Letting it go at Xterra Trail Champs 2014

Sean’s report:

I loved this event! Was super fun.
For me I’d arrived from Titirangi, Auckland with enough time to collect my race pack and get ready, but I’d put this down to my history in Motorsport, more than my organization skills..
At the start line I wasn’t sure if Brent, Mike, or Ron had even made the race.
Before I could find a familiar face in the crowd the race had started, within seconds  a pack of 20 or so took off with a pace that was more suited to a 10km race than a 20km with hills!
I first knew for sure that I was in the correct race when I spotted a sheepish looking Mike at the beginning of a long dark tunnel…
I soon realized he just needed a familiar face to break his brief claustrophobic moment! After the tunnel Mike blasted past looking to make up ground.
The hills came and went, the downhills I found were a strength for me as I pasted 5-6 runners on the downs and before I knew it I had crossed the finish line with a time of 1.49 still with a spring in my step.
Looking back I should have started out much harder, but with the burnout I had in the Onehunga half I was trying to pace myself…. Maybe next race I will get it right???



Mike’s Short version: Beautiful day, arrived late. Started fast. Got scared. Stopped. Started again, less fast. Built up speed, caught plenty. Amazing trails. Finished happy.

Mike’s Long version: We got to the race HQ with less than 15 minutes until race start. Not ideal. Scrub plan A, with its nice warmup and course familiarisation. We were into ‘get registered and get to the start line asap’ mode. The inevitable slips happened – Brent’s gels were swiped by Ron into a gear bag (thinking he was tidying up). Somehow we made it to the front of the group just 10 seconds before the gun.

The start was very quick, just as expected. I planned on going harder than usual to keep up with the front runners. I sped along just outside of the top five, the adrenaline of the frenzied arrival carrying me. I knew I was going quick because Ron was behind me. Through the farm land and over the swing bridges, we were quickly alongside the Waitewheta river, convoying along on a sweet snaking trail.

I was congratulating myself on rescuing the late arrival with such a good start when we ran into the cave. I knew a cave was coming, as we had been alerted in the briefing and online notes. I will confess here to being somewhat claustrophobic. It’s not usually a problem, I psych myself up for the tunnels and then am glad when they’re done. Usually. Unfortunately, I thought the tunnel we would run through was more like the one in the Karangahake Gorge, that is, spacious and with each end in plain view all the way along. So when I had refused the kind offer of a spare torch from Ron earlier it was because I thought it wasn’t really necessary.

Gollum’s cave was wet and dark. It wasn’t high enough for you to stand up, it had loose, uneven footing and the other end was obscured very quickly upon entering. For most people this isn’t a big deal but the unanticipated sensory challenge mixed with the adrenaline to freak me good and proper. In short, I choked. I turned and walked back out to the entrance. My non-rational mind just wanted me out of the cave. I obliged and then kept the non-rational thinking up, wondering if I could bush-bash over the top to meet the other side – desperately looking for another way that wasn’t back inside. I stood beside the entrance as streams of runners whom I had got ahead of made their way past me. In running, if your head ain’t your friend, your legs are no good to you. I started to calm down and saw Sean come by. The nearby marshal also told me someone had a torch just ahead. I made the decision to stick with Sean and try and stay near the light. Back inside.

Plan successful, we negotiated the rough rocky floor of the cave and stumbled out onto the trails again. I was ready to speed off and catch up, but since the online briefing had mentioned two caves. I thought it a better idea to stick with the guy in front who had the torch and avoid another meltdown. We made good time anyhow, and caught a few along the winding river trail.

The track crossed the river and we were sent up Scotsman Gully Track, without another tunnel traverse (whew!). As I wound up the hill into the smooth Country Road and twisty Number 7 Level Track, I focussed on getting into a good pace and rhythm and trying to catch the runners who appeared around each corner. It’s more than a 6k climb up from the river, but its all runnable and it was fun pushing myself along. I banished the thoughts of failure that would try to derail the rest of my event. I had lost the plot then regained it and now the rest of the race was still there to be run, to be raced and enjoyed.

I caught a glimpse of Brent sneaking a walk on a hill (still recovering from an achilles injury, this was always part of his plan). But it took me a couple of ks to catch him. We then ran in tandem, and kept pulling others in. Comradery on the trails (reminiscent of Mt Karioi 2013).

I ran strong to the summit, eventually leaving Brent and getting to within 20 metres of Ruby Muir. But gravity got in the way. We turned downhill and she plummeted away from me, never to be seen again. Fortunately, I’m not too bad at descent and caught some more dudes on the way down.  The legs were a little smashed from letting it out on the way down, but as we climbed again I managed to run the Number 7 Level Track at near the same split as first time through (9:10 then 9:11).

The last technical down (and uphill) was fun, but the steep hike out of the river crossing told me I was ready for the end to come. The trail spat us back out beside Waitawheta river. I made my way back over the swing bridge and chased down one last guy on the finishing chute. A great day –  super fun trails, good mates, and 90% proper execution. I’ll work on the last 10% for next year (arriving in time, bringing a torch, keepin’ it together… that stuff).



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