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The only thing we knew about the course was the start location - grid reference 889868 Paparimu school - and we’d only known that for 2 days. So we had a final couple of days to finalise our support crew arrangements, check the compulsory gear fits into our packs and guess where the course might go.
On race day the alarm went off at 4am to get down to Paparimu and meet up at 6:30am. The race team - Alan, Julia Paul and Jon lined up for the compulsory gear check and to collect bibs with our team number on it. The support crew - Dave, Dan, Sue, Rob, Sam, Matt and Suzanne set up the base. Many teams had company branded marquees with all mod cons, Theta had a minimal approach - 4 chairs and a tarp.
The pressure started at 7.20am, when we received the course description. It was short time to rapidly plot the controls that describe the course on the Hunua topo map. Our team separately marked two maps then compared them for discrepancies. This took longer than expected, so when the briefing started we had two people listening intently while the others finished the maps, to make sure we were ready for the 8am sprint across the startline.
We started out at a steady pace across the farmland, happy to take it easy repeating our mottos for the day “just a fun run in the bush” and “it’s all about the kids”. At the bush edge we needed to find a “sketchy track” up the first ridge; with no track there we set a compass bearing and confidently ascended the ridge using a combination of animal tracks and bush bashing till we found the track we needed. More confidence in our navigation was required when the team in front took the right fork at a track junction and a check of the compass suggested left.
Signing at the next control we discovered only two teams were in front of us – how did that happen, when we’d been slowly running behind the others at the start? Obviously our tricky ascent had saved us time, thanks to our expert navigator. Alan had done a recent world Rogaine champs and this was easier, as there was no need to navigate in the dark! The checkpoints were all manned by friendly Search and Rescue marshals in some very wild places. Some of them had camped out overnight to be in position on time, and it was wonderful to see them and quickly scan the sign-in sheet to know how we were placed in the race (very unusual for an event like this).
This trekking section delivered some interesting forest running with beautiful rimu, kidney ferns and astelias, in an area we’d never normally see. As we headed down to the Mangatwhiri River, the Mainfreight team passed us but we still managed to be first wading in the cold water quickly followed by the compulsory swim across a pool into a checkpoint then bush bashing up the next big hill to warm up. We didn’t see them again till the finish line, maybe they hadn’t trained the way we had?
Our training had been fun and good team-building material. We’d waded up canyons in the Waitakere Ranges, crossed freezing pools, traversed rocky coastline into caves, and run down tracks to get to these remote places. We’d biked Riverhead, with a crazy muddy day that saw us carry bikes too clogged-up to ride, and got soaked in the rain in the Hunuas. All this thanks, Alan, who was also teaching us how to follow maps during the training. All that meant we’d thoroughly tested our equipment, which is vital when tackling terrain at speed.
Somewhere on this section we calculated that our team probably had the highest age combination in the race – 198 years. Luckily we all have a wired-in FOMO (fear of missing out) gene, meaning we could keep the pace of the other teams.
After the river it was climb, climb, climb and we pushed on hard moving as fast as we could, ascending through the untracked bush to the high point of the trek. Sign-in at another checkpoint then we were heading down on a 4WD track into the farmland. As we descended we spotted another team ahead, slowly we caught up then passed them on an ankle-twisting field with holes made by cows’ hooves, hidden in green pasture. Running hard to put some distance between us and chanting our mantra “just a fun run in the bush” we were amazed to reach Transition One in second place. Coming into transition was amazing, after hours in the quiet bush there was suddenly 150 people cheering and clapping!
We wanted to transition to bikes quickly before anyone caught up. Our support crew was great; Dan met us and ran with us to the Theta support area with chairs set up, boxes of snacks and spare clothes ready. Our Theta-branded fine wool Macpac T-shirts meant we had no soggy clothes to change and just swapped shoes; we were okay with gear but the bananas were a different story.
During training we had cottoned-on to Theta’s weekly fruit delivery, and Jon got the bananas before the hungry IT workers (thanks to the rest of the office). They were hidden in Jon’s filing cabinet until Wednesday afternoon – (now you know). He did the same before the race but maybe he’d filed them under “F” for fruit instead of “B” for bananas as they weren’t found before the big day. The office will find them by that fine odour wafting from Jon’s desk. Anyway, Alan asked for a banana during Transition One and our whole team did the ‘banana republic’ scramble, only Sam found one. Turns out that was the CEO’s banana – luckily Sam is his son!
The bike section started on stony farm tracks with a few river crossings that we tried riding but mostly waded, followed by more lumpy pasture grass, hard work but it got our muscles to power-up. Soon we were on the Watercare road that traverses the Hunuas, firstly a super-steep sealed section up to the dam, then passing another smiley marshal holding open the huge gate to the endless gravel length of twisted road that went uphill for ever. A great ride, but Joolz found this climb difficult struggling up like like a small Everest. Paul hung back to provide moral support and eventually we got to the high-point of the race at 400m. Down from here of course on an amazing “downhill” MTB track sometimes rideable but often technical steep slippery clay - which we walked down.
Reaching the Lower Hunua Mangatawhiri campsite was great, as we knew this area well and had biked some of the tracks only a week before. We stuck together as we biked the road to transition 2, with Julia in particular glad to finish the bike section. Except we hadn’t, we were told that we’d missed the last part of the course and should have come in to transition on the singletrack rather than the road - so that’s why the support people looked so surprised!
So back we went on the bikes to ride down the road and come in the right way. So we relaxed, knowing the teams behind would pass us; anyway “It’s all about the kids”. After a fun ride down the single track and a bike push up a near-vertical clay bank we got back to transitions from the right direction to be told - “you’re still in 2nd!”
So no relaxing in transition, an eating, drinking and changing frenzy complete with a peeled banana waiting on Joolz’ chair (where did that one come from?)
Our bodies didn’t get much of a rest though as the next stage was a climb out of the valley to a ridge via a crazy bike track. It’s called the ‘Experts’ Downhill Track’ but we wondered who could ride it down, as it was incredibly steep just to walk it. We couldn’t have run, and a few cramps were starting to get us thanks to the transition from bike to walk. Out came the cramp spray, it does the trick.
We had 4km to cover along the ridge and could use the gnarly ridge walk track or the gravel road. Following the briefing instructions we decided to use the road, until a forestry worker told us we were on private property, so we reversed back up the hill until we found some track next to the fence and hopped over. This was a tricky track to move fast on and we kept spying the graded forestry road over the fence, but chose to continue with the wild track and slow walking due to the forestry worker’s warnings. After 3km, a race marshal told us we could use the road, then went off to update the lumberjack to save the confusion for the following teams.
We were happy to get back into running some sections up to the last control, and knew it was mostly downhill from there. And what a descent, on a lovely track cushioned with pine needles which kept us moving at a great pace, only slowing down when we reached cattle pasture. We soon spotted the tops of the marquees and cars at the school; then heard the cheers and clapping as the supporters saw us emerging from the thick bush. It was lovely to have everyone help us finish the last section, we didn’t feel like running up that final hill, but how could we not! There were wide grins all round as we closed into the finish arch with linked hands and a feeling of triumph after around six hours, forty minutes – we were so relieved to make it we forgot to note the exact time!
A lovely CureKid’s Ambassador put a medal around our necks, what a lovely way to end, with the children who benefit being part of it. Joolz and Alan’s own children soon arrived with neighbour Jacqui to be part of the action. The atmosphere at the finish was fantastic with many of the support crews in fancy dress and huge cheers and congratulations as each team crossed the finish line. The teams came in over the next few hours with the final team arriving in the dark after the prizegiving over 10 hours after the start. The kids were almost as exhausted as we were, Alan’s tired five-year-old was persuaded into the car by letting her look after the large I.T. cup all the way home.
We won both the ‘IT cup’ and the ‘Informal’ categories and came second overall. We are still a bit surprised we did so well as we made some mistakes, so the winners – the Price Waterhouse Coopers Wellington – must have made fewer errors or been a bit fitter, well done! The endorphins are still working, and we have got fitter and made friendships while raising money. Days after, we are still amazed at how well our team did. I think that speaks volumes for a tight team and fantastic support crew; our training regimen really built up a great rapport. That was vital over such a challenging course, with so many different types of technical terrain – it underlined the management that goes into an event like this.
But it was all worth it – the event raised over $400,000 for Curekids, and more than $11,000 of that came from Theta, so well done everyone who supported us and thanks to CureKids, what a wonderful way to fundraise – it gave us all a sense of achievement. This charity supports research into potentially fatal childhood diseases, and any one of our families could be affected, as we were reminded by a colleague whose young nephew died during an asthma attack a week before the race.
As for the Theta team, we’re not quite ready for the 88-hour ‘Godzone Adventure Race’ but it made a nice change from sitting at a desk!
Alan & Julia
20th April 2012