We chat to Kathmandu Coast to Coast race director & multiple winner Richard Ussher as he's about to hand over management to Glen Currie. Rich talks about racing & managing the Coast to Coast and his future ventures.
Richard is a multiple world champion in both multisport & adventure racing. He has also raced the ironman distance for a few years, recording the fastest ironman time by any New Zealander in 2009 when he was third at the Quelle Challenge Roth race in Germany clocking 8hr 2min 15sec.
When did you first discover the C2C and get inspired? I first saw the Coast to Coast on TV in probably early 1999. I think Gurney won but remember thinking the Coast looked like an amazing challenge. What surprised me the most was that I’d never heard of it prior to that, especially once I’d been to my first event and seen what a spectacle it was.
Which has been the most memorable win? It’s hard to go past the my first win. Until you get a win you always wonder if you will ever get across the line first, so that was a huge relief firstly but also very emotional to achieve a goal I’d been chasing for a number of years by that stage.
Richard Ussher cuts the quickest line, through the media pack.
At your early C2C's you seemed to have the potential but didn't win, what was missing? Mainly just the time and endurance. The two years before my first win I got compromised a little by injury but had a much better overall race and that started to give me the confidence in being able to race the distance. It was quite a long and challenging change over physically and mentally from skiing though where my longest race was just over 30 seconds and I think that Coast was a race I needed to learn how to race conservatively as it wasn’t to my strengths in the early days.
What would you consider the greats of the C2C battles? Keith Murray, Steve Gurney, John Jacoby are the obvious ones for me and became a fair amount of motivation in my career. I know the winners from earlier but not so much the stories behind the head to head battles and even the above is mainly what have read not from hearing first hand. For me my biggest battles were with Gordon Walker, there were obviously a few battles with Braden and Dougal also but they weren’t really battles - much more clear cut one way or the other.
When did you first get approached by Trojan (New C2C owners) to manage the C2C? How long did it take to decide? Probably late 2014 I sat down with Mike and Noel to discuss. They canvased a lot of people and really it was a discussion about potential direction rather than an offer of a role initially. I’d never thought about the role or had a desire to take it on until they approached me. The major catalyst for taking it on was due to the comments that had ended up in the media the year before (and believing that I could help bring positive change rather than just being a sideline commentator) and that the event had been a large part of my early career and not wanting to see it decline further. It didn’t take too long to make a decision but just took a bit of time to work through what the role would look like.
Swapping race bib for race directors mic
What was it like to step from racing to managing and step into Judkins shoes? Quite nerve racking actually - everything about the race was synonymous with him and he’d been such a strong personality associated with the event that it took a while to become comfortable with starting to shape it in the direction that we wanted it to go. Some of the early decisions such as the change of course and finish we were all a little on tender hooks as to how they would be perceived but generally the feedback we got was largely positive and when it wasn’t we tried to listen to that feedback and reshape the direction in line with relevant feedback.
Judkins welcomes Ussher home
What did Trojan bring to the event? Trojan I believe saved the event and have also given it a foundation for it to thrive for many years to come. They brought enough financial backing to implement the changes that as a group were agreed on but also the trust to give the event crew the leeway to manage that change with a bit of freedom. They also have a huge array of contacts and resources which were really positive but think the major aspect was just their desire to see the event be as good as it can be.
Richard Ussher battles for podium
Do you think your Olympic ski history helped with Ski company Trojan? Not at all - mainly I think it was due to the fact I’d actually pitched them for sponsorship for our Adventure Sport NZ AR team years ago (unsuccessfully) and so had some prior contact with Mike Davies especially.
What is the most rewarding moment of your time managing the C2C? Probably seeing the Kathmandu sponsorship get across the line. Once that happened it felt like there was more than just ourselves who were really invested in seeing the event succeed and they have been a huge part of the uplift in the event. Other major items would be the numbers we’ve attracted to the event for 2018 (Ed - sold out) and all the amazing people who we are in contact with because of the event - it really does mean a lot to so many people.
It would be the most logistical event racing across NZ, you must be proud to keep it alive as regulations & with changes around the Christchurch Earthquake? The whole management side and especially the H&S (Ed Heath & Safety) took a long time to get my head around and it does involve so many moving parts. That was a big part of the the first two years in the role was helping put systems in place to keep a handle on all the items and to make sure things were documented so no one person became a critical link in the operation. There are obviously a lot of people who’s knowledge and skill would be very hard to replace but at least now what they do is well documented so people coming into those role have a good paper understanding of what has been done and why in the past. The H&S regulations have also been through a change and keeping abreast of those and the required auditing is a job in itself. I think I’d speak for everyone involved in any event that once everyone is clear from the course it is the first chance you relax from the time the race kicks off.
You have grown the event to a stage where it will be 100% sold out by race day why are you moving on? It was always the plan for my role to be relatively short term and now that we have got the event back to a healthy level it is time for someone else to come in and take it to the next level. Hopefully what we’ve achieved over the last four years will be a great springboard for the event into the future.
What will be your focus now back to racing, other business interest? Definitely not back to racing! I’ll still do the odd event with a fun focus but I’m enjoying the more recreational & lifestyle side of sport now. Our new business venture is an adventure park 10 minutes north of Nelson which is a similar project in many ways to Coast to Coast - great bones but in need of a bit of fresh energy and direction. I'm super excited about that and especially as it is our own project so we are creating value for ourselves not just for someone else. Currently it is running as www.happyvalleyadventures.co.nz but we have plans for developing in a range of areas including a MTB park and other activities over time, including and probably a rebrand at some stage later in the year.
Incoming race director Glen Currie
Can you give us bit more background behind Glen Currie's selection at the new C2C race Director?
I’ve known for a while that this would be my last event, as have Trojan, so we had a good amount of time to start those conversations and approached a few people that we thought would be potential candidates. Glen really stood out for a range of reasons including his knowledge of the event, his event experience with his own race experience (Ed - performed exceptionally well at ARing & the Coast to Coast placing 30th in 2006, 3rd in 2011, 3rd in 2014.) Glen has also got a great temperament and is well versed in the H&S side of things with his time as HoD at Methven College for their Outdoor Ed programs. He also owns his own company www.enduranzevents.co.nz
and has good contacts in the outdoor industry. When we sat down he had a vision for the development of the event into the future that aligned well with Trojan and a bit bonus was that he lives far more locally to the course which has proved a barrier for me to get down to Christchurch and the course as often as would have been ideal.
Glen will be working with me in the lead into, and at the event in February to get a feel for behind the scenes and brings a wealth of experience in events, outdoor education, H&S and compliance while also having plenty of experience as a competitor at the Kathmandu Coast to Coast.
How have you seen the C2C & athletes change over the years? I don’t know that they have changed that much - mainly Multisport athletes have stood out from triathletes as being a little less focused on the look and more about the function and think that still holds true for the most part. We are definitely seeing a lot more top end gear at the event through all levels now and also a wider demographic of people willing to take up the challenge which is great
Glen Currie & Richard Ussher
What does the C2C offer to the individual? I think for anyone it is about the journey, it is amazing to achieve a traverse of the country - especially through some of the stunning areas the race travels - under your own power and think that one idea is what has kept the race relevant for so long and will continue to do so into the future.
Where do you see the C2C in the future? I’d like to see the event continue to refine and develop - especially in how the story is told and promoted to people watching online. There is still scope in so many areas to improve and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes under Glen’s direction
We wish Rich all the best in his new adventure and also Glen in his new role managing the C2C.