Horribly Enjoyable

“Farmland, bush, mud, roots, rocks, ladders, chains, ropes, pain”. With a course description reading more like a chapter of 50 Shades of Grey than a running race, the Raglan Karioi Trail event certainly lets you know early on you’re in for a challenge that will be something completely different.

I don’t know how, but one of the first events that I found when I started looking for more events a few years back was the Raglan Karioi Trail. While it’s 25km distance didn’t sound bad at all, the 1800m of both climbing and descending made me add it to the ‘one day’ list. When I saw the chance to win an entry to this years race with my VIP Wild Things membership, I jumped at the chance to enter and hopefully not win, so I could put it off for another year. But alas I did win, and now I would have to tick it off.

I made a grave error and didn’t pay my build up the respect it deserved. Hoping my Tarawera fitness would hold me over, I was slack, really slack. Now I will try and justify it by saying I was letting my heel heal, but really I had a box of craft beers I’d been collecting and they really needed me to drink them. So a week out I thought, “yeah one Karamatura Half (before they closed the Waitaks) and I’ll be fine”. Ah, nah, maybe I should’ve looked at the 10km, or 2km kids dash.

But then that would have been the smart thing to do, and I guess I’m not that smarted. After a safety briefing and blessing (though last rites might have been more appropriate), off we went and immediately it was uphill and into the clouds around the mountain. 80ish crazy buggers, many of us not knowing what we were in for. Maybe the sniggers at registration whenever someone said they were on the 24km should have hinted at the challenge.

After just 3.5km, we’d already climbed nearly 550m up to the peak of Mount Karioi for the first time that day. While the clouds were obscuring the view this time, they gave it a surreal feeling and somehow peaceful. As it is so often said, what goes up must come down and for us it was quickly too. Now I don’t want to give away all the exciting parts of this section, and there are quite a few, but having to repel down what must have been a one story drop, with just a chain and roots to hold onto, gets the adrenalin pumping.

I’d later find out that while fellow Trail Running Adventurer/suffer buddy, Rich and I rolled into the aid station at 8km, a new record was being set as first place Bobby Dean was crossing the line in 2hr 24min. How someone can move that fast over that course, is simply amazing and almost inhuman.

After the aid station and a few km’s on gravel road, I guess they thought we needed a quick sharp climb on a farm to break up the trip to the next aid station. Now on blacktop for a bit the heat really kicked in, but at least it was downhill and we were running. Fuelled and water filled back up at the next aid station, it was time to start to climb back up to the peak again. While it was nice to be back in the bush and out of the sun, it sure didn’t get any easier.

Eventually we made the junction aid station from where we would track back down the mountain to the start/finish. At some point earlier I’d dropped my lip balm, but a kind soul handed it to the aid station. The chap there had been looking for the lady it belonged to for sometime. When you’re the only male in a house of 3 females you end up with floral lip balm, and it can be manly OK.

I wish I’d had the legs left to bomb down the hill to home, but instead I stumbled along like a drunkard using my poles to keep me from arsing over. Eventually Rich and I made it to the finish just as the prize giving wrapped up. Guess no spot prizes this time to wind up the mates, but a couple of free Pilot Brewing beers and a sausage were just what the doctor ordered.

Tarawera is a trail running behemoth and ah, I don’t know, I guess uptight is one word to describe it, but with 1400 runners and walkers it needs to be otherwise there would be carnage (and don’t get me wrong, it’s outstanding). But Karioi on the other hand is a small, intimate and relaxed affair, almost more of a group run feel than a race. While there was no photographer, aid stations were basic, the bibs were simply your number, and no finishers medals, none of that really mattered in the end.

While we were last and close to the cut off, I’m pretty sure I speak for us both when I say we are both super proud of our achievement that day. Maybe, as a certain NZ running coach feels, that took away from the achievements of other quicker runners. But I think every runner at that finish line knew exactly what each other had been through irrespective of their time or distance. All of them exchanging a knowing look and nod of respect. It felt like we were all now members of a club.

If this club was to have a name, I think it would be ‘That Was The Hardest Event I’ve Ever Done, See You Next Year’ Club, or TWTHEIEDSYNY for short. If you’re looking for a tough and technical trail with million dollar views and different challenges every hundred metres, then you will love this one. At what other running event can you end up with your arms and shoulders hurting as much as your legs?

It is a perfectly horribly enjoyable event.

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