Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Hillary

The Hillary – 80km of pure Waitakere Ranges goodness from Arataki to Muriwai. 
Naturally I was keen to race in my training ground, and when photos4sale offered me an entry a month before I jumped at the chance. I have completed the Hillary Trail 3 times before but always in the opposite direction (Muriwai – Arataki). A time of 12 hours was my rough estimate but I was unsure how I would perform with the limited training I had done. Local knowledge was definitely a huge advantage and I can honestly say that I enjoyed every single step of the way.

The short 2km loop around the Arataki nature trail was a good warm up before getting on to the Hillary Trail proper down Slip Track. Generally I am pretty good at not starting out too fast, but the excitement was contagious and I had to keep reminding myself to just run my own race and take it easy for now. The urge to speed up was particularly strong when I could see Shannon-Leigh Litt ahead of me all the way along the gravel road to Hamilton Track. My rule of thumb was to ask myself if I would still be running up a slope like this in 3 hours time. If the answer was no then I slowed to a walk. As soon as we hit the track I passed Shannon, and also Reegan Absolum (15 years old) and Gerald Waters who stuck with me for the length of Hamilton. Gerald’s torch wasn’t working and Reegan’s torch died so they were glad of my bright headlight in front. Running in the dark was fun!

The first aid station at Karamatura was reached in 1:30 and Dad was there to quickly fill up my bladder and stock up my food. From the aid station it is up the Karamatura and the first of the big climbs and I changed down into low gear. Gerald caught me up at the top of Puriri Ridge and we ran together until Whatipu. The first couple of legs were very social with conversation flowing freely. Near the bottom of Puriri Ridge I got stung by a wasp on the back of my calf. It was a bit of a nuisance for the rest of the run but thankfully it didn’t swell up (until the next day). As we neared the final high point on Omanawanui track we could hear a loud buzzing. Initially I thought it must be a large wasp nest nearby but it sounded too mechanical and we realised it was the camera man’s quadrocopter flying above the ridge.

Omanawanui Ridge

Running into the Whatipu aid station the volunteers filled up my water while I grabbed a couple of bits of banana, although as far as food went I was pretty much self-sufficient. Heading up Gibbons Track I spotted a woman not far ahead (Bryony McConnell) and I gradually reeled her in. Reegan caught up to me on the steep descent of Muir track, and we ran together from here all the way to Piha. Crossing the Pararaha Stream provided some pleasant cooling relief. Here the course deviated slightly from the official Hillary Trail as the event was not allowed to go through the sand dunes at Karekare. I was happy about this because despite adding another gradual climb it avoided lots of sand running under the hot sun.

From Karekare it’s a steady climb up Comans track then a gentle run along the cliffs above Mercer Bay and along Log Race Rd and Piha Rd. I was still feeling pretty good although I could tell my legs were starting to get tired. A nice flowing downhill to Kitekite Falls followed by an easy track out to Glen Esk Rd and a kilometer or two of road to the aid station at Piha Beach. Dad was there to pass me more food and refill my water so I whizzed through the aid station. Mum told me that I was second woman so I headed out to Piha Beach with a smile on my face. Now I just had to maintain my effort for another 35km.

The sand along the beach was hard work and I think this took more out of my legs than I realised at the time. A quick toilet stop at North Piha before heading up the steep Whites track to Anawhata Rd. My legs were definitely tired now so I settled into a pace which was (relatively) comfortable. Regan came zooming past at the top and I thought that would be the last I would see of him. Turning onto Anawhata Rd I realised just how tired my legs were as I had to walk the very gentle uphill to Kuataika track. As I began the first long descent of the Kuataika rollercoaster my legs turned to jelly and I had to take it very carefully and slowly. It was nice to cool off crossing the Anawhata Stream before embarking on the climb up and over into the next valley. The long haul up the other side is always hard, but I was in a good frame of mind so it didn’t faze me. Houghtons track was quite a nice descent although I wasn’t running as freely was I would have liked. Hitting Lake Wainamu meant there was just a few km of flat to reach the aid station at Bethells. The stream was low so it was easy to run down the sandy streambed without getting shoes full of water and sand.

Above O'Neill Bay

While refilling my water at the aid station Mum asked how I was feeling. “I’m stuffed!” was my succinct answer. However, knowing this was the last leg was a great feeling and I headed off in good spirits. I spotted Reegan ahead on the climb up to the cliffs north of O’Neill Bay and every now and then as we wound in and out along the Te Henga walkway. From the clifftop it is a very satisfying feeling to look back all the way to Whatipu and ahead to Muriwai. Often this track seems to go on forever but this time I knew each twist and turn brought us closer to the end and my legs were feeling better all the time. As I came around one corner I was surprised to catch up to Reegan – he had stopped to chat to the video guy. The stairs up to Constable Rd were a welcome sight as they signaled the end of the Te Henga walkway and the final aid station.

With Reegan on Te Henga Walkway

No stopping this time and I simply grabbed some food off Dad and continued running down the road. The few kilometers of road were both a blessing and a curse: the even surface meant it was possible to get into a good rhythm and steady stride, but my feet were protesting about the constant pounding. Turning down the final track to Muriwai Beach I couldn’t stop smiling. A few hundred metres along the beach then up to the surf club. Once again I was surprised to catch up to Reegan – he and another runner had missed a turn. I crossed the finish line in 11:16:26, placing 2nd woman, and I was stoked! Completely stuffed, but stoked.


Jo Johansen (1st), Heather (2nd), & Bryony McConnell (4th)


Arataki – Huia
Huia – Whatipu
Whatipu – Karekare
Karekare – Piha
Piha – Bethells
Bethells – Finish

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Tarawera Ultramarathon

The Vibram Tarawera Ultramarathon is the pinnacle event on New Zealand's ultra racing scene. It's been on my list for several years and I finally got down to the event this weekend (albeit not racing solo). Several months ago I secured a spot on the Kori Kita Sportswear relay team thanks to Kate Townsley. I've had a couple of months off training due to injury so didn't mind too much to be running only 20km instead of the full 85km or 100km.

Cyclone Lusi, however, changed everyone's plans as the message went around at 6pm on Friday night that the course would be changed and shortened due to the atrocious weather and danger of falling debris in the forest. Instead of finishing at Kawerau, the run was now an out and back to Lake Okataina, finishing at Lake Okareka, with an optional 12km loop at the start. This meant the run was now 59km or 72km and the leg I had been going to do was cut out. Instead I was now running the Western Okataina Walkway from Lake Okareka to Lake Okataina (18km). I found this weather-induced course changed slightly ironic as the last event I did in the area (The Big O) also had to be changed on race day due to the weather.

The race kicked off before sunrise from the Redwoods just out of Rotorua with hundreds of headlamps bobbing off up the road. Kate ran the first leg for the Kori Kita team while Margo commentated as the first runners came back through the start line aid station after the initial 12km loop. Once Kate arrived Margo put down the microphone and headed onto her 18km leg wearing a pink sparkly tutu & tights. Kate and I drove around to Lake Okareka (the second change over point), stopping off at the water towers on the way to watch some of the runners pass through. The aid station was right on the lake front and the wind was whipping down the lake which, combined with the light misty drizzle now falling, made it rather chilly for those waiting around.

Once Margo appeared the transponder was quickly swapped and I headed off. The first 3km was road and gravel which served as a good warmup. The climbing began almost immediately but it was a fairly gentle gradient. After 17 minutes I reached the next aid station at the top of Millar Rd (this was the only one I would pass). From here on was nice single track which was interesting to run without being overly technical. Because I had fresh legs I was continually passing people and managed to run continuously for the first 50 minutes until a short steep section slowed me to a walk. The track kept working its way up and for the most part was runnable and slightly undulating, although I did walk several parts. This run was a training run for me, so I pushed fairly hard to see where I was at after a couple of months off and was pleased with my performance. The conditions were perfect for running - nice temperature, very light drizzle, and a dry track (at this stage!). I smashed out the long downhill towards the Okataina outdoor camp and from the junction which marked 3km to the camp I absolutely hammered it as I knew it was all downhill to the lake.

Running in to the aid station I looked around in vain for Kate but was told that we had to carry on along the Eastern Okataina Walkway before returning to the aid station to change over. This took me completely by surprise but I took it in my stride and headed back out without knowing how much further I would have to run (4km). This section of narrow single track was a little tricky as there was a steady stream of runners in both directions. Coming back into the aid station I still couldn't find Kate so I walked all the way through the station and back before spotting her. The only slight hitch was that our fourth runner, Tilly, was still in the toilets! After seeing Tilly off on her way back to Okareka, Kate & I headed back to the finish line. For a couple of hours we stood in the wind and rain watching runners finish and chatting to other people we knew. Eventually we were cold and completely drenched as the rain had set in and the wind was howling so we returned to our hotel for a spa and hot shower to warm up before going back to cheer on the last runners.

I had a fantastic run and really enjoyed it, doing about 22km in 2:16 hours. Considering I'd had almost 2 months off running I ran strongly and felt great. Look forward to returning in 2015 either as a relay or solo.

Team Kori Kita Sportswear
Margo, Kate, and me (missing Tilly)

A big thanks to Paul Charteris, all the organising crew and the volunteers who braved the storm for hours on end. Thanks also to Kori Kita for the relay team, and to Allan Ure from Photos4sale and the other photographers who subjected their equipment (and themselves) to the appalling conditions.

TUM website