In 2011 and 2013 Elina Ussher was odds-on favourite to dominate the Speight’s Coast to Coast. But fellow Nelsonian Sophie Hart upset the seedings. Ussher, however, is a competitor and she returns in 2014 more motivated than ever for the 243k race across New Zealand’s South Island.
The Finnish-born multisport and adventure racing star knows from experience that the multisport world championship doesn’t come easy.
Elina Ussher was born to adventure sports. Born Elina Maki-Rautila, she represented Finland at cross country skiing, before being talent spotted by Team Nokia, then the most successful adventure racing squad in history.
That was back in 2000 and Ussher quickly realised she could make a living from adventure racing. Along the way she also met and married five-time Speight’s Coast to Coast champion, Richard Ussher, which led to her own relationship with the world’s premier multisport event.
In 2006 Mrs Ussher became the next big thing with second place in her debut Speight’s Coast to Coast. She led for more than half that race before succumbing to Canadian-turned-Kiwi Emily Miazga. But whereas Miazga went on to win three Speight’s Coast to Coast titles, Mrs Ussher struggled to master the world championship event, with consecutive fifth, seventh and third placings.
In 2010, however, she defeated arguably the deepest female field ever assembled, which made 2011 seem like a shoe-in. But despite clocking the third fastest female time in history, Ussher trailed the near record win of Nelson doctor Sophie Hart.
As has become her habit, Ussher returned stronger than ever in 2012 for a massive 38 minute win ahead of 2007 champion Fleur Pawsey. 2012 year was made even sweeter because with Richard also winning they became the first husband and wife to win in the same year.
In 2013, however, she was disappointed to lose again to Hart. “Second was still a good result,” she says. “But just the feeling that I didn't have a good race last year definitely gives me some extra motivation for 2014.
“I had a few health issues and I was struggling with a hip and shoulder injuries last year,” she reveals. “But things are definitely looking much better at the moment and I believe that I'll be in a good shape in 2014.”
Ussher is certainly looking stronger than ever. In October she smashed her own course record in the Bay of Plenty’s Motu Challenge. But more importantly she left Auckland’s Louise Mark, one of her main rivals, more than 20 minutes behind.
Not that the race favourite worries too much about her competition. The 37 year old has more experience than any other female contender and says the biggest lesson learnt is concentrating first and foremost on herself.
“It's a long race,” she says, “so I think that I have to listen to my own body and keep pushing my limits in a smart way.”
The 32nd Speight’s Coast to Coast is scheduled for February 14-15. Racing starts on Kumara Beach, midway between Hokitika and Greymouth, and finishes 243k later on Sumner Beach in Christchurch.
The feature Multisport World Championship is contested on Saturday February 15, with almost 150 entrants taking on the 3k run, 55k road cycle, 34k mountain run, 15k cycle, 67k white water kayak and 70k cycle in one day.
The Two Day race starts on February 14 with the cycle and mountain run, then concludes on February 15 with the cycle, kayak and cycle sections.