Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Uphill battle

In a change of pace, I'm getting away from the screen and trying to run up a mountain in a freezing, rain-drenched southerly.

The view from the top of Mt Bruce - on a very different day.
Pukaha/Mount Bruce is a wildlife sanctuary north of Masterton which is especially renowned for providing bed and board for Manukura, the famous white (not albino) Kiwi.  Last weekend however, saw this worthy enterprise hosting the inaugural Pukaha Wild Challenge - a fund raising event comprising of a steep 10km hill run and/or a 21km cycle race.

I've been running at every opportunity over the past few weeks, enjoying the warming spring weather and the chance to get as physically distant from the office as I can in my lunch break.  However, as much as I love my bike I was under no illusions about taking part in a cycle race.  The NASA level technology producing road bikes which weigh slightly less than a toenail clipping would leave my own sturdy pack-horse far behind.
The preceding week was wonderfully warm and sunny, as have the days since the event, but race day itself had an icy southerly of Old Testament proportions visited upon it.  Another very good reason just to do the run - most of the course was beneath the sheltering canopy of thick native bush, apart from the very exposed Mt Bruce summit.

Running cold - trying to keep warm at the start point.
The usual excitement and trepidation at the starting line was mixed with an unusual eagerness to get started, as the cold and wet was starting to take its toll on exposed hands and legs.  I found myself at the front so was able to start reasonably well, comfortably resigned as the inevitable cluster seriously fit and experienced racers broke ahead and rapidly disappeared.

As usual, the initial pace I settled into was too quick, which I discovered as soon as I hit the first incline and had to hurriedly 'shift down'.  Not for the first time I quickly began to wonder why 'the stick who walks' does hill runs.  My spidery stride can cover ground quickly on level terrain, but inclines immediately squeeze my lengthy gait, and any possible advantage it brings, into exactly the same constrained, grueling trot as anyone half my height - and age.  It got worse as we soon left the walking track and turned straight uphill, the slopes now treacherous with thick mud and slippery tree roots.  At this point I was tilting myself forward, bent over to literally 'fall up' the hill, horrified that my breakfast already felt as if it was considering a sudden ascent of its own.  Now came the standard 'internal ridicule voice', chiding me for ever thinking I was anywhere near fit enough for this - but least I was no longer even aware of the cold and rain....

The real athletes break ahead - I'm the lagging white socks at the extreme left.
Miraculously there were more level sections and even the occasional dip in this endless climb, and it was here that I took heart again.  I've been told that fitness has a lot to do with recovery time, and I could feel myself 'power back up' a little during these brief respites from the uphill slog.  Also having long arms helped me clamber the steepest parts: frantically grabbing for trees and rocks to haul myself up with somehow enabled me to more-or-less retain my position in the field.  Judging from this photograph, taken several months ago, the view from the summit is quite something, but our visibility was down to few metres.

On clear day... which this definitely wasn't.
Yes, the cold really bit hard up there, but the incline finally ceased and soon we were plunging back into the bushline for the downhill stretch.  And stretch is appropriate as here was my chance to really open out and cover ground quickly.  When that ground is steep, slippery with mud and treacherously studded with rocks and tree roots, caution would be advisable - but there was no time. I  flung myself back down that hill as fast as I could scramble and remember grabbing and spinning 360 degrees around a tree  at one point to try and control my plummet.
On an inclement day the light under a thick bush canopy is surprisingly dim - so the obstacles we ran over weren't even properly visible most of the time. Just before breaking out of the bush and onto level farmland I managed to kick a concealed tree root at full speed, but stayed on my feet and eventually finished knowing I was really going to feel it when I stopped.  (fortunately, my big toe was only colourfully bruised by this blunder).

Follow the orange arrows - but mind the tree roots!
My wonderful support crew and I managed to see Manukura, and a fascinating, if nippy, tree gecko before the grey, wet drive home for a hot shower.
I had managed to finish in 16th place, with a time of 1 hour fifteen minutes, but am under no illusions - far better athletes than me would have been conserving their energy for the cycle ride ahead.
I would like to try for a place in the top ten next year, though (you've gotta have a dream!) and am currently  looking for a partner to tackle the cycle section...

Manukura - 'Poster Girl' of Pukaha/Mt Bruce

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