I’m not going to sugar coat it; I don’t like Riverhead Forest. It’s nothing personal, it’s not you, its me. Slow muddy runs, more time pushing than on my bike, car parking, and getting lost that one time has meant Riverhead has never done it for me. I never saw what others did in the sloppy mud and clay amongst the pine trees and fire roads. So with the first event of this years Auckland Xterra Series at Riverhead I gritted my teeth and thought of England.
Unlike most other sports, trail running doesn’t really have an off season, just a wet and a not quite as wet season, with events going on throughout the year. For me I see the Xterra series is the start of my running season as it was when I first started trail running events. Thanks to Mal and Sally Law from Wild Things HQ, and Total Sport, I received the Christmas gift of an entry into the series and with a rush of blood to the head, I entered the super long (>20km) distance for the series. Well except for Riverhead, that would be a mid; I wasn’t ready or willing to spend hours slopping my way around the course – I had enough of that carry on at Waitomo a month back.
For this year there would be no Team Icebug, rather it was reborn as Team CEP Compression (yep, it’s a mouthful) and bolstered by some real speedsters; which meant I would need to carry the team as much this year.
After a quite an inauspicious evening of to-ing and fro-ing on carpooling arrangements I wasn’t super hyped about the event, but hey it’s a day out right? Now the thing about Riverhead is if you are not early, you can expect to be running a mini 2km race from your car to make the start in time. However the struggle of the night before meant we had the required number to qualify for parking 10m from the event base. Maybe today wouldn’t be such a bad day, plus it wasn’t raining and there were a lot of familiar faces, including some unexpected ones.
My goal was to try and beat last years time of 2hrs 26min and critically stay upright as much as I could. I knew one would be easier than the other, as I have come to have complete faith in my ‘bugs. Once again I would find myself cruising through the mud without a care in the world, but this year I was able to do most of it running. Before too long I was caught by two of the quick walkers trying to chase the lead down. For most this would normally be a bad thing, but I found they were setting a pace that meant I was pushed out of my comfortable plod to keep up. Pushed (or more pulled) along I, believe it or not, started to enjoy myself and once off the fire road and into the bush I made a bit of a break.
With all the grace I could muster I would glide through the mud, with shock horror, a smile. Leaping from high spot to high spot and over puddles I was really starting to enjoy myself. Sure most of the time I was not what you would call in complete control, and I apologize for anyone that may have been startled by a large red blur streaking past. In fact my spikes in heart rate where in downhill sections, where I must have had a bit of a moment. I have to say it was pretty hard on the 500m long downhill section after the last aid station, to not yell “Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” all the way down.
A bit of quick maths and I worked out I could go sub 2hrs if I was able to hold my pace, so this was the amended goal now. Unfortunately the last few km’s are a section that is shared by all distances, so by the time I got there it was pretty cut up and quite clogged and my pace dropped.
Stuck in traffic I watched 2 hours slip by with 800m to go, but at least I should beat last years time. With a quick lap of the event base and a wee sprint I came home in 2hrs 7min. So close but happy with the improvement in time, and little shocked that I enjoyed it and had as much fun as I did. While I’m still not in love with or likely to make Riverhead a regular thing, I might not dread it as much next year.
As if that wasn’t shocking enough, this years series hoodie from Marmot fits (Marmot generally don’t cater for large chaps). Now I just need to keep the mrs away from it.
Next up is Shakespear Regional Park, and my first foray into the super long distance. Should be fun … well so they tell me.