I’ve been looking forward to this race. It was the race that introduced me to the joys of trail racing just over 12 months ago, and I was keen to see how much I had improved after a year of MEC good times. This race also tends to suit my strengths, with a large portion of the race made up of reasonably slippery rocks with the odd winding trail.
MEC has historically had a pretty solid showing at this race competing in every year since it started in 2009 (though no post that year!). However this year it was only me in the superlong to represent (Ron was doing the family thing and running the short), so I guess I’m up for a race report!
I started the day with two goals: try & destroy my time from last year (finishing 18th @ 1:44:19); and finish in the top 10. With Mike (hamstring), Ron (short race), and Caleb (baby) all not running, I figured I would be unlikely to get a better chance!
My strengths lie in the more technical stuff & downhills, so my race plan was to try hang around the top 10-15 from the start for the first couple of k’s to the top of the hill – without blowing out my heart rate. I figured for some small gains through the kauri forest and from there, hold on the flats & beaches, make good gains on the more technical coastline, and save something for the hills at the end.
The start line was very busy as it tends to be, with 325 runners eventually finishing (141 in the super long). After edging my way to the front, a few customary jokes from Dave Franks and a hooter, it was game on. The race started pretty predictably. One guy gunned it from the start, doing what I would pick to be 3-minute-something’s up the hill. Screw chasing that. Didn’t see him for the rest of the race. He’d probably had a 20 minute warm down, sausage & beer & was half way home by the time 2nd place came in.
I settled in as planned near the front of the pack & kept pretty easy pace with them to the top of the first hill. The descent into the kauri forest offered a slight opportunity to recover from the climb, although the runners around me were definitely moving along. I picked up 1 position through here & figured I was somewhere toward the back of the top 10. How many of them were in my race I wasn’t sure. I was having to watch my pace as I was pushing a little harder than I would have liked with the pressure of multiple sets of feet pounding close behind.
Moving out onto the coast didn’t slow things down as much as I’d hoped. The first few km here is reasonably sandy and an easy run from a technical perspective. My fellow competitors didn’t seem to be having too much trouble continuing to push the pace and my heart rate was pushing 200 which is getting up near spew territory, so I knew I had to dial it back for a bit. I managed to recover a little without losing too much position by running slightly slower, but picking better lines – trying to make sure I didn’t burn myself out before we got into the fun stuff.
As we progressed around the coast I began to push a little harder. This was the area I had planned to make my gains & I found I could haul a few people in, but then found them hard to drop as they slipped in behind & followed on my heels. As things started to get a lot more technical with lots of boulder hopping near the end of the coastal section, I finally made some really strong gains. My hugely advanced ‘technique’ was basically just “don’t slow down”. Scan ahead to find good lines & go full speed, relying on figuring somewhere to put your foot while it’s in midair. Probably a recipe for a twisted ankle or some missing chunks of knee, but as it did last year it seemed to work ok for me, and without too many close calls I quickly ditched the guys behind me, moving through a chunk of the next pack just as we came out onto the beach.
This section was relatively uneventful with the biggest decision choosing between running a more direct line through the shallows, or going a little wider on the sand. As we moved back onto the rocks we got some good pelting rain. I was all for it – the slipperier the better. There is a small section through here you have to swim. One guy in front of me chose a brilliant line & managed to wade a lot of it, ultimately gaining a good 30-40m over the guys in front of us. I altered my line to follow, temporarily picking up a few positions too.
I was still having to push my pace harder on the beaches than I would have liked in order to keep up, and as we moved back onto the trails I was a little worried I had gassed myself. The steeper hills proved me correct as I was reduced to a hike, still pushing hard so as to not lose too much ground, but desperately trying to avoid being cooked by the top & having to dial it back to recover on the downs & flats. This took its toll on ‘the big UP’ from the carpark and I shed 3-4 places through the steep climb.
Determined to give it everything to the end I pushed hard once the gradient backed off, and ‘let the wheels turn’ as fast as possible down the steep downhill’s through this section. Coming into the last hill of the day I climbed hard, managing to catch back up to a couple who had passed me earlier.
Knowing there wasn’t much over a KM to go, I tried to pick up the pace only to have a cramp fire off in my calf. Great. I kept the pace on anyway & ran with a half-straight left leg – must’ve looked ridiculous but what ya gonna do. It seemed to back off as the downhill steepened and I put the foot down, descending through the winding bush path onto the beach, picking off a couple of guys along the way (though possibly from the long course – who knows).
Coming onto the beach I was feeling a bit fatigued & a little light headed after the fast descent, but seeing Ben Firth & James Keugler (who had recently passed me) only about 100m ahead I pushed hard trying to close the gap. I was hauling them in and, just for a second, thought I may just be able to catch them. I closed the gap to about 30m but the chance to gain a couple of sneaky positions was slipping away with the finish line approaching fast. I knew I was redlining & couldn’t push it much further – if my HRM is anything to believe, I topped out at 208bpm which is a couple higher than I’ve ever seen it before. I managed to push into a sprint finish anyway, pipping some longie at the post & crossed in 9th place at 1:31:34.
Overall I’m pretty happy with accomplishing my top 10 goal, as well as the 13 minutes I shed off last year’s result – although also a bit disappointed to have bottomed out in that 2km section of course coming off the beaches and shedding so many places. I think I need to put in a lot more KM’s/wk to be able to hold pace with some of these guys over a whole course!
A random observation to finish up with: my inov8 trailroc’s were the perfect shoe of this course. At no point did I feel a lack of control whether it be wet rocks & weeds, storming down a steep pasture hill or on the wooden boardwalks. Good times!