'You've just got to get through it'
Less than two years ago Matamata woman Patrice Stichbury was lying in a hospital bed after suffering a brain bleed.
This month she completed the gruelling Coast to Coast race in the South Island, winning the Classic Women (50-59) category in the two-day event.
Stichbury, who describes herself as just an everyday woman with not a heap of sporting pedigree, did the race to ‘celebrate' her 50th birthday in January, training 50 weeks to put herself through the rigours of the course.
There were four competitiors in Stichbury's category, while she finished as the 28th female in the two-day event and was 134th overall in the two-dayer.
Her body was put through 17 hours, 35 minutes and 40 seconds of anguish as she set off on the 3km run, 55km bike and 33km mountain run on the first day, then followed it up the next day by biking 15km, kayaking 67km and biking a further 70km.
Stichbury had a bit of sporting background in hockey, before suffering knee injuries, and in 2007 she determinedly completed the Ironman.
"I'd never owned a road bike before and I'd never run a marathon before and I'd never swum that far before," she said of that race, which led her to completing a few more off-road and multisport events.
Knowing the other iconic race in the country was the Coast to Coast, Stichbury set her mind to achieving the feat.
"Every now and then I meet someone who's done an event like this and I'm just overawed by their achievements and things and then it just starts the brain thinking that perhaps it is achievable," said Stichbury, who has been in Matamata for 16 years, having been born and bred in Mosgiel.
"I'm a mainlander South Islander through and through. I just thought it would be quite cool to put my toe in one side of the coast and put my toe in the water on the other side, really."
Neverthless, Stichbury was doing well to contemplate all of this after suffering a very small brain bleed in May 2011, which kept her in hospital for nine days.
To this day, the cause of the bleed is still unknown, which Stichbury said was scary. She left hospital under precaution, then had a follow-up MRI scan a couple of months later after the swelling had settled down, before being fully discharged.
"It took quite a few weeks to recover and I never want it to happen again really," she said. "Definitely you always take another view of life after something like that."
Stichbury consulted a sports physician in Hamilton to see if she would be all right to continue competing in multisport events, and she was given the all clear, with nothing having slowed her down in any way.
"You're always looking for signs. I was told that I might carry on getting quite severe headaches and things, but they haven't come."
Stichbury teaches part-time at the special needs classroom at Matamata College and was able to put in plenty of training for the Coast to Coast in her spare time, with the help of Tauranga-based coach Lyndy Wickham.
"If you've done the training you certainly don't go into the race with that doubt in your mind that you're not going to achieve it," said Stichbury, who had to train for the required grade two kayaking certificate.
"Definitely the main challenge for me was the kayaking. I had never kayaked before. I had never owned a kayak before."
Stichbury's husband Greg and their daughters Evelynne (17) and Emma (13) were right behind her efforts.
"I'm sort of known around the household to be pretty mad, really," Stichbury said. "They support me. You've got to have support behind you otherwise it makes that day-to-day training really tricky".
Greg was at the race to watch his wife, while some of her friends were also on hand.
But it wasn't all rosy for Stichbury and she naturally went through some very tough parts of the race.
"If you do really want to do it you've just got to get through it. You just sort of swear a bit and scream a bit and hold on a bit and shut the eyes a bit," she said, adding that you couldn't afford to get into the zone of feeling hungry or tired.
"There's either a river bed or there's a tree root or there's a steep climb or there's a very technical steep down hill or something like that."
After accomplishing that race Stichbury is now "keeping fit day to day and catching up on a few things that perhaps didn't get done while I was training last year".
"I'm never one to call it quits so there's bound to be other things that come up," she said, adding she has in fact entered a 17km off-road run next month.
As for another Coast to Coast?
"No, perfectly happy with achieving it. I don't know, if someone asked me to join as a team or help support crew them, I might be interested in that, but definitely not going back to defend my title next year or anything. But of course, you never know, I might do it for my 60th."