Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Porirua Grand Traverse

WOW! What an event. I didn't think it was possible to smile my way around a 18km mountain run, especially in howling winds and rain, but on Sunday, that's exactly what I did.

Firstly I have to say this I highly, highly recommend this event to anyone who loves running off road, or who is interested in multi-sport eventing (mountain biking, kayaking options available).  The brains behind the event organization and coordination really know what makes a great race: everything from venue, through to post race food options and availability of free massages to competitors had been thought out wonderfully.  But the star(s) of the day were the smiling and encouraging volunteer marshals that braved some pretty rough weather conditions to ensure that the course was safe and enjoyable for the competitors.

Then there was the race itself, 18km of pure bliss.  Even in adverse weather conditions.  I think (in my so far limited experience) that this race was the most quintessentially "kiwi" feeling race that I have done.  The variety of landscape from native bush, through rugged farmland and along wild cost lines (all shrouded in moody weather), with the fringes of the South Island nearly close enough to touch, the Porirua Grand Traverse is a beautiful showcase of running in New Zealand.  This is definitely a race worth traveling to participate in.  Highly recommended.

The course started out by the water front, and headed towards the hills through suburban streets.  The pack didn't spread out much over the early stages of the run (or at least I seemed to be keeping pace with other runners - an unusual event in itself).  We turned onto a bush lined path that rose gently for quite a while.  I was determined to maintain my new philosophy of running as much as possible, and zoned into my own performance, trying not to focus on, or thing about what anyone else was doing.  A lot of runners (in my proximity) chose to walk the uphill sections, a good choice for pacing, but disastrous for me on the narrow path.  I was forced to practically jog on the spot (trying to maintain my running rhythm), while a line of people shuffled on a head, unwilling to let me pass (or oblivious to my presence).

I persevered however, maintaining my uphill pace and speeding up on the flatter and down hill sections.  The
trail descended for a while before reaching a series of steps, that led back up to the mountain top.  The steps were steep, and never ending.  I slowed to a walk on the steps, but picked up my running pace when the track flattened between flights.  The steps went on, and on, and on.  I was feeling really good, and kept climbing away at a steady pace.  Eventually the hell-steps came to an end, the bushed thinned out and the trail widened.  I picked up my running pace again, and plowed my upward.   The ridge-line was much more exposed to the elements, and a chilly wind and squalls of misty rain kept me cool (frozen) on my progress.

This was the first properly cold weather that I have run in, and it gave me an opportunity to trial some of the thermal gear, hats and gloves that I have been accumulating.  All of which seemed to do their job's excellently, balancing my body temperature against the cold without overheating inside the layers.

I clumsily hurdled a fence at the makeshift style, and dashed off across farmland.  I must again thank the marshals that were braving the cold to point us on our way.  My relentless running (albeit sometimes quite slow-on-the-steep sections) seemed to be reaping me rewards.  I was passing other runners (almost unheard of for me, and not at all the name of the game, but a nice boost for my running esteem all the same).  When I neared a runner ahead of me, I refrained from pushing hard to pass, and instead focused on myself and my own progress, if I was traveling faster then I would eventually  pass, and I wasn't needlessly tiring myself out in the process.

Running over the farm land was the most challenging, but provided the most rewarding views.  Not only was the terrain steep, but the ground was pugged from animal traffic, and I had to focus super hard to plan out the route of my foot falls.  The wide expanse of the folding green peninsular petered out into a stormy grey ocean, Kapiti Island visible through the mists to the north, the South Island across the Cook Strait.   It was breath taking to run along such a rugged and beautiful coast line.  I could see the tiny shapes of faster running traversing hillsides off in the distance, and for once, the vista of bobbing bodies winding up a hill didn't make me panic - "wicked, I get to run there too!".

I was really feeling as though my training was paying off (FINALLY!).  The course climbed steeply again before descending across more technically challenging farm land right down to the water edge.  It was magical to run along beside the ocean.  I figured with the distance we had already covered, and with only a rough idea of the layout of the area where the race was held, that there would be one more hill to climb before heading back to the finish area.

Reaching the top of the last hill, I was still feeling energetic.  I charged off down the hill, letting my legs run away from me, and keeping up a good speed.  The downhill lasted for ages, and on more even ground than the previous sections of the course, was easy to run fast on.  The final few hundred meters to the finish was flat and back on paved streets.  I picked up the pace, keen to put every shred of effort I had into finishing strongly.  Friends and family of other competitors lines the course and generously offered their support to everyone that passed them by - so very appreciated.  

With the finishing line in site, I came to one last road crossing, where I had to stop to wait for traffic.  Runners were held as they came down to the crossing, and the intersection was major, so we had to wait for a red light to cross.  This was frustrating so close to the finish when I had been so ready to sprint on to the line.  I jogged madly on the spot, trying to keep everything pumping for when I was allowed to carry on.  The lights finally changed after what felt like an eternity, and I ran on.  My nearing-the-finish-line adrenaline rush had passed, and I had to really grit my teeth to keep up a cracking pace to the end.

I crossed the line in exactly 2hrs 30min, which was the best-case-scenario goal that I had set myself.  The course had been so challenging and enjoyable that the kms had passed without me really noticing, and I hadn't really kept an eye on my pace, just stuck with running the whole thing, and it worked.

Post race showers were blissful, and the well though out BBQ meal (beef, rice, salad, yummy sauce) was healthy, warming and ticked all the boxes for post race carb and protein requirements.  Free massages were on offer, but my legs felt ok, so I didn't partake.  An excellent jazz band kept the crowds entertained.

All in all, a brilliant, and highly enjoyable event, and one that I will definitely add to my race calendar for the future.  Fueling during the run seemed to be perfect for me, and my running strategy and training seemed to pay off.  I hope that I can tick all of those same boxes for the Routeburn Classic - this is exactly how well I hope that "the Classic" goes.

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