One of the problems when training for ultra-long events, is that you need to spend a lot of time on the road. Which means, unless you are inordinately blessed with a limitless supply of training routes and trails close to where you live, you are bound to end up traversing the same routes over and over. Using events as training runs is a great way to break the monotony, mix things up and keep your running exciting, but given the cost of many races in NZ, it also is one of the best ways to blow your budget faster than you can say “marathon”, as we dearly discovered during these past few months.
We have a small handful of training routes that we run most days. This lack of variety really is our own fault, because there are some great routes and trails in the wider Manawatu area – you just have to put in a bit of effort to find out where to go. And as it turns out, one of the greatest of these is less than 6kms from our home!
We’d known about the North Range Road for a long time (even doing a short, rainy run on the first part of the road way back in 2010), and always thought it could be a nice training route, connecting the Pahiatua Track to the Gorge Road near Woodville. We initially weren’t sure if it was a public road all the way across, but some basic research on the web convinced us this was indeed the case, so we kept telling ourselves “We should go run this route.” Yet it somehow never happened – mainly because it’s a point to point run, so you have to have a car on each side, or get someone to pick you up at the end, or some similar arrangement.
This problem was solved, recently, when friends of ours took up mountain biking and started exploring the routes in the region. We decided we would do the route together, leaving their car at the end and ours at the start.
North Range Road winds its way between the wind turbines jotted all along the northern end of the Tararua ranges, to the west of Woodhill and Pahiatua. Running between these majestic windmills is a great experience, and the views to all sides are amazing. Being quite exposed in places can result in some challenging conditions on a cold, windy or rainy day, but on a good day (as we had) it is an absolute joy, with views all the way to the snow-capped Mt Ruapehu to the north, Mt Taranaki to the west and the plains of Hawke’s Bay and the Wairarapa to the east. Running from the Pahiatua Track end towards Gorge Road also means that, despite some tough uphill stretches, the route goes mostly downhill, which makes the 20+ kilometres a lot easier. The last part of the route, going down Hall Block Road, includes some steep and gnarly downhills. As a friendly mountain biker who came past and slowed down for a chat accurately noted, “Those downhills will definitely sort your knees out!”.
If you run all the way from Pahiatua Track to Gorge Road, it’s a distance of approximately 24km, but we started about 3km down the track, resulting in an almost half-marathon run. Besides being a great training outing, it also allowed us to spend some more time getting used to our new hydration packs (still loving our Salomons!), and to continue fine-tuning our fuelling and hydration plans for the upcoming Tarawera Ultra. We used a combination of water, Starburst Jelly sweets (much nicer than many other jelly babies in that the different colour sweets actually have different tastes, and they have a nice touch of sourness to balance out the sweetness, helping avoid taste fatigue), Nuun electrolyte fizzies and Tasti Snack Logs (still our favourite solid food on a run). I even tried a Gu gel around the 15km mark to see how it would affect me – happily I experienced no adverse effects, but I don’t think it really gave me a huge lift compared to the jelly sweets either. We also took along a banana and a squeezy of baby food, but ended up not using any of these.
Aside from the undulating route and wonderful views, the best part of this run is that it ends right next to the Bridge Cafe, a lovely little rural cafe and restaurant, where we had a few ice-cold craft beers and a bowl of potato fries with our friends – a great way to end off a most enjoyable run. Apparently they also serve a mean wood-fired pizza on Friday nights, so we should definitely try that to cap off an end-of-week training run one of these days!