I will be honest and say it wasn't nearly as bad as I was expecting. I was chatting to a woman on the bus to the start line, telling her I was envisaging something akin to Badwater (jokingly of course - we were running only 12% the distance in half the average temperature. Okay, I was mostly joking...). But the wind was refreshingly cool (and downright chilly if you were just standing around - thanks for the heads up Sheryl!) and kept things tolerable for most of the race. I had to leave my accommodation at 7.20am to catch the bus (which didn't actually arrive to pick us up until 8am - oh well) so used my compulsory waterproof jacket for warmth. With the start of the race at 10am, that left a big gap between eating breakfast and running, so I packed a banana just in case I got peckish. I didn't. I'd settled on the 2 litres of water my pack held, and a 470ml roll-up bottle filled with nuun electrolyte as back up fluid for the run. That was heavy enough!
The bus ride was slow and bumpy, taking a little over an hour. Then we had to transfer to another bus at the base of the mountain to take us up to the start line, as the road was pot-holed and rugged, with a stream cutting through it part way along. Sadly, I got the slowest bus both times, but at least that meant less standing around before the start gun (or in this case, pukaea). At around 10am, give or take a few minutes, we were off up the hill. Typically, we started with a 2km climb. Hooray, trail running! ;) I had placed myself in the front-middle of the starting pack. Going on last year's 13km time, I estimated finishing somewhere between 3 and 3 1/2 hours, certainly not more than four. As we ascended, I slowly got passed by more and more people. This wasn't surprising, although I naїvely thought I might catch them up a little later on. Pfft.
Waiting at the start line. Look, there was actually snow!
Brief stop on the first ascent. All the runners are out of frame to the right.
I was very glad to get to the top of the hill, after a combination of walking and running (ahem, slow jogging...) and enjoyed a little bit of downhill. When I say a little bit, I mean a few metres. Because then there was a bunch of loose rock that we had to be very careful on during a relatively steep descent. I ended up losing my footing and landing on my butt. No harm done though, I dusted myself off and kept going. After a while it was a little more smooth-sailing, and the next uphill wasn't for another couple of kilometres. By this stage it was quite apparent I would need a gel, as my legs were very tired. My glycogen stores were on empty! It had been over four hours since breakfast...
After a bit of undulation, the course became relatively flat for a while and was alternating between gravelly sand and tussock-strewn rock. There was less wind and it was very dry and dusty, but although I was quite hot, I was being careful to ration my water, taking small mouthfuls regularly.
Then there was the gradual but relentless uphill for about 4km, and more varied undulation for another 4km. Hard work! At least it was interspersed with some streams and nice scenery ;)
Can you see the people walking up the hill in this picture?
Yeah, it was a big hill... I was at least catching up to some of the walkers by now - they'd started an hour before us.
I can tell you that this waterfall was a welcome sight - it meant the finish line wasn't too far away!!
It also meant there were a lot more people to dodge. Tourists and visitors to the area were out in droves, due to the lovely weather. Not all of them were paying attention to race participants :/ Still, I was glad to get into the bush area around the Chateau. Unfortunately, it wasn't as cool as I was anticipating. From about the 16th kilometre I'd been looking forward to the shade, and a nice cool cider at the finish line. The shade was the first disappointment. I would've happily kept running in the exposed rocky terrain - the breeze was cooler. The second disappointment was the sudden realisation, upon completing the race, that there was not going to be a nice cool cider. No Speight's sponsorship this year!!! Major sad face!! Wonder if this was due to the change in event organisers...? We decided to gap it, choosing a quick shower and some food over sitting in the sun drinking water and GU. Sure, we could've gone to a pub and bought a cider, but it just wouldn't have been the same :( I have grown accustomed to having a frosty alcoholic beverage at the end of races. I blame Total Sport.
My official time was 3:46:53 (173/250 overall, 59/110 women, 28/44 in my age category), and although this was slower than I was hoping, I couldn't have run it any faster. The heat is not my friend! I still had about 750ml of water left even though I was guzzling it in the last couple of kilometres and battling a stitch that was threatening, and didn't need my electrolytes. I'm glad I did it - the 26km is quite the experience - but I don't think I'd run it again. Call me a wuss, but it was too hot, dusty and dry. Give me tree cover and mud any day!
PS: This is what happens when your pack is too heavy - token trail running 'injury', aka friction burn from my hydration pack. Ouch: