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.

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