Date: 4 September
During last year’s Level 4 lockdown, we ran short out-and-back stretches in our tiny neighbourhood. So this year, we went back to doing this the moment the second (in 18 months) Level 4 lockdown started on 18 August. Running in our neighbourhood means that we are running more hills, which is good. Longer might make you stronger, but so do hills – perhaps even more so.
After three weeks of running up and down the hilly road, I figured I should be in a better place for running uphill. At our last hilly outing three weeks ago (the Mukamuka Munter) it was obvious that we run mainly on flat surfaces, and on-road, as was evident by our time, not to mention how I was huffing and puffing to get over the mountain. But we made it to the finish in one piece, and committed to getting more hills into our training regime.
We are lucky to live in the foothills of the windfarm. At the far, dead-end of our road there is a gate. I have often looked past it to where a wee forest is edged on the side of the mountain, just below the turbines. The turbines are so close to our place, it feels like I can reach out and touch them. We can hear them on wind-still nights. A contradiction in terms it would seem, but that is when the wind (usually a westerly that blows the sound towards the Wairarapa side) is light enough to move the blades, but calm enough that we can hear them loud and clear on the Manawatu side. Speaking to a neighbour yonks ago, it transpired that this road past the gate, apparently, does lead through this forest and all the way to North Range Road. We’ve been meaning to chat to the farmer to gain access, but haven’t got around to it yet.
So we opted for an alternative which unfortunately meant quite a bit of road running, and only about a third off-road. But the good part is that it included a hill of some 700m elevation.
It was overcast and somewhat windy. The forecast claimed sunny, one degree Celsius during the night and seven kilometre per hour winds reaching 13km/h by noon. By morning it was six degrees Celsius (so not terribly cold), overcast, and the wind was not too bad. By 8am, with a belly full of breakfast, we were on our merry way.
The road sections were unfortunately on reasonably busy roads. The Aokautere-Pahiatua Road (Pahiatua Track) saw quite a few cars and trucks coming by, but the Fitzherbert East Road extension towards Ashhurst was worse. Luckily we only ran about 4k on the latter. Pahiatua Track from top to bottom is about 9k, which was all included in our loop.
From Fitzherbert East Road, we turned right onto Forest Hill Road. Once off the busy roads and on the country roads, the run became more enjoyable. No need to constantly watch out for cars, and having to get well off of the road when trucks approach. After a kilometre or so, the uphill began in all earnest. We tried to jog little bits, but was reduced to a walk every so often. We knew that this road goes all the way to North Range Road, but didn’t realise it goes through private land, and a permit is required for access. A friend told us a few years ago that he often runs in this forest and so we assumed the closure pertains mainly to vehicles. From the North Range Road side, there used to be a gate, but I don’t remember any access warnings/issues. My understanding was also that the army sometimes uses this area for training.
After about 4k on Forest Hill Road, we reached and jumped over the locked gate (12k). We went through a tiny paddock and after about 50m there was another gate. Once we were over that I felt more comfortable that we were safe from the bull. Actually I couldn’t see whether it was a bull or a cow, but it was eyeing us and I was in no position to start sprinting should he decide to chase. Mind you, a raging bull might have pumped enough adrenaline to make me clear the average fence not touching sides.
Naturally, once we were in the Aokautere Forest and having jumped two gates, I instantly felt super guilty. Although it would seem that lots of runners use this forest as a training ground, I felt like a trespasser (which I was), and as if we were being watched all the time.
About 700m in, we reached a fork in the road. I checked my Topo Maps app, and saw that the road I thought we should take is quite a bit longer than the alternative. At this point I thought that the quicker we can get through the forest and onto North Range Road, the better. I was, however, uncertain about the alternatives as they didn’t look like proper roads. But as it turns out, they were just the same as the ‘main’ road. We turned right and after about 1k we reached another fork with the road veering off in three directions. Instinctively I thought the middle road to be the right one. Gerry suggested we go right as this road seemed wider and more like the correct road. I couldn’t disagree. After a few hundred metres, another fork made us once again question our direction, but when we reached the fence line of the windfarm still a few metres further, it seemed like the road was going in the wrong direction (heading back towards Palmy). Out came my phone and Topo Maps again, and so we backtracked to the fork where we went wrong, to take the middle road. Always follow a hunch. Haha.
Back on track, I was amazed by the beautiful area almost on our doorstop, but being a ‘trespasser’ spoiled the experience. With lots of the pine trees still in their teenage years, little bits of sun came through the clouds to warm the way. Even though it wasn’t meant to be that cold, it wasn’t warm either, mainly because of the wind.
The section through the private land was just a bit over 5k and almost worth the unnerving situation. Having said that, we will obtain formal permission to be there for next time. At the top near the gate just before reaching North Range Road (at 17.2km), it would appear that someone (the forest manager perhaps?) decided to make sure no 4WD vehicles can go down that road, by dumping two truck-size humps of soil right across the road. I’ve noticed the gate being flattened the previous time we were on NRR, but this was new (at least in the last two or three years). It took some clambering but we got over the obstacle, and clearly we were not the only pedestrians/MTBs going through there, as there was a clear, narrow path to show the way.
Once on North Range Road, we turned right again and immediately had to start negotiating the mud puddles. Even after a few sunny or no rain days, the 4WD section was still quite muddy. The wind was also very strong by then, and the wind-noise in my ears was deafening. It was evident that the 4WDrivers have carved up the road much more than last time we were up there.
Once we reached the Te Rere Hau windfarm gate (20.5km), I knew that the road was almost all the way downhill back home. The 3.5k we had left on NRR had only a small little incline, while Pahiatua Track was downhill all the way. With the new windfarm in progress on South Range Road, the quality of NRR has also improved. However, the super course gravel was very uncomfortable to run on. The road is wider, cleaned up on the sides and with a new (coarse) gravel topping.
The wind was very strong by then, and my arms and hands were starting to go numb from the cold. My core was still warm so didn’t feel the need for an extra layer.
Hitting Pahiatua Track (24km into the run), the road was busy as always. It is not the best road to run on, with only a narrow shoulder, and some parts lacking a shoulder altogether. For short sections we were somewhat sheltered from the wind, but most other times the headwind would blow me to a standstill. Lots of cars were out on the road.
I was tired and sore, but with the last 5.5k on-road downhill stretch, I could run all the way.
Back at home we had a shower, and made lunch before venturing outside for a bit of puttering in the garden. Late afternoon we made a campfire and had some vino to celebrate. I’m not nearly back to ultras, but am getting there slowly but surely. Getting back into the swing of things just take much longer than I hoped. And I still need to do lots of work on my mobility, strength and flexibility. My buggered hip and leg is still part of the package.