Race day is getting closer, and I was keen to experience the course myself first hand before the event. Curious to know what the terrain would be like underfoot and how hilly the hills actually are. We were also in need of elevation maps. The plan was to walk the whole course, which I figured should take me around three and a half to four hours. I ended up jogging two to three kilometres.
We left early from Palmy for the hour and a half drive to Taihape. Actually, as opposed to previously when the event was still organised by someone else, the course is now about seven kilometres south of Taihape in the Utiku area. At the Gravity Canyon turnoff to the right, to be precise. Just across the Mangatainoka Gorge the first right takes you to the start of the event about 400-500 metres up the road. There’s two paddocks of which one will be used for parking and the other for the race base, the gumboot gallop dash, et cetera.
Instead of parking in front of the farmers gates where the actual start/finish of the event will be, we decided to drive up the road to park at the bottom of the paper road. This meant that we would have to adapt the resultant elevation map to reflect the true course.
21.1km & 12.8km course maps
21.1km course profile
12.8km course profile
The sun was already high and the mercury was rising. The patchy clouds weren’t enough to protect us from the blazing sun.
We started off on a slight downhill on a gravel road going towards the actual start of the event. I found the gravel to be fairly coarse in places, but in the car tracks it was fine. After a short walk we met the first farmer. We introduced ourselves and after exchanging some pleasantries we were on our way again. Up ahead we could see the downhill gravel road winding through the hills making a little jog seem appealing. Since the middle of October I haven’t gotten back into running again, apart from the odd kilometres here and there during our walking regime since the beginning of the year. As a result of this, jogging suddenly felt a bit strange. I felt out of shape, bouncing all over the road without rhythm or rhyme. If a sack of potatoes could run, that would aptly describe my style.
Let me explain. Our last running event was the Wairarapa Country Half where, apart from a host of other issues, I also developed severe pain on my left hip bone. My immediate thought was that it must be a stress fracture. I never had it checked out and we stopped running altogether. The pain felt similar to the pain I went to see a physio for on the right hip which just opened Pandora’s box resulting in a cascade of issue and to finally be diagnosed with FAI (femoral acetabular impingement). I had an inkling that the outcome might be the same, so opted to not go through the motions.
As the days and weeks went by, I felt fatter, got unfitter, ate too much junk, and was generally just not going in any direction I wanted to see myself going in. Usually when this happens and all else fails I find a backpacking trip into the wilderness very helpful to bring some perspective. So we took the plunge and ventured into the Tararua Ranges over New Year.
Getting back home after the five days on the second of January and realising that we started the year off by walking eight or more kilometres each day, I got the idea that maybe this is something I can try and keep up. Eight kilometres is a bit of a push and being partial to the number seven we rounded it down to seven. For the most part we’ve kept it up so far, but there are some days that it is just impossible to get all the kilometres done. During February we decided to introduce some jogging back into the regime and started running one of the seven kilometres. We only did this a few times before this recce, so running or jogging is not part of my reality at present.
We made arrangements with the farmer who’s property we would be crossing, and after we passed the real start we turned right to follow Gorge Road uphill to the farmer’s property. On the way there he rang Gerry and said he will meet us when we pass his house. A kilometre or so later we passed his gate where he was sipping on some coffee and also offering us a cuppa which we reluctantly and politely declined. We still had a long day ahead and if we started having extended breaks so soon already, we might not get going again. Some quick introductions and a chat before we carried on to turn right onto the gravel road from where we would cross his land. He met us again at the gate on his quad bike as he and his brother (whom we also met later) had to move some stock.
The paddock was hard packed and dry. The drought is claiming its toll and the farmer informed us that his sheep will have to go to the works earlier than normal, as feeding is becoming increasingly challenging. Passing a couple of mostly dried-up puddles, the sheep were standing in the mud to get some relief from the heat. When we were checking out the course towards the end of last year these puddles were still little dams.
This section is mostly flat. Mt Ruapehu is visible on these higher parts of the course and in all directions the hilly farmlands frame a pretty picture.
When we reached the top of the paper road it looked far down to get to the bottom where the road switches back. Turns out it is not as steep as I thought it would be and was quite runnable. Gerry charged down and I trotted along on the couple hundred metres downhill. Once you get to the switch back at the bottom the downhill gets more gradual.
Back at the bottom of the paper road we passed the car and stocked up on some provisions for our second lap. At the fork at the bottom of the gradual, fast downhill on gravel road we turned left to take on the gradual uphill back to the top at the farmers gate. By then we were approaching the warmest time of the day. A farmer came driving past while we were checking out the views. Suddenly I caught something in the corner of my eye. It was none other than a couple of bulls on a little ridge next to the road. They were on the wrong side of the fence, and while I was frantically scouting for a fence to jump should they start charging, Gerry called one of the farmers on the road. Turns out the cattle were grazing the “long acre” and was meant to be there. When we drove by afterwards we noticed three bulls still calmly standing in the shade and swatting at flies with their tails.
Our second time through the farmers property and down the paper road went smoothly and I tried to jog little bits of the downhill where possible. Back at the car Gerry dropped his pack to run to the actual finish, while I drove the car back to pick him up.
The final section back on the road has a nice little climb, but also good shade among the tall trees. Sheep were huddled up under a tree to find some cool relief from the sun.
Although varied terrain might not be to everyone’s taste it is an event that I won’t mind doing. It is social, has varied terrain, great views, and should be a fun day out. Fingers crossed for good weather – not too hot, not too cold, and just the right amount of wind to cool down the runners and walkers.