Thursday, November 20, 2014

Tarawera 50k

Light drizzle was falling when I emerged from my tent early on Saturday morning. The forecast was for the weather to deteriorate through the day, but by 7:30am the drizzle had stopped. It was a short walk from my campsite to the start line at the Te Puia geothermal area. There was an air of excitement and anticipation, and the backdrop of erupting geysers and boiling pools was spectacular. The warmth from the steaming ground kept the morning chill away as we gathered beside the active Pohutu Geyser. A traditional Maori welcome was performed and then we were off. To avoid getting caught up in the congestion I picked a spot near the front of the field.

The first few hundred metres was through Te Puia, and I stole a few glances at the thermal activity around us. A nice piece of track soon brought us to the mountain bike park. After setting off at a fast pace I eased back here and settled into a comfortable rhythm. A lovely soft trail under the redwood trees then onto forestry roads. After quite a bit of gravel we turned off onto the Puarenga track beside the crystal clear stream (7km). More gravel roads, a couple of bush-bashing sections (one of which was rather steep!) and a long, steep haul up through a logged area to the Pondy Vista water station (12.5km). This climb was out in the open and I was extremely glad that it wasn’t sunny. From here it was a short drop down to the Green Lake aid station (14km).

Puarenga Stream

Just past here the marathon & 50km courses diverged, with the 50km runners heading along Mossy Track (very aptly named) and bush-crashing up to the top of the ridge and onto Woodstock Farm. We carried on through a few paddocks before being pointed straight down the hill to the valley floor. I took one look at the short grass covering the very steep slope and thought “this would be treacherous when wet – I’m glad it’s not raining”. One step later I discovered that it was indeed slippery, ending up flat on my back! The couple behind me also slipped and everyone I talked to afterwards had also come a cropper. Having reached the bottom we almost immediately had to climb back up to the ridgeline. Woodstock woolshed (21km) could be glimpsed in the distance and was reached sooner than expected. Descending back down into the valley was again all grass so I took the steep bits carefully. Once bitten twice shy. As we made yet another ascent on the farm we could see people beginning their climb up to the woolshed.

Woodstock Woolshed.  Credit: Chris Browne

Once back down to the edge of Green Lake it was flat almost all the way back to the Green Lake aid station (28km). Passing the marathon turnaround point marked halfway for the 50km runners and I was quite please to reach that milestone. Heading out along Green Lake I got a bit light-headed. The short climb up to Blue Lake was where I really started to struggle. A decent shower came through as I ran the 2km of tarseal through to the Buried Village, and it was actually nice and refreshing. The aid station (35km) was a good excuse for a rest and I took my time before carrying on. A short section through the Buried Village past a splendid waterfall, up a steep set of stairs, then across a deceptively deep stream crossing (mid-thigh).

Returning to Green Lake aid station
From here on the course followed the Tarawera Trail to Hot Water Beach. This track winds in and out along the lake edge with a few gentle undulations to Twin Streams (42km). I was more than ready to finish here but there was still a long way to go. The highest point on the entire course is in the last 4 kilometers! By this time I was feeling terrible – the only thing that kept me moving forward was the thought that the faster I went the sooner it would be over. My feet and legs were also complaining about spending so long on a hard surface so even the downhills weren’t fun. Don’t get me wrong – the trail itself was nice and flowing, surrounded by native bush – I was just having a bad day. Reaching the finish line was a great relief and I soon found my way to the hot water for a soak. My time was 6:40 hours, which was a little disappointing as I should have been a lot quicker. But sometimes it is the bad races that strengthen us.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Rodney Coast Challenge

Rodney Coast Challenge is Auckland's longest running multisport race. The event crosses the North Island from Muriwai Beach in the west to Wenderholm on the east coast with a 10km run, 30km road cycle, 25km mountain bike, and 8km paddle. I had done this race once before in 2012 and I am pretty sure I said afterwards that I wouldn't do it again. But of course I had to return now that it is part of the Auckland Multisport Champs.

It was quite a warm morning and there was almost no wind as we lined up on the beach. A couple of hundred metres of sand over the dunes then gravel roads for the rest of the run. As usual it took me 5km to warm up and get into my stride. The course is flat to start off with then becomes an undulating climb. For most of the run I was with Pam Smith, who said later that she was pacing off me. As I wasn't sure if there were any drink stations I took a camelbak with a little water because I wanted to stay well hydrated right from the start. As it turned out there were 2 water stops so I could have got away without a pack.

A quick transition onto the bike and a nice downhill for several kilometres to State Highway 16. As we turned onto the main road I managed to get on Luuk Batenburg's wheel, and then a few minutes later Pam came past. I managed to draft off Pam all the way to the top of the Kaipara Lookout hill (25km).

Swapped bikes at Makarau and headed off onto the 25km of gravel road which is the MTB leg. The road was extremely dry and dusty. I deliberately decided not to push hard on this section as I don't really like riding on gravel and I wanted to enjoy myself. No supporters were allowed over the course but the roads were still open to locals. Every time a vehicle came past I got a face (and eyes) full of dust and it was hard to see the road for a minute or so until the cloud settled. Noakes hill was a case of simply changing into granny gear and spinning away. Thankfully the bottom part was in the shade. I took the descents extremely carefully, as the corners are notorious for riders coming second best.

The tide was roaring out of the Puhoi River which made for a fast paddle. A slight headwind for the last couple of kilometers down the estuary. The shallows were hard to avoid and the biggest sandbank had to be crossed just before the beach - I hit the bottom a couple of times here. From the beach it was a 150m sprint to the finish line, stopping the clock at 4:15:53.

Event website