When last did you find yourself knee-deep in poo? Not that it is a prerequisite for this event, but if the opportunity presents itself, why not grab it with all four paws?
On Saturday afternoon we made the trip to Napier where we spent the night before the run in a backpackers. It was great to have Johann & Nettie joining us for this event and after a stout in a local pub, we quickly whipped up dinner and dashed outside to have a glass on the beach. The big bright moon created a beautiful white path on the water, disappearing on the horizon. It was a lovely evening outside, with no wind, and we briefly contemplated the likes of Ingrid Jonker who just walked into the sea, or Virginia Woolf walking into a river, never to come back. Geez it must have been cold and one would have to be really depressed to follow that white line to meet your fate.
On Sunday morning we made the trip to Havelock North to the start of the race on a cold but beautiful day. Still no wind, with a weak sun trying to clear away the last patches of mist in the valleys. Around 220 participants lined up for either the half marathon, 13km or 7.5km runs, which all started at the same time. Only two porta-loos were available at the start/finish, which made for very long queues and some people opting to rather go for paddocks, trees or bushes. There was also no support on the course so you had to be fully self-sufficient in terms of your nutrition and hydration. And to top it off, no marshals except for the one at the highest point, recording race numbers to keep track of the 21km runners. The general rule is that if you have an emergency, call 111 and then let the race organisers know you’re in trouble. 🙂
The start and finish as well as the biggest part of the course is on private land, in paddocks, on grass and on narrow cattle and sheep tracks. To spread out participants, the first few hundred metres (1km?) is up a hill, around a cement reservoir and back down to the start. After you make your way through the start a second time, you’re off to negotiate the hilly course for the next 20km. Gerry and I trotted along, trying to run the flat and downhill sections, while mostly walking the uphill bits. Gentle short inclines was still do-able on a trot, but for the most part the uphill bits were so steep, I found it hard to walk!
We jogged along in the paddocks on uneven grass surfaces, negotiating sheep, jumping gates and fences every couple of kilometres, when we arrived at a very muddy swampy patch that was trampled by cattle. I was on a roll by then, so didn’t want to wait in the queue or bother negotiating a “clean” crossing with all the other runners. On autopilot I just stampeded straight through and ended up on all fours, knee-deep in a mixture of mud and cow dung.
Cursing under my breath (okey, maybe not under my breath so much) about my muddy wet feet, we just kept on following the markers on single track, through a redwood forest, over hills, down valleys, through the Te Mata Trust Park, going up and down all the way. I knew then already that this run will have a lasting effect on my muscles. Some very scary sections on the side of hills had my a bit worried at times, but every now and again when reaching a clearing on a hill you were presented with beautiful views of the area. Then finally after more uphill sections we reached the highest point at Te Mata peak. A quick chat to the marshal and a selfie helped us catch our breath before we started descending on rather steep swithbacks. And as the marshal pointed out, it is mainly downhill from him to the finish.
Big was my surprise then when we encountered a very hilly section after crossing the redwood forest once more. Instead of just going straight through, I spotted markers towards the right that followed a nice little path going up a hill. And only when we reached the split in the road about a kilometre up the track, I realised that we’d been there before… The arrow markers were gone by then, but I clearly remember the Te Mata walkway signage at the split in the road. After more swearwords we started backtracking to the redwood forest trying to find the correct path. I guess if you’re familiar with the area you cannot imagine how anyone could get lost, but we did. And other first-timers also mentioned that the markers were sometimes so far apart that you start doubting if you’re on the right track.
By the time we made it back to the redwood forest quite a few runners had passed us and I was sure we were dead last. One gentleman ahead of us even insisted that we pass him, as he wanted to be last. Turned out, however, there were still about 10 participants behind all of us.
We finished in 3:11, having done about 23km. This course is tough as! But the scenery more than makes up for all the hard work. Once you reach the highest point, you have a 360 degree view of Hawke’s Bay with the sea to the one side and the lovely snow covered Mt Ruapehu to the other side. This is a really beautiful run in spectacular surroundings. We would have loved to do the whole series of 5 runs (which ensures you get all sorts of goodies) but we would have to miss at least one due to work.
The first thing I got at the finish was a beer courtesy of Zeelandt Brewery. A sausage sizzle and hot chocolate on the house rounded it off nicely. Not many people were around anymore by then and the organisers started to pack up and clear things away.
What a nice feeling when we reached home for a hot shower to wash away the cow poo and celebrate with a glass of bubbly. And as expected I was completely immobile in the days following the run. I can’t remember when last my muscles were so sore. Trail running truly is a different kettle of fish altogether. As the organisers pointed out on their website: “Best thing you can do to train for these runs is find some trails and tracks and start running on them. Practice on hills, a few more hills and once you’ve had enough on the hills, try and find some more hills. Splash through mud, jump in the puddles and scream wildly as you run downhills.“.