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.
- 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
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)|
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.