Kauri Ultra (70km) 2012
Friday 16 November, we drove from Auckland (biggest city in NZ) to the Fletcher Bay campsite on Coromandel Peninsula (about four and a half hours). The 70km race would start 0530 next day and the forecast was not good, rain and wind most of the day. The drive in to the area on shingle road was absolutely magnificent with sea, cliffs and beaches on the left and magnificent aged Pohutakawa trees lining the route. For me, very few people around is a positive! Camp was a basic cold shower job with long drops (all well maintained) but again, fabulous beach location and a great lonely spot. Just how do you explain to people who do not run off road why you feel the environment of such a place soaks into the soul and makes you feel happy, its the reason i run and always has been.
At 8 pm, after putting up our tent twenty metres from the start in this scenic Dept Of Conservation campsite, we gathered up at the Conservation Backpackers block for a briefing and were given our numbers etc. Only about 27 hardy souls were present (this race is only in its second year and don't forget its a tiny country, a big race might have 300 to 400 people). This is one tough race and we were warned it should be viewed, and executed, as a hundred km run. No noddies present, everyone was well prepared and a bit of banter was exchanged. We were asked to check our compulsory gear (polypro shirt, silver blanket and windproof jacket) and ensure our shoes were clean to protect the Kauri trees (from dieback disease). We supply most of our food and just refuel at km 20,38,46,54,61 and 63. Food available was to be bananas, oranges and jelly beans. This would supplement my own powders, foods and the planned fluid per hour. This is not a good novice race, its got too many harsh climbs and is challenging but it does offer superb scenery, a great taste of Kiwi bush running on well marked trail and a real sense of community and camaraderie with the finish in the picturesque old gold mining town of Coromandel. The shorter options would be better for novices or for young racing snakes! At this time of year the weather is usually dry and warm but of course it does not always comply.
The race is well run by local outdoor types, and one big cause is to raise funds to replant the magnificent Kauri tree much depleted over the last century by logging and more recently with Kauri dieback disease. My grandfather fought in the British army in Europe's WW1 trenches and probably went over the top surrounded by Kauri wood - vast numbers have been destroyed and its time to put some back. Each person running has a tree planted for them and we have already put 2000 in the ground on the course. These trees are truly magnificent and are entire ecosystems on their own. Both Maori and New Zealanders in general find these trees symbolic of the country and there is something spiritual and splendid about them.
The run was to prove one of the toughest i have done km for km and i have done a lot of racing including Marathon Des Sables, Leadville Trail 100, Goretex Trans Alpine and Swiss Alpine K78. It is reasonably isolated and spectacular with big climbs, long lonely beaches and through magnificent forrest finally dropping down to finish in the old mining township. Anyone looking for a tough but beautiful 70km cannot find anything better here. Inferior races, much hyped, are sold out every year here. The Peninsula is historically a gold miners dream and the course passes many old mines, long since covered in thick bush so its a good idea to stick to the track.
At 0530 we ran off out of camp to hit the Coromandel Walkway, headlights needed for a bit. This section was fabulous native bush running around the coast to Stony Bay. Track superb and just the sound of native birds sparking up, the calls echo around the valleys and big fat wood pigeon flutter close by from branch to branch as only NZ pigeon can do. As it turned out this was the easy bit. First aid station banged off at about 18 km, about 6th overall - refuelled, quick water out and off onto a gravel road section in rain before entering the bush again. I consumed my fluids as planned and had time to speak to three or four people who were arround. I picked up accents from Australia and South Africa (for the chap i met in USA last year - no we are not the same country as Australia!). My body was at racing pace for such terrain and the breathing even, the only unusual feedback i was getting was a bit of hamstring pain in both legs - steep hill climbs. This section of track in the bush looked newish and the rain was causing mud to build on the shoes making it very hard going. I do remember thinking " at 50 years old and hundreds of these behind me do i have to pick the toughest races anymore?". We ran arround a coastal section which was absolutely crystal clear water and still very isolated and then on back up into thick bush. Here i saw lots of turned up soil everywhere, sure sign of wild pigs! Later i would learn one of the aid stations guys, up early to set up, came across a pig, grabbed it and later carried it out to his place alive and kicking! The going got tough with the climb up to 240m then a rugged drop down to shingle road and a nice flat burst through to the aid station. It was here i picked up my first scalp from ahead, i'll take them if presented.
We seemed very spread out now and ran quickly along the gravel road each trying to catch the person ahead and also looking to stretch the gap to the next person. This point of Waikawau is the start for another shorter race and the buses carrying competitors passed us here, a few shouting encouragement. I ran into transition, changed bottle belt and put on a warm shirt with the weather rapidly declining again. My wife and the organiser let me know who was where (sixth overall and first vet- can't believe i am a vet!), and then i was free to run into the dunes to a magnificent three km beach. Tide was in, as planned of course, so running was tough and the wade across the river at the end just the ticket. I had passed a couple of people in transition but one of them soon pegged me back again and i could also see first lady tracking me down ( Dawn would pass me over the next three kms and although i hoped to catch her later with another guy i never did). Now we ran into the bush where over 2000 Kauri have been planted and scrambled the multiple stream crossings to head up to a high point of 350m (just like Hope Pass!) and the 46km mark. The weather really fell apart here with high winds and rain, plus a Maori bloke singing his head off and directing us over a hill - nice one! We now faced a number of big steep climbs on rugged tracks which really got my hamstrings humming as i walked hard up and then ran the flats and downs. The South African was absolutely munted when we met at an aid station and i never saw him again. I was now passed by a few of the leaders in the shorter race and i found myself barely able to get purchase on the steep clay. This climbing seemed to be taking a toll on those hamstrings, i tried hard to ease the pain on the flats by running freely and extending these muscles. We got to a long gradual descent to 61km at the top of Kennedy Bay Rd. This track was a bit muddy but great running and i hooked onto the back of a couple of the shorter racers to help push me on. We popped out of the bush, refuelled at the aid station and then strode up to the trig point - this is about one km and very steep, causing pain to my smashed legs and loads more sweat but i was keen to stay ahead of some other runners so i pushed pretty hard. We turned off to the section marked "technical", a bit of an understatement really. Its about 3 kms of impossibly thick roots, rocks and trees mixed with mud and rotted stumps etc - i am pretty sure nobody ran that at all! We now sit 560m above sea level with the township laid out ahead and the coast beyond. It is a very steep and twisty drop here but slowly widens to a good quad bike size where I could actually stride out the three km to the road and town! This is "The success" mining trail and you can see how the old gold miners would have called it that as they headed back to town with some dust in their pockets. The last two kms was pretty tough to the finish but the clock is close to 9 hrs and i don't want that so i push on to 8 hrs 55, seventh man and first vet. Everyone who did that 70 km looked pretty wrecked, its tough but well worth it for trail runners looking to experience some great New Zealand outdoors and great people. Dawn Tuffery was first lady in 8 hrs 21 (2nd lady was 9:27).
We would love to see runners from USA and elsewhere down here for a summer of trail running including this race and i know the organisers would gladly answer queries. Check out "The Great Cranleigh Kauri Run "- Coromandel, New Zealand. Web www.arcevents.co.nz. Great running is provided. My wife and i will see you at Goretex Trans Rockies!