“When you go to the mountains, you see them and you admire them. In a sense, they give you a challenge, and you try to express that challenge by climbing them” – Sir Edmund Hillary.
Indeed, it is a great and satisfying challenge to conquer a mountain, but how about conquering that mountain three times? This is what comprised of last weekend’s endeavours at the Mauao Half Marathon at which I had an absolute ball and even managed to pull off a win (huzzah!).
The Mauao Half is a new event started up by Tauranga’s Foundation Clinic where competitors run up Mount Maunganui three times. The three ascents follow each of the Mount’s gnarly tracks followed by a knee-smashing descent and a loop around the base of the mountain – totalling 21km in distance and over 900m of elevation gain. Those of you who are novel to trail events are probably thinking “how nutty, why would you think that’s fun?” while others who are competing in the Hillary may think “wow, what a fantastic idea for a training run”. And it was fantastic, I had a blast and ran a half-decent time of 1:56 – a welcomed surprise for an event I had planned as a practice run for the impending Hillary.
If you read my most recent blog about race plans you’ll have a fair idea of how my morning went: 5am alarm clock followed by sweet yoghurt mush for breakfast; race pack rummaging; stride outs and stretches; and let’s not forget half a dozen toilet stops in between. My preparations perhaps lacked a bit of focus due to my relaxed approach to the event and catching up with an old flat mate who originally sucked me into the race – basically, it was a case of him betting “I’ll do it if you do it” and then me signing up on the spot. He ended up marshalling, slack bugger, but it turned out to work in my favour. So thanks Mike.
The race began with 200 or so entrants huddled under the 7 man-wide start line banner (and that’s slim running man size, so really it was about four regular person-wide). The weather was overcast with a light southerly – primo running weather but not ideal GPS-tracking weather. My GPS watch didn’t click in until about 3 minutes into the race, making it a bit trickier to keep track of my time and distance. But then I figured people have been running without that techy stuff for centuries, so no biggie.
The really tricky part about this event was to pace yourself in the first half of the race so you don’t die a painful death on that final ascent. Just as a wise sensei would tutor a young grasshopper, Mum’s final words to me as I joined the other runners were “treat the first lap like a training run, go hard on the second lap, and on the final lap just survive.” And so this was my mantra, almost like a list of instructions to tick off between each lap.
After the first climb up the 4WD track and down the Stairs pathway I was feeling fresh as. There was even an essence of surprise in people’s cheers as I got to the turn-around at the end of the first lap. Must be doing alright then, I thought. For the second lap, we ascended up my favourite track the Northern Face trail which is a mixture of gentle rises and intermittent staircases. Then as I raced down the 4WD track in my trusty Icebugs I realised for the first time ever on that descent I was actually able to run down the gravelly path instead of slamming on the breaks the entire time. The tread on those Anima3’s really saved me in these descents and I adore them for it. In fact if it were appropriate to love a pair of shoes so much they probably would’ve been my Valentine (this is the sad state of my love life).
And then came the final lap: ascending up the killer stairs trail. Even though I felt I had held back during the first two laps, my legs were dead and I had to do the unthinkable – I walked. As a runner I am terribly hard-headed where if I walk, it feels like I have surrendered. What if the lady 1.5 minutes behind me feels great and flies up these stairs? This was all I can think about until I saw the 3rd and 4th males walking ahead of me which put me at ease. Maybe this is what we’re supposed to do?
Then I reached the summit for the final time and was resurrected. The thought of no more gnarly climbs and spectators at the summit still cheering their lungs out after 3 laps was incredibly uplifting. Especially the women calling “you go girl” and “you’re an inspiration to us all!” I wonder if they realise that kind of thing is just as motivating to me as it is to them.
My last lap around the base of the Mount was spent running in step with a gentleman who kept insisting “go ahead” – “but I can’t!” I could keep up with him but I didn’t have any spare power to pick up the pace, so I decided to be kind and not cause the man to be chicked. Yet there’s something about being closer to the finish line that can do magical things within a runner, causing them to suddenly summon a burst if strength and hasten their pace. Long story short, he got chicked. Sorry dude.
So all in all, the Mauao Half Marathon was a great event. It was a mass of fun and a good confidence booster for heading into the Hillary, because that gives me something to rely on – having the faith in myself to keep pushing even in the toughest parts of the 34km (anyone else thinking staircase before Constable Road?). All the months of training are behind us and there’s no more fitness to be gained. The best thing we can do is rest but still keep our legs fresh with a bit of light running, and go to sleep replaying that glorious moment in our minds when we cross that finishing line. Try not to go crazy during your tapering and good luck to you all on race day. I look forward to seeing you all there.