Well I said that Whitford would be the decider…
I arrived with Mike Lichtwark and Todd Calkin. We had plenty of time to warm up before the 9 am start. I was feeling fine, with a decent sleep the night beforehand and was ready to battle with Ron King for the MEC series leadership.
Game plan: Remain in contact over the first half, hold it on third quarter and bring it home in the last quarter. We set off up a forestry road, and I settled in somewhere around 15th as the first few kms of gravel sped by. Up ahead, Ron was mixing it up at the back of the front pack, but had drifted off that bunch within the first km. Mike was about even with me, but come the first muddy climb he left me.
I wasn’t feeling all that flash, but I knew these races can take a bit of warming into, so wasn’t about to let it bother me. We headed down El Sanjoro – a technical and muddy singletrack descent and I moved in front of two guys who had passed me on the earlier hill. But I couldn’t see Mike or anyone else up front, and wondered if they were pulling away.
The descent took just over 14 minutes, I grabbed a quick drink and then turned up the gravel road into the meanest grind of a climb you can get in the upper North Island. It was over 2km of steep gravel incline. This was where I noticed that things weren’t ideal. I was pacing myself, knowing that the climb would take well over 12 minutes, but despite being below full-effort my heart rate was sitting at 95% max. Not ideal. I stayed at that pace, hoping the raised HR was due to nerves, but was disappointed to be caught by 3 guys during the climb – especially considering all the hill work I have been up to this season,
Another quick drink at the top of the hill and back down El Sanjoro – I felt pretty good going down and despite the (very fun) extremely muddied trail (you get that after 100s of runners have just been through), I caught one of the guys who had passed me and went down in a scratch over 15 minutes.
As soon as the downhill ended and we were once again thrust uphill, my legs again failed to deliver a powerful response. And so my race would go: feel good on the flat and technical stuff (although a bit slidey in my aging shoes), then feel weak on the uphills. I had to work hard to dispel the negative thoughts which now visited me like vultures around a weary wilderbeast. I didn’t know how Ron or Mike would be feeling, and I knew this was a long hard course – so I had to keep going, keep running to the game plan.
Up the penultimate hill, I was re-passed my foe from El Sanjoro and I had my darkest moment. The dark clouds were gathering around my mind and walking to the finish seemed attractive for a moment. My mental strength was being tested for sure, just as my legs were on all 900m of climb. But the steep hill levelled off and I got a second wind. I was passing plenty of other-eventers and quickly the other guy who had been catching me dropped well back and I was moving on again.
It was nice being able to remember the trail and I climbed up the final hill (again super slippy following the herd). Saw my mate Francois Guittenit as we shared a walk/power hike up a muddy bit. Got over that section and ran through the last 500m to finish in 2:08:31.
Ron had a great race and was right up in the mix with the leaders, recording just over 2:01. Mike Lich returned to form with a great race, finishing a few minutes behind him. So, with me several positions back, and just one race to go the title is now Ron’s to lose, although that looks unlikely since he is the Hunua guru, and I will be 7 days post marathon.
So what is my reaction to the race? Well, although I performed somewhat sub-expectation, I was only 90 seconds off my time from last year – which I considered a great race. Yet I’m disappointed not to have been competitive, for sure. A huge congratulations has to be given to Ron – he has again shown himself to be the MEC man to beat, and appears to be getting faster throughout this series. Finally, I have had enjoyed this series the most of any. It’s been great to race them with so many fine friends from the MEC, which certainly has made the series the best ever in my books. And there is still one race to go – see you at Hunua in 3 weeks!
MEC Role of Honour
13 Francois Guittenit 1:25:20
34 David Milmine 1:34:12
13 Tina Lundkvist 2:24:19
4 Ron King 2:01:04
? Mike Lichtwark 2:0??
8 Michael Hale 2:08:31
4 David Clark 2:14:48
20 Charles Belcher 2:32:47
21 Todd Calkin 2:33:16