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.