Harcourts Beach Series Coastal Run

Last week I went for a run with Nick from the Harcourts Beach Series and Jason from Triathletes Corner on the new 8km Coastal Run, which is one of the events at the weekly beach series returning on November 3rd.

The other events are the 5km and junior 2.5km beach runs; 500m, 1000m, 1500m and junior 250m ocean swims; and 1km & 3km stand up paddle events.

The only time I’ve ever run along the coast on the North Shore was a few years ago when there used to be a Run Auckland from Milford Reserve which ran along a section of concreted pipeline at some stage on the course, and further north at Whangaparaoa for the Xterra run at Shakespear, so this was all new ground for me. And it was a lot of fun!

It was a fairly dismal day, overcast and a little rainy, but quite possibly perfect conditions for a spot of coastal running. There’s a little bit of everything on this run: beach running, concrete coastal paths, a water crossing, and a bit of rock hopping every now and then.

The nice thing about the course is it’s not too long and it’s not too technical, so it’s a great place to start if you’re new to coastal running. It’s also a great way to try out and see if something longer like the North Shore or Tawharanui Coastal Challenge is for you.

And being part of a weekly series means you can come back each week and see how you improve over the series, and try the course out under a variety of conditions. The Beach Series keeps a full record of your times over the course and you earn series points; to be eligible for the points competition you need to have competed in at least 10 of the 18 events over the course of the series.

The only thing that might have put me off from entering the series is the drive from the eastern suburbs over to Takapuna on a weekday afternoon/evening, but Jason (coming from St Heliers) says it only ever takes him 20 to 30 minutes to get over there so don’t let that put you off.

To find out more, go to http://beachseries.co.nz/ – entries open on September 1st.

Here’s my Strava activity of the run, and the official course map and some pics below.

The Hillary Ultra 2015 – My first ever DNF

The Hillary is an 80km ultra marathon, 34km run and 16km run/walk, following the Hillary Trail in the Waitakere Ranges in Auckland, New Zealand. I ran at the second edition of the 80km ultra on Saturday March 14th 2015 but failed to finish, missing the cut off at Piha, and wouldn’t have continued even if I got there in time. This was my first ever DNF at a running event (Did Not Finish); there has to be a first time for everything!

I ran The Hillary last year hoping to break 12 hours, and finishing in 12:21. This year I just wanted to finish, expecting it take maybe an hour or two longer. This lowering of expectations was due to not running much at all since the Tarawera Ultra five weeks earlier because of a) sore feet, b) a melanoma extraction from my neck requiring two minor surgeries and c) having a puking stomach bug the previous weekend. I had self-belief that I could do it, and no expectations that I wouldn’t finish.

The Hillary is a point to point run from the Arataki Visitors Centre near Titirangi to Muriwai, so you either need someone to pick you up at the other end and take you back to your car at the start, or get up hideously early to get to Muriwai to catch the bus at 4.15am to the start line. So my alarm was set to go off at 3.05am for the hideous option! Unfortunately, I couldn’t get to sleep and then kept waking up, so I think I had maybe 2 to 3 hours of disrupted sleep before heading out to Muriwai…

We started in the dark at 6am, but it was going to be a really hot day and was already very humid and warm by the time the sun came up. A course change due to a slip on the official trail meant a somewhat hillier start, and I found myself struggling a bit on the first uphill section.

Towards the end of the first section, a guy called Rupert* caught up with me, and we ran together for the next few kilometers down to Huia and up the start of Karamatura Track, talking about the trail and running etc. Unfortunately I found the climb up Karamatura really difficult and had to stop for a sit down and have a gel. I’ve climbed up that trail a number of times before and never struggled quite like that, so I knew I was in for a tough day.

There’s some nice downhill and then some undulations after Karamatura and I managed to catch up and pass some of the people who’d passed me when I was having my moment, but the climb up the Omanawanui section was another big struggle. By the time I got to the seat on top of the second peak of that section I knew I was going to be pulling out, and sat down for a little rest. The next runner passed me and asked if I was OK and I said I was fine. A couple of minutes later I headed down the hill, walking the whole way down.

About 200 metres from the bottom, I changed my mind, realising that I could just keep on walking instead of running and see how far I could get, either to Karekare or Piha. At the foot bath station at Whatipu, I asked Richard, one of the race managers, what the cut off at Piha was, and he told me it was 2.30pm. I figured I could just about walk and run there in time, so I should keep on going. A few minutes eating food at the aid station and I was off on my way again. At this stage I was about 4h30 and 26km into the race.

There was a lot of walking and not much running between Whatipu and Karekare, but I was in good spirits. By the time I got to Karekare, I knew there was no way I could get to Piha before the cut off and even if I did that would be enough for today. So more walking and the occasional run for the trail section from Karekare to Log Race Road, and then a shuffle-run down to Piha to “finish” 46km in a shade under 9 hours.

So it was my first DNF, but I was happy with my day despite the struggle, I think probably because I was going to pull out at 26km but persevered on and knocked off 46km.

Why did I have such a tough day? I’m not entirely sure, and think it must have been due a combination of factors. It wasn’t simply from lack of training or running recently, because I’d run 50km in the Waitakeres seven weeks previously on a lot of the same trails without much running beforehand, and hadn’t struggled in the same way.

So perhaps it was not enough running, combined with the heat and humidity of the day, combined with having been sick the previous week, combined with lack of sleep. I wouldn’t have thought any of that would have affected me, but perhaps all four factors added up to it. I don’t know.

What I do know is that this failure isn’t going to stop me, and I will do better next time.

(* I hadn’t met Rupert until this race, and thought that I’d found someone I could run with all day, but alas it was not to be. He had only run about 30kms as his longest run over something like 4 to 5 hours and, although I didn’t say it at the time, I wondered how he was going to manage to run 80km in the Waitaks on that training. However I am pleased to see that he finished 13:54:59 – what an amazing achievement – and I look forward to seeing him out there again.)

New shoes – Inov-8 Roclite 295

I ran over 1,100kms in my last pair of Inov-8 Roclite 315 shoes, and the 100km at Tarawera last Saturday was just a bit too much in them. I wear the sole tread out on the outside of the shoe quite badly, and the lack of support on the outside of my feet lead to a lot of bruising and swelling after the race, particularly on my left foot. As a result, I’ve barely been able to walk this week. My thighs and calves on the other hand, haven’t felt sore at all!

Here’s what my left foot looked like on Sunday morning, noting that my toenail was already like that before the race:

left foot post tarawera

With the exception of my slightly too small Salomon shoes, my other pairs of trail shoes are worn out too so it was time to get some new ones. I’ve owned two pairs of Roclite 315s since I started trail running and they’re my favourite shoe of all the shoes I’ve ever worn. Unfortunately they’ve been discontinued, but I managed to find the slightly lighter / slightly less hardier 295s available as a clearance item from Bivouac and Highbeam for $140. I ordered a pair on Monday; they arrived yesterday morning and I went for my first, short, post-Tarawera run in them this morning.

They have the same sole as the 315s and feel very comfy and light. My little toes push up against the side a bit, but I suspect they’ll stretch in time and I won’t have any toe-squashing issues. Once I get some more mileage on them, if I’m still happy I’ll be off to buy some more pairs.

The new shoes, before the run:

inov-8 295

The soles of the old shoes, showing how worn away they were on the outside:

inov-8 315 - soles

The soles of the new shoes, as a comparison:

inov-8 295 - soles

Tarawera Ultramarathon 2015 Race Report

I ran the Tarawera Ultramarathon 100K race on Saturday, February 7th 2015 in 14 hours and 36 minutes.

Finishing the Tarawera Ultramarathon in 2015

Training

My training to build up for this event was going reasonably well until I started having some issues with the longer runs in November and then hardly ran at all in December. Before Christmas, I was considering not even going at all, but my wife Jane pointed out that I could do the 60K event instead. Funnily enough, that had never even crossed my mind. So I decided that I’d do the 60K.

I managed to start the year off reasonably well in January and, thanks to my parents for taking the kids off our hands for Auckland Anniversary Weekend, I went out to the Waitakere Ranges in Auckland for a 50km mission to see how I went. The route I chose had several places I could cut it a bit shorter; I ended up doing the full 50kms, which turned into as much of a tramp as a run at the end due to me forgetting how tough Huia Ridge Track is. I finished the mission in about 9:45, full of confidence that I could run the full hundy at Tarawera.

Previous Tarawera events

This would be the 4th year in a row I would run at Tarawera. Previously I’d done the 85K from Rotorua to Kawerau in 2012; the 100K on the fire course from Rotorua to Tarawera Falls and back to Okareka in 2013; and the 70-ish km cyclone course from Rotorua to Okataina and back to Okareka in 2014.

2012 was a wonderful experience and I loved every minute of it, with the exception of a few minutes in the early 60s when I hit the wall.

2013 was tough. I was really tired at 85km when we then had to return back over the Western Okataina Walkway. The last 15km took me about 3 hours and I went to some really dark places, and burst into tears when I finished.

2014. I didn’t write up a race report last year and I can’t really remember how I felt, but I do remember the Western Okataina Walkway not being quite so bad as the previous year (I had run considerably less distance already, and clearly remembered how tough it was so knew what was coming). I’m beaming away in the finishing photos, so I guess it was a good one!

2015

The start of the course changed this year; due the larger numbers of entrants from previous years there was a need to try to avoid the congestion that would happen on the stairs, so we instead turned left into the Redwoods and followed 4km of much easier (and prettier) mostly single track. I felt on the day that the start was much slower than in previous years due to this, but looking back at my race data on Strava, this year it took 40 minutes to cover the first 4km and in my previous three races I covered 4.5km in that time. So although it was a little slower, it really doesn’t add up to much in the long run.

Things were all falling pretty well into place and I was looking well on target for what I hoped to be a 13:30 finish, but a little after the Okataina aid station (in the early 40s) I started getting some nasty crampy feelings in my stomach. This slowed me down a bit, made it very hard to keep consuming food, and led to some pretty dark places in the early 50s, thinking that maybe I should stop at 60K after all.

Fortunately, I caught up with Kate from Kori Kita along the section from Humphries Bay to The Outlet: she’s my good luck fairy at Tarawera, saving me in 2012 with cola caffeine lollies when I hit the wall; antihistamines when I got stung by a bee in 2013; and now in 2015 by encouraging me to stand up, get a cup of Coke and a slice of pizza and power walk out of The Outlet aid station. That worked well, I started running again and by the time I got to the Tarawera Falls Car Park aid station, there was no way I was stopping. The quick dip I had in the water hole near the falls helped too. There were some people swimming there and they were trying to tell me I was going the wrong way, and as I ran off afterwards I could hear them saying something about me now having wet feet. My feet were pretty dry by the time I got to the aid station, and I had fresh socks waiting!

Things got a bit slow again between there and the next aid station at Titoki and I was shuffling along, but there was a good 2km of downhill leading to it, so I decided I should stop feeling sorry for myself and run faster. So I did, and covered that 2km in about 11 minutes! Titoki is the 70km mark and where you choose to go left if you want to do the 85K or right if you want to do the 100K. I was feeling good after my fast run and turned right.

This was all new ground for me, because the last time the course went to Kawerau was in 2012, when I’d entered the 85K and turned left. The course goes down for a bit and then up for a bit, and then you hit the Awaroa aid station where you run the famous “loop of despair”. My stomach was still feeling awful so there was a lot of shuffling, walking and a bit of running for this section. Not too long before the Awaroa aid station was a bit you could get down to the river. I climbed down the slope to fill my water bottle and soak my feet and it felt great – highly recommended! And just as well I filled my bottle, because they’d run out of water at the aid station…

I didn’t really find the loop of despair too difficult: I was tired and slow anyway and I’m fairly used to tough climbs in the Waitakeres, so I walked pretty much all of it up and down. There was cellphone coverage at the very top, so I fired off a text to Jane and she sent something back about “keeping your eye on the prize” and it helped provide real motivation.

After Awaroa, there’s a bit of a climb and and then it’s undulating the rest of the way to Kawerau – some nice forest running and “slopes” rather than hills. At the top of the hill, I must have caught a surge of adrenalin and took off. I was running fast (10km to 12km/hour pace) and power walking fast when I couldn’t run (7km to 8km/hour pace) and catching up and overtaking all the people who’d left me far behind. My body felt wrecked and I still had terrible stomach issues, but I had a clear head and felt really positive. I did slow a bit towards the finish, but it carried me and I finished that last 17kms in 2:06.

It was a tough day, I pushed through, and I felt great. It was such a contrast to the 100K from two years previous where I was a super tired pit of negativity at the end. I didn’t achieve my goal of 13:30 but I didn’t care: I was on top of the world!

Afterwards

Unfortunately the shoes I wore were a touch old and the shoe tread on the outside were pretty worn. As a result, I think I landed too hard on the outside part of my feet and I ended up with bruising and swelling, particularly on my left foot. It’s two days after the race now, and I have no pain, soreness or stiffness in my legs at all, but my feet are really sore and it hurts to walk. Ironically, I can still run no problem at all and it doesn’t hurt… I even put in an hour’s touch rugby practise last night and scored two tries!

I’ve ordered some new shoes, and will be running The Hillary 80K in four and a half weeks time.

Tarawera Ultra 2015
About 5km into it.

Tarawera Ultra 2015
Coming up to the Tarawera Falls carpark aid station / 60K finish.

The Hillary 2014 Race Report

I’d run the full Hillary Trail once before as part of a group during Midnight Midwinter Madness a couple of years back, and have run most of the trail multiple times during other running events or while out for training runs. And now, finally, Shaun Collins of Lactic Turkey Events had managed to get approval for an official event on the Hillary Trail, aptly named The Hillary. Naturally I jumped at the opportunity and was one of the first to enter the day entries opened.

There was an 80K event, starting from the Arataki Visitors Centre near Titirangi, a 34K from Piha, and 16K from Bethell’s Beach, all finishing at Muriwai. I lined up with 43 others to start the inaugural 80K event at 6am on Saturday March 29th 2014. All up, there were well over 200 people across all three events.

There was a 2km loop around the nature trail at Arataki to spread the field out a bit before heading down Slip Track. I wasn’t pushing myself too fast down Slip as Glenn Goldie came past in a hurry, calling back that he thought downhill was my speciality… Maybe so, but the there’s some big loose rocks and stones on Slip and I didn’t want to “slip” and break an ankle in the dark this early into the race!

running in the dark

There were still a few other runners around on Pipeline Track and the Lower Nihotupu Dam Rd as we continued on in the dark, our headlamps lighting the way. By the time I got to Hamilton Track, the field has spread a bit more. I was surprised to pass Shannon-Leigh Litt and another runner along Hamilton, and sped along to catch up to another group consisting of Gerald Waters, young super stars Heather Davidson and Reegan Absolum, and a couple of others.

We ran more or less as a group down Huia Dam Rd, now in daylight, but they were a little bit too fast for me, so I watched them gradually move away. I entered the Karamatura / Huia aid station as most of them were leaving, and Simon Clendon commented that posting to Facebook as I ran must be slowing me down! (I have my phone set up to do a group SMS to my wife, father and Facebook, and fire them off when I walk up hills in coverage areas.)

I love running around this area, and even the big (but short) climb up Karamatura Track is enjoyable. Before too long it was up and down and up and down the big open peaks on Omanawanui Track, where Allan Ure from Photos4Sale was waiting to photograph us. I made some wise crack that it was a terrible place to take photos because we’d all be walking, but as you can see from the photo below it was a truly excellent place! Omanawanui is truly stunning and I highly recommend even just a walk up there some time.

omanawanui

“Here come the bees”, Allan said to me as I passed him by. I wasn’t sure what he was talking about, but then saw a helicopter camera drone flying high above the track. Down at the Whatipu aid station I could see the pilot with some sort of big glasses on and a remote control. The results were spectacular; if you check out the trailer on YouTube, you’ll see a couple of shots from the drone.

I was feeling great as I continued on to Karekare, but hadn’t seen any other runners since soon after Huia so it was nice to see the friendly faces of the volunteers and marshalls at the aid stations and key intersections. Mark Colthart, who’d I run Midnight Minwinter Madness with, was manning the Karekare aid station and I found out I was only 10 to 15 minutes behind the crowd I’d been running with down to Huia, and in 17th place. I was feeling good, and doing well.

After the next hilly section, you come out on Log Race Rd and run back along Piha Rd for a while before heading back into the bush down to Kitekite Falls. I looked back a few times and could see runner number 18 behind me, and this is where your mind does silly things on these sorts of long runs: I sped up a little to keep the gap up, and then flew down the trails to Kitekite Falls and then on to Piha. I do love to run downhill, and using that to keep ahead of the next runner added to the fun!

The next aid station was at Piha where friends Christian Stockle and Tracy Benjamin were volunteering. They filled up my water bladder and helped with my drop bag, then it was on my way again along the beach. The sand was really soft, so the sensible thing to do was run down to the harder sand, even if it was slightly further to run.

I passed Bryony McConnell along the beach, but she decided to catch up, and we ran together for a while until we reached White Track. This is a reasonably long climb up and I’m very slow on hills, so she soon left me behind and I was passed by another runner on the way up.

I was now around 50km into the race and my legs were starting to get pretty tired; Kuiataika Track has a big series of descents, followed by a big uphill, and another series of descents and my legs were tired enough that I couldn’t run downhill as fast as I would have liked.

I was having no issues with calorie intake, but my stomach had been feeling pretty empty for a long time and it was from here on to the finish that I started to get a bit of nausea and the feeling that I really needed to have a spew. I’d been using Perpetuum, which is like a liquid food, and although that and the fruit and few chips I’d been eating at the aid stations was more than enough, it wasn’t filling up my stomach and my fast metabolism wasn’t helping with the empty feeling.

By the time I got down to Lake Wainamu, I’d fallen slightly below the average pace required to finish under my target of 12 hours (9 minutes per km) and managed to run at a fairly consistent 8:30ish pace along the easy river section to the Bethell’s aid station, knowing I’d need to “bank some time” for the hills ahead on Te Henga Walkway.

Shannon-Leigh Litt caught up to me just before the aid station and we left together (and just as Ryan Cooke arrived), but she gets stronger the longer these events go on for so only stuck around long enough for me to tell her what was ahead for the rest of the race.

Te Henga is easily one of my most favourite places to run, so it didn’t take much for Allan Ure to coax a smile out of me just above O’Neill’s Bay. This really is a spectacular place for photos:

te henga walkway

Ryan usually wears a fairly bright orange shirt at these events, so I could usually see him whenever I looked back. It was maybe half way along that he caught up to me and I let him pass; he was looking very strong with only a few kilometers to go, but I was struggling along with tired legs.

I must have run out of water soon after that, and had a couple of little rests. By the second one, it was obvious I had no chance of finishing under 12 hours and all those little demons that strike came out to party. But then I told myself that I could finish and that the time didn’t matter any more, even if I walked the rest of the way. So up I got and faced the hill climb to where a couple of photography guys were waiting, and those nasty steps at the end of Te Henga Walkway.

One of the guys jogged after me with his big bag of camera gear and we chatted for a bit. I let him past when I needed a breather on the stairs, so he went on ahead. As I walked up the path to the Constable Rd aid station, lo and behold the volunteer was running back to me with a bottle of water – the camera dude had told him I’d run out. I love aid station volunteers!

I took a few minutes there and put my polyprop on before I took off again; I’d been going so slowly and the day was cooling down and I didn’t want to get too cold.

There’s a road section (and a short bush section) from this point on to the final section of downhill trail, and I got passed by one last runner along the way. But the end was near, and I was feeling good again, and only need to walk a short part of each of the couple of small road inclines.

After the downhill trail section, there’s a road section which goes around to where the gannets are. There I met the world’s most happy, energetic volunteer, who ran along with me telling me where to go. It was only for a couple of hundred metres but she said “I’ve never even run this far before”. It wasn’t until I rounded the rock that I figured if she’d been doing that all day, she’d probably covered 10 to 20kms going back and forward for all the other runners!

Finally, the beach and only about a kilometer to go. My pace was picking up anyway and I saw an orange shirt ahead. Thinking it was Ryan and I might catch him, I picked the pace up again (I found out at the end it was actually the last 34km finisher!). And then I was off the beach, up the road and running around the field to the finish. There were a lot of people I know still at the finishing area and I finished even faster with a big smile to all the cheers.

the finish line

I crossed the line in 12:21, so not too far off my goal time of under 12 hours. I said to Shaun Collins afterwards that it was a tough course and a tough day, but the finish made it all worthwhile.

After finishing, I said I wouldn’t do it again. The next day (Sunday) I said I wouldn’t do Tarawera (just two weeks earlier) and The Hillary in the same year again. By Monday, of course I’d do them both again, I just need to train even better than I did this year.

So here’s looking forward to next year’s event. Hopefully Auckland Council will permit the event to go ahead again, as I believe this can truly become an iconic event on the New Zealand running calendar.

Photos #1 to #3 thanks to photos4sale and #4 by Kate Townsley of Kori Kita.

Trailblazer Marathon Waiheke 2013

I ran the inaugural ORCA Trailblazer Marathon on Waiheke on Saturday November 16th 2013, in what proved to be a tough but rewarding course.

My run

I’ve only run on Waiheke once before when I ran the “Wharf 2 Wharf 2 Wharf” with some friends back in July. That was a road run, but as we ran across the island and back again we could see there were many interesting looking trails all over the place. So I thought what better than to kick off my training for the Tarawera Ultra in March next year with a trail marathon over on Waiheke?!

I won’t bore you with the finer details of my run, other than to say it took me 5:59 with half splits of 2:35 and 3:24 (it was a two lapper this year). It was a tougher course that I had expected and I’m not really that well trained for running that far (distance) or that long (time) and haven’t done much in the way of technical trail running recently. I think under better circumstances I should have been able to come in almost an hour faster.

The course

The course itself, while tough, has a bit of everything. There was running across grassy paddocks, a lot of single track through beautiful native bush, a small amount of road, some gravel paths, beaches, oyster shell and rock hopping, and a bit of muddy bog fairly close to the end! There were also excellent views of the harbour and glimpses of Auckland city off in the distance.

Aid stations

The aid stations were manned by the Coast Guard and what a great job they did. There was water and lollies at all aid stations and they were all very friendly and encouraging, marking you off their checklist as you passed through.

Next year

This was the first year for this event and Synergy Sports Events, the event organisers, made it a 2x21km course for the first year. Next year will feature more or less the same course for the 15km and 21km events but with a single 42km loop for the marathoners. I’m looking forward to exploring more of Waiheke’s trails already!

Wharf 2 Wharf 2 Wharf

The Fullers Wharf 2 Wharf on Auckland’s Waiheke Island has several events, ranging from the full 25km race from Orapiu to Matiatia, to 13km and 12km events from Orapiu to Onetangi or Onetangi to Matiatia and a shorter 7km from Kennedy Point to Matiatia.

On Sunday July 28th 2013, I set off with 5 friends to run the “Wharf 2 Wharf 2 Wharf” as a training run. This was a 50km run, running the Wharf 2 Wharf course in reverse from Matiatia to Orapiu, and then back again. This post talks a little bit about our run, and then a little bit about the different event options when running the event proper.

We met at the ferry building in downtown Auckland about 6:30am for the 7:00am ferry and had a coffee while waiting. By the time the ferry set off, the sun was coming up and it was clearly going to be a beautiful day. It’s an enjoyable boat trip over to Waiheke, taking about 40 to 50 minutes depending whether or not it has to stop in Devonport.

Ann Brown, one of the organisers of the Wharf 2 Wharf, met us as the ferry came it; she had very kindly offered to look after our gear while we ran and meet us at Onetangi on the way back, and then again at Matiatia before we boarded the ferry back home.

And then off we went. There was never any intention to make this a fast run, and there was plenty of walking, especially on the hills. We reached the half way point after about 2h43 and managed to run back faster in about 2h41 (the hills are slightly easier on the way back), making it back with about ten minutes to spare for the 2pm ferry home.

The Wharf 2 Wharf event itself is one way from Orapiu to Matiatia; there’s a ferry ride from Matiatia to Orapiu to get you to the start line of the 25km and 13km. The first 13km has a steep climb at the start, undulating roads and more hills, but the views of the harbour and islands are spectacular.

13km runners finish at Onetangi, which is also where the 12km event starts. This part of the run is much less hilly and as a result the views aren’t quite as spectacular but if you don’t want to run the tough hills then the 12km event might just be for you.

We didn’t run the 7km course, which runs from Kennedy Point to Matiatia, but it joins the 25km/12km event at some stage.

I’d never run on Waiheke Island before this particular training run, but it was an enjoyable experience and I’ll be going back there again to run.

Xterra Riverhead 2013 Race Report

The Blackmores Xterra Trail Run/Walk Series at Riverhead is a good old fashioned muddy forest run, which this year was on Sunday June 9th 2013.

The weekend before the event, I ran at Riverhead with some friends on a sort cross between the mid and long courses and it was fairly dry and not very muddy. A good soaking of rain hit overnight before race day which guaranteed a good muddy run with lots of big water puddles, some deceptively deep!

There’s a good mixture of gravel forestry roads, hard packed single track, wide muddy tracks through the pines, some steep mountain bike drops for the super long runners, and a bit of native bush for all at the finish.

I had a thoroughly enjoyable day, starting as I normally do probably two thirds of the way back in the pack. I’d catch up to friends and run with them for five or ten minutes and then continue off at a slightly faster pace.

The first year I managed a fast run in the superlong, finishing in 2:16:09 somewhat slower last year in 2:29:09. My aim for this year was to keep it under 2:30; for some reason I had it in my head I’d run 2:33 or thereabouts last year, so assumed by breaking 2:30 I’d beat my last years time…

I was never really pushing myself too much, but was aware I needed to keep an average pace of around 6:30. With only a few kilometers to go I was nicely on track, but the long and superlong courses are particularly sneaky at the end. You can see the event finish and then turn away, run a long way away from it before winding around and around and around and finally get back to the finish!

I was doing a lot of clock watching, knowing if the course distance was more or less what I expected, I’d make it, but I was getting worried it was going to be longer than expected. It was a quite a relief when we finally joined the trail with the mid and short runners and walkers as it meant the end was fairly close.

While the shorter distance runners would gingerly make their way around the outside of the muddy pools that are frequent towards the end, I’d just plough through them, determined to finish under 2:30.

Finally there was the finish line. I could hear someone trying to sprint past me and that always raises a challenge for me at the end, so I sprinted too, determined not to let him past. And I didn’t!

Finished. 2:29:32. I managed to beat my goal, but as I discovered later on last night, I didn’t quite beat last year’s time. Ah well, next year…

This was the third year I’d run at Xterra Riverhead and is probably the muddiest one I’ve run at, although I’ve heard 2010 was a real bogfest. I’ve run there a number of other times at other events and it’s a great place to run, whatever distance you choose. Highly recommended.

The other races coming up in the series at a Waiuku, which isn’t really muddy, being in a sand quarry forest but has a great big old puddle right near the end; Woodhill, which is in a pine logging forest like Riverhead; Waharau Regional Park which is new for this year; and the Hunua Ranges. I haven’t yet run Hunua and hear it’s a fairly tough event. Waharau replaces the Whitford Forest event, Whitford easily being the muddiest place I’ve run at.

Wild Turkey Off Road Marathon 2013 Review: Part 2

In Part 1 of my Wild Turkey Off Road Marathon review, I looked at the event in general and here in Part 2 look at my own race.

There were 13 of us who started the full marathon about 7:40am on Saturday April 6th 2013. Only 12 finished – one of our group apparently had somewhere else to be and bailed out half way around.

The weather report had been for clear skies in the morning with rain and possibly hail in the later afternoon but as it turned out they got the forecast the wrong way around.

It was raining lightly as we set off alongside the Whatipu campground and headed up Gibbons track. There’s a bit of a climb initially so I was happy enough tucked in behind Stacey Chait, walking and slow running. Once it levelled out a bit I passed her and continued on my way.

wild turkey marathon start
Marathoners at the start – photo courtesy of Hey That’s Me

It was now that I realised I had my car key and remote in one of my Camelbak pockets, and after an incident at Xterra Shakespear last year didn’t want to take any chances with it getting wet in the rain. I’m sure rain would be OK compared with the sea water last time around, but wasn’t prepared to take any chances.

So I offloaded the lollies I had in a plastic bag into the front pouch in my shorts and put the key and remote away nice and safe in the bag 🙂

By the time I got to the top it was raining reasonably heavily. The tracks on the way down were dry from all the good weather recently and the rain made them very slippery; I love running down hill but was worried about slipping over so was taking things a little more carefully than I normally would.

I stopped under the shelter down at Pararaha Campground to change my top: my Icebreaker shirt was soaking wet and I was cold. I changed into my thermal top and put my rain jacket on over the top. I knew I’d be a bit warm but better than being cold and wet!

The next section has some pretty big climbs so it was slow going for a while until a nice downhill section that you can run down pretty fast if you’re so inclined. I sped past Penny Kirkwood at her aid station, shouting out my race number as I went past (it was obscured under the rain jacket) and kept going until I hit the river at the bottom.

More hill climbing, some great views of Manukau Harbour and Manukau Heads, kids out tramping, take off the raincoat (it stopped raining completely after about two hours), more downhill fun, back and forward across a river and then all of a sudden we were half way around. 2:45 elapsed.

Shane Absolum caught up with me while I was stuffing my face with chips and coke. We’d been passing each other on and off through the race so set off together for the second lap. We both struggled a little up the first section of Gibbons but soon I was running on my own again, leaving Shane behind.

wild turkey marathon on gibbons track
Second lap on Gibbons Track – photo courtesy of Hey That’s Me

The second lap was much like the first, with the added benefit of the tracks now being muddy instead of slippery, so I found it a lot easier to run down the hills faster. I covered the first 7kms of the second lap 5 minutes faster than the first time around (55 minutes compared with 60 the first time) but after that it was all a lot slower. Slower climbs. Slower downhills. I also stopped at Penny’s aid station to top up my Camelbak and have a chat.

With about 7kms to go I was starting to get really hungry, almost to the point of feeling sick. I’d eaten all my lollies in the first few kilometres; had a gel at some point; chips, coke and a biscuit half way around; some more lollies at Penny’s aid station. Now it was time to break out some more chips. I knew they’d be hard to get down so I chomped away and drank a fair bit of water to wash them down, and felt a lot better.

The last few kilometers were a lot of fun. There were more people out tramping now and I passed a few of the tail enders in the half marathon so there were lots of people calling out words of encouragement, including a large group of teenage girls with alpine walking sticks gathered in the middle of the track. They parted and I ran through them as they cheered me on. Good stuff!

I tried to pick the pace up for the final few kilometres downhill and along the river. It didn’t feel like I was running any slower than the first lap at this stage but looking at my splits now I was running around 30 to 60 seconds a kilometer slower.

wild turkey marathon finish
Looking tired, and just about finished – photo courtesy of Hey That’s Me

Then all of the sudden there was the finish line and it was all over. My goal had been to run it in under 6 hours and I managed to finish in 5:54 so mission accomplished! The first lap took about 2:45 and the second 3:09, so I was a fair bit slower the second time around, but then so was everyone else…

After the run was a (warm) ginger beer from the car and a couple of sausages in bread, smothered in onions, tomato sauce and mustard. There were just shy of 100 participants in total and so many of us knew each other, so it was like a real family atmosphere as we all relaxed in the sun.

Prize giving started before the final few people finished; there were heaps of prizes so you have a good chance of winning something and I came away with an UltraAspire hand held bottle.

As the final finishers came through the finish line they each got showered with a small bottle of Lindauer. A fitting end for a long day at the office 🙂

Here’s my Strava activity for the race, and some other race reports by Mark Colthart who ran the half marathon, Chris Morrissey who won the marathon, and Matt Bixley who came third.