Date: 9 March 2019
Covering the final few metres of this tough, gruelling run unsure of where the actual finish was, we were stopped next to a gazebo and congratulated by the organiser who was checking that we looked compos mentos. And with a sadistic grin he asked “Did I break you?”, while telling us proudly that he did break some of us. And while he is no Laz and this is not the Barkley, the course sure is tough. It seems to have become a “thing” to try to break participants and more and more events aim to do just that. Turns out, out of the 138 runners and walkers, 21 DNF which is about 7%.
It’s now a couple of days later and my quads are still not playing ball. The event is not called the Triple Peaks for no reason. It certainly is not a doodle down a stream in the valley. This is one heck of a tough course. If the ups won’t get you, the steep downhills certainly will. And while the elevation and distance is similar to the Tarawera 50, the Tarawera is far easier. Undulating up and down little bits at a time is way more gentle on muscles than going all the way up for six or seven kilometres, then down again for six or seven kilometres. You end up using the same set of muscles continually for a few hours, before changing it over to use a different set for the next couple of hours or so. Repeat that two more times and you have the gist of this event.
We arrived in Havelock North shortly before race briefing on Friday night. A light rain had everyone huddling up under a few gazebos and umbrellas. Since the course runs through the Tukituki River twice, they have a contingency plan to cut out that part of the course should the river levels become too high. With the light rain, and more predicted through the night, I was somewhat concerned that we might not be able to experience the actual course. Luckily that turned out not to be the case, as the alternative route would mean that we would miss out on the middle one of the three peaks, while doing the first one twice.
Starting (and finishing) at the Havelock North Village, the course ventures through the suburbs out of town in a south-easterly direction. After a few kilometres on tarmac, we reached a gravel road that led to farmlands. With rolling green hills in all directions as far as the eye can see the course runs for all intents and purposes uphill from the start to the top of Mt Erin (489m) over about 12kms. On the way up, we passed quite a few cyclists and I can’t imagine how anyone could bike up those hills. It was hard to get myself up the mount, let alone having to push or pull a bike up too. At the top of Mt Erin we were welcomed by a few friendly marshals for a banter, a photographer and a bagpipe player, before getting a drink (only water at this point), clocking in at the timing-device, and starting to make our way down the mountain.
Within the first couple of kilometres on the down, I realised that my quads were already stuffed and I couldn’t imagine how I was going to do that two more times. At the bottom, we crossed a fence to follow a very rough section with lumps of soil, trenches, tall grass and fennel taller than me. Once through that, we reached the Tukituki River where we could cross about knee deep. I was yet again amazed at the pull of water even that shallow. At the other side, we reached the first water and transition point. With heaps of supporters and an aid station stocked with water, electrolyte drink, bananas and beautiful Hawke’s Bay apples, it was a very jolly festive transition point. We shared a banana, had a drink and a quick chat to Suzanne who was helping out at this point (she was also the tail-end Charles for the second section), before heading out for the second mountain with an apple for the road ahead.
A few hundred metres up the gravel road, we turned right onto a shaded sealed road for about a kilometres before veering left onto a gravel road that was again going uphill basically all the way to the top of Mt Kahuranaki (646m). At the bottom of the mountain, a sealed road is crossed before heading onto farmland. The real climbing started from there and as the dirt road goes up around the side and back of the mountain, we gained quite a bit of elevation. At the top of the mountain, we were again treated to drinks and apples etc, as well as a DJ (I believe it was a musician), but we only had Eye of the Tiger and a Bruce Springsteen song I can’t remember right now blaring over the sound system on our way up. A light wind cooled us down as the sun was baking by then, and since most the the course is in the open, there’s not a lot of shelter. From the top of Mt Erin to the top of Mt Kahuranaki we covered a distance of 16km.
Of course most of the cyclists came screaming past on the downhill. Turns out it was more or less the same group of runners and cyclists that were battling the steep terrain together. Down the other side, I was already terribly sore, and could feel my big toenail wasn’t all too happy either. It was fairly swollen and a blister started to form underneath the toenail. Another hotspot on my other big toe had since also turned into a blister.
Unfortunately, when one isn’t used to downhill running for miles on end (despite running downhill whenever I can), your quads pack a sad very quickly and there is no way to recover from that. We trotted on as best we could and finally reached the bottom of the mountain again where we covered the same 6-7km stretch we did on the way up, to get back to the Tukituki River. Passing the aid station, we went through the river and the overgrown area, across the fence and then veered right across a grassy patch, instead of the path to the left which would take you back up to Mt Erin.
I was well and truly buggered by then, so we started walking lots more. We followed the river on an off-road for a few kilometres before getting back onto a sealed road where a few cyclists came past. Turning left into a farm again (the same farm where the start of the Te Mata Peak trail run is) we started making our way up to Te Mata Peak (399m). The hills remain relentless and once we were through the forest area, the real climb around the back of Te Mata Peak begins. This is a very steep area and I wouldn’t want to slide or tumble down the mountain! Again, seeing cyclists pushing their bikes up the steep gradient made me very happy that I just had to get myself up the mountains. At the top of Te Mata Peak we had the final aid station, and the 23km between Mt Kahuranaki and Te Mata Peak felt like a lifetime. I could hardly move. The final 7km to the finish were challenging at best. More so when we were informed by various supporters that the finish was only 5km away. You can imagine my surprise when after five or six kilometres, we reached an ablution block with a sign that read 2km to go. We were back on trails in a suburb which was really pretty, but felt extremely long.
When we finally reached the Havelock North Village the finish banner was already packed up. With a medal around our necks, and a beer on the house, we attended prize-giving before buying curry and a bubbly and heading home for a shower, some celebrations, and a good sleep.
A good challenging event. At the time I thought to myself – never again – but time heals and I’m already contemplating a second round of the agony.