In what seems like an age ago Paul and Tim of the Tarawera events fame announced the inclusion of the Tikitapu 16km and 23km Adventure Run into this years Tarawera Marathon and 50km event. Given the choice of running the Auckland half marathon or a new trail race the decision was simple one.
While my mates decided on the Auckland Marathon, I just couldn’t bring myself to pound the pavement, push and shove with the masses, or pay the excessive entry fee ($140!!). So it was an easy decision to sign up to my longest run and race ever, not just a half marathon but what I’ve dubbed an Ultra Half Marathon (#ultrahalf). That, as it turned out, was pretty much the only easy part of the event.
Before I launch into the event, I must apologise for not writing something up sooner. Since the race work and life has been a special type of crazy. Plus thrown into the mix was my first attempt at putting on a small race; but more on that in a later post.
Once the call to compete was made and the girls booked in with their Grandparents, I was really looking for what was going to make it an “adventure” race. Being almost entirely new (there was a Tikiapu race last year which shared some of the course), no one really knew what to expect and there was no bench mark times.
Unfortunately, like a huge number of people, it was with a heavy heart that we headed to Rotorua after hearing the sad news of Steve Neary’s passing only a few days beforehand. Steve was one of those once in a lifetime guys, an absolute legend of the trails; Completing the first ever double Hillary Trail, running both the 50km Tarawera and 34km Hillary in a skeleton morphsuit, and cheering on thousands of runners at the Xterra Series over the years. I’d only chatted a half doz times with Steve but his enthusiasm was contagious. I chose to wear a black arm band on the day
With rain threatening it was a chilly start to the day, but with the race starting next to Pohutu Geyser the waves of steam helped to warm things up while we waited. After a Māori welcome we were set loose first through the Te Puia, and then into the Redwoods Forest. It wasn’t long before 7km was up and it was time for one of the signature features of a NZ Trail Runs event; the Puarenga Nice! aid station or more like aid buffet. It was here that we parted way with the 16km runners, where it started to rain, and where we began to climb (and continue to climb for the next 10+km).
After the water stop at Pondy Vista it was our time to break off and continue our climb. It’s about this point that the field settles and you meet your new friends and leap frog partners for the rest of the race. My new friends for the day were Tania and Chelsea, who were both unbelievably on their first ever trail race – and what a race to pick!
A few k’s after the split there was an ominous sign proclaiming that the trail ended and the adventure began. I don’t think anyone really knew what that meant, but we would soon find out what they had in store. Guided by little pink ribbons, plastic tape and the muddy path left by those quicker than us we scrambled, clawed and swore our way up the hills. Somewhere around 17km I wrenched my knee, aggravating a niggle I’d picked up the week before. This slowed me down on the up hills as I struggled to push off my right leg.
It was either the torturous route, limited GPS coverage or a miscalculation on the behalf of the course designers but the 19km Tuhoto Ariki aid station didn’t materialize until 23km according to Garmin (ie: what should have been the total distance), and 4.5k after I’d run out of water. Unfortunately, after the spread at Puarenga this aid station was a bit of a let down. Maybe being at the arse end of the race meant it had been picked clean by the time I got there, but when you see everyone’s pictures of scones with cream and jam you feel a bit let down. That said, what they did have was very welcome and the volunteers super helpful. So with the pack refilled, a slice of bacon and egg pie and a cup of Mountain Dew downed (I had too, I was on a mountain after all), I chuckled at the ‘4km to go’ sign as I left.
The Tuhoto Ariki aid station was at the highest point in the Whakarewarewa Forest and this meant that the remainder of the race would see us stumbling, sliding on our arses and careened back down the hills. I would like to take this chance to apologize for being responsible for a few less Punga trees standing in the forest now. They simply lack the structural strength to stop a large out of control chap. But karma got me back and I’m sure my shorts weren’t the only ones to get ripped on one of the many muddy slides.
By this point we had no idea how far there was to go as we had already passed the 25km mark, but there was nothing to do but curse a bit carry on to the finish. Slogging through ankle deep mud, finally at 30kms we popped out onto the beach at The Blue Lake. I mustered the energy for a last ditch effort to run across the line 5 hours, 55 minute and 36 seconds after leaving Te Puia. After handing my pack and lovely finishers medal to George, who had patiently waited in the rain for over 2 hours, I cooled my legs and washed off the mud in the lake, then went to find my finish line drop bag.
I’d been looking forward to getting to my drop bag for quite some distance. While over at Hot Water Beach for the finish of the marathons they had beer and what looked like a party, meanwhile we had bananas, jelly beans, Coke and water. With my bag retrieved, I removed the Liberty Citra that had been my carrot since the ‘4km to go’ sign; I toasted Steve, the race and my running mates for the day and cracked into the delicious beer inside.
For me, there were a few little niggles that took just a little bit of the shine off the day, but I think they can be forgiven as teething problems for a new race that was added to the event relatively late. So despite that, overall the race was quite enjoyable, very testing and a real challenge (when looking back at it of course, never during); but then in some sick way I guess that’s what we were after when we entered.
So will I be doing it next year? No way, I’m aiming for the 50km, they have scones after all.