Dirty like Saturday should be
Hi again from the trail. Saturday I competed in the Xterra Wellington Starlight Run, race number 4 in a series that’s now taken me and my masochistic peers over the searing hills of Red Rocks, into Belmont’s bush, under the towering turbines of West Wind Park, and this weekend, sliding around the muddy tracks of Makara Mountain Bike Park.
At 10K, this was the shortest long course of the series. But before you scoff at it – this wasn’t your mum-in-laws 10K. It was 1,600’ of climbing. On slippery, narrow tracks. At night. In a rainstorm.
AKA mega fun!
My workmate Troy was to join me. This is the man who introduced me to trail running back in 2014. I remember the run … my lungs rebelled as we switchbacked up Tinakori Hill. I wished death upon everything he held dear. Eventually we topped out and I stood panting in awe of the shimmering turquoise harbour and white peaks of Kaikoura just beyond. My love for trail running was born.
I thought the nasty weather might deter him. Rain, wind, hail – not exactly inviting. As I drove to the start line, rain pounded against the windshield, drowning out the sound of his text: “The scarier the better. Where you at?”
The race began at the end of St. Albans Road in Karori. With enough nervous energy to power a shoe factory, the airhorn finally blew at 6pm. 331 of us set foot under a brooding sky.
The peloton of spindly try-hards emerged quickly, leaving a mass of humanity to jockey for position, which after a kilometre or so, more or less remained in place for the duration of the race. This was especially true on the first ascent to Makara Peak. The track was narrow, slippery and technical, making passing difficult. I fell into a pack and ran the 1,400 feet to the top.
Sweat-soaked, I emerged on the summit ridge and enjoyed a spirited tailwind propelling me down a wide gravel road. Here, the fit and fearless powered past the masses before returning to the single-track. What followed was my favorite part of the race. Great flow under the bushy green canopy of Sally Alley. Eventually our course merged with the short course, causing a bottleneck which most runners were courteous about, but indeed slowed the pace.
I ran headlamp in hand. Dim light kept my speed in check. My fastest spurts came when I tucked in behind someone with a strong light and followed them in lockstep. On one occasion, my pacesetter slipped on a muddy corner and went tumbling into the bush – letting out a comical “ahhhhh!” as he crashed. I restrained my laughter and checked if he was alright. I was relieved to see was laughing too and I kept going.
I neared the bottom of the hill with scepticism, knowing that Tomo – who we’ve already exposed as a sadist – wouldn’t let us off the hook that easily. Sure enough, with the finish line within earshot, the course curved satanically back up the mountain for a final lung-busting loop before eventually dropping down to the pizza party and smiling faces at the finish line.
Exhausted, drenched, mud-caked and lactic to the max, I never felt happier. I simply cannot overstate how cool these races are. Tomo puts it best: “beats another dinner party every time.”
Soon after, Troy crossed the finish line. This was his first Xterra race of the year and he absolutely crushed it. Basking in the afterglow, we chatted excitedly on the walk back to the car, making plans to tackle harder mountains, paying no mind to the cold rain pissing down on us.
The final Xterra Wellington race of the season is 12 June at Mt. McKerrow.