Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Waitomo Trail Run

Date: April 30, 2016
Category: Technical Trail Run, Race
Weather: Sunny, 22, no wind
Location: Waitomo, King Country, Waikato
Distance: 11 km (11.4 km according to GPS)
Website: www.waitomotrailrun.co.nz

This past weekend I did the inaugural Waitomo Trail Run. The event had 4 distances to choose from: 6, 11, 22, and 33 kilometers. As I wasn't sure how my training would be progressing this early in the trail running season, I choose the 11 km run. My friend, her daughter, and her daughter's friend ran the 6 km event. Though I don't personally know anyone who did the 22 or 33 km events, talk at the finish line lead me to believe these were excellent events as well. At $45 it was a fairly price event.

The number one reason I picked this race: their rubbish policy, which stated: "Anyone caught deliberately littering will be severely penalised. You will be disqualified from this event. As further punishment, you will be tasked with clearing gorse from the hills above Te Anga road wearing only jandals, short and a singlet and you will be served warm cordial for sustenance. After that you will spend days crutching wet Perendales."
To those unfamiliar with Kiwi speak the following definitions are helpful:
gorse: an invasive plant that grows anywhere it can and has nasty thorns
Te Anga Road: a twisting road heading West from Waitomo through Tawarau Forest Conservation Area
jandals: Flip flops. Comes from Japanese sandals. Credit to the Japanese for creating the national footwear of NZ (if anyone chooses to wear footwear at all).
singlet: tank top, sleeveless shirt of any kind
crutching: removing wool from a sheep's behind and tail
Perendales: breed of sheep bread by Massey University to handle steep hills.

We started Saturday by driving out to Waitomo and picking up my registration materials at the Waitomo Caves Homestead, the new cafe/store where the Big Apple used to be on Highway 3. It was a bit difficult knowing where to pick up my number, as the address for Waitomo Homestead wasn't posted anywhere (that I could find) on the race website and the business was so new that their web presence wasn't great. I was not the only one, as K, my partner, saw many people being turned away from race parking and sent back to pick up their packets. DOC representatives were on hand at registration to ensure everyone's shoes were clean and dry, so as not to spread didymo to the area freshwater from other areas.
Photos courtesy of photos4sale.co.nz
Parking was well organized, and we easily made our way to the line for the buses to the start line. Though I say we, K was just there for support, having recently sprained his ankle and not yet recovered enough for trail running. The event ended up being far more popular than race organizers initially anticipated, so both the 11 km and the 6 km were divided into waves for the start. I was in the second wave, having signed up relatively early on. The bus took us to the start in the Ruakuri Cave. At this point it would have been really nice for the organizers to have water at the start, as we had spent a fair amount of time waiting for the bus and waiting for our turn to enter the cave. However, it's unusual to have 22 degree sunny heat at this time of year, and I should have known better than to leave my Fuelbelt at home. We went down into the cave, had a picture taken, and climbed back up the long spiral walkway to the exit of the cave and the start of the timed race. Despite having a fear of caves and others around me being uncomfortable with confined spaces, this was a pretty cool way to start a race.

The first part of the race was through hilly, bumpy farm fields, with a few fence climbs to protect the livestock. The hills were pretty steep and difficult in the hot sun. Further on in the race, the trail went into the forest. This is where the fun really began. Even though it had not been a particularly rainy week, the trail was slippery mud in many areas. This was particularly difficult given the steep hills in the area and served to slow me down considerably. Roots were covering the path so completely in areas that one had no choice but to run on them and risk the slip. This is also the part of the race where the 22 km and 33 km runners met up with the 11 km runners. Though it was busy, the only part I had to wait for others on the single track was at the river crossing. The river was almost knee deep and swifter than I had anticipated, but I managed to stay upright. This is more than I can say for one of the girls running in front of me, who did a roll fall down the steep, muddy hill just before the river. She popped up saying she was ok, took another step, then proceeded to fall once more before running off. My main concern was to stay upright so as not to slip down the hill and fall on top of her. The end of the course was through a small cave and down some tourist walking paths and fire roads with large rocks.
Photos courtesy of photos4sale.co.nz
My friend said the 6 km was a great, family friendly race, not at all resembling the technical trail the 11 km was on. The two girls with her (around 8 years of age) loved the course and ran most of it. The 6 km started in Ruakuri Cave as well, but went on more well formed tracks to finish in Waitomo Domain with the other distances.

Overall the race was well organized. The two aid stations were a bit close together for my liking (7 km in and 8.5 km in), but this was mostly a problem because of standing in the sun for so long before the race and failing to bring my own water. The 8.5 km aid station had an assortment of lollies (candy) and savory food such as pb sandwiches. The medals were plastic and nothing to write home about, but I never do races for the medals anyway. I didn't attend the awards ceremony, as we had friends coming over that evening.

A few notes if you decide to do this race:
The wait for the bus and to get into the cave is in the open, so dress appropriate for standing around in whatever the weather is that day.
They have a 13 year age minimum on the 11 km. It is there for a reason. I saw some small children on the course, and many ended up being carried by their parents because of the difficulty of the course.
It is a fairly technical course. You will have plenty of lung-busting hills, ankle-breaking rocks and holes in the ground, trees to climb over, muddy hills to slide down, one small river to cross, and plenty of exposed land to cross. Be prepared for the race to take you longer than your average trail run on well-formed trails, and much longer than a run of the same distance on the road. However, these technical parts of the course are what make it so much fun.
Be warned, at least this year, there are a lot of wasps near the course (as there were this year everywhere in NZ). If you are allergic, be prepared.
Photos were free for all participants thanks to photos4sale.co.nz. How cool is that?!

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