25 March 2013

When I decided to take on the Partners Life Dual, a half-marathon traverse of Motutapu and Rangitoto Islands, as part of my Routeburn training, I got two main pieces of advice – “the only time you’ll get in the Dual is a bad one,” from my chiropractor who has run it in the past but is apparently too smart to do it again, and “don’t fall over on the scoria”, from anyone I talked to who’d ever even been to Rangitoto Island.

Firstly, I’ve just got to say, I love when people tell you not to fall over. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve only fallen over (badly) twice in my running career, and neither one was a conscious decision that such advice could have saved me from. Maybe other people do it for the fun of it and I missed out on attending the “how to run” meeting when that one was covered. But neither time I’ve fallen over was particularly fun, and advice or not, I’d rather avoid repeating it if I could. Telling me to not fall over because of a particular surface I’m running on is just underscoring what should be common sense and instinct. But everyone does it. The last time I fell over was running the Sam Summers loop in January, and my father in his irrepressible teacher’s way told me I “really have to stop falling over like that,” as I sat beside him in the car and pretended that there was dust in my eye and the blood running down my leg was definitely not making me tear up. Is there some secret running conspiracy to fall deliberately to get sympathy? If so, can someone tell me about it? And can someone give me some sympathy next time I fall?

Regardless, the Dual was probably the most interesting event I’ve run so far. Well organised, too – it has to be, to deal with transporting two thousand people on ferries to a couple of small islands. My one gripe with the event was that – and you may not have heard, it hasn’t been well broadcast – Auckland has had one of the most godawful (for South Island born-and-bred-ers like myself) summers known to man, and Saturday was no exception. And the half-marathon started at 11am. According to the loud complaints around me, I’m not the only person accustomed to having finished my long runs well before 11, specifically to avoid the ridiculous heat and mugginess that’s afflicted Auckland around that time every day for the last four months. And in an event where it wasn’t compulsory to carry fluid (though there were I think six aid stations, with yesterday’s heat that simply wasn’t frequent enough) there were some very unwell, very dehydrated people come the finish line.

Before the event, I read a review of past years from someone who mentioned their usual half-marathon time as 1:50, and then that they did 3 hours for the Dual. I then of course completely disregarded that sort of maths, as I tend to believe advice or guidance is something better left for other people to follow. By the time I lined up for the race I was feeling pretty good. Most of my training is done off road; this was an off road race. I was only considering it my long run for the week rather than anything more serious. The first couple of kilometres was a gradual climb up a gravel road, nothing too bad, though the heat was immediately a major factor. Then it was through a bit of farmland and I managed to make up ground – running through untracked farmland is closer to trail running than I expected it to be. This turned into the climb up Rangitoto itself and before I knew it, we were ten kilometres in and I was having beautiful visions of a sub-two hour finish – accompanied by slight annoyance, as it meant I’d have an hour run on Sunday to make up the mileage for the week. Naturally, pride comes before a fall and we hit the single track – which turned into a bush walk over rocks, with nobody willing to move at any sort of pace or able to pass – and then the scoria.

I don’t know what scoria was in my head – I think I’d assumed it was similar to tarmac – but it’s absolutely not, it’s little round jagged rocks whose only purpose on this earth is, I assume, to cause pain. And running on them is not only “not easy”, it’s close to impossible. Ironically, I did fall once – but not while ‘running’ (which on that ground was more a slow walk, if springy to try and convince myself I was still running) – while stopping to let people with much less regard for the health of their ankles past me, the rocks simply moved under my feet and my left hand and thigh met some sharp rocks more heavily than I would have liked. It was about five kilometres through this nasty terrain, which I wouldn’t even term technical – technical in my head is roots and rocks but still runnable.

Then came a killer two kilometre hill – ironically the same one we’d started on, though it felt much longer, and by the people walking around me I wasn’t the only one thinking that. My GPS watch gave up just after the 19km mark, in what seemed like a great representation of exactly how I felt at about the same time. The beautiful downhill to the finish, however, was exactly what my legs needed – a bit of consistent variation rather than the actual ground shifting under them, and I passed the finish line a few seconds over three hours, with the immediate thought in my head that thank god the Routeburn isn’t a volcano. (If there’s a section of the track that’s scoria and I’ve just managed to block that information out, please, nobody tell me until race day. I’m having post traumatic stress from it as it stands.)

As a training run for the Routeburn, I think the Dual’s fantastic in terms of toughness and a mental workout – though I could have done without the neck ache and sore eyes from looking directly at my feet the whole time; trail running usually has you looking about a metre in front of yourself. It’s extremely dissimilar terrain – the Slip track and anything that branches from it out west are all better picks if you’re looking for something Routeburn-esque. Recovery’s a little rough – I’m hoping that the half hour (extremely slow) jog I went for this morning to loosen my legs up did some good, and I have quite a few cuts and bruises I could do without. And hey, running in the middle of the day means a whole lot of pasty looking runners got a nice tan, myself included, and you can’t complain too much about that.