9 March 2019 – Tararua Mountain Race – 36 km / 2,300 m
One of the classics of the New Zealand calendar, the TMR is a fantastic community-run event. It crosses the rugged Tararua range just north of Wellington. The route is a point to point – the mighty Southern Crossing. It’s a multi-day walk or a long run, with a decent tussocky exposed section above 1,200m. A couple of years ago we had a strong northerly wind and hail in our eyeballs, so there was much to look forward to. Fortunately we had a better day this time, but lots of rain in the run-up made sure the track was suitably rutted and slippery.
With some runners taking over ten hours, the start is staggered in half hour waves. So the first challenge is trading off an extra hour in bed with the need to keep up with a later but faster starting group, unless you want to be running on your own. The first half of the race is a seemingly endless slog up the wooded, infamous and interminable Marchant Ridge. With wet slippery tree roots and seas of bog, Marchant is the place people will go to get water when global warming turns the rest of New Zealand into a barren desert. For an added bonus you get climbs with a compacted clay surface and a thin film of grease. Great in a pan with sausages but not much use on a mountain run.
I set off with ten or so others in the second to last wave aiming to avoid being caught by the fastest pack starting 30 min later and if possible keep the vet trophy from last year. As the rain stopped and the mist lifted I held on to the leading pair in my wave, feeling good. Target one was Alpha Hut, about 17km in and the first checkpoint. As well as the comfort of water, friendly marshals and sweets of a colour unknown to science, getting to Alpha means the end of Marchant. By that point I was suffering. Physically and mentally I couldn’t seem to get into race mode. Martin McCrudden and Joe Fowler had long since disappeared by the time I got there.
Breaking the bushline after the hut brought the fabulous views I’d missed in the last two years. The sort that make you want to sit down with a cup of tea and a cake. It was also clear that while the weather was good, the track was bad. Maybe it was a mild winter, maybe rain in the week, or maybe the marshals going over with several tonnes of fertiliser and a digger, but the 8k over peaks, saddles, ridges and tarns was thick with vegetation and potholes. Low on energy, I had to resort to scoffing a chewy fruity minty mass of Soreen and Kendal mint cake. It’s probably a good mix for putting in bathroom tiles but when I eventually got it down it worked wonders. By this time I was overtaking earlier starters and by the time I was over the peaks of Atkinson and the Beehives I was feeling a lot stronger.
Arriving at the misty 1,529m summit of Mount Hector was a high point. “It’s about a k to the hut…all downhill from here…” I was told by the stalwart marshals, who’d no doubt gone in the night before and had many cold hours both behind and ahead of them. What they actually meant was “about a mile over gnarly rock and tussock, and mostly downhill apart from Field Peak and Hut Mound and that funny bit round Dennan that doesn’t really look bad on the map but is definitely a climb…” Anyway, by this point I was running better, and chapeau to anyone who sits on a windy hill to make the TMR happen.
Kime Hut was the next checkpoint. Again, lots of helpful marshals, including Chris Martin, who spends as much time devising names for races like the Aorangi Undulator, Mukamuka Munter as he does organising them. At Kime I finally spied the chance to bag a race position, but was also expecting to see Chris Swallow breeze past at any moment with the race leaders. Detaching the last residue of Soreen from my teeth I managed to stay ahead over the 11km / 1,250m descent to the finish at Otaki Forks and the waiting barbecue. It was a long way for a sausage, but a top day out on the hills.
Winners: Chris Swallow 5.07.45, Hannah Lund 6.35.40
Alex Jones 6th 5.33.53 (1st V40)