Friday, 16 September 2016

Marton to Wanganui Relay (or ultra)

There is a place in New Zealand's North Island called Marton. There is another place, 30-something kilometres away by a main road, called Wanganui. If you decide to take the country road between the two buzzing metropoles, the journey will take you a pleasureable 66km. And that is the prefered route of the Wanganui Harrier Club who organise a relay between the two towns.  Note; despite the joyous experience I had between these two villages, there really is no need to visit either town if you are a tourist in New Zealand. 

I emailed the race organiser, Bill, on the Tuesday before the race asking if I could enter but would need to give him my entry form and payment on the day. I received a very friendly reply and was in the race. I wish all ultras would be this straightforward to enter.

Pre race selfie

Race Details

Marton to Wanganui at a distance 66km.

Flat road with some inclines and gravel.

Ten relay legs with either ten person teams (we will call them big teams), three person teams, pairs or solo runners. There are also composite teams which involves some people running legs and some people walking legs. Do not ask me which legs were for running or walking. And finally there were solo walkers and teams. Starting times were as follows;

7am - solo walkers and walking teams
8am - three person teams, pairs, solos an composite teams
9:30am - big teams

Marton to Wanganui

We made it to Marton from Wellington after departing at 5:10am. One of my crew, Sarah, was still on the dancefloor at 11pm on the Friday night so I was relieved when she bounced into the bathroom in the wee hours full of energy for the two hour drive. We picked up my second crew member, Neisha, from Bulls. Neisha was roped into supporting at 10pm the night before when Sarah was still out dancing.  Note; Bulls is definitely a must-stop for tourists. Not only is the whole name-thing hilarious (the town like no udder is unforgetabull) but their public toilets are also top quality.

A bunch of us wearing various coloured numbers started off from Marton Park. I was number 2080-something; a number which did not reflect the number of participants in the solo event. A few runners went off fast but we mostly all plodded. I guessed I was somewhere in the middle; having no idea who was running what. I was quickly lured by an interesting yellow vest and started running with my new bestie; Peter from Palmerston North. And so began our journey of friendship.

Peter and I tearing up the tarmac

Being part of a relay is exciting; even when you are not part of the relay. Cars and vans came past offering support and liquids. As the roads were quiet, they could stop and chat to their team members. Sarah and Neisha (hereby refered to as my A-team crew ladies) took longer than other team vehicles to come past. This is because they stood at the approximate 2km mark for a considerable length of time, with pom poms in hand, before realising that all the runners had already been past. I also did not initially recognise them as Sarah turned a corner rather quickly at one point on our morning drive while I was attempting to put my contact lenses in. The lenses flew out and were lost to the car floor.

Peter was in a three person team and a repeat offender at this event. I declined his team member's offer of a snake sweetie. Risk of choking on those bad boys for me. That is why I ate all of them out of the pick and mix the night before. Peter and I jogged through the first leg together without a worry. We solved numerous world problems while I ate my whole bag of apple and mandarin segments. The A-team crew ladies executed a flawless first checkpoint, with Neisha (at six months pregnant) handing me my water and then jogging alongside me with my food while I handed back my water to Sarah who was waiting further down the road. The A-team crew ladies' first crewing experience and they were nailing it.

The second leg went as straightforward as the first. Everyone around us seemed pretty consistent and we all jogged on down the country road. At one point there was a lamb on the loose who refused to let me ride it. Fortunately, the cars supporting the race all seemed sensible and I am sure that the lamb did not become edible via it's roadkill status.

At the start of leg three, I lost Peter as his female team mate took over and I ran a distance behind her and some others for some time. Sometimes I was a little chilly in my t-shirt with the wind and other times I was a little warm. The A-team crew ladies would drive past screaming out the window; mostly words of support. They stopped at numerous places and would jump out at me waving pom poms while we attempted to take selfies. It was serious business.

Team selfie

I caught a guy wearing a Nathan backpack assuming that he was also doing the solo. He was running in the pairs but training for Tarawera. He was taking on electrolytes. I was going to down some orange juice at the next checkpoint. So far I had been eating my prepared bags at each checkpoint; either apples and mandarins, trail mix with sweeties, bananas or crisps.

Each leg had been allocated a rating of easy, medium or hard with a short description and the distance. The only one that I could remember was that leg seven was a short 2.5km leg because it was all uphill. To my brain, this meant that the other legs would incur some slight undulations but no long hills. Upon jogging leg four I realised that this was an inaccurate assumption. There was a sharpish hill, later followed by a long gradual climb. As I passed striped vest runner (possible also in a three person relay as I had seen one of his team mates earlier and would see another later) and he commented that he had been told that this was a flat leg! We got to the top of a long climb only to realise that the road was a hairpin and still climbing. I was in great spirits but feared it would be a challenging 66km if there were a bunch more of these climbs. I had estimated that the race might take about seven hours but it may take me longer if it keeps going like this.

Upon finishing leg four, Peter and his third team mate were asking me if I had passed a girl; which I had not. Unfortunately, their female team mate who had been in front of me had not yet finished her leg. She was lost. There had been a t-junction earlier on that leg and a crew car had pointed me in the right direction. She had likely gone right there instead of left. With that established, and with a mouthful of crisps, I carried on. The A-team crew ladies sent my husband Scott the following message; A runner is lost. It is not Antonia. A proud moment for the family.

It looks like Sarah is shouting at me and I am about to cry

Holding up traffic by dancing on a bridge
Trying to outrun a pregnant lady

Leg five was to be a shorter, easier leg. I appreciated striped team's runner jogging along to a speaker playing Rod Stewart. Sweet beats. The A-team crew ladies were driving next to me as I completed leg five, taking us all by surprise and evoking panic with the ladies. I told them just to meet me further down the road with my snacks, playing it relaxed while they pondered their futures as crew members.

By this time, I had started passing walkers. Whether they were solo walkers, walking teams or composite team walkers, I have no idea. I gave them all encouragement on the way past and they all gave some back. A very friendly bunch. There were repeated requests for me to catch the old fella running further ahead; Peter's third team mate. It was a little soon in the race for me to go crazy on the legs.

Leg seven; hill time. So after running a marathon, you then run up a hill. I told the A-team crew ladies that I would probably walk up the hill. They were not having it and preceded to tell me that I would be running the whole way up. But they didn't understand, all the runners around me were in teams and I was by myself so I could not go as fast as them up the hills. No excuses they screamed, waving their pom poms at me in the most threatening manner that pom poms can be waved. So other than a bathroom stop in God's acre on the way up, I ran the whole way up. And by run, I plodded slowly up. As I reached what I thought was the summit, a supporter called out that the hill would start around the corner. There was no way I would be able to continue plodding if it got any steeper. Fortunately, he was telling a porky pie and I had conquered leg seven. There was a roar of support at the top from both the A-team crew ladies and other support crews.

The A-team crew ladies shake their pom poms at the top of the hill

I had to dig deeper for leg eight. There were some long straights and some undulations that seemed harder now that my legs were a bit tired from the hill. The A-team crew ladies did manage to take an epic selfie of the three of us while they were driving and I was running. Some talent there. There was also some talent in the walker's race, with some of them absolutely storming it. I think that race walking is so much harder on the cardiovascular than jogging. Approaching the end of leg eight I went to continue down the country road but was fortunately told to make a right turn onto a gravel road by some crew cars. Everyone was great at helping each other out in this event.

While Sarah put a daffidol in my braid I stopped and drank some coke. I was eating a little less but fortunately with 66km it would not matter if I did not stay on top of nutrition; I knew that I would get through and I was not going to walk any of it as I had run all the way up that hill. I limped out to start leg nine with a relay runner of some description passing me. I enjoyed the first dirt gravel section with curled downhill. The next undulating gravel section was also enjoyable when I could run in the car grooves. Not many cars were allowed to enter this section because it is only a single-track road. When a car did come up behind me I had to run on the lump of loose gravel and it was tricky for my now-tired legs to work extra hard in the gravel like this. The A-team ladies came past blaring a shared favourite from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack; I've had the time of my life...

Another runner passed me near the start of leg nine also, giving me lots of support as he passed just as he had throughout the day as a spectator. Unfortunately, his crew member kept stopping her car and I had to keep running in the loose gravel and was having trouble. I passed a lady who may have been in the pairs event who seemed to be having a good time but also experiencing the same difficulties with the car. I picked up the pace a little as we came off the gravel as I could see some cars parked in the distance and thought that must be the end of the leg. It wasn't and the plod until the end of the leg felt very long. The A-team crew ladies were stopped at a t-junction to ensure I went the right way.

Three of the big relay teams had passed me so far. You could tell them apart from the smaller relay teams as they flew past in their club vests having started 90 minutes behind me. These were the only runners too exhausted on their 7km legs to acknowledge the support I gave them as they passed. Fortunately for them, I did not lose my manners on the 60+km I had so far ran.

You will all be delighted to know that the daffidol has not yet fallen out of my braid although my husband is now drunk in Scotland and sending incoherent texts. Unknown to myself the A-team crew ladies had been keeping the world updated on my progress through Snapchat. Not easy given the lack of reception in this rural area of the world.

As I entered the start of the final leg I squealed with delight! The previous leg had been almost 9km and felt it whereas Neisha informed me that I only had five-something kms to go on the final leg! They could not get a park at the checkpoint as all the big teams were now there in their vans, not cheering for me. I wanted to tell them that I had run the whole bloody thing but fortunately, I still had those manners. I did get a cheer from a passing car who understood my running distance which elevated me back to premium spirits. Later they would give me a box of Maltesers :)

Probably Coke's next pin up girl

Not knowing the course, I decided to wait before bruning the last of the legs. I figured I had about ten minutes of fast running in me so did not want to waste it too early. The last leg was flat but the roads were long and straight. I did not see a single runner but almost got hit by numerous cars coming towards me. These were not event-affiliated vehicles (they were very considerate) but probably locals who did not want dafties such as myself jogging along their streets.

The A-team crew ladies were parked at another junction and pointed me across a bridge rather the continue straight along the road. There were good instructions for each leg but I could not remember all ten. The road turned right and then, bam, there is the finish line. I hear the girls screaming in the car next to me and glance left to see them abandon it next to the road and then run across in front of cars so that they can finish with me. There is much excitement. I take an age having a Dundee shower and putting on warm clothes before confusing the coffee cart by ordering an espresso on the rocks.

At the prizegiving I find that I have come first overall, having beaten all the men and finishing in six hours and eight minutes. According to past results, I believe this means that I have the fastest female time to date. I do not think that any solo runners would have had a clue where they came as I did not meet any in the race. I may have passed one somewhere after the hill as he was struggling but it is hard to tell. Thank you to the long table of intoxicated runners and walkers in front of us who gave me a big cheer when my name was announced. I think that they won one of the team events after 14 years of trying. Love the persistence.

I did manage to win a spot prize but unfortunately the wine was all gone. Luckily I had packed a cheeky can for the road. A Garage Project Lola; cheery cola beer. I feel like it was made for ultras.

A huge that you to Bill and the other race organisers who put the event on. It was a great day with great people; relaxed, friendly fun. Also, a huge thank you to Sarah and Neisha who were phenomenal at their debut crewing duties and definitely the most enthusiatic out there on the day!
Team finish

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