I convinced Brent that the best therapy for his chesty cough would be to do this as an easy run. The fact that he was convinced shows how just hooked he is after less than a year with the MEC.
We shot down to Raglan on a brilliant clear morning. No clouds, no wind. Weatherwise, it looked like the Westcoaster all over again. But this time we were prepared, and had brought extra water to account for the heat, no more dodgy heat-stroke-like crumbling at the finish for us.
The first km and a half winds you up some farm roads at the reasonable gradient of 6% or so. Then the gradient pushes into the teens and twenties for 500m until you hit the top for the first time. I took it cautiously at the start and quickly found myself around 10th place, with Chris Morrissey the usual suspect leading from the gun. Once in the forest, the climb was steep and very technical, so amounted to 90% hiking from the end of the farm track to the top. I thought I was strong, but I kept getting caught on this piece and shed a few positions.
At the top, the cloud cover was obscuring much of the view, but I had my camera with me and took a few pics anyway. You basically oscillate up and down for a couple of kms at the top before plunging down the Western side of the mountain at km 5. Around about 4k in, Brent caught me. He was swift on the descents and I was nanna-ing along, trying to save my quads for later in the day. It was great running with Brent, we spent a good 40min together, and took a few pics too. Much fun, and no one caught us during the photo shoot either!
The downhill bomb was tough on the quads. I did my best to protect them, while trying to stay with Billy-Goat Brent. There was even a stage where we had to rappel backwards down the rocky/muddy face using the attached chains – it was that steep! When we broke out of the forest and could see the Pacific ocean, the trail became a bit more runnable, and with the views I couldn’t help but hoot as we tore down the hill. We caught 2 or 3 people just as we came into the first aid station at Te Toto Gorge at Km 7.
I had plenty of supplies so just grabbed a cup of coke, threw some water on myself and got back into the race, running swiftly down the gravel road which would take us North towards Raglan. I caught up another couple of places, and felt very comfortable stretching out on this section, it was like my running legs had been ‘resting’ with all the enforced hard hiking.
About km 11 you turn back East and do a farm loop. Almost a loop of despair, for those familiar with the Tarawera. Unlike on Karioi itself, there is no tree cover and it was absolutely baking as we wound or way up 150m or so, then dropped back down to the road. A fun 3k diversion, and it was where my extra water supplies paid off keeping me cool. I caught another chap on this section, then rejoined Whaanga Rd and let my legs go again on the gravel train down to the lodge.
The second aid station is just after the turnoff to the lodge at km 14. Good crowd support there and nice to get back under the canopy of the trees as it was really hot. I topped up my bottles and readied myself for the second summit. I was about 19 minutes behind the leader at this stage.
This climb was the killer. Again, super steep and even more technical than the first. In the first km or two there were more runnable sections, but the last two km of this monster 700m climb / 4k ascent were devastating. I got caught up by Nathan, who I had yarned to on the first climb before he left me in his wake, only to catch him again on Whaanga Rd. There was no staying with him on this hike. It was full jungle out there – loose roots, slippery rocks, low hanging branches and wicked heat and humidity.
I’ve got to say at this point that I loved this – it was super hard, but man was it fun. That said, I was longing for any sign that we would summit soon. It took longer than expected, but at last I was on the ridge line. I stopped to re-tie my shoelaces as my toes were getting very sore on any descent as they bashed into the front of my shoe. I then plodded my way along the ridge, figuring it would be another 45 – 1 hour before I would see the finish.
The summit came and went with no sign of another runner – I had been checking behind me for some tough nut to come blasting by, but I guess we were all well baked by then. The final 3.5k descent was great. This time, there was no tender footing around. I pushed myself hard down the hill, imagining that Brent was running with me – WWBD was my motivation! There was no need to protect the quads, and they handled it all nicely. I popped out of the forest and lo and behold I saw Nathan less than 100m ahead!
I was catching him, and on the steep grassy bank I just let it out a bit more to fly by, my toenails crying in grim delight as we made the move past. Down onto the 4WD track, I kept the gas on and sped away down to the finish. I had predicted a 3:30-4:00 finish and crossed the line in 3:54, very satisfied with my effort and strategy on this challenging course.
Big thanks to Francois and his team at Jaunt Events who have put on a great event, with good atmosphere and one of the most gnarly courses in the upper North Island, check it out: http://www.raglankarioitrail.com
PS I was 7th man (chicked by 1), Brent was 11th. Plenty of strength work required to drop my time (Morrissey was finished in 3:15 – amazing!)