Aorangi Undulator – 7 Nov 2015 – 33km / 2,700 m
For my first proper race in New Zealand I thought I’d better not show up late, so I arrived 12 hours before kickoff and camped out at the finish. It was a couple of hours east of Wellington, in a ravine on the coast close to a seal colony. Apart from the seals, the scene could have been anywhere in Yorkshire on a blowy Saturday morning. Runners standing around fiddling with bumbags and backpacks trying to work out what they need and what they can get away with*. And which way up the map goes. The Undulator isn’t far off Wasdale for length and climb. Just without the massive lake, and covered in thick forest. There is a trail of sorts, marked by little orange triangles about the size of a dairylea and nailed to trees at random intervals. Fortunately, my navigational ineptitude wasn’t really a handicap. The route is so twisty and the trees so dense that trying to follow a map is mostly pointless. You just follow the dairyleas, and go back if you’ve not seen one for a while.
The start was up a rocky riverbed and had been staggered. About 50 people had left in a 7am wave. My choice of the 8am wave had more to do with getting a bit more kip than hopes for my racing pace. The fast boys were off at 9. In the end, the race organiser set us all off early so at 7.50 I was knee deep in water heading up into the hills. We crossed and recrossed the river endlessly as one bank or the other offered a route up. I’d clearly left an important part of my brain on a fell somewhere in Yorkshire, and I knew it. Stumbling and completely out of sorts, I found every wrong route choice, slippery rock and tree root for the first five miles, until finally tripping headlong in the river in a shower of dried dates, banana puree and bits of my watch, which clattered on the rocks like coins from a Blackpool penny pusher machine. After swearing at no-one in particular apart from two Californian quail on the riverbank, I gathered my food and the bits of my watch. “Right, wake up, NO MORE MISTAKES!” I thought, and set off. Straight up the wrong river. I’d taken the wrong fork, which meant more faffing about looking for an orange dairylea, which by now had helpfully shrunk to the size of trivial pursuit cheeses.
Back on track and things were going better. Up and out of the river on twisty tracks that were not much more than gaps between trees covered in roots and plenty of scrambling uphill on hands and knees, but I was making progress and catching people up. There were four big hills, but the dense forest meant I could never really see very much or even where the top was, and looking often meant tripping on a root. I usually heard people well before seeing them. I felt a lot better in the second half. The onga-onga nettles and gorse were not as bad as people had told me, and by the final couple of miles I had caught most of the people I’d lost with my unplanned swim. A long runnable descent past two more to the finish, alongside cathedral-like rock formations, with the ravine opening up to a finish near the beach with much needed cold beer and a barbeque.
The winner was a Yorkshireman, home well over an hour ahead of me, and there was a bloke from Bingley Harriers marshalling…
* ps. comment from Lara: The start actually went like this … Nice organising man: “right, we’re probably ready to start then, everyone ready? Me: “erm … no … sorry, Alex is faffing about at the car counting his dates” Nice organising man: “okay, well we’ll start once Alex has finished faffing about then shall we”
1st Chris Sutton 4hr 14 (record)
5th (1st female) Lou Beckingsale 5hr 4min
9th Alex Jones (5 hr 28)