Sunday, June 29, 2014

Xterra #3 - Woodhill

I should have known better. When walking to the start is painful, it might be a good idea not to race 23km. Last weekend I somehow injured my foot, and then aggravated it running in the Waitakeres on Saturday. Nevertheless I was determined not to pull out of Xterra Woodhill. Call it stubbornness, stoicism, or just downright stupidity.

As always, the long (19km) and superlong (23km) courses started together at 9am. The wide, sandy Inland Road was a perfect way to spread out the field and it was firm underfoot and the few bits of mud were easily avoided. Soon it was onto the single track where the open pine forest provided plenty of passing opportunities. Roughly 4km into the race was the long/superlong split, with the superlong runners heading out for a 4km loop up a gravel incline and back down a flowing sandy singletrack. This was the only real hill on the whole course! The course was relatively flat although there were plenty of small undulations.

We rejoined the long course at the 9km mark and from here the trail wound in and out through the pine forest for several more kilometres before turning and heading for home. I enjoyed running on the sandy tracks carpeted with pine needles as the sand wasn't loose and it made a nicely cushioned surface. My foot was getting more and more sore as time went on and by the water station at 15km I was running with an extremely uneven gait, chasseing downhill instead of running.

The final 5km was very flat and should have been very fast, but I was forced to stop and walk frequently which was rather frustrating as normally I finish strongly. The weather was brilliant for running; overcast and a perfect temperature with just a hint of breeze. This was a neat, fast course and I wish I could have done it justice.

Event website
Photos by Photos4sale

Monday, June 23, 2014

Maungatautari Mission

Maungatautari Mission is a multisport race near Cambridge comprised of a 32km road cycle, 15 km run, 12km road cycle, and 10km paddle. This is one of my favourite multisport courses.

I have to credit Maungatautari Mission for discovering my passion for trail running. Back in 2010 I did the event (my 2nd ever multisport race) and absolutely loved the steep, muddy and rooty run leg. That's when I decided that I was a runner.

This year I trialled a new training scheme: reverse tapering. The idea is simple - take it easy for several weeks (months!) then cram in a few intense training sessions during the week before the event. For added benefit, decide to enter only 2 days beforehand. Better still, decide that you are not doing the race then change your mind at the last minute!

It was fairly mild when we arrived at registration although there was light fog about. The race starts with a fast and flat road cycle with bunches forming fairly quickly. Woe betide those who are left to go it alone. The gun went off but my cold legs refused to sprint to stay with the bunch. Luckily within a few hundred metres I was passed by the DC Ducks traverse team and I managed to hold their wheel for the entire 32km.

The first transition was at the top of Tari Road by the pest-proof fence surrounding Maungatautari Mountain. Apparently this is the world's longest pest-proof fence! A slick transition into running gear and I was off up the trail. Dad reckoned that there were 5 women ahead of me at this stage. As far as I can remember I haven't done any bike/run sessions this year so it took a while for my legs to shake into running properly. Right from the start I was picking people off, and this was to continue all the way to the top. The climb begins fairly gently on a gravelled track but before long we reached the old trail in all its glory. This track is narrow and rooty and before long gets really steep. And I mean steep! In several places you even have climb up roots like a ladder. It eases off a bit on reaching the rocky Pukeatua peak (753m) and the next 2.5 km to the summit (797m) gradually get muddier and muddier. The big mud holes indicate the final few hundred metres. I caught up to a bunch of people here and took the opportunity to pass them by charging straight through the mud. Descending from the summit is even muddier and just as steep and rooty. Part way down we passed a group of trampers coming up, and one of them evidently recognised me from the Double Rainbow last weekend and commented that "You're racing this weekend as well!". We were in the cloud almost the whole way over the mountain and it was fun running through the dripping bush as everything felt so fresh. It was also nice to hear the tuis singing and I even saw a tomtit beside the track. Eventually we were spat out onto the gravel perimeter road, then down a couple of paddocks for the last 3km down Hicks Road. Just as I reached the road I passed another woman whom I correctly guessed to be Rachel Cashin.

I knew I'd had a good run, but when I arrived at the transition Dad told me that he hadn't seen any other women come through and encouraged me to put everything I had into the last couple of stages. Jumping onto the bike for the short ride to Lake Karapiro I had to keep reminding myself to ignore my sore muscles as I didn't have to save my legs for anything else.

The kayak was where I struggled the most. Right from the start I had weed caught around my rudder, and despite stopping to clear it 3 times over the 10km there was simply so much weed floating around that very soon my rudder would be fouled up again. I focused on putting power into each stroke but by halfway I was beginning to fade. At any time I expected to be overtaken by Rachel but I found out later that she had been held up at the run/bike transition with a flat tyre. With less than 2km go to, Rachel finally came zooming past and I watched as she hit the beach and ran up toward the finish. I followed suit and crossed the line in 5:02:19, less than a minute and a half after Rachel. Shanel Cornielle had beaten us by over 20 minutes but I was elated to get 3rd place.

Did my 'reverse tapering' work? Yes. 
Would normal training have worked better? Probably. 
Did I have fun? Absolutely!

Thanks to Richard Clark from the Boatshed Cafe for organising the race and getting it back on the calendar. Also thanks to Kevin Deane Harcourts for supporting the event.

Race website

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Double Rainbow

The Double Rainbow 46km is a double figure of 8, with a bit extra at each end. The middle part of the 8 is at the summit of Rainbow Mountain (743m) meaning a total of 4 ascents!

Thanks to the Emerald Spa Motor Inn and photos4sale, my parents and I spent Friday night at a swish motel in Rotorua where we were welcomed by a handful of small earthquakes around 8pm. Saturday morning was crisp and clear, but not quite frosty at the Lake Okaro event base as we watched dawn breaking gently on one side and the full moon setting on the other.

A small, eager bunch gathered at the start line for the 46km run. The first 5km over farmland was a bit chilly to begin with as it was exposed to the gentle southerly breeze, but we soon dropped out of the wind and quickly warmed up. Right from the start I was feeling great and knew that this was going to be a fantastic day out running. A short bush section around the southern end of Lake Okaro then back onto paddocks and farm roads. Parts of the road were and inch or two deep in mud and cow muck! Through the underpass beneath State Highway 38 (Waikaremoana Road) and a bit more farmland before hitting the forestry road at the base of Rainbow Mountain.

A short blast along the gravel road and onto the twisting bike trail around to the western side of the mountain. Richard the timekeeper greeted us at the start of the ascent, and we knew that from here it was a stiff climb to the summit. Mirjam van den Boom had been sitting within sight behind me right from the start, and a couple of minutes into the climb she came zooming past. I briefly toyed with the idea of keeping up but realised the attempt would be futile. The gradient wasn't too bad (apart from a couple of short pinches) and was all runnable although I did walk quite a bit. It was neat running through the geothermal areas on the side of the mountain, with steam rising from the vents (one or two right beside the track) and the occasional whiff of sulphur. My nutrition plan was to eat a muesli bar and a couple of Gu chomps on each ascent, and this seemed to work well.

At the summit with Mt Tauhara in the distance

I didn't stop at the summit aid station (15.5km) but immediately turned around and headed down the nice flowing mountain bike track. You could clearly see Mt Tauhara and the steam rising from the geothermal fields between there and Rainbow Mountain. Apparently Ruapehu was also visible, but I didn't stop to look long enough to make it out. Frost was on the ground when we reached the Kerosene Creek valley on the southern side of Rainbow Mountain. It was a strange experience to be running through the frost and cold air and suddenly hit a pocket of warm air from a nearby geothermal vent. It took me just on an hour to run the 7km loop back to the summit aid station (22.5km).

This time instead of taking the track down we ran down the steep gravel road, now with views to Mt Tarawera and the myriad lakes, and around to where we first had popped onto the forestry road from the paddocks. One lap done. The 17km mid-pack runners were exiting the farm as I arrived, and from here to the summit I was passing people from the shorter courses. Part way up my third ascent I was overtaken first by Chris Morrissey who was leading the 46km and a few minutes later by Matt Parsonage as they tackled the mountain for the 4th and final time. That means they were 7km ahead of me!

At the summit this time (32.5km) I paused to fill up with water before hitting the downhill mtb track again. This hill shattered what was left of my legs and it was a struggle to run the flat section through the Kerosene Creek valley. Whenever I came to anything which was ever so slightly inclined upwards my legs would try to convince me to walk; "It's uphill - you can walk now. Come on, give us a break". Mostly I managed to resist giving in but I did yield on a few occasions.

Final climb

I was glad to see Richard for the last time (not that I have anything against him personally) and begin the final climb to the top of Rainbow Mountain. Each ascent felt slower than the last but by now I knew the knew the landmarks of the track and could tick them off as I passed by. After checking in at the summit (39.6km) it was all downhill to home (well, at least mostly downhill) so I didn't need to save my legs anymore. I smiled as I passed another runner who was very aptly wearing brightly coloured rainbow socks. The final 4km back along the farmland seemed to drag on for a long time before we hit the walkway around the top of Lake Okaro to the finish. I reached the pot of gold at the end of the Double Rainbow in 5:36:11, placing 3rd woman. The course was fantastic and had a great mix of farmland, gravel roads and single track, being  interesting but not overly technical. I felt strong the whole way and had one of my best runs since The Hillary.

Race director Shaun Collins, Kovo Kowalewski (1st), and me (3rd)

Start of the 46km

Thanks to Lactic Turkey for another fantastic event, and to photos4sale and the Emerald Spa motor inn for a fun weekend away.

Event website

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Xterra #2 - Shakespear

Watching the sun rise behind Little Barrier as I drove along the Whangaparaoa Peninsula was a great start to the day. I was looking forward to exploring somewhere new as I have no memories of Shakespear Regional Park. Arriving in plenty of time I collected my race number then took a stroll along the beach – it was so peaceful and fresh.

The Long and Super Long courses set off at 9am, heading back up (steeply!) the road for 1km before veering into the paddocks and climbing to the crest of the park. Here we got the first of many breathtaking vistas, looking out towards Auckland City and Tiritiri Matangi Island. Descending through Waterfall Gully was very pretty and the gravel track was the closest thing to single track all day.

Hitting the beach at Army Bay marked the beginning of the coastal section. From here the course follows the shoreline for 10km all the way around the headland. I knew there was a component of coastal running but underestimated the length of it. The rocks started out nice and easy but gradually got trickier, making it hard to take in the views out to sea. Sometimes we were running parallel to the layers of the reef, sometimes at right angles, and at other times it was all just a jumbled mess. I had fun around the coast but dropped way back in the field. As we neared the end there was a short section which required wading. It was only knee deep – unless you lost your footing on the submerged rocks as I and many others did. This was the highlight of my run! Eventually we reached the beach at the event base and the Long course headed inland while the Super Long carried on for a bit more coasteering to the next bay. This included another wading section which was waist deep if you were careful and swimming if you were not!

Then it was back over the hill to the event base, now passing the mid-course walkers. However we still weren’t finished yet. A grunty climb brought us to the highest point of the park and we were rewarded with panoramic views. The short course runners could be seen snaking along the ridgeline not too far away and the runners in front of us could be seen heading back towards the finish. A loop up high around the seaward end of the headland brought us back to Te Haruhi Bay for the final time and a sprint along the beach to the finish.

Photos by photos4sale
Event website

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Ruahine Ranges

Queen's Birthday weekend tramping trip in the Ruahine Ranges

We left Auckland at 6:30am on Friday to drive down to the Ruahines, arriving at 1pm. A three hour climb through farmland and beech forest brought us to Purity Hut, situated just above the bushline.

Purity Hut
Saturday dawned clear and cold, with a heavy frost on the ground (which remained all day in shady areas). Fantastic views from Purity out to Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe, and even Mt Egmont in the distance. From the hut it was a gentle climb along the ridge to Iron Peg where we dropped our packs for a short excursion out to Mangaweka Trig (1731m), the 6th highest point in the North Island. From Iron Peg we continued southeast along the ridge before dropping down a spur and picking up the steep track down to Pourangaki Hut. Fairly straight forward apart from an eroded section on the ridge where we had to gingerly sidle across steep thin, frozen scree with a nasty runout. When we were nearly at the hut I went ahead to dump my pack then went back to find the others who arrived just after dark. 9 hour day.

Mt Ruapehu & Ngauruhoe on the skyline

On top of Mangaweka

Karearea (NZ Falcon)

Pourangaki Hut

Tired bodies demanded a lie in on Sunday morning so departure wasn't until after 9am. We headed to Kelly Knight Hut via the Pourangaki River, which according to Malcolm's research was easy river travel. Some 4 hours and 44 river crossings later we emerged onto the track near the hut. We managed to avoid going deeper than mid-thigh although a couple of the crossings had very strong currents. Lots of rock scrambling and route finding (and the odd bit of bush bashing) provided an interesting challenge and despite the freezing cold water and numb feet it was quite exciting. We were lucky to find a patch of sunshine for 20 metres halfway down, but apart from that we were in the shade the whole way. What better way to spend the first day of winter than spending 4 hours travelling down a river?

Starting down the Pourangaki River

Kelly Knight Hut

I decided to try Dad's bivvy bag and slept outside under the stars

A leisurely morning on Monday followed by a 2 1/2 hour walk along the sidle track back to the carpark. We were extremely fortunate with the weather, having cloudless blue skies all weekend and hardly a breath of wind.