World Champion enters Speight's Coast to Coast

Published
02/02/2015 by Steve Knowles

 

World Champion Adventure Racer Nathan Fa’avae has entered the Speight’s Coast to Coast Longest Day event for the first time in 14 years.

The three time adventure racing World Champion, who is arguably the most experienced adventure racer in the world, has come second and third in the 243 kilometre gruelling iconic multi-sport event, but has never won the event.

His first effort in 1991 as a eighteen year old saw Nelson based Fa’avae shock organisers when he led off the mountain run in the two day event. He set a new run record for the two day event but a crack in his kayak on the river stage saw him slip to 11th overall.

“That was a classic day; I actually didn’t know I was leading until about three kilometres from the end of the run,” he says.

“It was a big deal to be leading the race for me as my goal was genuinely to finish. I’d never been to the area before so it was all just amazing - I learnt that day that I had talent in multisport.”

From 1992 to 1996 Fa’avae was a member of the New Zealand Mountain Bike team, winning a cross country junior title and at one stage was New Zealand’s second ranked elite men’s mountain biker.   He qualified for the 1996 Olympic Games but officials decided not to send the male mountain bike team to the games, choosing instead to boost numbers in the cycling road and track teams. 

“I was a bit disillusioned with mountain biking after 1996,” Fa’avae says. “I stopped racing and started doing adventures and decided to get back into multisport. I raced the 1998 Longest Day with a pretty casual build up and got third so that inspired me to try and win it. I went hard for 1999 and got second to (Steve) Gurney who was too good for me challenge seriously. I was happy with that, I’d given it a nudge and was keen to get into Adventure Racing after that.” 

Fa’avae did return to the Coast to Coast in 2000 and was third with his brother in the family teams section. He raced in the 2001 Longest Day but was heli-evacuated off the mountain run with heart issues, later diagnosed with Atrial Fibrillation.

World Champions Seagate

Photo andreas strand

So after 24 years since his first Coast to Coast and 14 years since his last one Fa’avae is back on the start line.

“The race has always been special to me. Robin Judkins has done a herculean effort of creating and building the event - what a service to sport and the community,” he says.

“It was a massive catalyst for me and has shaped my whole adult life, he’s (Judkins) a hero. But times change and I was really excited to see Rich (Ussher) move into the driver’s seat. He’s got new energy and creative ideas and that has to be a positive thing.”

Fa'avae on route to second

Fa’avae thinks Ussher has made some smart changes that he believes will make the Coast to Coast better and make it fit the current day more suitably.

“It’s being modernised in a healthy manner. For that reason alone I wanted to be part of the event again, I just didn’t expect it to be so soon.”

While it has been over a decade since Fa’avae took part in the Coast to Coast, his involvement in recent years has had an impact on the race as he has coached Sophie Hart to three podium placing’s, including two victories and the kayak stage record for the women.

“Coaching Sophie to her Coast to Coast wins would actually be my highlight of my multisport years, far more satisfying than any personal victories I had’” Fa’avae stresses.

“When I started adventure racing with her she said she’d never race the Coast to Coast again after a few disappointing races, I thought she was crazy, I told her she could win it, she thought I was crazy, but together we made a plan and executed it”.

Fa’avae also is a Race Director and runs the Spring Challenge Women’s Adventure Race annually and doesn’t hesitate to say he thinks Ussher will make a successful transition from being a racer to race director.

“I think some racers make excellent race directors and Rich will be one of them. Racers tend to have more empathy for the participants and a better understanding of what people experience out on the course. I think many Race Directors and Event Organisers can get out of touch with the people doing the event and don’t always make decisions that are best for the people taking part.”

He says New Zealand is in a unique situation where most of the major multi-sport events are all being run now by experienced racers who are still competing at a high level. Warren Bates runs Godzone, Braden Currie the Red Bull Defiance, Ussher with the Coast to Coast and Fa’avae runs the Spring Challenge and Absolute Wilderness Adventure Races.

Old rivals Fa'avae & Gurney

Although looking forward to this year’s race Fa’avae is quick to point out he doesn’t expect to be a contender for any honours.

 “I’d like to be competitive in the veteran category, but I have to be realistic; I’m nearly 43, busy with two companies and three children plus I’m training for a different event,’ he says.

“In building up to Godzone (an Adventure race in Wanaka at the end of February which is also round one of the AR World Series) I can’t allow the Coast to Coast to distract me to much from where I need to perform at my best.”

Fa’avae thinks there is an amazing field this year, paying credit to Ussher to build a field of real depth, and is looking forward to  ‘a whole lot of fun being part of that energy and buzz.’

“I always say the best place to watch a race is to be in it and that’s a big reason I’m racing, to be part of a great competition and see how it unfolds. I have also had a running injury that has plagued me this year but my riding and paddling has likely benefitted. I think I’ll be slow over the mountain but it’s all downhill from there and I’d like to think my endurance will see me race strong over the second half of the course”

For many people the iconic race is about travelling through the stunning wilderness, a national park and the outstanding river journey, and Fa’avae is no different.

“The Coast to Coast is such an incredible course, the journey across the island, the alpine run, the paddle through the gorge, it has to be the best race route ever. I’ve certainly never seen anything that has come close, anywhere in the world.” he says.

Speight's Coast to Coast - Top 10 finishers

Fa’avae is a strong advocate for the event and is quick to encourage people to take part. “I think for most people the event is about self-improvement, a journey of discovery and expanding perceptions. It is life changing. People feel great about themselves as they learn new skills, it’s exciting and rewarding, feeding empowerment.”

He adds that learning to paddle, bike and run, improving health and fitness and how that creeps into their family life has a very positive impact too.

“Added to that there is a strong connection with nature, when you run over Goat Pass or paddle under the towering cliff walls of the Waimakariri Gorge, you can’t not be in awe, and those experiences can remind people to put life into perspective and what’s really important, those moments make it all worthwhile, you feel great.”

Along with his three World Adventure Racing titles, Fa’avae has captained Kiwi teams to victory in five Southern Traverse’s, three Godzone’s and an Eco Challenge, Primal Quest, Outdoor Quest and an array of other adventure events. He has also been part of Ussher’s unbeatable Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge team and has won stage races throughout China. His squad, Team Seagate, won the 2014 Adventure Racing World Championships in Ecuador in November. 

After a break through December Fa’avae  started training for Godzone which he says he is taking very seriously and came to the conclusion that the Coast to Coast would be ideal training for the first round of the Adventure Racing World Series where he is focused on getting the maximum World Ranking points on offer.