Michael Hale (Superlong report)
It was my second trip to Waiuku forest, and since it was quite a discovery last year, I was really looking forward to this race. Waiuku is a sand based forest sitting on the border of the Tasman Sea and the mouth of the Waikato River. The excellent sand-drainage makes it an ideal mid winter venue. This season there had been no rain in the last five days, and the sand was noticeably drier and softer, making for a real test of leg and core strength as you plowed through.
The weather was perfect for the start – a bit of cloud cover on an otherwise cold sunny day. We set off 100m further down the course than last year (nicely avoiding the lorry sized sink-hole). I had my sights on a top 10 finish, and on the MEC battle – Ron King had been getting faster each week and Mike Lichtwark had been back training hard so I knew these guys would be tough to beat. A quick look around on the start line and there were the other usual suspects at the front including James Kuegler (2010 series winner), Nick Hirschfield (points leader this year), Martin De Bock (my 2003 Middlemore mentor and fast runner/multisporter), Tama Christenson, Ed Hyde, Sam “Camelpak” and surely plenty of other fast feet that I have yet to meet.
I knew Ron would go fast from the gun this time, and expected nothing less from Lichie so decided I should try to push a bit from the start and keep in touch. This didn’t turn out to be so difficult as the front runners settled for a more sedate pace than usual. I kept pace at the back of the bunch of 15 or so, with Mike and Ron in the middle and Martin mixing it up at the front.
The start was along a forestry road, spilling us out onto the banks of the Waikato and back into some sandy single track through the forest. ‘Twas great scenery to run through. I was happy with the start – I don’t think I’ve been that close to the leaders for that long. I gradually worked up to Mike Lichie, who had fallen back from Ron’s company. Me, Mike and a chap called Troy then formed a pack of three as the track turned inland and uphill. It’s appropriate to mention here that there was some smoking fast girl up ahead of us. Turns out her name is Lisa Robertson and her resume boasts 3rd NZ XC Champs 2010, 1st in Huntly Half 2011, a 1:15 ish PB in the half. Needless to say we never saw her again.
I had a good tussle back and forth with Mike and Troy for the next twenty minutes. We could see Ron and a few others up ahead; about 100m clear of us by the first drink station at 4.5k.
On the first real descent I caught up to some young kid who had started too swiftly. It was about here that I put some space between me and Mike too. This lead into a good long soft-sand single-track descent and I let myself charge down here to draw even with Troy. Whenever I felt like easing up on some of the steep descents on this course, I imagined I was next to Ron, who would undoubtably be blasting down them leaving many in his wake.
The rolling gravel road came next, and I pushed hard up the hills, and went past Troy. We came to the 9.5k aid station manned by some young fullas (should the verb change to “kidded” if the crew at the station are only at middle school?). I grabbed a couple of sips of electrolyte to wash down a gel and headed into the twisty sandy uphill trail just as Troy arrived. This was the biggest hill of the course. I settled into a reasonable pace, and Troy and some guy in a red T-shirt caught me. Redback went clear very quickly but Troy just sat in behind. I remembered this being a bit of a gutbuster climb and was happy to find myself feeling like it was hard but not agonising (as compared with the final hills of Shakespear). The hill had a few false finishes, and the last grind up some soft soft sand gave me a break on Troy – those stair climbs in training must have helped.
So I was on my own, although with Troy always 50m behind and Redback about the same ahead as we went to the far Northern reaches of the course. Sightings of Ron were rare, but his white top would appear 200m ahead on the long straights. The gap stayed constant from 30 minutes in. But that left me with a rapidly reducing time to bring it back. This would be hard.
I finally cut the cord to Troy on the mammoth downhill bomb. This swung back into a very steep uphill section where I was seriously contemplating a brief walk when I spied Ed Hyde up ahead. Big Ed was one of the sure bets for a top 5 finish in last seasons events. I caught up with him (after the race) and he told me he is a bit out of form thanks to a five month old baby. I feel your pain, Ed, I really do. But that is your problem. Mine is how to catch you in the last 6 km. And so I cranked it up again, with a fresh target spurring me on. Got another view of Ron – measured the gap as 1:10 give or take 10 seconds.
This last section saw us reconnect with the long course people and then the short and mid. Lots of bodies to pass, but everyone pulled aside when requested – always so appreciated. There was a big mongrel of a bog that was unavoidable, I waded into that and saw a new challenger – some dude with shaved hair in a blue top had caught me. Coming out of the bog with sodden shoes felt bad, really heavy feet here. I pulled ahead of him with Ed now just 10m ahead of me. I came up to Ed and went straight by on one of the downhill sections. A quick look back – no Ed, but Baldyblue right there! Oh man – this last 2 kms of soft sand will be tough.
I was still gunning for Ron, although feeling like that was not a likely anymore, but I had more than ample motivation with Baldyblue covering my every move. Already the HR was in the high 180s and things got even more frenetic when we heard the PA system booming through the trees. We knew it was close, but how close? All of sudden we could see the line; I launched a big surge, and bolted clear.
I finished in 1:33:06. 7th place, 50 seconds down on Ron who was 5th. Big ups to Martin who narrowly missed winning his first superlong, just outsprinted on the line by Tama Christenson. Good work as well to Jake Parsons, who used the mantra “don’t be an idiot in the first half, don’t be a pussy in the second” to gird himself to a strong and steady race, and looking great as he crossed the line.
MEC role of honour (including the adopted Glendowie crew – we are an inclusive bunch)
42 69 67 Olivia Maclean 1:20:02.05
17 33 49 Francois Guittenit 1:03:08.47
27 45 164 David Milmine 1:05:26.43
14 18 154 Tina Lundkvist 1:44:46.87
2 2 211 Martin de Bock 1:24:06.41
5 7 238 The King 1:32:15.98
7 9 226 Michael Hale 1:33:06.18
12 16 3119 Mike Lichtwark 1:39:44.14
19 31 194 Charles Belcher 1:45:19.49
13 40 3092 David Clark 1:46:54.65
54 104 258 Jacob Parsons 2:16:00.12
Ron “The” King report:
Two things dawned on me after the MEC Tuesday night session last Tuesday. 1. If Mike beats me that’ll be three from three and a bit tough to come back from in the series. And 2. never get into a situation where Mike has the opportunity to launch a finishing surge on you such was his earth scorching attack going up Mt Eden.
Training been going well with my inner-city-Xterra-grade-off-roaders providing some hard sessions. So I decided to do two things – talk myself up, and go for the bolt & hold-off strategy. The aim was to get out of sight from the Dr as quickly as possible and stay out of sight as long as possible.
Luckily I had the best start ever, clocking the first 1km in 3:51min, didn’t even get that feeling of exploding protest from the heart & legs. I did get passed in the 2nd or 3rd km by a woman who was absolutely flying. Magic. Ended up getting passed at around the 9km by Camelbak Sam (junior), and the older-guy (Simon) who is unbelievable going uphill, but rather troubled going down them. Camelbak, cleaned himself of older-guy and disappeared from view, whilst me and older-guy had a brilliant yo-yo battle right to the finish. He’d drop me on the uphill and I’d roll him on the down. In the end he got me by 20 metres, fantastic finish.
Also managed to keep out of striking range of the Dr, just. I was running on absolute empty after that bloody big rhino pit. Body started trying to shut down, feet turned to bricks, legs seizing, pre-cramp twitches coming on. Perfectly timed.