I don’t think anyone can blame us for feeling some trepidation in the days leading up to the Cape Kidnappers Challenge, a trail run on the Hawkes Bay coast near Hastings. This race came four weeks after the Tora Coastal Challenge – the mud bath we muddled through in early September. As with the Tora Challenge it was a 32km coastal trail run, taking place on the East Coast of New Zealand’s North Island. As with the Tora the weather leading up to the event had been pretty dismal.
Given our Tora experience, battling through 32kms of mud for 6 hours, we weren’t exactly expecting a fun day out on the trails as we set off to Hastings the Friday before the race. It was a miserable day – cold, wet and windy – and Metservice had issued a severe weather warning for the entire Hawkes Bay area for gale force winds over the weekend. We were clearly in for crazy weather. We even briefly contemplated abandoning the event – weighing up the cost of not doing an event we already paid for, against the added costs of travelling the 150+ km from Palmy to Hastings, paying for overnight accommodation, and risk having the race cancelled and losing our entry fees anyway (the race had a no refund cancellation policy).
In the end, knowing how changeable New Zealand’s maritime weather can be, we decided to take the chance and make the trip out east. We arrived late Friday afternoon, just in time to quickly check in and still make it to registration and race briefing in the car park of Staples Rodway Chartered Accountants, main sponsors of the event. The briefing, despite being quite a jolly affair, did little to ease our worries, with the race organiser mentioning knee-deep muddy sections and multiple river crossings (including one described, much to the amusement of everyone around, as ‘elbow depth”).
On Saturday morning we were very relieved to wake up to fairly clear skies and little wind. When we reached the start and race HQ at Clifton Bay Cafe car park, the wind had picked up a fair bit, but the skies remained clear. We set off on the first leg of the run, an 8km section of the beach towards the furthest point of Cape Kidnappers, with a tail wind (by now quite strong), helping us along the tough beach terrain. Contrary to all our pre-race worries, everything was going great. We soon started catching the back-end walkers (who started 15 minutes before us) and in all we had a jolly time. The tide was coming in quickly, though, and by the time we reached the last couple of kilometers on the beach we had to go through some ankle deep sea water to get around rocks. At one point we had a choice between waist-deep water and clambering over some quite steep rocks. We scaled the rocks, opting to rather stay (somewhat) dry a bit longer given that we still had about 25km to go. I can imagine that a few of the back markers, who were by now quite far behind us, may have had some challenging water crossings towards the end of their beach section. The race started quite early by local standards, but I do think that, given the timing of the incoming tide, an earlier start may have ensured a dry beach run for everyone, including the slower runners.
From the beach the course turned sharply inland, and we soon realised what a blessing the flat beach, with the wind in our backs, had been. To call the course hilly would be an understatement – we were warned about the hills by a fellow club member beforehand, and we had experienced some hilly trails in the area before, but still we were surprised by just how tough those Hawke’s Bay hills can be. This is not flat land. Most hills reduced us to a walk, but even that became tough after a while. And of course anything that goes up must come down, and the downhills were equally severe, jarring knees and legs. And by now the wind was howling, regularly reaching speeds of 100km+. When it hit you from the side it almost blew you over, making for some rather stressful sections along the higher ridges. And when it blew from the front you felt like running on a treadmill – legs pumping and arms swinging but very little forward movement. On some downhills, however, the headwind was actually a bit of a blessing, helping to keep you upright on the steep descents. (I think this was the first time I’d heard Wouna call a gale-force headwind ‘helpful’!).
Despite the hilly, windy conditions, we really enjoyed the day – the terrain was nice and varied, including jeep track, well formed single track, grassy farm paddocks and more. And, compared to our muddy muddle from a few weeks back, you could actually run it all. (OK, we couldn’t always, being just too buggered from the uphills, but that was a personal limitation – the terrain underfoot was for the most part great.) And I am happy to report that, despite the reference to knee-deep mud during race briefing, we only encountered a total of a few hundred meters of mildly muddy terrain that you could in most cases negotiate your way around.
Of course there were still the river crossings… After our early plodding through the shallow waves during the beach section, things remained mostly dry until the last quarter of the race. The watery fun started after passing the Maraetotata waterfall, from where we followed the river gorge, criss-crossing the river no less than 12 times. While most of the crossings were less than knee-deep, the freezing water and fast-flowing river kept things interesting. And then there was the deep one we were warned about during the race brief. Elbow-deep indeed, this crossing left Wouna and her backpack drenched, while I managed to just keep my bag above the water line. It was freezing, and I had the world of respect for the marshall who was standing in the river helping runners along. He must have been absolutely frozen – that’s some serious dedication to the cause!
An interesting feature of the race was the use of electronic timing devices with which you had to check in at 6 checkpoints along the course. This not only ensured that everyone was doing the full route, but it also allowed them to print each finisher a “receipt” at the finish line, with his splits at each checkpoint and at the finish. A very nice touch! I should also mention the route marking, which was excellent. The entire route was clearly marked, with special attention at all turn-offs, and friendly marshals along key points on the route. No chance of going astray meant you could focus on your run, and on appreciating the lovely terrain, rather than worrying about getting lost. Oh, and talking about nice touches, we even received complimentary copies of the official race photos (courtesy of Supersport Images) which could be downloaded after the race!
We finished the race in 4 hours 35 minutes, in high spirits. Despite our pre-race weather worries, despite the hills and the gales we had an absolutely great time. And we were very relieved that the rain stayed away! Definitely a race to add to the calendar if you haven’t done it yet.