HTR Trial Run #1: Kit OK. Nutrition OK. Can run a little. Can't navigate a clearly-marked trail I know well (apparently)

I had planned to go for a long run on Auckland Anniversary Day. While I ended up getting slightly more of an adventure than I had bargained for, it was a resounding success; I finished the day at Piha (having started at Arataki Visitors' Centre) absolutely knackered, utterly delighted and in relatively little pain. I learned a few lessons on my performance and my kit's performance along the way, and just as importantly I validated my initial race plan, which is now online.

I *really* like how Strava strips out resting time. It makes me look so much faster.
The Run
I was joined by DB at Arataki Visitor's Centre at about 07:00 on Monday morning. He had responded to my advert on the HTR Facebook page and we were both gearing up for a bit of experimentation before the Hillary Trail Run at the end of the month. The basic plan was to try and simulate the first half of the race and run from Arataki to Piha (including the nature trail loop) with a view to checking target pace and kit, as well as getting some decent trail training k's in the bag. After introductions and a brief chat to agree the plan, we synchronised watches and headed off down the nature trail. The race team use its wider loops to spread the field out a bit before everyone heads down onto the Hillary Trail proper, which is a quite narrow on the initial descent down to the Slip Track. We appeared to be targeting a similar pace and both broke spontaneously into a brisk walk on the uphills. The loop took us about 14 minutes, which seemed a sensible start.

Heading back up the to the visitors' centre, we hung a sharp right and descended down towards Slip Track while chatting about our respective running histories. Turns out we'd both been running a similar length of time, but DB's marathon PB was about 12 minutes quicker than mine. The diversion down to the start of the Parau Track went absolutely fine, as all the turns are very clearly marked and I had run it a couple of times before; however we were probably spending a bit too much concentration on chatting and too little on paying attention to where we were going. I picked up our first brief excursion from the trail very quickly (there's a short section in the second half of the Parau Track where I find it very easy to get lost) but somewhere along the line we went wrong again and ended up on Kakamatua Ridge Track and then went even further wrong on Farley Track and ended up on Huia Road opposite the turning to Cornwallis Wharf. Oops, so much for local knowledge. In the end, we decided our best bet was to bite the bullet, follow the road to Huia and rejoin the trail where Huia Dam Road and Huia Road meet. We probably added something like 7 or 8k and an hour to our day with that brief interlude. Lesson learned.

Now safely back on known ground, we headed up towards Karamatura Farm and then up the track to the forks. While I think this is the most beautiful of the six sections of the Hillary Trail (particularly Omanawanui Track) it's also got one of the big, hard climbs; it's steep and technical in places, and puts a lot of strain on the quads and calves because of the big strides from footfall to natural landing spot for the next footfall. We plodded on up to the forks, where we took a brief break to get some food out of our packs before enjoying the next part of the trail, which I find a real pleasure to run. Puriri ridge track followed quickly, with its incredible views down the Whatipu valley, and then we hit the unique Omanawanui Track. I always find it worth a brief break to enjoy the view out across the Manukau Heads when I'm up there.

DB at Omanawanui Trig
Photo opportunity taken, we turned to head off down to the next hill on the ridge and then down to Whatipu campground, where we intended to replenish water supplies and take a break about where we reckoned the second aid station would be. Conditions had so far been just about perfect if a little on the hot side; although, given how hot it was last year and the possibility of another scorcher, getting used to putting the effort in on such a day might not be such a bad idea. All too soon it was time to quit the gentle coolness of the breeze in the shade and trot across the campground to the start of Gibbons Track. Our little scenic detour had taken a bit extra out of us, and I was starting to feel twinges of fatigue.

In one of the episodes of pain-induced amnesia that seem to be common to ultra-distance running, I cannot remember much about the climb up to the top of Gibbons Track. We weren't going particularly fast but the fatigue was starting to build up a little. I do remember banging down a gel and starting to feel a bit brighter shortly afterwards, when we hit the technical section before the drop off into Pararaha Valley. Despite the rain and the thunderstorms that we had out West the proceding day, the stream crossing didn't look any different to the last time I went through there. After a brief discussion at the next shoe-scrubbing station as to whether we followed the trail proper or the course of the race, we agreed to head up Buck Taylor Track and Zion Hill Track. We had a bit of a case of the plods on the way up, but the wonderful run down into Karakare on the other side made up for it. It's a really runnable section of track at a good grade, with some wonderful views across the beach; although it was sadly over too soon and the next drag up Coman's Track to Log Race Road beckoned.

I had started to pull away slightly from DB on the previous section, who was finding the general toughness of the trail and the steepness of the climbs quite hard going, so after a brief debate we agreed to continue at our respective natural paces to Piha, where we would meet up when we were finished. I described the course directions to DB and then began to climb steadily, before heading along Log Race road and then Piha Road. I found the final stretch from the carpark at the top of Log Race Road down to Piha Domain potentially a very fast one, where I could stretch out a little and make up some time; although I tried not to go all out, mindful that I was also trying to validate my race plan. With the descent down the tracks and past the ever-beautiful Kitekite falls done, I jogged along Glenesk Road with my adventure nearly over.

After a brief rest at Piha domain, I promptly bought and then downed a bottle of ginger beer to settle my stomach and bump my blood sugar, promptly followed by a leisurely bottle of pale ale, which I savoured while waiting for DB to arrive. Major thanks to DB for the company, which was much appreciated and made a real change to my run. Also thanks to Mrs. DB for picking us up at Piha and very kindly dropping me back at Laingholm.

Clothing & Kit
Everything pretty much worked as planned, with the exception of a few things:
  • Shoes - Great. No worries. No blisters. Didn't even have any issues on running the road bits despite my road running shoes (ASICS Nimbus 16s) having twice the drop and four times the padding compared to my trail shoes (Innov8 TrailRoc 255s)
  • Shorts - Perfect, no chafing. I'll use this pair for the race.
  • Hat - Worked well, as it did last year. Particularly great for dunking in streams to cool off
  • Socks - Worked well and didn't give me blisters, despite the soaking they got at Pararaha Stream crossing and the fact that my left big toe went through the sock on the descent into Whatipu. I'll buy two new identical pairs for the race.
  • Singlet Top - Worked well with my pack. No welts. Do need to make sure that my sunblock coverage is better, though, as I missed a patch and ended up with a 5cm across patch of sunburn on my left shoulder
  • Pack - No worries at all. Carried all of the compulsory gear, food and 2+ litres of water no issues. I've got into the habit of drinking from the tube little and often, so I don't think that this is an issue, and I can't abide the idea of handhelds.
  • SJCAM / Monopod - I was planning to do some filming on some of the later sections, but my camera fell off the monopod (which DB spotted and kindly retrieved for me) and I lost an adapter in the process, so I gave up on filming. I'd really like to film the race, but maybe that's just one thing too many to think about on the day.
Nutrition
Also a positive outcome; although it has become clear to me that I need to eat more. I finished OK, but suspect that I might have bonked had I carried on. More calories and more variety, particularly savoury or salty foods to break up the relentless sweetness.
  • Gels - No worries, GI upset etc... No real surprises here as Ive used this brand before for marathons and they have worked out fine.
  • Pretzel Sticks - Love 'em. Salty and malty, they really help balance electrolytes and aren't too claggy in the mouth, despite my worries. They also pack better than prezel twists.
  • Garibaldi biscuits - Ditto. Add a bit of variety.
  • Jelly Beans - Liked them at the start, but a bit relentlessly sweet to use too much. Maybe keep as an emergency de-bonk tool
* I'll add photos when I've had time to process them.

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