Crater Rim Ultra 2018

My goal event for Spring ’18 was the wee trot through the Port Hills of Canterbury known as the Crater Rim Ultra. It had been designated as the Athletics NZ trail running champs so I was keen to see how I fared nationally as well as try out the Christchurch trails for the first time.

Training had gone well. A nice winter of local cross country races then capped off with my fastest 10k in a dozen years. I then got a six week training block in averaging 75k and 1700m vert gain each week. A brief taper with the Takahe to Akaroa Relay giving me a rollercoaster 9.9k 8 days prior to really test the legs at effort up and down hill.

The course is a 52k point to point trail run with 2500m of vertical gain (similar loss). Going by previous year’s race results I set myself a goal of a 6:30 finish and hopefully 10th-20th place.

Some serious hills on that crater rim

Dave Clark from Glendowie, as well as Lucy and Connor the MEC refugees in Timaru and Tom Hunt my Wesley club mate were also taking on the event, so it was great to share some time on the course with these familiar faces.

Lucy and Connor all rugged up and smiling on the ferry to Diamond Harbour

Logistics are sweet for this one. You get yourself to the finish line at Hansen Park in Christchurch City, then a bus takes you to Lyttleton, then a ferry takes you to Diamond Harbour, then your legs take you back over the Port Hills to Hansen park. Easy.

It was very cold, like 3 degrees when we first got up at 4:30. There was a gusty Southwesterly blowing, and plenty of cloud with the odd bit of light rain as we waited for the bus and then the ferry. Fortunately the wind was a bit lesser at Diamond Harbour, sheltered as we were by Mt Herbert, so we warmed up a scratch before we were sent running at 0715.

The first 9km are from near sea level to the summit of Mt Herbert at 921m. So its a solid, enduring climb that starts on residential streets before heading into green pasture and then a 4WD track through high country tussock. I was wearing plenty to keep the fresh wind from stealing all my heat. The MEC singlet was over the top of a merino T, with arm warmers, gloves, a beanie and a cap all doing their part. Even with this, I was very much considering getting my jacket out as we got over 600m and the wind really started to pick up and push us around. The cold had certainly made me take the start more seriously, and more conservatively. I was in about 30th place after the first 5 or 10 minutes and then held my own as we picked our way up the hillside.

The summit of Mt Herbert was wild. Melted snow beside the trail, grey cloud obscuring most of the view and a gale of a wind buffeting you around. Check Dave’s report for some video of the conditions at the top. I checked in with the marshalls at the top, gave them my respect for hanging out up there (and overnight too!)  then packed up my poles and headed down the trail in a hurry. After the 70 minute climb the legs felt great running free on the gradual downhill. I caught back up to several guys who had pulled away earlier.

Off the peak and much warmer

We moved through the cloud and I was stoking on the beauty of the trail, the  steep grassy hills either side, the harbour below – even the gorse looked good. These trails were very pretty and also very runable. The section just off Mt Herbert on the south side of the hills was technical, rocky and wet. I took a tumble while trying to keep my feet clean – and quickly learnt my lesson. The trail winds back down from the summit at 9k, to the first Aid station at Gebbies Pass at 20k (approx 150m up). You pass the Packhorse Hut on the way, and spend a bit of time under plantation forest cover on your way down the easy gradient. I came into Gebbies at 2:19, about a minute up on my expected time, despite a conservative start. I was feeling great and loving it.

After Gebbies you get onto some private farmland on the Eastern side of summit road. This drops you down down down before you trudge up up up back to Summit road. This was the only part of the course where I lost site of the trail and course markers, but only briefly before finding them again around some of the pine trees. The climb up had some of the steepest grades of the day – real knee-kissing hiking work. This second big climb section would take us back upto 450m and I was drawing on the poles for grip and leverage. You then traverse some more technical single track as you make your way along the Eastern side of the ridge. Some good vistas down to Lyttleton Harbour would be expected here, but a lot of cloud obscured the best of those on race day.

At 30k you pass the Sign of the BellBird and I got a water top up, just behind a guy called Nelson. We had a chat and discovered that until recently we were living and training in the same part of Auckland! It was then quickly into the Kennedy Track out and back section. This sees you drop 350m elevation in 4k, get an arm band, and then climb straight back up. Its on a part of the Port Hills that was in the 2016 fire, and there isn’t much in the way of greenery to distract you with. So I counted the people ahead of me coming back up. The front runner was already 6+k ahead at 32k so I was fretting that more peopel were ahead of me than I had accounted for. But I made good speed heading down the wide open track, and saw I was in 22nd place as I made the turn-around about 100m behind Nelson.IMG_5843

The climb up was a bit of a low point, realising how far I was behind so many others, plus the 1500m of climbing had taken the edge of my legs’ enthusiasm. I saw Nelson and another runner pull away while I struggled to get my ear phones in. There I was flailing about as the soft earbuds fell off and onto the trail, poles clanking in the high winds and zero forward movement while I try to stop them blowing back to Lyttleton. A minor palaver made complete when once in my ears the speakers wouldn’t turn on. Great, that was worth it. The guy who was previously 100m back was now just a few metres behind me. A quick self pep-talk was needed “Its OK, you don’t need music to run. You can try to get them going again later, lets just get back to some solid uphill hiking”. I swing the poles at a fast cadence and will my legs to make the best of their third serious climb of the day. It works, the guy on my tail fades back and I am able to hold pace with the two chaps ahead, maybe even catching them a bit. I get to the water station at the top of Kennedey’s track, top up half a bottle and move onward.

I quickly realise that now that I have cleared Kennedy’s at 39k, I can only have a few ks to the Sign of the Kiwi and the second aid station proper (42.5k). A bit to eat, some downhill running and all of a sudden I’m moving well, catching people and feeling GOOD. I manage to get my music on, come into the Kiwi and do a quick half bottle top up, slam some coke, and speed away up the other side. Just 5k-ish to the next aid – then its all down hill to the finish. Things are looking good.

Now I’m catching runners – mostly 30k course people but also a few from the ultra. Its amazing seeing others who were literally kilometers ahead of me on Kennedy’s Bush Track now coming into view and then passing by them, just an hour later. I feel good and move ahead well. I get my first glimpse of Nelson in a while, and by the Aid station at Mt Vernon (46k), I am right behind him with another ultra runner Sam Mowat behind me. We run in a fast 3 pack down to the top of Rapaki Track, 47k done.

Rapaki is a gravel 4WD track, it drops from the summit road near Mt Vernon to the suburbs 335m beneath. It is fast and smooth. Nelson spins his legs and we are quickly running at 3:30-3:20 min/k with Sam off the back. It feels fast and fluid – the body responds well. Then all of a sudden – they are playin my jam! Aerosmith kicks in my headphones and I find another gear, tearing off downhill grinning and singing. I see Tom Hunt, my Wesley pal, he’s not moving as fast as he should be. I check in and he’s done with multiple cramps so I kick on, trying to spot anyone up ahead who might be in my race. I do a few systems checks, as I know this kind of furious pace can undo you in a very short time.

I hit the suburban roads at the bottom of Rapaki and am guided across the intersections by the generous volunteers – this race is full of them (97 volunteers on course – awesome!) A final effort on the flat track around Hansen Park, eyes looking forward an back for possible targets and those who might be hunting me down. I finish elated in 5:48:38, 12th male. This is also good enough for 3rd in the Athletics NZ Masters 35-49 Trail Running Champs, giving me my first Athletics NZ medal!

Me and Tom, finished and still standing


My race: I’m thrilled with how I executed this one. I feel like I maximised the training that I have been able to do this year. I was well prepared with gear and nutrition and had sensible pacing early on and then an aggressive last third. Its a good feeling.

The event: It’s fantastic. It’s run by the local Port Hills Athletic Club, they put their heart into it, the volunteers are superb and the home cooked food is enigmatic of the great community feel there is. As a location it’s easy to get to, so logistics are straight forward.. Its more scenic then I would have guessed, not far off the epic beauty of a Central Otago mountain run. It’s a gruelling course, with more climb than most 50ks, but it’s also largely runable, if you are strong enough – so is very rewarding. I’m keen to get back.

Can’t beat home baking and a cup of tea after a run in the hills!



Xterra Waharau 2016

The 2016 Xterra Waharau was held on the final day of the track competition at the Rio Olympics, so I took out the iPad and we were able to both compete and take in Nick Willis second Olympic medal in the 1500m and Mo Farah’s repeat 5000m gold.
A magic day, clear and dry: there hadn’t been much rain in the lead up either so there wasn’t much mud except at the top ridge. The start and finish had moved back towards the road this year, which added a good 1k to the total distance.
This was to be my only Xterra race of the 2016 season – my other planned option at Xterra Waihi not being possible this year due to my roster. So I wanted to have a good hard race, and felt confident that I was in even better shape than last year, so had every chance of delivering.

Warming up on Puriri Grove Track

We took off fast into the climb and I pushed a little harder this year. Still, these climbs are like none on the city cones that we train on. Waharau hills are steeper and much much longer. So I found myself sitting in around 10th place, despite the extra effort.

Again, I found the downhills easy and would catch up without effort on the two patches of drop in the 9k stretch to the top of Auckland at Kohukohunui. But the last stretch of the climb – the most rugged and steep, saw me lose some time and a couple of guys caught me and I was sure I could hear more voices coming up behind. So it was a welcome relief to get back into the downhill, and I made an effort to run strong on the regular ups that punctuated the fall. I caught the two chaps again, plus a couple of others who had let me on the climbs.

You rejoin the other races on the Waharau Ridge Track. It was here that I saw another SL runner tying his shoes. Turns out he was Felix Geller, a speedster on both trail and road. All I knew was that there was now another target and so I shadowed him down the trail. We let rip down the big drops, notching some low 3:20 min/kms. I wasn’t fast enough to pass, but could maintain contact and we hooned it all the way down to the river, where we also caught and other SL runner. I charged through the river and blasted back up the hill trying to get a break from them both. Heart rate through the roof, my right hip flexors started to cramp up too. I had reached the limit, and backed off as Felix speed by. He was off, and not to be caught by me, so it was damage control on the last mile to the finish on Puriri Grove Track. I pushed as much as I could, and was grateful that the other chap was not in view behind. I finished exhausted in 2:16, 10th place.

2016 vs 2015?

Bit quicker up the hill (45 sec faster to the top, if you take out the extra bit at the start)

Equivalent on the first downhill

Faster on the Waharau Ridge Track downhill

Slower on the last km

Seconds faster overall, but further back the field.

Both years run at my limit and well executed.
MEC Results

Mid course:

Lucy Horne 1:20:33

Super Long Course:

Michael Hale 2:16:04

Sean Falconer 2:20:16

Connor Aldridge 2:39:35

Luke Strom 3:06:24

NZ Road Relays 2016

Pre event preps

The NZ Road Relays were held this last Saturday in Rotorua. The course followed the lake circumference clockwise, adding and embellishing upon the famous Marathon loop.

For the 2016 short course, there were six legs of 8.3k, 8.2k, 4.1k, 6.0k, 8.4k and a final 10.3k.
We formed two evenly matched teams and contested the social/corporate division.
MEC Tahi (in order of leg)
Sean, Jake, Connor, Megan, Sean, Connor
MEC Rua (in order of leg)

Michael, James, Michael, Lucy, Myles, Evan

Team Rua ready!
Team Rua ready!

Leg 1

The short course was also contested by the Junior Men and Women, and Masters >60. So after a short burst at the start (all social teams were seeded at the very back), Sean and Michael made their way through the field to sit behind the junior men, who were running ahead in a tight swarm. Michael was briefly ahead of Sean around the 3k mark, but was unable to make a gap and Sean caught up, then took the lead as they went into the final 2k. The first 6k were flat with some small short hills, but the last 2 saw the rural road wind up to gain 130m of elevation. Sean dominated the climb to put team Tahi into the MEC lead and social team lead at the end of leg 1.

Sean 31:37 Michael 31:53

Leg 2

Jake took the reins from Sean and made his way along the steady climb. His legs were beat from a hard run at last weekends Bay to Breakers 12k in Tauranga. James, himself recovering from a broken arm did his best to maintain contact. But in only his second run back from injury, he wasn’t able to keep Jake in his sights and he trailed off in the second half.

Jake 34:44 James 36:49

Changeover at the start of leg 3
Leg 2/3 changeover

Tahi 1:06:21 Rua 1:08:42

Leg 3

Connor got his first taste of the competition on the short third leg. It basically drops runners straight back to lake level, losing all accumulated elevation in a scant 4.1k. So it is fast and hard on the legs. Michael was backing up after leg 1, and despite the hard work less than 40 minutes previous, the legs were ready for speeding downhill. He re-caught a number of the masters and junior teams on his flight downhill.

Downhill time
Downhill time

Connor 14:44 Michael 13:07

Tahi 1:21:05  Rua 1:21:49

Leg 4

Leg 4 was for the femmes. For the 6km lap, the course joins the Rotorua Marathon course in the scenic Hamurana hills. Megan took off with a slight lead, but Lucy put in a PB-equivalent run of to pull ahead for Team Rua. Megan ran strong to limit the gap over the 6k and it was race on!p1060970

Megan 32:12 Lucy 28:48

Tahi 1:53:17 Rua 1:50:37

Leg 5

The final changeover

The 8.4k fifth leg saw Sean return for a second go. He was head to head with Myles, who started with a headstart, but knew that Sean would be lining him up. Sean paced it to perfection, building into his run and setting the second fastest lap split for the social grade as he took Team Tahi back into the front.

Sean 32:45 Myles 40:02

Tahi 2:26:02 Rua 2:30:39

Leg 6

Evan bringing it home for Team Rua
Connor with 2k to go

Sean came into the final transition well ahead, and many would have thought it was game over for Team Rua. But Evan had his game face on, and set about running a new PB for 10k as he did his part to bring the teams even. Connor started strong, but was feeling the leg-shaking effects of his earlier lap and had to gut out a tough finish. And so after three hours of racing, 45km covered, the MEC teams were separated by less than 3 minutes at the finish. A galant effort from all runners and some great times too.

Connor 45:38 Evan 43:49

Tahi 3:11:42 (3rd Social) Rua 3:14:30 (4th Social)


Congrats to MEC Team Tahi!

PS Many thanks to Ev for the accommodation!