After having a blast at this course back at the inaugural 2013 event, I have been looking for an opportunity to run it again. 2016 handed me the opportunity as it makes a perfect hilly build up race for my summer alpine adventure.
Myles joined me for this one, and we headed down to Raglan in the pre-dawn cloud. This year’s race water contrasted greatly with 2013 – instead of relentless sun we had the whole mountain enveloped in mist and occasional squalls passing over form the South West.
The race has obviously gone from strength to strength under the passionate RD’ing of Francois. You know a guy puts his all into a race when he hikes a 50L water can up 40 degree slopes so you can have an aid on the summit ridge. This year there was a real host of post race goodies to indulge in – a great BBQ, local fruit and veg and popcorn and a couple of kegs to sample curtesy of the good guys at Pilot Brewery just up the road.
After the dawn karakia Francois set us off up the grassy slopes, heading to wards the bush line and the obscured mountain top. I was in about 10th place and comfortable as we entered the forest canopy. I had bought my trail roc 255s, somehow imaging/remembering this race as a drier affair than it was. Should have taken the talons. It was mushy deep mud at the top, and I struggled for grip.
I made it to the top in about the same split as 2013, but took a bit longer going along the muddy ridge and down to Te Toko Gorge and the first aid station. I think this can be attributed to my lack of grip and not that I have lost my descending ability. Once again, I felt best on the Whaanga Road section – even with the hill training being my focus lately, the gruelling nature of these climbs was more than a match for me.
I caught up a bit on my 2013 split on the Whaanga Road and farm loop section. As I passed the start of the keen 10k people I knew the biggest climb was coming. And it proved once again that it was able to smack me down. I gave it my best but was unable to get a quicker split this year. I then slid my way back across the ridge before the enjoyable bomb downhill back to HQ. I stopped the clock in 2:51, 11th place (7th male), about 4 minutes faster than 2013.
So a great fun time, but not quite the demonstration of strength gains I had hoped for. A great and gruelling course. I was very impressed with the four mighty wahine ahead of me, and Chris Morrissey who showed his class by taking the race out for the 4th time, coming in just under 3 hours.
Definitely a race to recommend, I hope to be back in less than 3 years this time!
The first km and a half winds you up some farm roads at the reasonable gradient of 6% or so. Then the gradient pushes into the teens and twenties for 500m until you hit the top for the first time. I took it cautiously at the start and quickly found myself around 10th place, with Chris Morrissey the usual suspect leading from the gun. Once in the forest, the climb was steep and very technical, so amounted to 90% hiking from the end of the farm track to the top. I thought I was strong, but I kept getting caught on this piece and shed a few positions.
At the top, the cloud cover was obscuring much of the view, but I had my camera with me and took a few pics anyway. You basically oscillate up and down for a couple of kms at the top before plunging down the Western side of the mountain at km 5. Around about 4k in, Brent caught me. He was swift on the descents and I was nanna-ing along, trying to save my quads for later in the day. It was great running with Brent, we spent a good 40min together, and took a few pics too. Much fun, and no one caught us during the photo shoot either!
The downhill bomb was tough on the quads. I did my best to protect them, while trying to stay with Billy-Goat Brent. There was even a stage where we had to rappel backwards down the rocky/muddy face using the attached chains – it was that steep! When we broke out of the forest and could see the Pacific ocean, the trail became a bit more runnable, and with the views I couldn’t help but hoot as we tore down the hill. We caught 2 or 3 people just as we came into the first aid station at Te Toto Gorge at Km 7.
I had plenty of supplies so just grabbed a cup of coke, threw some water on myself and got back into the race, running swiftly down the gravel road which would take us North towards Raglan. I caught up another couple of places, and felt very comfortable stretching out on this section, it was like my running legs had been ‘resting’ with all the enforced hard hiking.
About km 11 you turn back East and do a farm loop. Almost a loop of despair, for those familiar with the Tarawera. Unlike on Karioi itself, there is no tree cover and it was absolutely baking as we wound or way up 150m or so, then dropped back down to the road. A fun 3k diversion, and it was where my extra water supplies paid off keeping me cool. I caught another chap on this section, then rejoined Whaanga Rd and let my legs go again on the gravel train down to the lodge.
The second aid station is just after the turnoff to the lodge at km 14. Good crowd support there and nice to get back under the canopy of the trees as it was really hot. I topped up my bottles and readied myself for the second summit. I was about 19 minutes behind the leader at this stage.
This climb was the killer. Again, super steep and even more technical than the first. In the first km or two there were more runnable sections, but the last two km of this monster 700m climb / 4k ascent were devastating. I got caught up by Nathan, who I had yarned to on the first climb before he left me in his wake, only to catch him again on Whaanga Rd. There was no staying with him on this hike. It was full jungle out there – loose roots, slippery rocks, low hanging branches and wicked heat and humidity.
I’ve got to say at this point that I loved this – it was super hard, but man was it fun. That said, I was longing for any sign that we would summit soon. It took longer than expected, but at last I was on the ridge line. I stopped to re-tie my shoelaces as my toes were getting very sore on any descent as they bashed into the front of my shoe. I then plodded my way along the ridge, figuring it would be another 45 – 1 hour before I would see the finish.
The summit came and went with no sign of another runner – I had been checking behind me for some tough nut to come blasting by, but I guess we were all well baked by then. The final 3.5k descent was great. This time, there was no tender footing around. I pushed myself hard down the hill, imagining that Brent was running with me – WWBD was my motivation! There was no need to protect the quads, and they handled it all nicely. I popped out of the forest and lo and behold I saw Nathan less than 100m ahead!
I was catching him, and on the steep grassy bank I just let it out a bit more to fly by, my toenails crying in grim delight as we made the move past. Down onto the 4WD track, I kept the gas on and sped away down to the finish. I had predicted a 3:30-4:00 finish and crossed the line in 3:54, very satisfied with my effort and strategy on this challenging course.
Big thanks to Francois and his team at Jaunt Events who have put on a great event, with good atmosphere and one of the most gnarly courses in the upper North Island, check it out: http://www.raglankarioitrail.com
PS I was 7th man (chicked by 1), Brent was 11th. Plenty of strength work required to drop my time (Morrissey was finished in 3:15 – amazing!)