“Why the hell would anyone enter a competition to win a marathon race entry?!” It was more of a rhetorical question, but when I excitedly told Flick, my sister, that I had done just that, I could almost see the exclamation marks flying down the phone line when she asked me this question. She was right, but I was thinking more of my bank account than anything else at that stage.
Complete Performance, a Christchurch endurance sports coaching company, had asked a simple question on Facebook ‘Simply tell us why you want to do it and go in the draw.’ My answer – I would love to do this race a) Because it's an awesome off-road track b) It's great training for my ultra next year and c) Honestly, it would be really nice to win an entry! So it turns out ‘you gotta be in to win’ worked for me this time, and that’s how I ended up gaining entry into the Mission Mount Somers marathon.
Mission Mount Somers is a new event run by Enduranz Events, the brainchild of two Methven locals Glen Currie and Tineka Johnstone. It consisted of a 42-kilometre marathon, a 21-kilometre half-marathon and a ten-kilometre trail run around and over the foothills of Mount Somers. Almost 200 people took up the challenge on what turned out to be a beautiful Mid-Canterbury day; a number that is only going to grow over the coming years.
Say Yes to Adventure was one of the sponsors on the day, giving magazines for the place-getters, which meant I arrived with enough time to set up a display and get things sorted before race briefing at 6.45am. It was an absolute stunner too, with the sun slowly turning the tops of the peaks pink as we listened to Glen give the mandatory race briefing. I was doing a last-minute video for Complete Performance when I heard ‘one-minute-to-go’ come over the loudspeaker. Sh*t; food, check. Drink, check. Watch, check. Nerves and butterflies, far too many of those! Then… 3, 2, 1 and we were off! I was one of the last of the 40-odd marathoners to cross the start line, still uploading the video to Facebook as I was running down the road!
I have done the Mount Somers Track quite a few times before, but only ever from the Woolshed Creek car park end, heading north up and over to Stavely, which was to be the second half of the marathon course (and the half marathon course). We were quickly diverted off the road and through the first creek for the day before winding our way up through farmland and past the Stavely ice-skating rink (which bought back many memories from my childhood!). The snow-dump the day before had made things very muddy, so there was a lot of slipping and sliding over the wet grass as we headed for the start of the first significant climb. I knew we were in for a treat when we got to a fence and a ladder had been tied to it as the way to get over. Real off-road running at it’s best.
I had read an article earlier in the week where Mal Law talked about how well-maintained shingle on tracks was changing the raw experience of off-road running. He should have been doing this run; there would have been absolutely no such complaints here!
Upon reaching the car park, we took a sharp left turn to begin the first ascent. A big smile at the camera (I always smile and try and make sure I’ve got no double chin!) before the pace slowed dramatically! Up, up and up. It was steep, with plenty of times having to use branches to pull me forward. I’m OK on the downhills, but I’m not too sure the length of my legs were made for climbing. Or maybe that’s just a poor excuse. But it didn’t take long for people to overtake me and as much as I wanted to keep their pace, they slowly slid out of view.
We broke out of the bush line but still kept going up, only now we had magnificent views of the Canterbury Plains to enjoy. Little pockets of snow could still be spotted in the shady parts, but there was hardly a breath of wind, making fantastic conditions to be out running in. A group of three men overtook me as I stopped for a few more pics and a video update, before catching them up again after some sweet downhill. We started chatting and soon discovered we were all using this race as a ‘training’ run for the Kepler in just over a month. Since when did an off-road marathon become a training run!? I did get a compliment on my running skirt though, saying “Don’t think this is sleazy, but… I like it when girls wear skirts while running.” No, I didn’t think your comment was sleazy at all, Jason, or Hamish, or whatever his actual name was after I told him I was going to quote him in my blog! The other two guys gave him quite a bit of stick after that!
With the first hill now behind me it was a short flat run through the tussock before a very, very gnarly, technical and steep section down into the car park below. It wasn’t fair; it took me over two and three-quarter hours of climbing up compared to about 15-20 minutes of downhill to the bottom. There was no taking the camera out for photos here though as one look up, and it would have been tits up for sure! A quick glance at my watch as I crossed the bridge and into the car park informed me I had been out on the trail for three hours and six minutes, half-way through the race (distance-wise anyway!).
A welcome refuel of electrolytes, bananas and jetplanes provided a much-needed energy boost before heading off to tackle the second 21 kilometres of the day. The only thing with the second half though was I knew exactly what I was in for, and I wasn’t looking forward to it! Like most people who run further than their usual distance, I was constantly battling the demon on my shoulder. I had listened to a Podcast by Bevan James Eyles on my drive home the day before (really should fix that radio in my car) that posed the question ‘What is the goal that you’re working towards?’ This was just the motivation I needed to keep the legs moving when the flats allowed a quicker pace. It’s easy just to keep walking, but with a seven-hour goal in mind, I knew I needed to keep on keeping on. That’s not to say there weren’t a few moments when the hands went on the thighs, and I stopped, doubled over, and thought ‘why do I do these races??’
Coming down to the Woolshed Creek hut I was feeling good, mentally preparing myself for the battle ahead. Again, friendly faces welcomed me at another checkpoint, along with more electrolytes, bananas and jet planes. It was hot now, with a constant bead of sweat on my face. I was terrified of becoming dehydrated, as staying hydrated is something I am never good at. I can easily go for an hour without the thought of having a drink entering my mind. To help combat this, I have my watch set to beep every half hour to remind me to take a sip, but surprisingly sometimes even that isn’t enough to make me take one. But not today! I was taking on as much as I could and for the first time ever in a race (apart from in my kayak during Coast to Coast, sorry Ben and Fraser) did I stop and go to the loo! A good sign.
I was at the bottom of the valley, with the long slog ahead and no one else in sight. Again, the devil appeared on my shoulder, and still, I thought ‘What is my goal?’ There was going to be no ‘if only’ today, so I pulled out my headphones, cranked some 80's power ballads on my iPhone and sang my way up the climb for the next 45 minutes. I even took a few selfies as a surge of energy appeared out of nowhere (they’re terrible too, forgot my double-chin rule!). I knew once I got to the top the remaining distance was (relatively) easy! The sun was still burning hot, but a slight breeze meant it was bearable. Coming over the saddle and looking out over the Canterbury Plains once again I picked up the pace and rock-hopped my way down to Pinnacles Hut.
Greeted again with more smiling faces and a cup of water, I stopped briefly for a quick chat and was told I had ‘only’ nine kilometres left to go - less than a quarter of the race and it was all downhill, or at least I thought it was! I’d had a bit of a blowout on the food front, leaving my bag of running goodies behind in Christchurch. I had one gel for the whole race, so I’d thought about when the best part of the race would be to take it. When would it be most effective? I knew when I reached the stream there were about two or three kilometres of up and down that was quite tough, before running out and into the Stavely car park. So as soon as I hit the water, I gulped it down, and it was well worth the wait! After six hours and thirty plus kilometres, I could feel the sugar pumping through my veins. That and the power ballads screaming in my ears had me feeling like I was back in the dark and dirty nightclubs of Sydney’s King’s Cross. Same, same but unfortunately entirely different. Oh, what a difference ten years can make!
Coming out into the car park was a relief, and I managed quite a good pace as I willed my tired legs along the tarmac to home. I’d half-listened in the race briefing that morning that we had five kilometres still to go when we got to the car park. Surely it wasn’t going to be too hard though, especially after what we’d just come down! Why do race organisers love to throw curveballs?? Instead of a leisurely cruise down the road to home, we turned right after one kilometre and once again I found myself on a steady uphill climb. I passed a homeowner welding his trailer together (again, country races at their best) and an ‘only four kilometres to go’ sign. By now I was running through paddocks, past beehives and I even had to stop briefly for a digger to make its way through the gate. And then there it was, the last three kilometres stretched out in front of me and thankfully, all downhill.
The last few kilometres of any race are always when I seem to lose it. I glanced back to see a couple of figures slowly gaining on me, and it took all my willpower to stretch out my legs for the last two kilometres home. “C’mon Hollie, don’t lose it now!” My family will laugh at this, but a huge smile crossed my face as Beyonce’s ‘All the Single Ladies’ screamed in my ear. Maybe it was a sign, but it was enough for me to turn up the gas and hold off the next competitor to the end.
Seven hours and 25 seconds later (does this mean I have to come back next year and crack the seven-hour?) I crossed the finish line to a very smug Glen Currie, who knew exactly what I was going to say to him! “F*%k that was brutal! Those last five kilometres!” And you thought I wouldn’t print swear words. That was by far the toughest single-day trail race I’d done, and it turns out that final push for the line was well worth it, coming in in third place. So the second place was miles ahead, and fourth was hot on my tail, but for once that doesn’t matter at all.
Congratulations Glen and Tineka for putting together a fantastic event. I really hope the community gets behind you and makes sure this becomes a yearly fixture on the race calendar! Keep an eye out for them and make sure you follow them on Facebook, as I hear they have other events in the pipeline too.