Lining up on the road at Rawhiti I decided to tactically start right near the front despite knowing that lots of people would soon pass me. The 4km of road serves as a good warm-up and I started off reasonably quickly but conservatively. The road seemed to pass fairly quickly and we soon turned off onto the Whangamumu track and crossed the farmland to the first climb of the day. At this stage I was leading the women's field but the others were breathing down my neck. Heading over to Whangamumu Bay is nice bush and a smooth track but I ended up walking up several sections. A fast, flowing downhill to the beach then along the foreshore (thankfully the tide was out this year) and over to the drink station at the whaling station.
I stopped to fill up with water and fumbled around trying to do up my bladder taking longer than usual to get everything done up correctly and on my back. This rattled me a little as several other women went past, but really it was just an indicator that I was feeling the pressure. This race was my first experience at being a defending champ and despite my attempts not to place any added expectations on myself I was struggling to handle the pressure. All the way from the drink station over to Te Toroa Bay and up to the Cape Brett turnoff I wrestled with an internal dialogue over readjusting my expectations of the race and letting go. I'm much happier being the underdog.
Light drizzle started when I was above Te Toroa and gradually got heavier, although it didn't turn into real rain. It was just enough to make parts of the track a bit greasy, especially the descent down the the creek before the Deep Water Cove junction which is normally a hard, fast bit of track. The showers cleared before I reached the lighthouse but after the roasting day we had last year the cloud cover was very welcome despite obscuring the spectacular views.
Once I gained the ridge and turned right onto the Cape Brett track I found my rhythm and flew along the nicely undulating track passing several people. The further along the peninsula you go the steeper the hills get (or so it seems). At the first compulsory walk zone, about 1.5km from the turnaround, I met the first two runners only a few seconds apart as they headed back towards Rawhiti. At the top of the hill above the lighthouse, returning runners told me that I was in 3rd place, less than 4 minutes behind the first woman. I charged down the 200m grass hill and caught Mary McBride at the turnaround while Billie Marhsall was already halfway back up the hill. My plan had been to fill up with water at the hut but because the day was cooler than last year I hadn't been drinking as much so still had plenty of water left so decided to wait until the water station at the Deep Water Cove junction (new this year). Mary and I slogged back up to the lighthouse together and I passed when she slowed for some food. I caught sight of Billie at the walk zone on the cliff edge but that was the last I saw of her. A little later Vicki Woolley said I was only a minute behind so I kept pushing for a little while but by the deep water cove turnoff I relinquished the chase as Billie was stretching her lead. I topped up my water here and kept going steadily. By this stage I was a little hungry so I took the opportunity of the climb out of the next creek to have a good bite to eat. Refueling had been going pretty much to plan (much better than last year!) but my stomach was feeling a little empty.
The track on the way back from the lighthouse seemed more gentle and runnable than on the way out but tired legs didn't make it any easier. A ligament in my foot was also becoming painful and making it hard to keep a proper stride. The few kilometres back to the Cape Brett turnoff was simply a case of keeping a steady effort - I decided not to redline my heart rate like I did last year. The turnoff marks 6km to go - 2km of steep uphill before a steep 3km descent and a final kilometre of road. Looking at my watch I realised that I wasn't going to beat my time from last year but I simply had to accept that. The tail enders of the 17km course were still climbing up to Pukehuia summit and I caught another long-course runner near the top. The track down from the water station is very steep and even on tired legs it was a fast and fun descent, albeit hard on the legs. Roughly halfway down I caught up to Kelly Holland but when he realised I was just behind him he put the hammer down to stay ahead. Hitting the steps down to the road at Oke Bay signalled the final kilometre on road back to the finish and I picked up the pace but still couldn't quite catch Kelly. I crossed the line in 5:46:42, nine minutes behind Billie and eight minutes slower than last year.
50:54 Whangamumu drink station
46:49 Cape Brett turnoff
48:17 Deep Water Cove junction
56:26 Deep Water Cove junction
55:06 Cape Brett turnoff
3 Tararua biscuits
6 Gu chomps