The Great Kauri Cranleigh Run – 2017

You know when you get 3/4 through a race & find yourself still really enjoying yourself that it’s been a great day out. To be fair, 10 minutes later I was yelling my head off from agonising cramps. But hey, you’ve got to focus on the positives – at least I wasn’t vomiting too.

When Thom suggested a weekend away for this run down in the Coromandel I thought why not. Training had been pretty sparse, but there was plenty of time to get into shape and it was sure to be a fantastic run. 32km, ~1200m of elevation, panoramic views & a heap of beautiful Coro bush trail. Sounds epic.

The “get into shape” part never really happened. With work, projects & family life all being flat out, something had to give … and it was the training. I’d pulled back to the bare minimum of generally 1 run a week – maybe averaging around 15km/wk for the past few months. The one potential redeeming factor is most of that limited training was hill work.

My general race plan on the way down to the race was to take it real easy, try not to blow up & maybe just maybe (hah! Yeah right) have something left for the technical section & big downhill at the end. Thom quickly pointed out that I’ve pretty much never had a race go like that, and he would put money on this not being the first.

Sure enough, Thom the Seer proved correct, and arriving at the start line I threw out the conservative approach & decided on a new race plan. With 2km of beach going onto single trail, I was worried if I took the start too easy I’d seed well back in the field & spend the next hour burning lots of energy trying to pass people on single trail. So new plan: start faster, but not too fast & try seed near the front. Once we got onto the trails, run completely to feel & try to be at least a little bit sensible – especially conservative on anything steep. And then hope like hell I didn’t blow up with 15km still to go.

We set of down the 2km beach section at a reasonably comfortable pace around 4:30’s/km. I paced myself just off the lead bunch, settling in about 20m behind Sean. Coming off the beach you have a beautiful few km of winding bush trails with 4 or 5 stream crossings, and a runnable hill climb through the first 50-odd metres of elevation. I felt I was taking it reasonably easy, but still hanging with a bunch of guys in 3-7th (Chris Morrissey & one other had vanished as soon as we got off the beach). The going got tougher & we pulled back to a hike & ground out a steep climb eventually pushing out of the bush up at the first trig point @ ~7km mark, 350m above where we started. I’d shuffled a few places, but was sitting around about 5th with Sean in sight about 100m ahead in 3rd.

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Stream crossing at the end of the beach. 2km in. No point in trying to keep the shoes dry!

The next section involved repeated steep downhills, followed by steep uphills – starting over pasture, and moving onto a quad trail through the bush. The uphills we ruthless – I remember seeing the grade break 40% a number of times – and I decided it was time to pull back or suffer the consequences of trying to keep with the others. So I let the guys ahead disappear, shortened my stride on the climbs, walk more hills & tried to not bomb the downhills too hard.

I felt like this slightly more defensive strategy (as far as protecting the body goes) seemed to be working quite well until at the 13km mark I half tripped on a gorse bush that surprised me lying across the track, resulting in sharp spasms of cram with both calf’s locking up. Oh dear. Not even half way through. This could go terribly wrong. However I had been in similar positions before & knew at this stage it was more of a warning sign than anything too debilitating & could be managed. So I set off again, having lost 1 position (chick’d), started popping electrolyte tabs, cramp spray, & anything else I could think of to hold things at bay.

Everything went pretty smoothly through to the next aid station & the following next 6-7km was a beautiful ridge line bush run, completely runnable along a quad track with interspersed epic vistas of the east and west coasts of the Coromandel.  I held strong pace through this section but saw no one, eventually coming out at Kennedy Bay Rd. I was pretty stoked at this point. I was 3/4 through the race, had felt great the whole run so far & was really enjoying myself. My nutrition was, for once, going to plan. Staying off solid food & a less aggressive fueling approach of a gel every 40 mins with a roughly 1/3rd mix of electrolyte drink to water in my bottle was seeming to do the trick & I’d had no sign of nausea, or any ‘low points’ on the energy front.

However I’d known the whole race that this next section was going to be the real test. A steep climb, followed by a heavy technical steep up & down section (mostly up) on fatigued legs that hadn’t been this long or high in a long time. The first steep climb (~130m up) went great, I felt strong with lots of energy & tried not to fall into the trap of slamming my legs. However as I crested & entered a steep technical downhill the cramp finally bit hard. I’d been looking forward to this section the whole run, so it was a bit disappointing (not to mention immensely painful) to have my calfs, quads & hammies taking turns, or often all at once, going into full blown cramp lock down.

Stretching out was doing nothing, and was often impossible as both quad & hammy were cramping at the same time, so to stretch one was to fire off the other worse. In the end I had to just try & hobble/shuffle/walk with the cramp still in full swing. It must have looked pretty funny (not to mention often yelling my head off), my foot would often stick out a funny angle as even my shin muscle would cramp. But standing around wasn’t working so I gritted teeth & began to force myself forward.

This went on for a couple of nasty km over the next half hour. I was resigned for a slow & painful slog out to the finish when I summited at the last high point – the Kaipawa Trig and beginning the 560m descent over the last 7km ahead of me back to sea level. Miraculously I’d only dropped 1 place (chick’d again) through this ordeal – I guess a good place to blow up is in a highly technical section where everyone is going slow anyway – I’ll have to keep that in mind for future races.

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Gotta stop for cramp anyway so might as well take a photo.  Finish line in the distance a long way down. Managed to half remove the grimace for the second it took to take the photo 🙂

Through this section I had been noticing that the cramp seemed to be more to do with climbing than downhills, and as I got into the descent, I was relieved to feel the cramp letting go more & more – finally managing to string more than a stride or two together at a time. I was soon ambling along, shortly after running freely, shortly after bombing down the windy, often slippery track – more concerned with careening off a cliff than with muscle seizure. Surprisingly I managed to hold this all the way back to town, only starting to see signs of the cramp when things flattened out on the 2km road run back into town.

I could see there was no one for a long way either in front or behind so I opted for as conservative an approach to the finish as I could bring myself to. I knew the only thing that could cost me a position would be pushing too hard & having to stop to stretch out cramp – so I ran to feel & each time I felt the cramp building I would drop back another 10-20sec/km until I found a pace I could hold.

Seeing the wifey who had lined up a couple of excited toddlers for me to run in the last 100m was a nice boost at the end (despite firing off a hammy cramp trying to pick one up) and I crossed the line in 7th place (5th guy) in 3hr 27m. Overall I was pretty stoked with how the run had gone. I was about as unprepared as I felt I could be for it, and despite wishing the cramp held out for 2 more km at the top of that hill, it couldn’t have really gone much better in the circumstances. I knew I was pushing the line as to what the body would manage so to not blow up earlier was a good outcome. Aside from the obvious, it was a really enjoyable day out. The scenery was magic, the trails (especially the bush single track sections) were awesome & I felt really good throughout the run.

Congrats to Sean who ran really strongly & took out 3rd in 3hr 03 Awesome effort. Also to Thom who battled it out to finish in 4hr 28 despite also having a average lead up, and his old man Alistair who was only 1 minute off taking out the 60+yo ‘Classic Men’ section in 5hr 02 – his favourite line about the trail “why do you keep calling it technical? It’s just bush trail.”

Finally a big thanks to the organisers of the run. They’d obviously done a lot of work on parts of the course for the race. Everything was really well run, everyone was really friendly, the course marking was great and all proceeds from the run go to adding to the 3000+ Kauri trees they’ve already planted along the trail over the past 12 years they have been running it. A great initiative.

Full results here.
Strava link here.

Raglan Karioi Trail 2016

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.img_4300

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.img_4302

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.img_4301

Pacific views on the descent to Te Toko Gorge

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!

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

2015: A Year in GPS Trail Watch Review

After putting a bunch of GPS watches through some robust trail testing and long term experience with them we can do a ‘best fit’ for various runners. The runners described are –

Adventure and ultra-plus: battery endurance, accuracy in difficult conditions, reliability, navigation and back-country functionality.

Fast and furious trail racer: trail accuracy, reliability, and racing functions.

Budget trail runner: trail accuracy, +12hr battery endurance, and anything else we can get

Smartypants trail runner: trail capable, +12hr battery endurance, smartphone features

Roadie with a bit of trail on the side: like the fast and furious, but with less trail features.

The watches in the 2015 test pool were: Garmin’s FR310XT, FR910XT, fēnix 2, and fēnix 3, Polar’s V800, Suunto’s Ambit2, and Ambit3 Peak.

Note: not all these unit’s have full write ups yet but they’ve all done the time. Write ups are on their way.

Adventure and ultra-plus

First pick: Suunto Ambit3 Peak, unrivaled in the category. More accurate with more endurance than anything else tested, combined with absolute reliability and best navigation functionality.

Runner up: Suunto Ambit2, like the newer Ambit3 Peak but with less endurance and a few less features.

Fast and furious trail racer

First pick: Garmin FR910XT, not quite the match of the Ambits in terms of accuracy (is prone to extended track shadowing), but has a more race friendly design and feature set (screen legibility, vibrate alerts, button placement/feel, virtual pacer).

Runner up: Suunto Ambit3 Peak, while a more capable unit in most areas, it just loses out on the specific demands of blurred vision racing.

Budget trail runner (if you can find them)

First pick: Garmin FR910XT, pretty obvious really. Is more accurate with more proven endurance than the fēnix’s. Can’t be used day to day, and is prone to a bit of off-track meandering from time to time.

Runner up: Garmin FR310XT, pretty much like the 910XT without the altimeter. Also is orange and a bit bulkier.

Note: If there were a market for 2nd hand Ambit2’s they’d be worth a look too.

Smartypants trail runner

First pick: Garmin fēnix 3, more features than you can count on both fivefingers. Great looking, user design is excellent, and pretty impressive smartphone integration for a trail beast. Is held back by poor real world battery endurance and middling accuracy in tree cover.

Second pick: Polar V800, solid smartphone notifications, nice screen and easy to use design. Doesn’t quite cut is a full featured trail watch though, pretty accurate outside tree cover but stated distance a bit variable in the trees.

Road with a bit of trail on the side

Too hard to pick.

Suunto’s Ambit3 Peak is super accurate, has some great road running metrics, screen a bit average and lacks vibrate alerts, advanced workouts/interval training dependent on mobile app which still a bit iffy on Android.

The Polar V800 is fantastic on the road and urban trail, save the bulky pods, some proprietary issues, and general lack of trail features. Also often slow to acquire GPS.

And the Garmin FR910XT is still a class act on the trail and road, though can’t be used as a day to day watch and acquisition time is a bit painful in comparison with modern caching GPS.

A Winter 3 in 1 Report

A tasty triumvirate of race reports here – covering the local MEC action for the last 6 weeks.

MEC Maunga ManMaunga Goat down

The inaugural Maunga Man was held on a true winter’s day on July 4th at Mt Mangere Domain. A hardy crew took on the challenging course amidst torrents of rain and swirling low cloud. The format was simple: complete as many loops of the course in 60 minutes. At 60 minutes, the horn blew and you finished the lap you were on. Most laps wins.

Ron King (we use his real name in the results on this site) was crowned the first Maunga Man, with a complete display of climbing strength, solid pace judgement and technical descending skills.

Its great course for spectator viewing (when its not pouring with rain) and makes for a solid hill session. Lots of positive feedback from the attendees, and its right on our doorstep, so an event to be repeated methinks!

Millwater 10k

A fortnight later was the fast road 10k around the Orewa basin. Another wet and windy day greeted Team Green for this one too. The Atkinson Bros were targeting a sub 45. Evan hit the early splits no problem but it wasn’t feeling right and he came unstuck into the headwind on the north side of the Estuary. Just as he was struggling, his brother Dave struck him a further blow, catching him and pulling ahead. They came in 16th and 18th with Dave getting 44:21 and Evan 45:01.

I was involved in a three-way (haven’t written that sentence before) battle with Ron and Brent. We stuck together from the start, pacing it out in a conservative manner for the first 3k, before Ron snuck ahead and I made break to catch him. I had closed the gap by 5k and Brent was back a further 30 metres, but Ron held his pace into the headwind as I faded. The challenge was now to try to keep ahead of Brent. Fortunately we had a couple of other guys ahead who were tiring more than us which made for some good targets. The gap grew to Ron ahead until he was over a 100m ahead, however Brent would never get further than 50 metres behind, and I was very wary of the local speedster taking me out on his home turf. The promised lap around the sports field at the end was never delivered, and we finished what we all felt was a slightly short course. Ron was second in 36:22, I was 5th in 36:58 and Brent 6th in 37:12.

Xterra Waharau

The closest I got to the KingI had been wanting to race this one for the last couple of years and finally got it together for 2015. The super long course has probably the longest single climb of any event in Auckland. You start at 20m above sea level, and climb through forest roads into lovely single track all the way to Kohokohunui, the highest point in Auckland at 688m. This is done in 9km, with a 1km break at the halfway point where you lose a good 150m of elevation. So a truly juicy climb.

I was feeling good, but didn’t feel comfortable to stay with Ron and started to drift back slowly after 1500m or so. I was in about 10th spot and wanted to find a rhythm and be sensible, knowing I had an hour of running uphill before I would get to the top. I felt good on the downhill break and caught a couple of guys who had passed me. This gave me hope for the second half of the course – what goes up must come down! I summited a few seconds after 70 minutes elapsed and relished the delightful single track on the ridge top there, quickly catching 3 guys ahead.

I saw one other fellow just ahead and worked alongside him. He then took off like a stung pig and I merrily followed behind. He was quite the descender, but I always managed to hold close. The downhill leg started off slippery and technical, punctuated with short climbs. It then became longer steep-but-runnable 4WD tracks, not too rutted but with low traction. I careened along behind this chap for a good 5k before making a move on a climb and dropping him.

I had no idea how far ahead anyone else was, but I still had about 5k to go and pushed along. Although I sped down the big Puriri Track downhill, the only people I was able to catch were from other events. Still, it was a good second half for me and I was happy with my 2:12:01 for 20k with 1000m climb and 6th place overall. A great course and one I look forward to having another crack at!

Kudos to Ron for his 2:09:43 5th place and Luke Strom who was top 10 in the long course with a super well paced 1:49:59 17k with 1000m climb.

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).

 

Raglan Karioi Trail 2013 – rise of the goat men

This event is a new one on the calendar for 2013. And with its promise of 1870m of climb in 25k (twice up to the top of Mt Karioi ~750m), I was keen as to give it a go.The last preparations for battle

I convinced Brent that the best therapy for his chesty cough would be to do this as an easy run. The fact that he was convinced shows how just hooked he is after less than a year with the MEC.

We shot down to Raglan on a brilliant clear morning. No clouds, no wind. Weatherwise, it looked like the Westcoaster all over again. But this time we were prepared, and had brought extra water to account for the heat, no more dodgy heat-stroke-like crumbling at the finish for us. Race briefing with Francois

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. This is the flattest place in the whole courseGrassy tracks at the start

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! View at the topKelly the Conquerer

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.

That's Brent rappelling down
That’s Brent rappelling down

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.

Brent on the hill
Brent on the hill

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.

Nathan about to storm past me
Nathan about to storm past me

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!)