Date: 27 February 2016
As it was Gerry’s birthday on the 26th, we decided to make a little outing of the trip. Not sure where we would stay – the only requirement was to camp somewhere nice and quiet – we went to the nearest DOC campsite only a few kilometres outside of Ohakune on the mountain side. It looked quite nice but decided nonetheless to check out the campsite at Raetihi which was only $4 per person more. However, the latter being more busy and civilised, we opted for the more scenic out of town rustic option at the foot of Mt Ruapehu.
After the tent was pitched and the camp stove lit to cook rice, we popped the cork and continued celebrating Gerry’s birthday after a rather hectic week. The evening was superb – no wind (we could have lit a candle) and the temperature was just perfect. We could not have asked for a better setting.
But all good things must come to an end and with bellies full of fried rice and bubbles, we crawled into sleeping bags, listening to a Ruru calling in the distance. The race luckily only started at 10am, affording us a good nights sleep before having to think about what lay ahead.
The RuapehuEXPRESS is new on the running calendar and basically follows the Ohakune Old Coach Road that links Ohakune and Horopito. The road was built in 1907 and operational for a mere 21 months after which it was abandoned upon the completion of the Main Trunk Line. The course also forms part of The Mountain to Sea cycle trail. At only 15km long, I guess it’s fair to say that the event might not have drawn that many participants (175 between the two distances, 21km and 15km) and so the organisers added bits to the start of the event to make up the distance in order to call it a Half Marathon, maybe? Unfortunately, it turns out that their calculations, in all likelihood, were incorrect, as a lot of runners using GPS watches (which, given, we all know are notorious for being wrong) only measured about 19km. Looking at my time, I’m almost a 100% sure it was a fair amount shorter as there is no way I can run a 21km trail in 2:09 in my current fitness state. Some of the runners on the 15km course measured their course to be around 16km. Although these are fun events and not official and any shape or form, just be aware that the distances may vary, for future reference.
Regardless. The run turned out to be really enjoyable: a non-technical course, in beautiful scenery, with an overall downhill gradient. The elevation difference between the start and finish is about 170 metres. The rolling hills are mostly run-able, even for someone as unfit as myself. And despite a rainy weather forecast, we only had clouds overhead and not a drop of rain. Temperatures were perfect, for me. Maybe a tad on the hot side for others.
This event also hosts a cycling component, with the 55km, in fact, being the main event for the day. There’s also a 21km course for cyclists. The cycling field boasted numbers in the 500s.
Overall I would say that this is really a very easy, lovely trail event. Might be a good one to try if you’re a complete newbie to trail running? Having said that, I was rather disappointed that we didn’t run through the Hapuawhenua tunnel or over the old Hapuawhenua Viaduct (which is misleadingly even shown on the race website), that are the main attractions of this route. The bit of cross-country in paddocks at the start of the race, also felt as if it was just added to make up distance and not necessarily in a nice way or even the right length.
The paths/trails are wide enough to make passing or being passed quite easy and the trails are well maintained making the terrain underfoot comfortable for running. Only two water points en route, supplying water and electrolytes, so carrying a hydration pack might be advisable. Especially since the second water point is only about two kilometres from the finish, making it almost redundant (I might risk sounding ungrateful for saying this!). Transport to the start by bus will set you back $10. Ample toilets at the start and finish and more than enough course markings so no getting lost. Soft drinks and sausage sizzle at the finish all adds up to making this a great event.
At $65 early entry (which is on the steep side of the spectrum) for the “21km” and $50 for the 15km, I would say that the $15 difference to run 4km through paddocks is not particularly good value for money. The 15km Old Coach Road trail, as is, but including the tunnel and bridge, would suffice as a great little run.
Back at the race headquarters, Powderhorn Chateau, Rob treated us to fantastic (huge!) burgers and fries. Thanks, Rob! Was great to also see so many other familiar faces and getting to spend time on the trails with new acquaintances.