Race report: Waihi Xterra Marathon

Waihi Xterra Marathon was my first bigger post-baby event last year, so I was keen to see if I’d got any fitter. Aims were threefold – beat last year’s time, place top 3, run most of Karangahake, and generally have fun. Ok, that’s four.

At 5am I woke up, heard the rain, and suddenly had a yearning to be doing the ultra. But the marathon would have to do. Child is happy to be abandoned with grandma this year, and I am happy to zoom off for Dickey’s Flat. We lined up for the boot wash and I scan my fellow masochists. Where are Vicky and Kristian? (Peer pressured to upgrade to the 60k, I learn later). Hmm, that lady looks fast, must be Lesley Turner-Hall. The first half hour passes by pleasantly as we all trot along by the river. I’m not sure whether to queue-jump or not, so just take the patient approach.

Odd fact: I am called ‘Ruby’ on three separate occasions during the race. I’d like to think it’s because I am speeding like a gazelle, but it’s probably just that one muddy female in the bush looks much like another. A girl can dream though. (“I am one with the bush! I eat hills for breakfast! I am Ruby Muir!”)

Driving to Waihi yesterday, Alba had very definite opinions about appropriate music choices. These now resurface on repeat as a background soundtrack in my mind. At least they help the cadence.

A flea and a fly in a flue
Were imprisoned, so what could they do?
Said the fly, “let us flee!”
Said the flea, “Let us fly!”
So they flew through a flaw in the flue

This section of track really is great fun. I’m able to meander along at my own pace and generally have a good skip around. Whee! I then meet several people coming towards me and get confused. Am I lost? While I’m pondering this, we pop out onto farmland and I get lost. Good one Dawn! It’s only 3 or 4 minutes but slightly irritating.

Onwards and upwards, however. River crossings and the kauri track await.

I went to the animal fair,
The birds and the beasts were there,
The big baboon by the light of the moon
Was combing his auburn hair
The monkey he got drunk
And sat on the elephant’s trunk
The elephant sneezed and fell on his knees
And that was the end of the monk.

The climb up to the hut goes well (cheers, occasional Centre Place stair jaunts). I catch up with the people who passed me while I was wandering off the track chatting to cows. All is going reasonably well until the track gets steep and super slippy. Much as I love my Spyridon  fivefingers, and I do, very slick wet downhill is the first thing I’ve found they don’t really suit, and my usual galumph becomes a wimpy tiptoe. Having said that, most shoes aren’t designed for this. The mud gets progressively muddier, and becomes entertainingly waterslide-style in places.

Running back through the start area I get a second wind and holler encouragingly at Vicky (Woolley) who has been running much further already, cos she’s tough. The shorter course runners are trickling back in, but there are no major holdups and the gentle wide track feels blissfully cruisy after the preceding terrain.

Last year I trudged and grumbled up Karangahake grumbling about the neverending ascent – hence the vow for a more dynamic effort this time. And it works! I run happily up everything that’s runnable (cheers, occasional visits to hilly places). It still feels long-ish though, and I’m admiring of the ultra runners who are several hours tireder than me and still going. Despite hanging out for the downhill, it all comes a bit unstuck once it finally arrives. BANG! I fall over three times in quick succession on the wet clay, and add to that every few minutes. Telling myself I am Killian Jornet does not work when I am in fact an ungainly seal.

Somewhere around here I meet Charlie again who’s had some good slips also. We have been discussing Spyridons since about March and he’s finally invested in some. This won’t be the brightest debut for them unfortunately, just due to the conditions, but he’s still enthusiastic and going strong. One interesting thing about wearing the fives today though – my feet end up completely fine after 6 hours in the mud (no sore toenails, no nothing) and that’s pretty cool.

I squelch and slither on home, nipping over the finish in 5.59. Yuss! Beat my 2011 time by one minute! Ergo, I AM fitter than last year. The other aims line up too. I’m in the top 3rd of the field and more than happy to come in second woman to LTH. (While chatting at prizegiving later I mishear her time as closer to mine and agonise over the getting-lost-bit, but she is in fact a comfortable 10 minutes ahead. Legend!) Also definite legends are all the inaugural ultra crew…super tough.

Fived and survived! Charlie and I rock the Spyridons in style, post-race.

And was it fun? Absolutely! A brilliant post-30th treat.

Then I went home to delicious boeuf bourguignon courtesy of Dad, and my cousin looked after Alba while I got a massage from Mum. My family are awesome.

Post-script: You’d think I would have learned something, but precisely one week later I am running on a steeper downhill, in worse mud, wearing my road fivefingers (Bikilas). Good one Dawn! This all comes about via a chance meeting with Duncan from Tauranga at a family wedding in the Hokianga. (Password: “Yeah, I like long distances”. His countersign: “Do you know Kerry Suter?”) Next morning we hit the hills. You can tell Duncan’s a runner because he has to have a crack at the anecdotal Fastest Known Time on the steep section, temporarily handing over the excess weight of his backpack. We tortoise up and find him snoozing at the top, and then have a splendid splash around for a couple of hours through the bush amid fog and wind and rain. Anyway, the moral of the story is: enjoy mud. Glorious.

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