In our buildup towards the Tarawera (I still get sleepless nights every now and again just at the thought that we’ve actually entered for this mammoth event), we opted to do the inaugural Karioi Classic trail run (a 44km run around Mt Karioi) which is luckily mostly just off-road and not very technical. The cycling event has been going for a few years, but this would mark the first running of the Karioi. Initially I was a little reluctant to enter, due to me maybe not being fit enough, Raglan being too far from Palmy and the event probably being to soon after our previous marathon. However, the race sounded so nice that we decided to do it anyway notwithstanding my trepidation – we desperately need time on the trails, and what better way to spent it than with like minded folk (although we were for the most part by ourselves on the trail). And there’s just something about an inaugural, isn’t there?
We arrived late afternoon the day before, picked up our race packs (T’s and all for the great entry fee of $65) at the Fire Station, and pitched our tent just before dusk. No sooner had we done that when the first of many showers nearly caught us off guard, as Gerry secured the last tent pegs.
As soon as we had the first break in the weather we dashed to the shower for a quick scrub-down before heading to the kitchen for a cook-up with some fried rice, leftover chicken, onion, green pepper, corn, tomatoes and chilli. My new found carbo-loading pre-race meal, washed down with a glass of pinot gris (promptly bringing our well intended Dry July streak to a premature end). You can’t run 44km and not celebrate with a glass or two!
Back in the tent with my warm water bottle on a very chilly night, we listened as the rain still came down in spurts. With a warm brew in the one hand and some chocolate brownies with raisins (freshly made from the new The Great NZ Cookbook – yum!) in the other, we just lay in the cosy warmth of our down sleeping bags, soaking up the blissful moment. Right through the night we could hear the lovely sound of raindrops on the tent canvas.
At about two in the morning, the volunteer fire alarm sounded only a few hundred metres from our tent, waking us with a start. Wide-eyed we tried to listen if we could hear anything more, but apart from the volunteer cars that came rushing to the station, the rest of the night was quiet. No mention was made of any fires afterwards, so here’s hoping it was nothing too serious.
In the morning it was still overcast but the rain had cleared. With tummies filled with yogurt, apple and muesli we walked the few hundred metres to the race briefing and start at the Fire Station. Twenty-seven individual runners signed up for the full 44km event, 9 teams took part in the relay and another 216 entrants completed the 57km ride (as individuals or teams). I overheard someone at the start saying that you don’t want any cyclist to catch you, and I soon found out why.
As the cyclists had a separate start at a later stage, we were very happy with the low-key countdown “three-two-ONE!” for the small field of runners without having to dodge 200+ cyclists. We could ease into a nice trot making our way out of town on a sealed road heading inland towards Mt Karioi. The hilly start quickly dispersed the throng of runners in a long single line winding over the hills. I realise we started and finished at the same place and hence the amount of uphills and downhills are exactly the same, but this run felt like we were going uphill for three quarters of the way and downhill for only small bits. On hindsight I suspect that the uphills were longer and more gradual, while the downhills felt shorter and sharper.
The beautiful sunrise above the hills shone from behind and made our shadows long skinny figurines in front of us. There was a bit of a nip in the air, but when the sun same through it instantly felt warmer. The winding road went up and up and turned into a gravel road after about 4.5km. I decided to don my Nontrail shoes for this event and after not too long was sorry I hadn’t put on my Montrial shoes for the occasion. Road shoes should be fine for the biggest part, I guess, but mine had 900+km on the clock and with shoddy soles that where not as supportive as it could have been, my feet got a bit tired from stepping on small stones and uneven terrain that were a feature of the run.
Roughly between the 13 to 15km mark the course were back on a sealed road with spectacular views across the foothills of Mt Karioi, surrounding countryside and the sea. At the 15km mark the transition point for the teams and another water table welcomed us. The route then winds over and through a farm for about 5km until you reach the 20km mark. Views of the snow capped Mt Taranaki on a clear day and the surrounding areas is enough to take away the last bit of breath you might still have left. The terrain for this stretch is made up of mainly grass and mud, which is quite tough going. Some cattle were looking at us sideways, probably having a joke at our expense.
After filling our water bottle and having a drink from the water station manned by three lovely young kids that were busying themselves with loom bands, making bracelets and all sorts of things, we took on the next stretch of gravel road from the 20km mark to about 36.5km. From about the 30km mark, cyclists started to come screaming past at speeds that can make your head spin, and I instantly regret not being able to have gone faster over the first part of the race in order to avoid dodging the downhill demons for the next ten kilometres. This water point and transition area is still fairly high up against the mountain meaning that most of the remaining course should be downhill, which it luckily was. The next 2.5km section (from about 36.5km to 39km) is on a sealed road again after which you turn onto a walking track at about the 39km mark with some steep downhill steps taking you to the beach.
Only 4km to go, but with 40km of uneven terrain already in my legs, I was admittedly finding the going a bit tough, but the scenery more than made up for any discomfort. It was a beautiful day and lots of people were on the beach, surfers riding the waves and it was just glorious to be out there, taking part in such an awesome event.
After our 2km stint on the beach, the final 2kms were on the grass surrounding the airport and landing strip, where the finish is. We could see the finish banners and flags in a distance, but it seemed far far away. As we approached the final 50 metres or so, the small crowd were cheering us on and Lisa and Dirk were waiting at the finish line to welcome us back. An epic ending to a lovely event. After replenishing our dehydrated bodies, we had just enough time to have a quick shower before the prize-giving.
And what do you know. Getting older has it’s perks! For the first time ever, I was a category winner, placing second in my age group, despite a rather slow time of 5:45. Both Gerry and I also received lucky-draw technical T’s and after a beer and sausage sizzle from the local school, we sauntered back to our tent for a well deserved bubbly and nourishing meal, watching the sun set over the sea.
A huge thank you to Lisa, Dirk and the team for staging such a wonderful event. Without the help of all the volunteers and folk like Lisa and Dirk, we would never get to experience these beautiful places, challenging ourselves and achieve great things. We are forever grateful for these opportunities.