On Sunday I ran the long course (21.5km) in the first race of the Auckland XTerra Trail Run Series.
Despite the forecasts, it started out as an absolutely beautiful autumn day. In fact it was perfect to the point where I had to stop several times during the drive there along the Coatesville-Riverhead highway to take some photos. Fortunately I had plenty of time to spare so I stopped to grab a coffee and pastry at the apple orchard cafe just out of Kumeu as well.
The venue for the race was Woodhill Forest, best known as a mountain biking and motocross destination. The terrain was fairly flat sandy logging roads through red pine forest. It actually reminded me quite a lot of Chequamegon National Forest back in Wisconsin.
I'd decided in this race that I'd focus more on racing, rather than all the picture taking I did during the Superdune. At the start I lined up around the middle of the pack, and when the horn went off, I took off fairly aggressively. About 10 minutes in, I started feeling fairly run down. That isn't too unusual early on given my usual lack of warmup, but I was also a bit disheartened by the number of people passing me. I seemed to be losing quite a bit of ground in the field from my starting position. I was a bit bummed out by that until we hit the first water stop at 2.9 km. I glanced at my watch and saw that we'd come in quite a bit under 15:00. Doh! That wasn't too far off pace for my fastest half marathon. I eased back a bit and seemed to have settled into my place in the pack.
From there on I pretty much cruised along. The trail was nice and smooth, without any significant climbs, and quite good traction for all the sand. I hit the sign for 16km at about 1:24, so I had well over 30 minutes to run 5k and still come in under 2:00. That made me quite happy. So I picked up the pace a bit. I remember looking at my watch at about 1:47 and thinking: I've been running like clockwork, and the terrain's been the same, we can't have more than about 2km to go. Just then we hit the sign announcing "1km to go". Disturbingly, it was positioned right in front of a tangle of deadfalls. They turned out to be the gates of hell. ;-) From that point on it was a roller-coaster dune-slog. I had to laugh every time I staggered to the top of a sandy hill to see more sand as far as you could see. It took me damn near 20 minutes to cover that last "1km". I finished in 2:09:26.
Next race in early June is at Hunua Ranges. Rumour has it that the course is way tougher. I'll have to put in some hill work before then. Fortunately, I'm back at ASB starting next week, so I've got my lunchtime running partners back! :-)
After the race, I wandered around and took some photos of the beach at Woodhill. Typical west coast beach: mile after mile of beautiful sand, and not a soul in sight. I also stopped in at Muriwai beach on the way home. By then the weather had turned to crap, but it kind of suited the pounding surf. The fishermen and the kite surfers certainly didn't seem to mind.