Thursday, November 20, 2014

Tarawera 50k

Light drizzle was falling when I emerged from my tent early on Saturday morning. The forecast was for the weather to deteriorate through the day, but by 7:30am the drizzle had stopped. It was a short walk from my campsite to the start line at the Te Puia geothermal area. There was an air of excitement and anticipation, and the backdrop of erupting geysers and boiling pools was spectacular. The warmth from the steaming ground kept the morning chill away as we gathered beside the active Pohutu Geyser. A traditional Maori welcome was performed and then we were off. To avoid getting caught up in the congestion I picked a spot near the front of the field.

The first few hundred metres was through Te Puia, and I stole a few glances at the thermal activity around us. A nice piece of track soon brought us to the mountain bike park. After setting off at a fast pace I eased back here and settled into a comfortable rhythm. A lovely soft trail under the redwood trees then onto forestry roads. After quite a bit of gravel we turned off onto the Puarenga track beside the crystal clear stream (7km). More gravel roads, a couple of bush-bashing sections (one of which was rather steep!) and a long, steep haul up through a logged area to the Pondy Vista water station (12.5km). This climb was out in the open and I was extremely glad that it wasn’t sunny. From here it was a short drop down to the Green Lake aid station (14km).

Puarenga Stream

Just past here the marathon & 50km courses diverged, with the 50km runners heading along Mossy Track (very aptly named) and bush-crashing up to the top of the ridge and onto Woodstock Farm. We carried on through a few paddocks before being pointed straight down the hill to the valley floor. I took one look at the short grass covering the very steep slope and thought “this would be treacherous when wet – I’m glad it’s not raining”. One step later I discovered that it was indeed slippery, ending up flat on my back! The couple behind me also slipped and everyone I talked to afterwards had also come a cropper. Having reached the bottom we almost immediately had to climb back up to the ridgeline. Woodstock woolshed (21km) could be glimpsed in the distance and was reached sooner than expected. Descending back down into the valley was again all grass so I took the steep bits carefully. Once bitten twice shy. As we made yet another ascent on the farm we could see people beginning their climb up to the woolshed.

Woodstock Woolshed.  Credit: Chris Browne

Once back down to the edge of Green Lake it was flat almost all the way back to the Green Lake aid station (28km). Passing the marathon turnaround point marked halfway for the 50km runners and I was quite please to reach that milestone. Heading out along Green Lake I got a bit light-headed. The short climb up to Blue Lake was where I really started to struggle. A decent shower came through as I ran the 2km of tarseal through to the Buried Village, and it was actually nice and refreshing. The aid station (35km) was a good excuse for a rest and I took my time before carrying on. A short section through the Buried Village past a splendid waterfall, up a steep set of stairs, then across a deceptively deep stream crossing (mid-thigh).

Returning to Green Lake aid station
From here on the course followed the Tarawera Trail to Hot Water Beach. This track winds in and out along the lake edge with a few gentle undulations to Twin Streams (42km). I was more than ready to finish here but there was still a long way to go. The highest point on the entire course is in the last 4 kilometers! By this time I was feeling terrible – the only thing that kept me moving forward was the thought that the faster I went the sooner it would be over. My feet and legs were also complaining about spending so long on a hard surface so even the downhills weren’t fun. Don’t get me wrong – the trail itself was nice and flowing, surrounded by native bush – I was just having a bad day. Reaching the finish line was a great relief and I soon found my way to the hot water for a soak. My time was 6:40 hours, which was a little disappointing as I should have been a lot quicker. But sometimes it is the bad races that strengthen us.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Rodney Coast Challenge

Rodney Coast Challenge is Auckland's longest running multisport race. The event crosses the North Island from Muriwai Beach in the west to Wenderholm on the east coast with a 10km run, 30km road cycle, 25km mountain bike, and 8km paddle. I had done this race once before in 2012 and I am pretty sure I said afterwards that I wouldn't do it again. But of course I had to return now that it is part of the Auckland Multisport Champs.

It was quite a warm morning and there was almost no wind as we lined up on the beach. A couple of hundred metres of sand over the dunes then gravel roads for the rest of the run. As usual it took me 5km to warm up and get into my stride. The course is flat to start off with then becomes an undulating climb. For most of the run I was with Pam Smith, who said later that she was pacing off me. As I wasn't sure if there were any drink stations I took a camelbak with a little water because I wanted to stay well hydrated right from the start. As it turned out there were 2 water stops so I could have got away without a pack.

A quick transition onto the bike and a nice downhill for several kilometres to State Highway 16. As we turned onto the main road I managed to get on Luuk Batenburg's wheel, and then a few minutes later Pam came past. I managed to draft off Pam all the way to the top of the Kaipara Lookout hill (25km).

Swapped bikes at Makarau and headed off onto the 25km of gravel road which is the MTB leg. The road was extremely dry and dusty. I deliberately decided not to push hard on this section as I don't really like riding on gravel and I wanted to enjoy myself. No supporters were allowed over the course but the roads were still open to locals. Every time a vehicle came past I got a face (and eyes) full of dust and it was hard to see the road for a minute or so until the cloud settled. Noakes hill was a case of simply changing into granny gear and spinning away. Thankfully the bottom part was in the shade. I took the descents extremely carefully, as the corners are notorious for riders coming second best.

The tide was roaring out of the Puhoi River which made for a fast paddle. A slight headwind for the last couple of kilometers down the estuary. The shallows were hard to avoid and the biggest sandbank had to be crossed just before the beach - I hit the bottom a couple of times here. From the beach it was a 150m sprint to the finish line, stopping the clock at 4:15:53.

Event website

Monday, October 13, 2014

Kaimai Killer 60km

The Xterra Waihi Kaimi Killer is a tough 60km trail run with 2200m of climbing. There are 7 river crossings and a plethora of smaller side streams. I had been down 7 weeks earlier for a reconnaissance run, scoping out the first 40km loop. Back in 2011 the long course (20km) had been one of my first big trail races so it was quite nice to return to the event.

There were just over 20 crazy people lined up in the dark for the start of the ultra at 5am. It seemed like a sprint start across the 100m of grass as people vied for position before hitting the narrow single track. 2km of fairly flat trail along the river before getting to the first (and biggest) river crossing of the day. A short steep climb up through a kauri grove and then back down for another stream crossing. As we headed up out of the stream on the first long climb Kirstin Kowalewski passed me. We chatted for a couple of minutes and she told me that this was her first ultra so I wondered if I'd be seeing her again later on. Claire Akin-Smith also came past, but didn't get away. I could see her headlight ahead all the way through to Franklin Road. Once the climb was over there was about 1km of really nice smooth trail where I got into a good rhythm before turning off onto Deans Track, which was a bit rootier and slower. The birds were waking up and the sky was getting lighter as we emerged onto the farmland above Franklin Road. Turning onto the road I skipped the water station and headed up the Waitawheta valley. In fact, I didn't use any of the water stations at all during the race. By now it was light enough not to need headlamps as we were running through farmland but I kept my light on as I knew it would be much darker when we re-entered the bush. Soon we turned left off the main track and crossed the river onto Bluff Stream track. I caught up to Claire here and we pretty much ran together all the way through to the Waitengaue Stream (after Ananui Falls). The small undulations before the marathon / ultra split were the perfect chance to have a second breakfast. From the junction it is a good climb up to the highest point of the course. There are a few very steep pinches but on the whole it wan't too nasty. The next few kilometers through to Ananui Falls is really nice trail; technical but still mostly runnable, with gentle undulations. Near the falls the track passes through a large stand of rimu trees with not much undergrowth. No side trip to look at the falls today (but definitely worth it at other times). Claire was breathing down my neck all the way down to the next valley.

The section from Waitengaue Stream through to Waitawheta Hut is the most technical part of the whole course, and from my reconnaissance I expected this to take roughly an hour. I knew Claire was a little slower in the muddy, technical stuff and I managed to get away from her. At the 4 hour mark I passed the turnoff to Waitawheta Hut and set off on the 6km or so down the flat Waitawheta tramline track. Although this is a wide, flat benched track it required as much (or more) concentration than the single track as the path was cobbled with ankle-turning rocks. Turning off the tramline a couple of tramping parties came past and then I unexpectedly caught up to Kirstin. She looked like she was struggling so I put a burst in to overtake her and get out of sight. Now I was in 2nd place; I knew Shannon-Leigh was way ahead, but a podium place was mine to lose. It was an easy climb up past Daley's Clearing Hut (30km) then north towards where we had turned off on to Dean's Track early on and I was still feeling as fresh as a daisy. The first marathon runner zoomed past 1km above Daley's Hut, and it wasn't until the last river crossing that second place came through. Funnily enough the track back down into the river valley was just as steep and long as it had been when climbed up it at the start.

The loudspeaker at the finish line could be heard from over a kilometer away, and running along beside the river I could see competitors finishing the shorter courses. Passing back through the event base (40km) in 6:16 hours I heard them announce that the first ultramarathoner was just finishing. I still had 20km to go!
From here we followed the 20km course down the Waitawheta Pipeline track and around Mt Karangahake. Thanks to all the short course people who made way and offered encouragement as I went against the flow.

By the time I reached Karangahake Gorge my pace had slowed significantly. In hindsight I didn't eat enough in the middle part of the race. All the way up through Scotsman Gully and the gravel road to the water station was a mere walk. Once on Number 7 Level track the gradient eased off to a very gentle incline. Ordinarily the climb around the western flank of Mt Karangahake is easily runnable but now it was mostly walking interspersed with the occasional jog for a couple of minutes. It took me 15 minutes to reach the junction with Dubbo 96 track (47km). It was only now that the next marathoners caught up. Barry informed me that the next lady was only a couple of minutes behind and before long Claire came trotting past looking as if she was just out on a 10km afternoon run. In fact, she was running better than the handful of marathoners who had just gone past. The climb steepened as we neared the top, brightened by the discovery that I had more spare food than I realised. It was a long, long descent around the other side, much of which was in the hot sun. Reaching the water station again there seemed to be a merry picnic going on (ahem, Tago) and I downed my last gel. I don't know whether it was an instant boost from the gel or the relief of knowing that the hard parts were all behind me but I got my second wind as soon as I hit Number 7 Level track for the second time. 17 minutes back up to the junction then down Dubbo 96 track towards home. Dubbo 96 was a fantastic track to finish on! A nice fast, flowing downhill which was soft under foot but not muddy. No holding back now! One last 80m climb then it was down to the river and along the final few hundred meters to the finish. 9:13 hours after setting off I crossed the line in 3rd place. Thanks Claire for keeping me honest - you ran well and deserved second place.

Lessons learnt:
  • A good headlamp and night running practice come in handy when racing through the bush in the dark. I only had the former.
  • Eat, eat, eat! I don't normally have problems with fuel intake during races, but this time I certainly did not eat enough during the middle section of the race. I felt good and was still going strong so I fell into the trap of not eating when I knew I should.
  • Course reconnaissance is hugely beneficial. Knowing exactly what lies ahead makes it easier to decide when to go hard and when to back off. It can also be a huge moral booster if you roughly know how soon you will get through any tough parts.
  • Oh, and long training runs would also help!


Top of Deans Track
End of Franklin Road
Top of Ananui Falls
Waitawheta Hut turnoff
Daly's Clearing Hut
Top of Deans Track
Event base
Karangahake Gorge
Top of Karangahake Mtn track
Start of No 7 Level Track (2nd time

Allan Ure from Photos4Sale

Heather (3rd), Claire (2nd), and Shannon-Leigh (1st)
Event website

Several people asked how this course compares to the Hillary Trail. I reckon they are similar in terms of technicality but the HT has more climbing (even taking into account the extra distance). The main difference I found was that the HT is constantly up-down-up-down, the Kaimai Killer seemed to follow each big hill with some easy running. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

South Head Challenge

South Head Challenge is a short multisport event on the South Head of the Kaipara Harbour. It is run by the Waitemata Canoe & Multisport Club and once again I was involved in the organisation.

No proper race report this time, just a handful of photos.

11km kayak, 26km mountain bike, 10km run. I finished in around 3:40.

Lake Ototoa

Coming in to land

Monday, September 22, 2014

Xterra #7 - Hunua

Quote of the day #1: "I would be more aerodynamic if I kept my mouth shut but I just can't stop smiling" ~ Michael Hoogeveen (I believe) about 4km in.

Quote of the day #2: "There's always one more uphill" ~ heard halfway along Pukapuka track.

XTerra Hunua (SuperLong) is a race of two halves. The first 10km is flat(ish) mtb tracks and gravel roads and the second half is grunty bush tracks. The weather forecast was for heavy showers and for once it was actually correct. A cold shower rolled through just after 8am, but the sun broke out just in time for race start at 9am. Another couple of bouts of rain throughout the morning kept everything damp (and the carpark marshals busy afterwards pushing cars out of the muddy field).

The first 10km of the SuperLong course is mostly on well-formed MTB tracks and gravel roads and is fairly flat and fast. This is the only one out of the 7 Xterra races which did not start with an uphill! As we gathered for briefing Ben Frith asked if "The Midget" was racing today. Like many other people, Ben mistakenly assumed that Reegan Absolum is my brother because we are both short, fair-haired, young trail runners. The pace was hot right from the get-go and I went out uncharacteristically hard for me. After a couple of hundred metres of road it was onto windy gravel MTB tracks with small undulations. I was going well for the first 4km but then it was as if someone flicked a switch inside my head. Suddenly my mental muscle was exhausted and I found myself walking even the gentle hills. I tried to talk myself around to running strongly again but to no avail. My body was saying that it was already dealing with enough stress & tiredness and didn't want any more. In the end I simply resigned myself to not racing and instead determined simply to finish. It was hard watching everyone fly past. A slow trot was all I could muster even on the flat.

A long, flat gravel road brought us to the second water station at the bottom of the National Downhill MTB track. With a name like that it was obvious that the climb would be long and steep. It was raining by now and on the way up I chatted with Sharon from Orewa which helped to pass the time. Once at the top it was across the road and onto the notorious 6km long Pukapuka track. Normally I would relish a good technical bush track like this, but not today. Every now and then we could hear the loudspeakers at the event base way down in the valley. Several people were glad to have their compulsory raincoats as it was a bit cool up in the cloud if you were not moving particularly fast. There was the odd glimpse out to the Firth of Thames or east toward Hunua, but mostly just dense bush.

The track seemed to go on and on (and up and up) and the crest of each climb promised to be the last. With great relief we eventually broke out into the open and could see down to the Upper Mangatawhiri Reservoir. The water level was surprisingly low, but nonetheless it showed that the end was nigh. I stopped for a swig of Gu at the final water station at the top of Lilburne Rd then it was steep gravel road down to the dam. As we crossed the dam and passed the 1km to go marker, the guy in front of me suddenly stopped dead in his tracks with a bad case of cramp. A long 3:45 hours after starting I finally finished the 22km course. I had hoped to finish the Xterra series on a high note but not everything in life goes according to plan.

Thanks Brent for sharing your chips with me at the finish. Just what I needed!

Event website

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Legend

They say curiosity killed the cat. It also killed my calves.

Marathons are often regarded by non-runners (and many runners) as the pinnacle event of running and having never completed an official marathon before I thought The Legend marathon would be a good opportunity to fix this omission. I was curious to see what a road race was like compared to trail running - I know I am not fast on the road, but how hard could it be? After all it is only 42km. The Legend course follows the famous training route of Sir Arthur Lydiard from New Lynn, up West Coast Road through Waiatarua, and down Scenic Drive.

Cycling 4km from home to the start line was a perfect warm up. The heavy rain overnight had cleared but the cloud was hanging low around the treetops. We set off at 6:30am and I was surprised by the comfortable pace with which most of the pack started out. I had expected to be spat out the back fairly quickly. The first 7km loop along Portage Road, Margan Ave, Titirangi Road, and Golf Road was extremely familiar territory as my usual morning run covers much of the same route. My game plan for the day was to run conservatively, especially on the downhills, as I knew from training that my ankles and calves were going to take a pounding. 41 minutes saw me back on Portage Rd after the 7km loop.

Assembling at the start line

Back along Margan Ave and over to West Coast Road. There was a bit of traffic through Glen Eden so all the intersections required care. My left calf started to feel a bit niggly along here. It had been very sore after my two long training runs so I nursed it carefully for the next few kilometres. As each 2km marker was passed I amused myself by calculating what proportion of the race was left (and other trivial statistics). As we started the long climb up to Scenic Drive I chatted to a couple of other runners; one of whom was a road runner but didn't know the course, and the other was a fellow local first-time marathoner. We settled in for the long haul and steadily climbed up through the cloud. The steep pinch just before Forest Hill Road was a good opportunity to ease off to a walk and take a gel.

Old Titirangi Road (about 4km in)

After 2 hours the top of West Coast Road was reached and we turned left onto Scenic Drive (20km) and were able to stretch out our legs on the gentle descent. Along Scenic Drive I ran with Graeme from the Wairarapa who had traveled up especially for the event. It was nice to be surrounded by native bush but unfortunately we were still in the cloud so there were no scenic views from Scenic Drive. Not much traffic along this stretch (which was nice) just the occasional car, often supporters. The gravel of Exhibition Drive provided a welcome relief from pounding the tarmac and gave the feet a bit of respite. Going out and back to each end of Exhibition meant a chance to see many of the other runners, including several familiar faces. This is the first time I have ever considered the flat part of the course to be the most enjoyable!

Heading over to West Coast Road
(on Croydon Road, 10km)

I ate half a banana while walking up Shaw Road back to Scenic Drive. The sun had briefly broken through the cloud but the first of several showers rolled in just as we hit the road. From here there are just a couple of undulations and then it is all downhill and flat to the finish. The steep descent down Godley Road was hard on the legs and I reined my stride in to minimise the pounding. Reegan gave me a high-five out the car window as they were driving home up the hill. The road through Green Bay is dead straight so you could see almost to the finish. Time for one last effort for the final 2km. I crossed the line in 4:05 hours. My anticipated time was 4:20 so I was quite happy with my time. The gentle cycle home loosened up my legs a little but couldn't shake the tightness out of my calves and ankles.

Thanks to Photos4Sale for the opportunity to race. I am glad to have done The Legend and put another tick on my bucket list, but my curiosity about road racing has been well and truly satisfied.

A big thanks also to the air cadets who were out marshalling all morning. The smiles and encouragement at all the intersections were much appreciated. Cheers from the supporters all around the course made me smile (especially the YMCA ladies with their red wigs!).

Event website


My worst running blister ever.
I've run in the same shoes & socks countless times and never had a problem before.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Xterra #6 - Riverhead

The rain drumming on the roof on Saturday night boded a miserable race day, but by dawn the rain had eased to light drizzle. This made for a perfect running climate but also meant that Riverhead was resplendent in its full muddy glory.

The crowd at the start line seemed smaller than usual and as we set off there seemed to be less congestion than the first race at Riverhead three months ago. The course began with a short section of gravel before heading into single track. At Riverhead single track pretty much means clay, and clay plus rain equals lots and lots of mud. Slippery mud, sticky mud, thick mud, sloppy mud, puddles of mud - the works. The downhills proved quite entertaining as grownups slithered around like toddlers on an ice rink. There were plenty of spectacular tumbles! Chris Hope claimed that he found the descents easy because it was simply "controlled falling". Personally, I tend more toward 'controlled' rather than 'falling' but there were plenty who appeared well acquainted with the latter.

The 4wd roads had numerous large vehicle-size mud puddles which I diligently avoided as there was no telling how deep they were. The gravel roads were simply a necessary evil and as usual lots of people passed me on these sections. Thankfully these road stints were shorter than I had been expecting from the map. Malcolm Law caught up just before halfway and we had a bit of a chat before embarking on a game of leapfrog which continued all the way to the finish. One thing which I have enjoyed about the Xterra Series is the feeling of camaraderie which develops from running with some of the same people at each race, most of whom I don't even know by name.

The course was mostly runnable (apart from a few slippery uphills) and I really enjoyed it. Definitely seemed to be a nicer course than the first Xterra race at Riverhead. I ran at a comfortable long distance pace, picking up the intensity a little over the last 7km. 2:12 for a muddy 21km was a morning well spent.

Photos thanks to Photos4sale

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Waihi Reconnaissance

Spent a glorious day in the bush near Waihi today running 40km of fantastic bush tracks as reconnaissance for the XTerra Waihi 60km in October.

Emma, Heather, and Claire

The first of many river crossings

Nearing Franklin Road

At the edge of Ananui Falls.

160m straight down!
Ananui Falls

Looking out towards Matakana Island.
(Mt Maunganui on the far right)

Daly's Clearing Hut

Click here for a map of our route