Marathon Redemption on Te Henga

“Pretty damn tough with a touch of extreme for good measure. Not for the faint hearted – this is quite possibly NZ’s toughest off-road marathon” was the quote on the website outlining the Speights Westcoaster Marathon Course. 2100 m vertical ascent on probably the most stunning scenery the greater Auckland region has to offer, this was going to be an epic.

Chastened for a lack of respect by the Marathon Mistress earlier that month in the Auckland Road Marathon  – read here: https://mendurance.wordpress.com/2014/11/04/auckland-marathon-attempt-2014/  – I was determined to appease the old girl this time round, but let her know I had some unfinished business. The words of MEC guru Dr Mike rang strong in my ears “think of this as your first ultra marathon, run for completion, this one is not about speed. For the first 30 km, don’t be a hero, for the last 12km don’t be a pussy”

Training had been reasonably light since the Auckland Marathon earlier that month but I managed some hill work and some great Tuesday sessions. Mid month included a glorious 30 km jaunt around the Marin Headlands of San Francisco, home to the North Face Endurance Challenge.

Up into the Marin Headland looking back to San Fran
Up into the Marin Headland looking back to San Fran

I was stoked to be running with my pal Dave who also was of similar strength and experience. We agreed to run the first half together and see how we go for the second. I had loaded up with a stack of gels, 1.5 L of liquid and was determined not to dehydrate like the Auckland Marathon. My marathon prep had even included shaving the beard and leaving a disgusting looking racing handlebar mustache. The morning was fresh and there was a solid Westerly breeze with the odd shower coming through, conditions looked great for good day on the trails.

Epic to be sharing the trails with such a brother
Epic to be sharing the trails with such a brother

We kicked off to a reasonably laid back start and straight into the first big hill. Mike shot off and was gone after the first corner never to be seen again. There were plenty of people running up the hills around us but we had resolved to walk the hills of any substance at all knowing we had 2km + vertical ahead of us. Suitably named Razorback Ridge was a big climb but no problems on fresh legs. Coming out on the tops high above Bethells after the first big climb in the early morning light was exhilarating and we felt great. Had some great yarns with the lads as we crossed the sand dunes and up the river onto the Te Henga.

At the top of the first big climb on the Te Henga looking down to O'neils
At the top of the first big climb on the Te Henga looking down to O’neils

The Te Henga Trail from Bethells north was absolute running joy. Open trails, big steep hills, fast technical downhills. The vistas were breathtaking and a wild onshore blew off the Tasman. Dave was an epic running partner and was hurtling down the hills with some ease and leaving me behind but we stuck together, I felt strong on the flats and had a confident march up the hills. I was maintaining a regular dose of gels between 30-45 min intervals.

Te Henga Northbound with Dave in hot Pursuit
Te Henga Northbound with Dave in hot Pursuit

The notorious stairs up to constable road loomed up ahead and my legs were feeling pretty gassed at this stage. We were just approaching 21 kms and I was pretty happy at about 2:30ish for the first half. Support extraodanaire Stuart Hale was a welcome site as well and a good lift to see a familiar face. We set off feeling good down the loop and eventually into the river. I found myself slow on the technical sections and a after couple of bails confidence running boldly over slippery rocks was waning. The mud was deep in places. It was great to be in the river and I’ve got to say I was surprised at how ‘offroad’ the course was!

Getting refreshed at Constable Rd Aid station after all those bloody stairs (thanks Stuart Hale for photo)
Getting refreshed at Constable Rd Aid station after all those bloody stairs (thanks Stuart Hale for photo)

We climbed back up the hill and arrived back on the Te Henga southbound. My legs were feeling tired and I knew really the battle was just about to begin as we ran into the 30 km’s. The Te Henga section of the trail is just so mint and it was epic to be back on the tops with great views all down the coast, its amazing what a stunning setting will do for the morale. At about 35 km I started heading into a familiar dark place and it became a mental battle of one foot after the other, the trail was steep and the km seemed to tick over at a snails pace. I also cramped up about this time and had a minor stress that the marathon was going to be ripped from my grasp in the final moments yet again, I told Dave to go on without me. He stayed, and I persisted up the last major climb and the cramp seemed to come right. As I hit 38 km and climbed the last big hill overlooking my spirits lifted and I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. What a glorious site to see the final headland far below in front of you.

Te Henga homeward bound, lifted through the hard moments with soul quenching scenery
Te Henga homeward bound, lifted through the hard moments with soul quenching scenery

We were looking at our watches and discussed the sub 6 hour finish and with the kms to run looked like it was well within our grasp. When we dropped into Bethells expecting the finishline and were told its only 2 km to go I asked the volunteer if he was joking! I had mentally prepared myself for the final straight and the thought of another couple of kms up and over the sandunes seemed too much to manage at the time. To be honest I was furious inside at this outrageous oversite (well it seemed at the time!!). Dave kept me going and credit to him he maintained a good pace over the dunes and refused to walk the hills.

Feeling the pain in the final push for the finish
Feeling the pain in the final push for the finish

When I finally saw the finish line through the trees it was an epic sight! Was awesome to cross the line with a fellow MECer and come in with a 6:02 finish over estimated 44 km. I was stoked to finish after my last effort and top 20 placing to top it off felt good. Mike was at the finish line looking fresh after smashing out a well deserved second place at 4:50. (see his report and photos below). Can’t wait to smash the full Hillary later this month !!

Getting stoked as we approached the line
Getting stoked as we approached the line
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