Hunua 2012, the final showdown!! Or maybe not. The family vacation ensured I wouldn’t clock up enough races for any series ambitions. If anything training had slipped even more since getting back from vacation with an impressive 3 training runs between the Whitford and Hunua Xterras.
Still, there was the prospect of a consolation prize of getting one back on the 2012 MEC Xterra champ – Mike Hale, who’d cleaned me out on 3 from 3 of the year’s starts. As Mike had just won the North Shore Marathon the weekend prior, he clearly had some form. And no doubt he’d still be hurting after the effort. Also Hunua seems to a bit of a curse for Mike. My alliance with the Pukapuka Patupaiarehe, I was hoping, again would be my trump card.
Unfortunately Mike pulled out the day before. No question, it was a sensible decision, but leaving me without a quarry. Looking around for alternative targets – I’d already got away with a lucky escape at Whitford getting the Masters win, but 4 from 4 in the division seemed improbable given an abundance of recent running inactivity.
Both Simon Phillips, and Troy Harold were at the start – and the possibility of the Masters series title going either way. Though for Simon to take it he’d need a big win, so he would need to take-off at the gun to get a buffer before Pukapuka. Troy was coming back from injury but I was guessing he was going to give whatever it took to get the series.
Lets take stock. Hunua is the toughest of the series (previously my favourite but a rainsoaked Whitford now has that honour), I was rather underprepared, it was dry and likely to be a fast edition, normal race motivation by way of MEC competition absent, and the Masters guys were going to be racing each other for the series title.
Answering the question of why we run (off road) is easy, it’s fun, scenic, peaceful, etc. Answering the question of why one would race with no chance of reward is more difficult, because that stuff really hurts, like in an eye-watering-leg-spasming-hypoxic-fade-to-red kind of way. Digression: there seems to be a misconception among some that when you get fit, exercise hurts less. Seems to be me that the very point of training is to enable you to hurt more for longer. End digression. In truth, I didn’t tussle much with the motivation to hurt, seeing others push themselves is more than enough reason for me to follow suit, plus I didn’t want 2011 Ron to paste 2012 Ron by too much (keep him within 5min)
If you don’t know Hunua Xterra, the super long is a four phase beast, first comes the fast flowing valley section, second a dirty big runnable climb, third a jungle section that is rather less runnable, and finally a monstrous gravel road downhill to the finish. Tip to novices: don’t give everything to the ‘main’ climb, cos the top is only halfway up to the actual course summit – though on the other hand if you find obstacle courses difficult, maybe best open up on the first two sections.
Figured tactically I’d need to take a conservative approach again, no way I was conditioned for an all out effort. All went predictably enough, watched the front guys glide off into the distance (including Simon Phillips – until he was seen heading off in the wrong direction, a few yells and wild gesticulations had him doubling back on course and disappearing from view off the front again), and while a moderate start was called for I also wanted to limit the number of runners I’d encounter on the more technical second half of the race. So pushed a little hard till the head of the valley section and eased back to give a bit of recovery before the ‘main’ climb.
At this point Troy came along side, nice to have company to the hurt. Once in the main climb and Pukapuka were in progress I made a few gentle moves to gauge his state (as you do), he seemed to fall back a little but not more than a couple of paces. We moved through the Long course runners and wistful Super-Longs at a pace I estimated to be sustainable, the question being was he holding on or recovering? Though inevitably courteous, moving through the other runners is always difficult in technical conditions, I made a fast move around a slowing bunch only to find a fallen tree, stomach height, across the trail. Too fast to stop, too high to jump, I made the call to slide feet first under it swinging the body nimbly and gracefully, barely touching the ground, you know, Matrix style. At least, that’s what I like to think it looked like 😉
I didn’t have to hold on to the Troy question very long, as through the vines and jungle Simon started coming in and out of view (picture Pukapuka as a tyre obstacle course that is dark, wet, on a 20 degree slope, with ropes and nets at various heights) . Once we made contact about 2/3rd along Pukapuka, Troy launched himself Ostapchuk style* and seemed to vanish within seconds. Not wanting to stroke his ego, but that attack was seriously impressive. Answer to earlier question: he was recovering.
Soon after I bade farewell to Simon too, but in a rather less impressive manner. Still, I didn’t muck about and kept pretty reasonable pace. Despite running the last 3km of the race at sub 4min pace I never saw Troy again as he finished 1:29min ahead of me. Nice. Simon rounded off third place a couple of min back. 2011 Ron also predictably finished ahead of 2012 Ron by 4:30min, phew.
So Troy a deserved winner of both Hunua and the series. I got three 1st’s and a 2nd from four starts in Masters, so pretty happy with that. Still, the sights will get back to MEC for future events (ie. waiting for Mike to get lost or lose form again).
* Yes I am suggesting Troy did undertake a performance enhancing regime called “training”, his unblemished girlish complexion, however, shows no signs of steroid abuse.