In 1988 at the Kawerau King of the Mountain, Barry Prosser ran to the 852m summit of Putauaki and back in 45 minutes and 54 seconds. Fast-forward 27 years to 2015, I crossed the finish line in the second fastest time ever (46:27) and set my sights on Barry’s record. All the stars aligned for a fast race in 2016. The weather was cooler than usual, and the field was stacked with a host of previous Kings such as Shay Williams, Sjors Corporaal and Chris Morrissey, along with Australian mountain running and past Vertical World Champion Mark Bourne and world class multisport athletes such as Sam Clark, Daniel Jones and Hayden Wilde. Several weeks of illness, starting at the Surf Coast Century, had left me somewhat under-trained, but I was feeling fresh and ready have another crack at the race.
Every year, a group of spirited locals dress up in themed costumes for the race. Previously quite a bit of body paint has featured in these outfits, but these year’s “Tarzan” theme was relatively simple. So in the first couple of hundred meters of the race I found myself trailing behind a loin-cloth-clad man, who was clearly eager for a run. While previously I have always sat back for the first kilometre (or so), this year I found myself in the lead as soon as we crossed the bridge and began the road ascent. It was going to be boom or bust!
When we reached the trailhead and begun the first stretch of steep climbing, I felt in control and could hear other runners right behind me. I was hoping when the gradient eased up a little at the clearing known as the ‘skid’ that I’d be able to open up a bit of gap, but I couldn’t shake off Shay.
To the blaring sound of bagpipes, we commenced the main climb. I was still running every step at this stage, but doing so was becoming progressively more difficult and I would occasionally slip back on the thick volcanic dirt. After a few minutes of this, I felt like battery acid was coursing through my legs and every stride was struggle. Rather than being in control of when I hiked and when I ran, I was forced into a hike, unable maintain a running cadence any longer. Soon I heard Shay politely asking if he could come past. I stepped aside to watch him bounce up the mountain, probably also hurting, but looking much more in control than I felt!
A few minutes before the summit, Mark Bourne also came past me. I tried to stick with him for a little bit, but my legs were not cooperating, so this feeble attempt was short lived. Hearing a SWOOSH coming from nearby, signalled Mark beginning his way down the loose slope.
I made it to the top in 32:52 – almost 2min behind Shay and 26 sec behind Mark! I had nothing to lose and everything to gain, so there was no holding back as I ran, skidded, and jumped my way down. The rain in the previous week seemed to have left the track extra slippery and quick!
On a particularly rocky and technical section, I passed Mark as he kindly stepped off onto a conveniently placed ledge. I has no clue how far ahead Shay was at this point but I didn’t want to be left wondering.
Alas, Shay has simply been far too strong for me on the climb and I was only able to claw back a fraction of his lead. He had shattered the course record (lowering it to 45:31) and already begun cooling off by the time I finished in 47:12. Daniel Jones rounded off the podium soon afterwards, having also caught Mark on the descent.
Although I didn’t get the result I was looking for, I was left happy with the effort I’d put in and very glad for Shay. It’s always such a pleasure to be part of this great event – not just because it’s such a fun course, but particularly because of the fantastic Kawerau community and atmosphere that surrounds the event. Every year when the Aussies come over as a part of the partnership with the Pomona King of the Mountain, we are so warmly welcomed and always have a wonderful time. A special thank you goes to the Surtees family and all the other families that let us into your homes and take such good care of us…I look forward to coming back!