At the western end of Ohope Beach, where the Gorge Road curves away up and over the hill to Whakatane, there is a small car park on the left and a carved gateway marking the beginning of a track.
It is late afternoon of New Year’s Eve and the temperature is up in the high twenties. It’s been a fairly lazy week or two, apart from a couple of easy flat outings on the New Plymouth Coastal Walkway and I’m getting a bit twitchy about lack of training. High time I got some bush around me and some elevation behind me. I’m fairly sure I won’t be running much tomorrow.
Today will be the first real trail outing for the new IceBug Anima 3’s, (Courtesy of Tim at IceBug in exchange for inflicting you with these rambling dissertations – think I got the better side of the deal!). I’m keen to see how they go in actual bush conditions, as so far they’ve only had a few Boot Camp sessions on grass fields at the Auckland Domain.
My first pair of IceBugs were the Zeal, bought a few months ago when things were a lot wetter and muddier, conditions in which they excelled at gripping and general trail feel. I’m looking to compare them with the Anima 3, which might complement the Zeal for me as more an all-rounder shoe and on harder summer trails.
The Zeal is flattish, (6mm drop – so not super flat) with a fairly unique tread pattern that is pretty aggressive and has an unusual feature of a rasp-like grip section under the arch which I reckon would be pretty ideal for obstacle racing and sliding along greasy ropes. It is flat inside, with no insole and the sole flexes reasonably well to match the contours of the ground. They are a ‘Medium’ last, and wide enough for my big feet.
I totally love this shoe on muddy, gnarly difficult tracks, but have a suspicion that extended running on harder surfaces might end up a bit uncomfortable after a while. Having said that, IceBug do have contoured orthotic insoles available if required.
The Anima 3 is quite a different beast. It has an 8mm drop and a bit more padding on the upper, as well as an insole with arch support. The tread on the Anima is very different too, consisting of many low hexagonal lugs a little reminiscent of the moulded rubber sprigs you get on football boots for harder ground. The lugs are slightly slanted in opposite directions at the front and back of the shoe, so you get bite going both up or downhill.
These are also a ‘Medium’ last and I’ve decided to go up a ½ size from my current Zeals, as I think a smidgen more room in the toe box would be better. My experience on long runs has been that my feet swell a little anyway and a snugger fit generally ends up with me clenching my toes to stop them getting mashed into the front of the shoe on steep downhills . Presumably we have toenails for a reason, so I’d kind of like to keep mine where they belong.
Through the archway and onto the track which initially closely parallels the road. About 200m in there’s a fork in the path. I go left and begin to climb the east face of the ridge, but either track would have done, as they both end up at the same place atop the hill about 150m above. It really is warm and the track alternates steep stairs with long slopes. It’s all groomed trail, so the Anima’s aren’t getting particularly challenged so far. It’s good to be under the shade of the canopy and I try to keep a steady jogging pace on as I know this is a fairly short hill and there will be a bit of a respite at the summit.
This is different bush to the Waitakeres. There’s a few Totara about and lots of Beech, but no Kauri that I can see. The Tui are still just as quarrelsome though. After a sweaty but otherwise uneventful climb of a bit over 1km I reach the top to be rewarded with a bit of a view over the beach. Can’t quite make out White Island from here, but it’s not a bad spot all the same. From here I can head back down the other side of the loop, but I have other plans. Behind me another track beckons, undulating away through Beech forest along the ridge to the south.
This is the Nga Tapawae o Toi track that snakes over the hill and drops back down over the other side to pop out in Whakatane right at the start of the Gorge Road. If I wanted to, I could trot along the back of town toward the river mouth and then back up the hill onto the Kohi Point track and round the coast back to Ohope via Otarawairere Bay (which can be a bit of a scramble at high tide).
That’s a big chunk more than I have time for today, so I’m just going to run out along this first ridge for a couple of km and then back to the car, dropping down the other side of the loop track from that I came up.
The ridge track is a really fun one to run, after an initially dip, it climbs another 50m or so in elevation, but from there it’s a hugely enjoyable gently undulating 1.5km through pristine Beech forest. Apparently this is Kiwi country and if you come after dark you have a fair chance of at least hearing some calls.
The track is fairly dry, but there’s a few muddier patches and some moderately uneven bits, so I open the taps and let the Animas go. So far my impressions are that they are really comfortable and the grip on these surfaces (hard dirt, occasional soft patches and a few roots here and there) is pretty impressive. While they don’t quite have the flex of the Zeal and they are a few grams heavier, compared to my big clunky road shoes they are positively lightweight and bendy.
The RB9X rubber in the soles is supposed to be durable enough to run on asphalt roads and I’m certainly finding it has no problem sticking to the occasional rocky bit. Those small lugs are hardly noticeable and seem to function almost like octopus tentacle suckers. Kind of cool really.
All too soon I come to a sharp decline that brings me down to Burma Road, which is as far as I’m going today. This is a gravel private road that cuts across from the Gorge road over to the Ohiwa harbour not far from the Oyster farm/chip shop and if I had a bit more time I’d run down there to see how the Anima’s fare on gravel. I do trot a couple of hundred metres down past the locked gate just for a look, and on the way back up I see another runner pop out of the track mouth, check his GPS and then head back in the way he came.
He’s a smug looking 20 something, so I reckon I’ll have a go at running him down. I haul it back up the first incline and then go for it along the ridge. I’m letting the feet find their own way and really pleased at how well the Anima’s are going. There’s no hint of slip or skid and no chafing or rubbing in any of the many pressure points on my lumpy feet.
I reach the top of the loop down to Ohope without sight of my quarry and I don’t know which path he’s taken. I decide to go left on the basis that:
- There are less stairs on this side and it’s more fun to pelt down
- It’s shorter, so if he went the other way I’ve a good chance of heading him off. (We old dudes are cunning like that)
This track drops fairly sharply down to a little stream and I really let go, pelting down the hill, jumping, hopping, sliding and generally having a blast. It’s my last run of 2015, so it’s good to finish on a high note.
I hit the bottom at full steam and then basically sprint the last 200m or so back to the carpark.
Running Guy has just passed under the archway when I come in sight of the end so not a bad effort, but no medal.
So that’s the exercise bit sorted for the year. Time to head back for a beverage or two to round it off in appropriate fashion. I’ll resurface sometime soon with more to say on track cuisine, my quest for running competence and the strange things that happen in my head 5 hours into a long trail run.
In the meantime, Happy New Year to one and all!