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Saturday, 8 October 2011

Marathon in the Kaimais

At the Superdune Multisport race earlier this year I won a free entry to one of the Xterra TrailRun events, a series of 6 races at different locations around Auckland, run by Total Sport. At the end of the series there is a grand finale dubbed the NZ Trail Running champs, held in the northern Kaimai Ranges near Waihi. This seemed far more exciting so I waited patiently for the big one...

Full Moon at Dickey Flat - still suited up
I spent the Friday night before the run mentally preparing for the race - coming in the form of a classy buffet dinner at the Langham for an Engineering function, followed by casually crashing the Outdoor Clubs ball. We eventually escaped Auckland and by 1:35AM we had pitched a tent at the event base, and conked out for a solid four hours of quality sleep.

0545, DICKEY FLAT: It was a blisteringly cold start to race morning for the early start. My muscles were almost covered in a layer of frost for the first few kilometres into the race as we set off up-stream along the Waitawheta River, a jewel of the Kaimais. Waihi is famous for its mining history, so the Kaimais are full with evidence of the gold-rush culture, all adding to the atmosphere of the race.

The Marathon field at the briefing
Captain Yakuta Nakimori (otherwise known as Kristian Day) didn't waste time this morning - as soon as he'd seized control over my bag of Leppin gels, he took off into the lead. It was a fun forty-five seconds while it lasted. While Kristian surged ahead, I found my pace with Australian trail runner Matt Meckenstock. We didn't need much introduction, Matt was a great dude to run with. He kept us entertained with bird calls - a man of the land - and also a few bails into the river. Local veteran Clive Reynolds also held us to a solid pace, so we stuck together as a pack of three.

Liquid Mountaineering - credit: RunningWild NZ
I found myself struggling to keep up at times with these two, especially over the rugged farmland sections. I would blitz the rooty downhills to catch up, only to slowly drop away... things weren't looking good only 15km in. A faceful of chocolate cake and a dunk in one of the river crossings sorted me out, the adrenaline kicked in, and we stuck together as a unit of three through to end of the 23km section, clocking in at 2:42. Unfortunately I was too distracted by the crowd fanfare to grab myself a sausage at Dickey Flat, so I left feeling a tinge of regret. I'd have to satisfy myself with more warm chocolate cake to fuel the ongoing effort. I took the opportunity through the dark gold-mining tunnels to fill up - with my face in the bag of cake and Vogels I was protected from cracking my head on the rocky roof.

Marathon 42.2km route - start & finish at Dickey Flat road end
The Karangahake Gorge track was a stunner - if it wasn't a race I'd have been tempted to take a leap into the river - now 10am, the sun was blazing. We dodged and side stepped the hundreds of short coursers that had just been released, all adding to the fun. More people out enjoying the trails the better!

At the base of the climb to Mt Karangahake I unvolunteerily decided to make my break on Matt and Clive, who had been fantastic company. If I was going to gain on Kristian, it was make or break. I kept a steady jog up the climb despite feeling pretty smashed, pulled on by the endless supply of mid-courses needing to be overtaken. With one eye over my shoulder to check that Matt wasn't planning a comeback, I pushed hard around the mountain to the point of dizziness up muddy hills and through vine-infested trails. But once I turned off for the final downhill to the finish, my worries vanished. I let go with a second wind, and emptied the tank down the twisting single track for a glorious finish at Dickey Flat. Golden.

Finish line in sight - credit: PhotoSales
I ran the finishing chute with mates Ben Duggan and Adam Clayton; both had just finished their debut trail race in the 19km and loving it. My final time was 4:45, so this ranks as my hardest and longest race yet. It turns out I gained 25 minutes on Matt Meckenstock in the final 15km - he later told me that he didn't realise I'd gapped until 10 minutes after, by that time it was too late!The DUAL marathon in March was the same distance, but my time of 3:20 there reflects the toughness of the Kaimais terrain. It was an awesome race and I'd definitely recommend making a visit to the Kaimais if you are looking for some juicy trails, gnarly hills and grand scenery. 

Delight at the finish
The only disappointment to the day was the absence of Timothy "Tank" Burrell, who has yet to release his trail running revenge since a classy sub-12 hour Tarawera run - but he was excused as he was about to clean up in the mighty Te Awamutu Singing Championships with a massive $850 rake in. Congrats Tim.




Marathon elevation profile - 1800m vertical!

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