Who knows? That's the short, sharp reason Paul Lacey offers, with a shrug of his shoulders, for entering the annual Coast to Coast multisport in the South Island from Friday.

"The reasons for doing it are very obscure," says Lacey before he starts the Kathmandu-sponsored two-day event, which starts on the West Coast, at Kumara Beach, and traverses the width of the South Island, crossing the main divide and finishing on the East Coast at the pier on New Brighton Beach in Christchurch.

"My wife, Sue, doesn't understand and I've tried to explain it to her, and I can't," says the 69-year-old from Napier who is competing in the individual men's vintage 60-plus division in a field of nine. "I've even tried to explain it to myself and I just can't."

He believes Sue has "abundant patience". An avid traveller, she doesn't accompany him to his adventures, though.

Advertisement

However, Lacey suspects his flutter has something to do with his innate desire to skirt the boundaries of life and infiltrate it in a quest to find some rhyme and reason for his existence.

To lend credence to that assertion, the retired taxi driver reveals he celebrated his 65th birthday on Mt Everest and, a year later, spent a month kayaking, shooting and fishing in Fiordland.

In his India sojourn, he came across so many people whose belief in their god and religion "was so absolute".

"I walked away wishing I had that to cling to in life and I also felt a little jealous of them but I'm happy some people have found that."

Lacey reconciles that "who knows?" existence with trying to find himself, as it were, through less desirable means while "scoping with life".

He receives an "absolute high" from acquiring a level of fitness to fulfil that adventurous streak when the hooter goes at the crack of dawn of an event Robin Judkins founded in 1983, when only 25 sturdy souls took on the 243km challenge over two days.

"You know, if I could take cocaine it would be an easy way out for getting exactly the same feeling but I do this because I really get a buzz out of it. It's such a lift."

The competitors camp overnight at Klondyke Corner from Friday, after the mountain run section, before tackling the river and final ride on the Saturday in what is touted as one of the world's longest running multi-sport events — older even than the Hawaiian Ironman.

Advertisement

Elite athletes complete the course in 11 hours and the two-day ones flirt with the 24-hour mark.

More than 18,000 people have tamed the event in the past 32 years.

Lacey competed in his maiden two-day Coast-to-Coast event in 2017, finishing fifth out of seven competitors in the same category. He was third coming out of the kayaking leg but lost time in the cycling phase.

"Look, it was all punishment last time because I had no knowledge of sport nutrition, hydration or pacing myself," he explains. "I did all that on an empty tank so I paid the price for it.'

Son Mark Lacey, of Napier, helped him then but the 34-year-old's wife is expecting a baby so he has to "get his priorities right this time".

The military precision schedule aside, the senior Lacey has drawn four distinctive lines on the black sands before he embarks on foot for the lush windswept landscapes of the West Coast — 2.2km inland before easing into the saddle of his bike to follow the Taramakau River to the foothills of the Southern Alps, where the 30.5km off-trail run begins the rocky riverbed.

No doubt, the first objective is to cross the finish line. The second is to eclipse the time he set in 2017. The third is to enjoy the arduous journey.

So what's the fourth one, Lacey?

"Well, I'm going to win it," he says with a laugh. "So three out of four won't be bad."

Jocularity aside, he reaches for a dose of realism.

"But look, I'm not even going to get a podium finish. I'm just going to go and give it everything I've got and try to beat myself."

Multi-champion Steve Gurney (left) shares a lighter moment with Coast to Coast founder Robin Judkins last year. Photo/NZME
Multi-champion Steve Gurney (left) shares a lighter moment with Coast to Coast founder Robin Judkins last year. Photo/NZME

He missed last year's Coast to Coast but realises it took him several months to get over it because he had "drained the tank". "This year I don't intend to hit such a low," he says.

"It's quite a lonely journey, you know."

Having sold his taxi business recently, Lacey has invested up to four days a week in training, clocking up to 600km of offroad running alone since August.

Kayaking is different. He reckons you need a friend in case you flip in the mighty Waimakariri River, which offers 70km of braids and a stunning gorge. Long calm sections tend to be punctuated by "grade two" rapids, ushering athletes from the heart of the Southern Alps to the Canterbury Plains for the final 70km ride before the vibrant beach carnival atmosphere.

"My eyesight has packed in so I've had to walk away from driving about three months ago," he says, revealing one eye is "pretty dodgy".

"They reckon the Waimakariri is pretty gnarly this year so I'll be having a swim, at least."

Lacey isn't wired for sound during his journey and doesn't reach out for any other motivational tools.

"I just get into the zone and it just happens," he says. "I just love it because it gets my heart going and the legs going."

However, when he feels like he's starting to lag a little he simply conjures up an image of scrambling on to the podium for third place.

His advice to anyone who wishes to take up the challenge is to simply get out there and do it.

"That's life. If you're ever going to go out there to do something, just do it, that's the only way."

As reasons go, William Turvey, 63, captaining in the men's veteran two-day, two-person captain, Team Turv, in tandem with fellow Napier resident Angus Simmons, 55, there's no ambiguity surround his entry.

"Trying to get to 10 C-C [Coast to Coasts] before the body claps out," says Turvey.

Now there's another cracking yarn.

HB COMPETITORS
Two-day individuals:

Klayten Betts, 20, of Napier, men's open (18-39).

Thomas Christison, 18, of Napier, men's open (18-39).

Liam Hurst, 22, of Napier, men's open (18-39).

Paul Lacey, 69, of Napier, men's vintage, 60-plus.

Grant Morrish, of Patangata, Central HB, men's open (50-59).

Ashleigh Neave, 27, of Napier, women's open (18-39).

Teams:

Matthew Adams, 16, captain boys' two-day school tandem, Taradale High School Flipping Fractions.

Thomas Bailey, 26, of Napier, two-day, three-person mixed open.

Jonathan Demetrius, 16, two-day school tandem, mixed member, THS Roast to Coast.

Jack Graney, 16, member boys' two-day school tandem, Taradale High School Flipping Fractions.

Rebecca Moore, 28, of Napier, captain two-day, three-person mixed open, The Fleeting Ferrets.

Angus Simmons, 55, of Napier, men's veteran two-day, two-person member, Team Turv.

William Turvey, 63, of Napier, men's veteran two-day, two-person captain, Team Turv.

Theane van Zyl, 16, captain two-day school tandem, mixed member, THS Roast to Coast.