There’s nothing quite like a last minute change of plans and signing up for a race the week before the start… But that’s what I did a couple of weeks ago and last weekend I ran my first serious distance race, I did the 22k version of the inaugural Waitomo Trail Run. Janes mum had seen it advertised in the local paper so I checked it out, it looked like fun so I entered. I probably would have entered the 11k distance except that it was fully subscribed and so entries to that distance were closed.
The only distances still open a week out from the start were the 33k and the 22k, I was definitely not ready for 33k but 22k sounded achievable, I had run a few 18’s and done 23 a couple of weeks earlier, so I figured that I should be able to get around the course. Looking at the course I was a little concerned at the amount of climbing (789m) but there was little I could do about it apart from set my goals accordingly.
I went into the race with fairly modest goals, firstly to finish the course, it was my first trail run and I didn’t really know what I was letting myself in for. Secondly I would like to finish somewhere between 3:30 to 4 hours. This was about an hour longer than my previous attempt at 22k and felt achievable.
Race day was perfect weather, sunny with little wind and the temperature was in the high teens and the scenery was fantastic, even if the amount of hills was giving me a little cause for concern. Still I knew what I was trying to achieve and while I felt a little under prepared, I was certain that I could last the distance.
This was the first year the race has been put on, and we got to run over some pretty beautiful countryside with quite a lot of the course running over private land so the opportunity to see it is pretty limited usually. The first half of the run was REALLY hilly, I knew I wasn’t the fittest runner in the field, but those hills were pretty intense, and the off road aspect just added to it. I got to the end of the first major climb, probably about 100 meters but quite steep and undulating terrain, and I came to the “shortcut” which was a route option that would cut 5k off the total route. It was reallllly tempting, in fact if I hadn’t been chatting (I say chatting, I mean gasping) to the people around me I would possibly have taken it, but no one else was heading down that route so I just kept going.
We ran over narrow rock escarpments, through native forest and across undulating farm tracks. It was fantastic, the most frustrating parts were where there were a couple of pinch points where only a single runner could pass at a time. One of these was a small cave that required a bit of gymnastics to get through – unfortunately this meant a 30 minute wait to get my turn to go through here. While the rest was welcome, it did take a bit longer than I would have liked and I did start to get cold. Once through the run continued through the fantastic scenery and looped round back to the start, seeing the start line again was a mixed blessing, it was great to see my supporters and hear them cheer me on, but it was a bit disheartening to realise that I had only run 11k and it had taken the better part of two hours.
The second half of the race was a mixture of farmland and some native bush. Running in the bush is great, its cooler than in the paddocks, and the ground is springy as a lot of NZ forest is, but the single track is a lot more technical and required a fair amount of concentration to ensure that you didn’t trip. The path was well marked though so route finding was pretty straight forward.
Eventually my race drew to a close, though I will say any course designer who places the finish line at the top of some stairs is a special kind of sadist, but as usual the sound of people cheering you on makes you dig deep and find some last reservoir of energy to ensure that you run across the finish line.
So there you go, my first trail run, my first official half marathon distance, so what did I learn…
- Although I thought my training was going well I wasn’t as fit as I had hoped
- I don’t do enough off road running, while we don’t have rivers like the Coast to Coast course, running in the forest teaches some of the skills needed
- Running in five fingers worked really well and I had no issues with grip or ankle support, but my feet did get tired
- It was fun, although it may not have looked it by the end of the race, I did enjoy myself
- Must Do More Hills… I need to build hill legs, after the event I couldn’t walk down stairs forwards for 3 days…
- Monday – Run 18k
- Wednesday – Walk 9k
- Thursday – Bike 22k
- Saturday – Run 22k – The race