NZ Mountain Running Champs 2019 Race Report

Wellington, 13th April 2019
By John Crane

It seemed like a good idea at the time … a couple of months ago, Kent and I with a beer in our hands. Not so much after a quick check of the course after we arrived late on Friday afternoon in a ‘brisk’ southerly … and we’d only looked at the first 1.5km or so. We hadn’t yet seen what awaited us further into it or really understood that the ‘Hill from Hell’ was called that for a good reason.

Anyway, there we were and we had a mission. I’d suggested to Kent on one of our training runs up Sanitorium Hill (Maungakawa) that our target was for him to get a much deserved M50 NZ Championship title, for me to get on the M50 Championship podium with him and also to get the M55 Age Group win as an added bonus.

So, we’d arrived in Wellington mid-afternoon on Friday, picked up Matt Scott from the centre of town (Marc Scott was driving down to join us later) and headed around to Eastbourne across the harbour where we had an Airbnb booked for the night. Matt stayed at the house to wait for Marc and Kent and I headed over the hill to Wainuiomata to check the course. The start line was at the bottom of a steep climb of around 600m on a gravel road (straight into oxygen debt – oh good) then onto a steeply undulating, rocky track with a thin layer of clay which was very slippery in places after recent rain. Still, with the strong wind drying it out we thought it would be okay by the time the race came.

After that it was back to the house to meet Marc and sort out some food and beer for the evening (essential pre-race nutrition). We gave Marc and Matt the download about the course and Kent and I discussed which race shoes – Inov8s or trail shoes (because you always bring a couple of ace shoe options, right?). Then Marc groaned – he hadn’t brought any of his running shoe options at all (he was wearing a very smart pair of brown leather casual shoes – not quite the Inov8s that Kent and I reckoned were the best for the course!).  Somehow he’d left his 3 pairs at home. Fortunately, my spare pair fit him reasonably well, so was all sorted (but he wasn’t having the Inov8s ;).

Then it was down to the local pub for food and beer. We were about to walk back when it started raining quite hard – so another beer until it stopped. It rained even harder during the night and still a howling southerly. That wasn’t going to make the course any easier.

After hanging around for most of the morning we headed over the hill to the race registration and start area. Fortunately, the rain had stopped and the wind dropped off. Just needed someone to level out the hills now and it could be an enjoyable run!

Our race was 8.5km and the M50 men had the largest numbers of any grade with 20 entries. Kent took control from the start with Michael Wray of Wellington Scottish going up the hill with him and Marc and myself also tucking in behind them. We continued to climb (with a few short, sharp downs) to about the 2.8 km mark. Kent had a firm lead by then. I could still just about see him pulling further up each hill we came to and he was going strong. Marc and Michael Wray had dropped off by this point and it was starting to get tough. We then hit a fairly steep and tricky downhill for about 1 km before taking a sharp turn and starting a steep and slippery climb on clay and rock. We kept going mostly up for the next 1.5 km or more – and this included the aptly named ‘Hill from Hell’.

I was starting to struggle and had been passed by Jim Jones from Wellington Scottish who was going really well (hopefully not well enough to catch Kent). My calves were starting to cramp too as I pushed off on the hill climbs. We reached the highest point at about 5.4km, then mostly downhill from there. Sounds good, but it was steep, slippery with plenty of short, sharp rises in between and my calves had become a couple of tennis balls – making the downhill almost as tough as the uphill. Finally, the last 600m of steep downhill on the gravel road and through to the finish.

First thing to check – Kent had won (first part of our mission – tick). I wasn’t sure if I’d held 3rd place as there were a few runners from other grades coming though (and I thought I’d seen some grey hairs amongst them) – but it appears I did (another tick). I’d also claimed the M55 age grade win (final tick). Marc came through shortly afterwards in 6th place (nice shoes!), completing a great team effort.

There was a bit of hanging around for prize giving and a freezing shower, but we managed to get our moment on the podium before having to dash to the airport to catch our flight (and just had time for a celebratory beer before boarding).

The event was very well run and organised by Wainuiomata Harriers, but I have to say, Athletics NZ were conspicuous by their absence. They had managed to find a past ANZ official to give out the Championship medals, but no ANZ signage or anything to suggest that they had any interest at all in the event. That’s a shame for a national championship and poor support from our national body.

Anyway, we have a new NZ Champion in Kent. He totally controlled the race from the start and put in a huge performance on a brutal course. Well done and well deserved! Mission accomplished.

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