Whitford is a great forest to run in. The pine-lined technical single track that traverses the slopes is segmented by the gravel forestry road. A great location for an event, and as it contains my favourite course for the Xterra Offroad run series. I have battled the long hills (long for Auckland means 200m of climb in less than 2k) and slippery off camber paths of this course twice before in 2010 and 2011. It’s quite a doozy – with over 900m of climb over its 21k distance. It’s also quite long for this series – I had never finished it under 2 hours before.
I took my familiarity with the course and combined it with a good couple of months of training since my last event to line up in very good shape. The pace was hot from the get go and I made myself hurt in the first 2k on the undulating gravel while a group of five guys moved about 70m ahead. Ed Hyde and Sam Manson were in that group along with some others I didn’t recognise.
As I turned down the slippery plummet for the first time I was in 7th place. I was right behind another guy (David Vernon) who was descending nicely in the slippery mud and we chatted away for a bit. Overnight we’d had some serious rain, which had left the already sodden trails in very muddy form. Still, I was happy with our pace and we made our way down in good time.
We turned back up the grunt of a climb (the 200m in 2k one) and Dave got a way on me. I wanted to keep myself in check after the fast start and since he wasn’t in my event it wasn’t hard to watch him run on. I caught and passed another fulla Tom Mace and was feeling good on this climb, way way better than last year. Just before the track turns back into the bush for some exceptionally slippery off camber running amidst the pines. I was all over the place on this, even with my x-talons. I noticed Tom was catching me through here.
I eventually summited the hill and then we were straight back down the slippery plummet, now made more slippery thanks to a couple of hundred runners having just passed through. I caught another guy who was gingerly sneaking down one of the clay banks. Despite the extra mud, I was descending with as much confidence and speed as my first effort, and that felt great.
The next stage of the race involved me consolidating my position. It wasn’t long before I saw another figure up ahead on one of the long stretches of gravel road. I caught up behind this guy in the green T-shirt (Ryan Young) and we played a bit of cat and mouse for the next 40 minutes. He was faster on the climbs and sections of good traction. I would catch back up whenever the course got technical or slippy.
I decided to bide my time, and make a move on the last downhill. He had pulled ahead on the previous climb, but I was again able to catch him on the tight descent. I was feeling good in regards to energy but had been noticing my legs were weary from all the climbs. Tell the truth, although I had plenty of energy to run on the flat, my mental energy was a bit drained – I blame lack of sleep from too much Olympic watching. We hit the bottom and I knew it was one last slippery climb which I through myself into with all I could muster. I pushed really hard up this climb which wasn’t as slippery as I had hoped. There were a few other races on the same part of the course and I navigated my way through the field, while feeling progressively more nauseated as my effort approached maximal. Finally I arrived at the road at the top of the climb. I had a cheeky glance back over my shoulder to make sure I was safe and cruised down to cross the line in 1:57:43. I thought I was in second, but I found out that Big Ed had got lost so I had passed him without knowing – making my second 2nd place of the series. Stoked.
Ron had recently returned from his European adventure and was unsure of his fitness. I’ll leave him to tell the story but he played his hand just right and ended up taking out the Masters Division and coming 6th overall in 2:07:51 – nice going.
So, I must say I am happy with how things are. My training has gone really well, and now a solid result to show for it, I’m very pleased. I’ve got the North Shore Marathon coming in a fortnight, which I plan to use as a long training run before the final Xterra race in Hunua the week after. I was pretty wasted last year when I tried this double, but I plan on being in better shape this time. I calculate I have (3:38+2:21+10:08 = 16:07) on Ron, but I hope not to need it to wrest the MEC title from him this year. Still, you can never discount the wily King, ruler of the Pukapuka realm.