Saturday, November 26, 2011

The LONG, LONG Trail

I don't have the time right now to do justice to this, but the Speight's West Coaster Marathon is the toughest trail run I've ever seen.  Keep in mind that I've run Pikes Peak a couple times, the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu, the Six Foot Track in Australia, the North Pole Marathon.  They're all pretty tame compared to this.

I met Rachel and Mark in line while picking up my race number and we talked about my "mission."  I didn't know at the time how instrumental Rachel would be in my race!

The race started, straight into extreme winds toward the beach.  WOW!  Before we ever got started, I was wondering what I had gotten myself into.  Finally after running south for a while we turned off the beach and started climbing.  I was in last place.  I was trying to keep someone in site at least, but even that was tough.  As we started the hills, I was able to catch up a little bit with the last couple.  After a couple kilometers, Rachel told Mark to go ahead.  "The crazy man's right behind me, I'll just go with him."  We worked our way around the first 12K loop, which was a good run, but seemed longer and ended with the last kilometer or so going right down the middle of a stream.  Took us about 2:15 total for that segment, and got us to the first aid station.  Turns out that was the easiest of the 4 segments.

The second section on the Hillary Trail was a ton of climbing.  We kept on for what seemed forever, and about two thirds of the way runners started coming back at us.  The half and the 30K were pretty much out and back on this piece.  On narrow trails, we had to squeeze past people regularly, which slowed us down even more.  Finally we reached the second aid station.  This was going to be a long day!

Segment 3 started out down a road, then on to a nicely groomed trail, then down about 30 sets of steps.  We were meeting runners coming back up the steps, so we knew it would be tough coming back.  What we didn't know was what was coming!  Rachel had gone ahead by that time, running faster on the smooth trails.

At the bottom of the steps, we reached a bridge.  We didn't cross it, but instead turned right and headed down to the stream.  The trail then followed upstream.  Before too long, the ribbons on the trees went to the other side, crossing on some fairly solid rocks.  I caught back up to Rachel, and together we picked our way through.  Every few hundred meters, the trail would switch sides, making us wade back and forth across the stream, sometimes just wading upstream for a while to find the next ribbon.  We lost the trail several times and had to back track.  That was mostly due to the fact we were watching our footing and not looking up.  In fact, at one point the bill of my cap blocked my view of a branch as I was looking down, and SMACK!  My glasses got bent and I got a nice little bruise right below my right eye.

We left the stream eventually and headed back up some steps.  Then to an intermediate drink station.  We thought we were going to make it back to aid station #2 by the 2:00 cutoff, but it turns out it was still a long way off.  Down a bunch more steps to the bridge, then cross and start back up the steps we had come down earlier.  By the time we reached the station, one of the staff said, "I hate to tell you this, but you're going to have to get a ride back.  I explained that I had no choice but to finish, and had to go.  Rachel sold them on the idea as well, and off we went.  Paul (the race staff guy) said he'd be along behind us to take down all the marking ribbons.

We felt like we were making better time going back, but it was still tough going.  Lots of severe downhill sections along with a lot more climbing.  A little over half way back it became mostly down hill.  Paul joined us after about 3 kilometers, and was great at letting us know where we were and how much farther it was.  About 3K before the end, I was still moving fairly well, but Rachel stopped for a drink and was slow in getting started again.  Paul stayed back with her and I went on ahead.  A final push and I was back down to flat ground, for the last kilometer back to base.  Tired, but still feeling good, I crossed one final tidal pool and got back to Bethel Beach, and somewhere around 9.5 hours, finished continent #5.

Anyway, after taking over 9 hours to finish the marathon, (only my running companion Rachel finished behind me) I got a quick shower in the outdoor "rinse off the beach sand" shower at the race site and bolted for the airport for my 7:30 flight.  Unfortunately, by the time I got inside it was 7:10.  I missed my flight!  So, now with 5 of the 7 done, I went to the Air New Zealand counter to figure out something.  My flight was booked through Continental, and they were able to get me to LAX on the later ANZ flight, but couldn't get me to Orlando until Sunday.  That doesn't work.  My world record attempt was going down the drain.

I checked in, but only had them check my bag to LAX.  Then I sat down and bought some Internet time and went to work.  One option:  A flight on US Air which gets me to Orlando at 4:51 a.m.  That's as good as it gets.  It's 40 minutes to the race from the airport, and figure a half-hour just to get to my rental car.  Should put me at the race right about 6:15 for the start.  Or maybe 6:20.  The record attempt is back on!

Hopefully all the flights are on time!

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