After suffering so much envy of the longer course scenery at the Waitomo Trail Run last year, I decided I wasn’t going to miss out this year and I entered the 35km super long event. I certainly was not let down by the natural beauty of the region, which helped some ways towards making up for some of the disappointment felt along the way.
I enjoyed the event so much last year I was adamant to get entered as soon as the event opened, and my speed was rewarded with race number 3002 (ie 3rd to sign up for 35km). What I wasn’t so quick on was sorting out somewhere to stay (a 6:30am start ruled out driving down the morning of), and this time I was rewarded with a pretty below average motor inn in Te Awamutu. (For contrast I’m writing this from a hotel room in Frankfurt whose bathroom is bigger than the place I stayed).
We had been warned that rain, including a couple of cyclones, in the weeks before had created a bit of mud on the trial. We would find out later this meant near Riverhead level mud in places. But with my trusty Zeals, I felt I’d be able to handle it and was rearing to go. Well almost; about a week out I started to feel the tingle of a cold coming, and come race day I was fully blocked up and unable to clear my ears, which as I now know really effected my balance.
After a ominously long bus ride, we started under the Mangapohue Natural Bridge, an awesome cavern dug out by the river over millennia. It did of course mean a rather inauspicious start of a stair climb, to be mirrored with a stair climb to the finish line. With a cut off at the 22km mark, I made sure I started in the first wave in order to have the maximum 7hrs to get there, which I thought would be plenty of time.
The first 10km was pretty much everything I was hoping for and by the time I rolled into the aid station there, I’d been across farm land, followed the Marakopa river on some very technical single track, run through the river many times and donned my head lamp to head underground through the Marakopa natural tunnel. Feeling good, having made it there in a little under 2 hours and some pretty steep climbs under my belt, any worry of the cut off was gone.
Well, 5km later the effects of being being New Zealand’s largest trail event were about to write a large reality check. While there had been a good amount of mud so far it hadn’t been too much of a hindrance (although I did pity the last of the 22k’ers and what they would have to deal with). When our trail joined the 11k’ers things took a turn. With over 900 runners and walkers in the 11km and some of the nearly 950 22km runners catching me up, things got very congested and the trails cut all to hell. I went from running to a stop-start queue waiting to climb over rocks and up hills, then to slop through mud and scramble down the other side.
During this time there was a lot of moaning from the other 35 and 22k’er I was travelling with about how the other distances should get out of our way and even one chap yelling out while waiting for an elderly lady to climb a rock “hurry up, some of us are trying to set a time”. And while the congestion was super frustrating, they had just as much right to be out there as anyone else, and I’m sure they were not trying to hold people up on purpose. My suggestion would be rather that trying to get thousands of people over single track, keep common sections to farm land or fire trail (as much as those suck).
The net effect of the traffic, rolling terrain, and my ears not clearing meant it was impossible to get any good momentum going. Not really enjoying myself as much now, I was finally caught by a few of the ladies from the Trail Running Adventures group, Hayley, Liz, and Julz. I guess their feminine perception alerted them to my current state of mind and timely words of encouragement were offered. Then in what I have come to expect in trail running complete strangers also offered up spirited encouragement. In fact through out the day I had people recognize my Trail Snail shirt and tell me they read, and shockingly even enjoy this little old blog of mine. Of course this was generally on an up hill and I was too out of breath to offer more than a “yeah, ‘puff puff’ thanks”
Pushing on from the 18km aid station I thought to myself “only 4km to the next aid and finish for the 11 and 22k’er, then I can push again”. But as I’m starting to realize, the RD’s Tim and Dan, have trouble with distances. 4km turned into 5 and then finally at 6km the Stubbs farm airstrip came into view, 12km had taken me 3 hours but I’d beaten the cut off. What when through my mind next, is what I’m sure goes through a lot of people’s minds then they see a shorter distance’s finish line: how could I injure myself and pull out here? Can I cramp real bad? Maybe roll an ankle or twist a knee? Turns out Liz decided to break her wrist, which I’m hoping was from a fall and not my high five as she left the last aid station.
But by this point I’d made a new suffer buddy and we were determined to finish. Tonci was a walker, but he walked at almost my running pace, so we power walked to the finish. The last 15km was some of the easiest terrain all day, but the 22km already travelled had really taken it’s toll, meaning we couldn’t use it to make up time. Looking back, maybe I should have tried and run it, but at the time I didn’t really care for it. This might be something I need to work on before my Ultra attempt.
After a very long, very frustrating day Tonci and I crossed the finish line together in 8:23:00, although somehow in the results I ended up 28 second and one person back. Then the second race of the day was on, could I drive home before I’d need to pull over and nap. An energy drink (sugar free) in place of a beer seemed to do the trick and I was home in no time.
So to wrap up the race, what do I think? Well, it is a race that is unique in that while it lacks some of the great views and panoramic vistas other races have, it travels through some amazing areas and natural geological wonders. For that reason I would give the race a serious ‘You need to run it once’ rating. But if there is rain before hand; maybe go black water rafting instead. Now I’ve knocked off the longest distance, I think I’m done with the event for now – there are a lot of other events around the same time I’d like to have a crack at.
Waitomo also sees the end of the one off races for a while and the rapidly approach of the Auckland Xterra Series, which I’m really looking forward to this year. I’m entered in the superlong series, but will be mixing it up with a few mids to test my progress. I also have a few wee treats in store, so keep your eye out for them.
Now back to what one does in Germany…