I was fortunate enough to be one of the Aussies sent by the Pomona King of the Mountain race to compete in the New Zealand sister race Kawerau King of the Mountain. There was much more to the trip than simply running, with tourist activities, wonderful host families and the opportunity to meet some amazing local school children all making my first trip across the ditch, one that I will never forget.
At 852m, Mount Edgecumbe (also known as Putauaki) dominates the surrounding landscape and when the all the Aussies arrived in the quaint town of Kawerau, there was no doubt which mountain it was that we would soon be running up. It is no wonder that the local community really gets behind the event, creating a wonderful atmosphere.
The race itself was an amazing experience. When the starting gun went off, I tucked in behind defending champ Chris Morrissey (who I had met at Pomona earlier in the year) and previous winner Sjors Corporaal, figuring that with all their collective experience in the race, they would know what was a good pace to set out at. Having taken a 3 week break from running after the Surf Coast Century, I had only 3 weeks of training behind me going into the race and thus had decided to not push too hard going up the road which lead to the trailhead. However, I also knew that the trail itself is very narrow and passing people would be difficult so I wanted to be near the front when we reached it. I was probably thinking about this latter point a little too much and actually hit the front of the pack just before the trailhead, only to have a determined Chirs Morrissey reclaim the lead. After that, things got steep. The terrain on Mt Edgecumbe is also nothing like anything I have experienced in Australia with very soft and loose volcanic dirt replacing the hard packed and rocky trails I am use too. As we hiked steadily upward through the cool forest my focus was on quickly locating good foot holds as a misplaced step would simply slide backwards. A few minutes later I had just recaptured the lead before the gradient became runable again and we entered a clearing. Focusing on flatter terrain in training in the lead up to Surf Coast Cenutry had me feeling more comfortable (possibly not the right word!) on this runable gradient, so I tried to extend my lead at least a little bit but I knew it was only a couple of hundred meters before we would be hiking again.
As soon as the course returned to steep single track, Chris passed me, shortly followed by Sjors. At this stage my lack of recent hiking really started to show as my calves were absolutely shot. The rest of the climb was a steady slog, interspersed with an occasional glimpse at the beauty of the valley below once the trees started to thin out. About three quarters of the way up the climb Lance Downie also passed me and despite my efforts to stick with him, he quickly disappeared behind one of the many twists and turns. When a cheery Paul Charteris with his camera came into sight, I knew the top was near and my burning claves would finally get some respite.
I had been fantasising about the descent ever since finding out about the trip, so when the slope finally turned downwards, a smile crept onto my face. It was narrow, it was steep, it was loose and it was wonderful. Jumping down ledges and skidding down ankle deep dirt at times felt more like skiing that running and flicking up plumes of dirt around tight corners only enhanced this sensation. When I reached the section after the clearing I was able to step it up another gear, having seen this section a couple of days earlier. Knowing what was lying around the corner or at the bottom of a ledge really helped! By the time I reached the road again my quads were feeling more than sufficiently smashed, but I couldn’t relax just yet. One final short and gradual ascent lay between me and final downhill home stretch, and just like ‘Heartbreak Hill’ at Pomona, this bump feels a lot bigger at the end of the race than it did at the start.
Supporters lining the streets made the final stretch down the finishing chute all the more special and I crossed the finishing line in 4th place in 52.19, behind Sjors Corporaal (1st in 47.55 who after race said that he had been inspired by his son Kaya who had just won the Prince of the Mountain race held earlier in the day on the bottom half of the course), Chris Morrissey (2nd in 48.29) and Lance Downie (3rd in 51.20). The women’s race was also very close up the front with Helen Rountree defending her 2012 title in 59.14, finishing just ahead of Ruby Muir (59.44). There were also some amazing performances by the fellow Aussies with Hubertein Wichers and Ben McMullen winning their respective categories (and Pascale Hegarty finished 3rd in her category despite originally planning just to support her husband, Shane and his son Bryce!). Most importantly, after the race there wasn’t a single one of us without a smile on our faces.
Overall, New Zealand left a great impression on me with its majestic landscapes, unique scenery and wonderful people. Lucky for me that it won’t be too long until I’m back in the land of the long white cloud!