The hills of Hunua was where the final event in the Xterra series took place and boy was it a stunning day. Stunning how the weather changed over the 4 hours it took me to complete the 23km. It was like playing weather bingo.A few days out from the event things were looking pretty dire. Heavy rain and winds were predicted, and the contingency course was lurking in the bushes outside the bathroom window hoping to make it three time this year. From what I’ve been told there were some sleepless nights from the Total Sport team.
The Friday before the event, I somehow managed to knock a mug of boiling hot tea over my right foot; burning it quite nicely and making it uncomfortable to wear socks and shoes. But if you asked George, the real tragedy was the stain on the already stained carpet and that she had to remake her tea. With a good covering of burn cream and some denial I hoped that all would be well on the day.
Heading down nice and early, the rain had already set in and before leaving the car we were already wearing most of the required gear. But we soon got word that we were a go for the full Hunua experience, or as Jenny Hurst put it “our Pukapuka”. Yay!!???? (or so I thought). Almost on cue the rain stopped, the sun peaked out a bit and we headed off down the road.
The first 10.5 kms of the course is relatively flat (compared to what was to come) along mountain bike tracks, making for a nice rolling run. Along here I found myself playing leap frog with the indomitable legend Mr Ronald Chen. Ronald would overtake me on the up hills, and I’d get him on the down hills, but then the real hills started. This gave rise to me dubbing the day in my mind “Chasing Chen”.
The first taste of the hills was on the National Downhill MTB trail. This would be a challenge riding down on a bike, but we weren’t on bikes and we weren’t going down it. Rather we were running, or for mere mortals, walking up it and up it and up it. Before too long Ronald had left me in his dust/mud and I was trudging along solo.
In the pre race briefing we were told that the weather on Pukapuka Track would be a little nautical. As such we were checked into the trail at the preceding aid station, which at the time, I was thankful I’d made before the cut off.
For those that have never had the pleasure of running Pukapuka, I think Bryony Shaw described it best when she said: “the P’s should be F’s”. Pukapuka runs along the ridge-line, so along with having some abrupt climbs and drops and despite some tree cover, it’s very exposed. Safely climbing up and down on the ridge, it was time for the sun to quit and the wind, rain and hail to shine.
While the climbing was sucky, the technical descents were very much my cup of tea. And before too long I was catching people and eventually I caught sight of my old mate Ronald, however whenever I got close we’d start back uphill and I’d lose him again.
During these shenanigans I caught up to Tony Firth, who was toughing it out having one of those runs we’ve all had where nothing is playing along. Luckily he wasn’t doing it alone, he had Jacinta Rakei providing support and motivation to keep moving. I wanted to hang with them for a bit but I was feeling pretty good at that point and I knew my ride home would be waiting for me. Bidding them adieu, I was back to Chasing Chen.
While plodding along the skies opened and there was a nice shower of rain, which quickly turned to a barrage of pea sized hail. While it bounced harmlessly off my hard as a rock body, it was really hurty when it hit my ears. It did make for a very pretty scene with all the hail on the ground however.
Just as I thought Pukapuka would never end and the cold was really starting to bite (probably should have used some of the gear I was carrying), I was almost unceremoniously spat out onto the road and into the final aid station. Grabbing a handful of lollies I made off down the road and towards the finish line. While it was nice to be on the road and going downhill for a while, the gravel was tough on tired legs but falling into step with another runner the k’s ticked down. I never did catch up to Ronald though.
In a sick twist, the end of the course took us past and away from the finish for an extra 800m. As frustrating as this was there was plenty of support from those that had already finished, including Vicki returning to base yelling from her 4WD, and a Mexican wave from Graham, Ben and his sister-in-law, who having decided to run shorter distances had been partaking in the sponsors products for a few hours while waiting.
Thankfully my burnt foot waited till I’d finished before announcing it was not happy with 4 hours of my shoe and sock rubbing on it. A dip in the cold river appeased thing a bit and then it was homeward bound. This time ensuring the pies were warm before buying them.
If I was to describe the 2017 Xterra series I guess I would have to say it was bitter sweet. Not getting to attempt the series in all it’s glory does suck. A winter series in some of the most remote and rugged parts of Auckland is always going to be at the mercy of the weather, and this year the weather was a cold hard bitch. I can only imagine the emotions that event organizers must go through when needing to use the alternative courses. As much as it sucks, us participants have to support these calls, as they are made for our safety after all. The trails will be there next year, just as challenging as ever and everyone is alive and well to attempt them.
Deciding to make the jump to the super long was something I mulled over for quite a while, but ultimately I was very happy that I did. I was able to push myself to finish 5 races in 15 weeks, each around 20km long (plus the mid at Riverhead). I also finished every race happy (or at least happy it’s over) and injury free. With a few massive events coming up (I recently won an entry into “New Zealand’s steepest run” the Raglan Karioi Trail – 1850m gain in 24km!!), I have the confidence that I’ll be able to give them a decent crack.
Once everything is weighed and measured, I had a great time at this series and have already entered next years dates into my calendar. A bit shout out to all the Total Sport team, volunteers, photographers, and other runners, you make events what they are and the Xterra series is awesome. Oh and a final shout out to Team CEP Compression for finishing third in the teams points, it’s nice to have such fast coattails to ride on and I’m glad we never need to rely on my times.
Roll on the series’ encore, Waihi.