Seafront event has touch of adventure

Ming Liu gets down and dirty during an off-road run. She says it's a great way to lose weight. Photo / Supplied
Ming Liu gets down and dirty during an off-road run. She says it's a great way to lose weight. Photo / Supplied

The Coastal Challenge has come a long way since it first began many years ago as "the Sausage Run".

It was created as an official event in 2003, but the North Shore Coastal event started as a group of men and women training for Ironman New Zealand who decided to do it as a training run.

They started at Arkles Bay and they all carried a sausage with them and then had a barbecue in Devonport when they finished. Hence the "Sausage Run" nickname.

Jon Ackland, a renowned triathlon coach who trains Ironman Terenzo Bozzone, was one of the founding runners, as was Paul Dunphy, who was a North Shore City councillor.

"It started as a joke," said 47-year-old Ackland, who has just returned from Valencia after working with an America's Cup crew.

"There were eight of us in that group and there were a few athletes who were hoping to do an ironman and others who were better in the pub than in athletic pursuits."

Ackland remembers the conversation well that created the Coastal Challenge. He and his mates were up at Stillwater and someone suggested they should all run the bays of the North Shore and have a barbecue at Devonport.

They reckoned doing it at low tide was too easy and high tide would be a lot more fun. "We each had a six-pack of beer and a tray of sausages in our backpacks and we got it done. The sausages and beer weren't very nice, but it is a great memory with a good bunch of mates."

That is how the Coastal Challenge continued for another two to three years until Dunphy approached Aaron Carter from total sport and suggested it should be a proper event.

It has grown to become one of the most popular off-road challenges on the Shore and indeed Auckland, with more than 1000 competing next weekend. It is more like an adventure than a simple run or walk event. With the course being entirely coastal and no pavement in sight, it is a unique North Shore event.

"The thing I like about it is that if you are from the North Shore, then you have a point of advantage as you can train on the course and learn how to negotiate it best, which is like competing in the Coast to Coast," said Ackland.

"It is a challenging run and you need your wits about you on the slippery slopes."

Aucklander Peter Green, 48, will be running the 33km "full monty" option for the 10th year in a row.

This also happens to be the 10-year anniversary of the Coastal Challenge, meaning he has been there since day one and is the only person to complete all Coastal Challenge events.

"It's just a great, unique event and ever since the first time I did it in 2003, I've absolutely loved it," Green said. "I have done a lot of events, including the Auckland marathon, but this is the standout for me."

Green warned that all athletes taking on the longest distance need to be ready for a stern test.

"It is 33km, but it is a hard 33km - you virtually need to prepare for a marathon. It's a running race with a couple of swims thrown in.

"I'm forever just looking at the coastline and the skyscrapers in the city as I go - it's a great view."

Event manager Nick Carroll from total sport said the main reasons the event was so memorable and attracted so many entrants were the beautiful scenery along the coastline and the fact that it was not just an average run but had many different elements to keep runners at full alert.

"There are not many events where you have to scramble around rocks, run along beautiful beaches, wade through the odd estuary and generally just get your feet wet along the way," Carroll said.

This year the Coastal Challenge has teamed up with Hospice North Shore, which is now the official charity partner of the event.

Carol Herbert from Hospice North Shore said this was a positive step for the charity in securing the funding it needed annually to perform its noble services.

"We are hoping to raise $10,000 or more, as well as raising awareness of what we do," she said. "Because it's along the North Shore coastline, it's a really good fit for us."

There is a range of distances available and Ackland, who will head to the Shore next weekend to watch, is proud to see athletes of all abilities embracing the event.

"I am really pleased to see that culture continue, actually," he said.

"It is not just for the elites. Anyone can take on the Coastal Challenge and the reasons we did it 10 years ago live on. It is all about having a good challenge and also a good laugh."

Coastal Challenge

When: Saturday, February 25

Where: East Coast Bays (and beyond) on Auckland's North Shore

Event Options: (All finishing at Windsor Reserve, Devonport):

6km run/walk (starts at Takapuna Beach)

11km run/walk (starts at Milford Beach)

17km run/walk (starts at Browns Bay)

22km run (starts at Long Bay)

33km full monty run (starts at Arkles Bay, Whangaparaoa)

33km teams run (starts at Arkles Bay, Whangaparaoa)

Hospice

The Coastal Challenge will donate $5 from every entrant's fee to Hospice North Shore, which will include the Hospice team themselves, who are training to compete in the main event as a team and will be trying to get other North Shore businesses to compete against them.

Entries are still open. For more information, visit the website: www.coastalchallenge.co.nz

Q&A

Two Auckland women, Ming Liu and Sheryl Smith, have changed their lives through their new-found passion for off-road running.

The 25-year-old Liu, who will take on a 22km run next week in the Coastal Challenge, has shed 18kg in the past 11 months and is hoping to lose 20kg in a calendar year. Smith, 47, who is competing in the 11km run, lost 22kg in 2011 and started running. She didn't like it much until she fell in love with off-road running at an event at Bethells Beach.

They explain how the challenge of hitting the trail has changed their lives.

What are you looking forward to the most next weekend in the Coastal Challenge?

ML: I was never into sport growing up, and never really understood it. Now I enjoy the thrill of a race and competing against other people. The fact that there is a time and it's measured by age groups and sex lets me know where I stand among others like me.

SS: I am looking forward to a great run, a good challenge and getting to Devonport. It won't be fast or pretty, but I will get there.What do you enjoy about these off-road events?ML: It gives you more challenges and more variation compared to normal road running. One minute you're running on slippery, slimy rocks, next you're trying to get across some water - all the while trying to do it with a huge smile so the photos turn out nice.

SS: I enjoy the challenging terrain and being able to clear my head of everything going on and just think about running, climbing, wading through water, mud and anything else. My first run was at Bethells Beach. I fell in love with everything about it.

What are some of the benefits to your life now with the weight loss?

ML: Kent [running partner] and I now spend our weekends doing positive, healthy, crazy adventures. Two weeks ago we thought it would be fun to run the 26km Tussock Traverse in Tongariro National Park, so we just did it with no special training and both finished smiling.

I used to waste money on upsizing my clothes - now, not so much. My confidence has grown, and now I can swim in any pool or the sea out of my depth. I still don't like seaweed, though. There is no simple answer to weight loss, I think it was through sheer determination of not being a fatty any more.

SS: The ability to move and run; I now run up and down stairs because I can. I crave apples, oranges and other healthy food, not chocolate, lollies and chips. I have self-respect; when I see myself in a full-length mirror, I no longer cry but smile and laugh. I no longer feel invisible and my self-confidence astounds me. I am no longer tired all the time and get up early in the morning ready to enjoy the day.

What advice do you offer to people who are looking to lose weight?

ML: Don't be scared of trying. I was scared and intimidated by all those "sporty types" in their super athletic equipment and big talk. I made it fun and not too serious. Most of my running clothes are silly colours and I probably shouldn't wear makeup when running (remember photos), but do what you want. It's the experience and looking back and saying "I can't believe I did that". There are plenty of companies and people that help, running coaches, swimming lessons ... don't be shy. Everyone has to learn sometime and being an adult isn't embarrassing.

SS: Every day is a challenge when eating or overeating has become a part of everyday living, and it takes time and effort to change this, but it isn't complicated and you can do it. Set yourself goals, write them down and keep moving forward. A favourite saying from my trainer was to move more and eat less. It works.

- NZ Herald

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