Thursday, May 2, 2013

Cape Brett Challenge - 37km

27th April 2013

Based at Rawhiti in the Bay of Islands, the course meanders through several picturesque bays before doubling out and back to Cape Brett Lighthouse along the spine of the peninsula. My parents (along with Graeme & Tessa Brown) were the original organisers of the race back in 2005 so we have been involved in the race for its first 6 years and it was nice to be able to race now that Jan Danilo has re-started the event.
While I often run with my Dad, this was the first time that we have seriously squared off in a race. Would Dad’s strength and experience give him the edge, or would my endurance be sufficient to beat him? We each have different terrain preferences and strengths - Cape Brett Challenge would be the proving ground. 

Dad and me at Whangamumu
The 4.5km of road at the start served as a good warm up and allowed the field to sort itself out before hitting the trails for the first climb over to Whangamumu Beach. Dad and I entered the track side by side but Dad dropped back once the ascent began. However, the clay downhill was a different story, with Dad soon flying past. This was to become a common theme. Just before the beach I passed Amy Campbell, New Zealand’s 24hr running representative, and moved into the lead of the women’s race. A high tide saw us all wading around the coast for a short section before the drink station.
1 ½ hours and several steep up and downs saw us at the turnoff to Cape Brett. From here it is 10km out to the lighthouse, the first 6km of which is a fantastic track to run. Moderately undulating and not very technical, this section lends itself to fast running (although it doesn’t seem like it on the way back!) and offers some spectacular views. Then it gets brutal.
For the first 20 minutes or so Dad was just ahead, fading in and out of sight. Meanwhile Greta Knarston, one of the country’s top female orienteers, had caught up and was threatening my lead. Focusing on racing meant I only caught glimpses of the sparkling views on both sides of the peninsula and it would have been nice to able to take some time and soak in the beauty. I was steadily moving up the field although Dad was well out of sight by the Deep Water Cove junction. This is where the real grunt begins; the last 4km to the cape offers breathtaking vistas matched by even more breathtaking climbs.
About 2km before the turnaround I met Vajin Armstrong on his way back to Rawhiti. A big gap and then a couple more runners came past. I was surprised to meet so few returning runners as I thought I was back near the middle of the field. All the front guys gave cheerful encouragement which helped to spur me on. Just before the last climb, where the track goes extremely close to the cliff edge, I caught sight of Dad only a couple of hundred metres ahead which also gave me a boost.
Arriving at the water station at the 3-hour mark just as Dad left, I wasted no time topping up my CamelBak and heading straight back up the hill. With Dad just ahead and Greta just behind there was no time for dilly-dallying. The 160m climb back past the lighthouse was pure torture – no breeze and in the full sun, having run 21km and with another 16km to go. I began to feel the effects of the heat, with my stomach a little upset and the thought of food becoming repugnant.
Although the track is very narrow, passing oncoming traffic was not a problem as everyone was very courteous. I was mostly on my own for the return journey although I did manage to pass a couple of people. Landmarks noted on the way out slowly ticked by but I was walking far more than I wanted. It seemed to be all uphill after the cape! By this stage my legs were tiring but I didn’t want to ease up as I couldn’t see how close Greta was. Instead of trying to catch Dad I was now focusing solely on retaining my lead in the women’s field. The SAR marshals at each junction were a welcome sight as they signaled the completion of another section.

1km to go!

 Hydration appeared to be going smoothly (although subsequent estimation shows I drank less than 2.5 litres during the whole race) but fuelling was well off track, only eating a couple of Gu chomps in the last two hours. A combination of heat, lack of fuel, and prolonged intense effort saw my heart rate maxing out and remaining sky high. My plan had been to go all out from the 6km to go mark, but instead I had to back off a little.
At the summit of Pukehuia, the highest (345m) and final hill, I unexpectedly caught up with Dad as he had paused to fill up his water. However, I knew I had no chance of staying with him on the long downhill unless he succumbed to cramp as he was prone to. We passed the last of the 10km walkers as we pounding down the hill and could hear announcements from the event base down below. Above Oke Bay with only 1.5km to go my hands and legs started tingling so I once again had to ease off to a walk to get my heart rate down and oxygen level up.
Hitting the tarmac at sea level meant one thing – the finish was just around the corner. This was my final chance to catch Dad, and for the final kilometre along the foreshore road I pushed hard but was happy knowing that Greta was no longer a threat. Rounding the last corner I heard Dad’s name being announced as he finished – one minute later I crossed the line with a huge grin on my face. I was thrilled with my time of 5:38:50 and was elated to be the first woman home!  

While the 37km Cape Brett Challenge is not the furthest I have run, it is by far the longest I have run at such high intensity. Apart from the 5km of road, the track is absolutely fantastic! Mostly not too technical single-track with lots of steep uphills, and despite the highest point being only 345m there is a staggering 2,500m of climbing over the 37km.

Going into the race I had three goals:
·         Finish in under 6 hours
·         Place in the top 3 women
·         Beat Dad
I well and truly achieved #1 and #2, but Dad managed to postpone #3 until next year . . .


-> Track start   24:23
-> Whangamumu drink station   26:32
-> Cape Brett turnoff   38:23
-> Deep Water Cove junction (out)  48:59
-> Deep Water Cove junction  (back) 1:37:36
-> Cape Brett turnoff   56:50
-> Rawhiti   45:44
Event Website
Event Photos


  1. How neat having your dad racing as well. Congratulations on winning the 37km event, thanks for sharing this blog. I want to do the 37k and you have shown me just how tough it is. Good luck with goal #3

  2. Thanks for sharing this great race report. Congrats on a great run and race result!