On December 4th, endurance junkies from all ends of the country will be going Crazy in the Capital when the region’s premier multisport event lines up in Lower Hutt for only the second time in four years.
The event industry has been one of the hardest hit during Covid-19. While the Fine Signs Crazyman managed to go ahead in 2020, it was cancelled in 2021 due to covid-19 regulations and in 2019 due to the worst December storm on record. So, event manager Michael Jacques is relieved to finally see some light at the end of the tunnel.
“It’s been a weird few years,” says Jacques. “We organise five different events every year and since the Crazyman’s 2019 storm cancellation, covid-19 has forced the cancellation or postponement of every event we organise. So it’s nice now to have more certainty around what we do.”
Jacques has been participating, coaching and organising in the endurance sport community for more than 45 years and it’s that commitment to the sport that has seen the Fine Signs Crazyman rack up 31 years as the region’s premier multisport event.
Established in 1991, the 54k multisport event takes a scenic kayaking, mountain biking and running tour around the iconic outdoor elements of Wellington’s Hutt Valley.
“We think the Crazyman is the second longest running multisport race in New Zealand,” says Jacques. “Only the Coast to Coast is older and over the years the Crazyman has been won by most of the sport’s greats too, so it has a very real stature on the national scene.”
Indeed, past winners read like a who’s-who of multisport history: world champions such as Steve Gurney, Gordon Walker, Emily Miazga, Elina Ussher, Kristina Anglem, Alex Stewart, Jess Simson, Richard and Elina Ussher, Dougal Allen and Wellington’s own Jill Westenra have all won the annual Lower Hutt event.
This year’s race, however, is very much a wide-open affair, with no previous winners leaving the race open to past placegetters. Among men, Nelson’s Dan Busch starts as favourite courtesy of having finished second and third in 2017 and 2015. Wellington stalwarts Dean Ford and Matt Penney (Wgtn) are also previous placegetters who will be in the mix. All three of them will also be battling for veteran honours, but for the overall honours they’ll need to watch for up and coming youngsters Ryan Tait (Porirua) and Jacob Anderson (Whanganui).
The feature race in 2022, however, will be among women. Porirua standouts, Lizzy Bunckenberg and Deb Lynch have both podium’ed at the Crazyman, with Lynch second in 2017 despite a swim in the kayak section, and Bunckenberg second in 2014 and 2017 and third in 2016. Intriguingly, in 2018 they teamed up to set a Crazyman women’s team record, and while they’ll need to watch for Wellingtonians Vicki Vertongen (3rd in 2018) and Bailee Stratton (4th in 2020), Lynch and Bunckenberg are the form pair after finishing first and third respectively in the Australia’s Red Bull Defiance recently.
Jacques points out, however, that multisport is really a “people’s sport” aimed at getting anyone of any age and ability into New Zealand’s great outdoors. People like local stalwarts, Les Morris, the only person to have raced every Crazyman to date, and Dave Rudge, the original Crazyman organiser back in 1991, who will both be on the start line in their sixth decades.
“I call this stuff ‘everyone’s’ Everest,’ says Jacques. “In the scheme of things, not many people ever achieve something like a Mt Everest. But with a bit of inspiration and motivation they can achieve something like racing around their region or across their country. That’s what events like the Crazyman are about.”
And the Fine Signs Crazyman is something worth achieving. On a course that is as spectacular as it is challenging, it kicks off with a 13k kayak from Days Bay in Eastbourne and heads along Wellington Harbour’s eastern coastline to Petone. Paddlers take in the historic Petone Wharf and finish in the lower reaches of the Hutt River at Sladden Park.
At Petone they swap kayaks for mountain bikes for a 28k ride up the Hutt River trail and over Belmont Regional Park. The route takes in a hidden tunnel and creek crossings, then peaks out for 360-degree views from the volcanic rock-strewn Boulder Hill, before passing historic WWII ammunition bunkers and Wellington’s oldest farm tracks to finish on dedicated mountain bike trails at the historic Stratton Street Woolshed.
Bikes are then swapped for running shoes for the 13k trail run over the edge of Belmont Hill and down the bush clad Korokoro Stream. Following a trail that was first used by Maori in pre-European times, this run is as historic as it is spectacular and eventually finishes where European settlers first landed, on Petone Foreshore.
With harbour swells, more than 1000m of vertical ascent and sometimes challenging weather, the Fine Signs Crazyman has earned the title, the “race from hell.”
“I prefer to say, ‘it’s a hell of race’,” laughs Jacques. “But it is challenging. That’s the attraction of endurance sports; taking on something worth achieving and realising it’s not that Crazy after all.”