Back to one of my faves. Love this race, the hills, the windy single-track, the river, the dunes, the ocean. This race has been very successful for me over the years and this time I had my sights set on Reece’s 2011 CR (4:45) and a win. I knew I was in better shape than last year so why not go for gold?
Thom, Dave and I ventured out for this year’s Westcoaster marathon, with James having a crack at the half marathon (his first). The wind was gusty from the West, with the odd shower coming through – moderate temps made for a much more pleasant running experience than last year’s race.
The start was relaxed and it was easy to get to the front. I didn’t notice any familiar faces. A lithe runner who looked decidedly European took off as we went up toward Razorback ridge. A few others trotted past me as I was content with my early pace which held me in 5th. Onto the ridge I marvelled at the view and found the others came back to me on the downhills. All except ‘the foreigner’. He was off and gone. You knock off a good 600m of climb in that first 12k section, and most of that in the first 8k. I rolled into aid station number 1 in 3rd equal. 1 min behind 2nd and 8 minutes behind 1st. That was that then. I was in a race for 2nd place.
Leg 2 is the beautiful coastal single track of Te Henga Trail. A real delight to run. It wasn’t yet hot and I enjoyed my pace through the rolling hills between Oneill’s Bay and Constable Rd. I marched up the stairs to the second aid station and caught the 2nd place chap (who was in a team) at the top. A quick refill of the bottles from supporter Stu and I was away. Time deficit now 15 minutes to the front.
The order of the next leg had been switched from previous years. I have to say I enjoyed it. It meant for more room to pass the 21 and 30k runners on the way up to Horseman Rd aid. I kept running as much of that hill as I could 0 a strategy that I used this race – less hike, more baby-step running. It served me well.
It was a great downhill bomb from Horseman Rd to the Mokoroa Falls. I think I hit faster than 3min k pace at times. The toes were hurting but I was grinning. Then down the river I went, loving the criss-cross canyoning and relishing in the cool of the river. One helpful chap found a big hole right where I was about to walk across. As he floundered about and asked for a rescue, I thanked him for his discovery from which I benefited. I pulled him out and moved along quick.
Up onto Constable Rd and back to the Aid station marked the end of Leg 3. I had just done my best split for this section ever and I was feeling pretty good for the leg home back over Te Henga. I topped up my water supply, and charged down the stairs toward the Tasman sea. Glorious.
Things got a wee bit hard here, but nothing bad. Just the fatigue in the legs meant a bit more slow hiking than I would have liked, but I kept pacing. I had plenty of water to avoid last year’s dehydration/overheating fiasco. I noticed that the course was going to be long at about the 36k point. It was clear then that this would be at least 44k on my watch. And with the new finish across the dunes, those extra km would be juicy.
I counted the big hills down, made my way into O’neills and then around the last climb to Bethells. Aha! No disaster for me. Up the river and over the dunes. I caught James sneaking a quick break in the 21k and told him to start running with me. My PB was 4:51 and it was going to be close. I picked it up for those last flat kms and made it home in 4:50:33. My best time, on a course that was somewhere around 1 mile longer than previous. I reflected on a successful day – A race plan that was spot on for my fitness – and executed to within the minute. Happy with that.
I refuelled, caught up with the winner (Andrius Ramonas who absolutely SMASHED it in 4:15) and cheered on the boys as they did MEC proud. Dave and Thom crossing together in 6:02 for top 20, and James in 2:45 for top 20 in the half too. Such a privilege to push yourself with the support of an amazing crew (Dad) and knowing you’re doing it with your great mates. Bliss.
PS Andrius has been in NZ for just a month and this is his second big trail run win. Watch out for him.
All photos – Stu Hale