather Zimmerman.” Go ahead, friends. Take the plunge and do something that inspires you. Now’s your chance!