Date: 27 January 2018
For the past seven years, this event has been on our to do list. But every year there’s something preventing us from entering; too much traveling and sitting over Christmas, too much eating and not enough training, injury, it is always this, that or the other. Finally, this year we took the plunge, very last minute I might add. We only entered five days out from the event (my apologies to the organisers).
We arrived at the start, registered and had our gear checked. A list of compulsory items was put in place to assist with everyone’s safety. Although I had more items than were on the list, my stuff was for some reason still checked with suspicion. For these types of events, I always take along a tiny wee little down-jacket. It weights less than 200g, stashes away to nearly nothing, the fabric is wind/rain resistant, and is in my humble opinion a far more worthy item than a polyprop vest. Nonetheless, I had both. Same goes for pants – although I wore long pants, I also had polyprop tights in my pack.
Race briefing started a few minutes earlier than scheduled, meaning we missed some of it as we were still queueing at the loo for the first couple of minutes. Not only that, but the first few minutes were drowned out by the food truck generator. I tried my hardest to hear what was going on when we finally made it over to race briefing, but with the announcer relying solely on his own voice – no sound system to make sure everyone could hear what was going on – we for all intents and purposes missed race briefing alltogether. Oh well.
Not having done this event before (not even walked the track before), it was all new to us. We started off somewhere at the back, and within 100 metres from the start we were right at the back with only one lady behind us. After about one kilometre, the track split to allow for two options: the Jumbo-Holdsworth, or the Holdsworth-Jumbo. One can go either way around. Most runners do the Jumbo-Holdsworth over Donnelly’s Flat with a slight incline, followed by a sharp, steep climb up Rain Gauge going up, followed by a longer, more gradual downhill via Gentle Annie Track. However, some of the slower runners claim the cut-off time limit for the Holdsworth-Jumbo, is more reachable than that of the Jumbo-Holdsworth. Our way around meant we had 2:10 to get to Jumbo Hut, which is about 10km in and roughly a 900m climb. There is also an earlier cut-off of 1:05 at the Atiwhakatu Hut (at about the 7km mark), that I wasn’t even aware off (yep, like a typical average participant, I didn’t bother looking at the web beforehand). We made that by 5 minutes. Phew.
By now I was starting to wonder what still lay ahead, making everyone dash off like rockets at the start. Within the first kilometre there wasn’t another soul in sight, and we were by ourselves for the whole first section through the forest (about 7km).
And then we reached the dreaded hill. For roughly 3km you climb straight up the mountain via Rain Gauge track. I was going as fast as I could, and checking our progress, it turned out that we could only manage a 20min/km pace. Despite that, we still passed heaps of people (a bit over 20 in total over the 3km stretch) on the way up, without anyone passing us. A lot of participants were going even slower and I couldn’t help but think that a lot of us were not going to make it in time. I have to point out that at the time I still thought the cut-off was at the 11km mark and not shortly before 10km, and if the hill continued as it did for another kilometre, I would definitely not have made it (and neither would everyone we passed).
Soon we popped out above the tree line and around the next corner, we were at the hut. Yay! Luckily it was a little before the 10km mark (9.7km to be more accurate) and we made the cut-off easily with 15 minutes to spare. A quick drink at the hut, which also doubled as another check-point (there were about six in total (I think?) tracking participants’ progress) before heading up the ridges. About one kilometre further (10.7km) we reached the Jumbo peak. A light breeze made sure everyone stayed cool, but unfortunately the fog spoiled all prospects of nice views across the mountain tops. We could only just make out the next route marker, and sometimes not even. Taking into account the tall tussock and other scrub, the path was almost invisible with some muddy parts, and otherwise rock hiding beneath the grass. It was near impossible to watch where you put your feet, and I was again amazed at the speed that some runners manage to do this. How?
We were trotting along where we could, still walking big parts of the ridges as the uphills were relentless. Two checkpoints on the ridge were a nice confirmation that we were not alone, and were looked after. This must be a pretty challenging job in severe weather conditions. We still had to summit Mt Holdsworth (13.9km) towering to 1445m above sea level. Mind you, you pass through a couple metres lower than the trig. Starting at 299m, the difference in elevation between the lowest and the highest point is 1146m. With the ups and downs along the way, however, the overall elevation gain and loss is 1394m and 1412m, respectively.
In my minds-eye, I imagined the top of the mountain to be wider and more flat. Ha! Apart from it being quite hilly, there were also parts on the ridge that were quite narrow with significant drop-offs on both sides, where I secretly thanked my lucky stars that I couldn’t see further than a few metres. Let me just stay this – I love the mountains. It is my favourite place in the whole wide world! A bach by the sea? Nah-ah. I’d much rather take a hut in the mountains for my dream retiring home. Having said that, I am shit scared of the mountains.
For roughly 6km, we continued on up along the ridges, until we finally reached Powell Hut (15.7km) back at the tree line, where another checkpoint was in place. A quick drink and filling of water bottles, and we were on our way with about 8km to go. From here it is downhill almost all the way. And quite a steep one to boot. We did manage to run most of it, but with knackered quads, my progress was slower than I thought. Some of the runners we passed on the uphill stretch, have since come screaming past on the downhill.
With the steepest part of the downhill behind us after about 2kms, we could manage a slightly better pace for the final six kilometres over the well graded Gentle Annie Track. The finish is a few hundred metres from the start, but what a lovely welcome all runners receive. Everyone was sitting and lazying around under the trees, others went for a swim in the stream and drying off in the sun. It was just a nice and jovial finish to a challenging, but good day.
Race organiser, Rob Barber, congratulated us, before we headed over for some free grub; sausages, salad and fruit. What a fantastic finish to a great event. And the cherry on the cake was winning a spot-prize – a 25litre Macpac hydration pack, worth more than both our entries (at $60pp)!
If you haven’t done this before, get it on your to-do list. It is very challenging, but do-able. In total there were about 222 finishers over all the events: 70 in the Hooper Loop (a 12km event), 130 in the Jumbo-Holdsworth and 22 in the Holdsworth-Jumbo. Maybe we’ll consider going the other way around next time. Although, having to pass everyone coming from the front might be a bit of a pain. Still a year to decide. 🙂