Kiwi’s are an understated lot, this race being a fine example as it’s a fairly brutal course, 100k and 4500 metres of climb don’t really count as easy. This is very much a local race for me as I moved down to Wanaka (IMHO the best location in New Zealand) last winter and I can see most of the course from my house.
This was a new race and also was the first race in the inaugural SkyRunning Oceania Series so it was great to be involved in the first one. We had a field of 31 starters which did include a few from Australia who came over specially for the race. Quite a few locals were there as this area is just full of mentally good runners (or is that just mental runners?) so it was good to see familiar faces. We started at 3am at the Albert Town Tavern (height 300m) and had a fairly gentle start over Mount Iron (548m) before dropping back down and running past the town centre an along the lake front until the Roy Peak car park and first checkpoint/drop bag. I’d started just into the back half of the field, taking it easy but no too easy as I was enjoying the cooler conditions.
Let’s talk about those conditions. It’s currently summer here and it was mid-teens at 3am, the forecast was to be hitting 30 degrees later on in the day and I _really_ do not like hot running conditions! Next up was the unforgiving 8k climb up to Roys Peak (1578m) which is one of my regular training runs so I was happy going up here, passing 5 folk on the way up. The sun was rising at this point and it is just one of the best views, I really must go up there for sunrise more often! To make sure we went to the top a marshal was up there (who just happened to be Anna Frost, trail running royalty and all together nice person) so we high-fived her at the top. I went passed another two here and then had the down-and-up ridge along to Mt Alpha (1630m) – I love this bit, a bit technical, a bit exposed and just brilliant.
Just after the summit there a great descent, after a couple of mins I could hear a generator noise and then just behind a rise there was a 4×4, not something you usually find on top of a mountain. The generator noise was indeed a generator, attached to a pie warmer from which I was offered a selection of hot pies/pastries. I settled on a croissant and it was all a bit surreal but kind of cool. I could see the first place lady ahead but she was pulling away from me on the descent – I was what could be best described as “steady”. The run down the ridge and down Spots Creek is pretty much all downhil and flattish until the 38k mark where we cross the Cardrona Valley road (~300m) and the next check point. I picked up another water bottle from my drop bag as I knew it would be hot for the rest of the course. A good chat with the marshals, coffee, rice pudding and I was off through the river and up the next climb up to Little Crifflle (1342m). I was a bit surprised to suddenly catch and pass Bryony (the Aus girl that I though was long gone) as she was suffering on the fairly constant climb as we approached half way.
The scenery changes a bit over flatter and rounder ridges running over to the Snow Farm and the next check point at the Bob Lee hut. A lot of this is very runable, maybe more than I did! I sat and chatted to the folks at the checkpoint and just took in the vista which is just stunning. This is about the 60k mark, only 10k gentle climb from here to Mt Pisa summit (1963m) and next aid station before the descent. I’d been quite happy dawdling along, chatting to the marshals at the top until Croyden pointed out that one of the local girls, Becky from Queenstown, could now be seen not that far behind me so maybe I should get going!
I enjoyed the first 10 mins of descent until my blisters meant I couldn’t run properly downhill as they hurt. Note that it is possible that I can’t run properly downhill at any point, though fair to say it would be worse than usual. The descent just goes on and on, with some bits of climb put in there just to spice things up with about 2000m descent in 20k being the rough guide. Towards the bottom it was getting _very_hot and I ended up walk/running some flat along to the final checkpoint at the Woolshed. They had an ice bucket with spounges in it here, so five sponges on the head later and having immersed my cap in the water I was good to go for the last 14k down to and along the Clutha river banks. This is flattish though I was mixing up running/walking as I was just cooking in the heat. Chris had cycled along to keep me company along here which was great as I had someone other than me to talk to. I’ve not got the best conversation as any of you who’ve run with me in the past will know.
About 2.5k from the end Chris noticed Becky not far behind at the end of one of the straights so I went back into race mode (well maybe the first time into race mode) and pushed it until the finish. I managed to hold my place to the finish at the Albert Town Tavern, where we’d started 14.5 hours previously. Then followed good chat, electrolytes, beers and food. Pretty much what the day was all about.
The race was won by Aussie Scott Hawker in 11:11, with local boy Grant Guise 2nd in 11:42. First lady was Becky Nixon in 14:34. I can highly recommend this race which is a classic in the making, keep it in mind if any of you fancy a trip down this way and I can give you a little inside info on the course 🙂
Andy Millard (Carnethy NZ division)