After the dodgy weather this morning, the skies had cleared up and it was a wonderful hot day. Jonty had an early start - actually he was in the first set of people to be sent away - while I was not heading off until nearly an hour later so I walked up to the start with him and saw him safely off up the hill and into the scattered trees. The walk to the start had been advertised as 10 minutes but was actually only about three minutes. A leisurely stroll back therefore saw me at the finish ages before Jonty or anyone else was even close to finishing. From the top of the small hill where the finish was located we could see across the valley and a small group of us kept our eyes open for runners on the far slope; mostly without success. Eventually we spotted people running on the far side of the field and then, much later than we had expected, Jeff burst into view near the marsh at the bottom of the hill and then ran up the hill to be the first finisher for the event. Jonty was next, going to a different last control from Jeff, and then the other M20A runners finished over the next few minutes. I tried not to overhear too much of what they were saying so as not to spoil my run but I couldn't help hearing that all four of them agreed that the mapping in one section of the map was a bit dodgy.
More finishers started arriving and soon it was time for me to get ready and head back to the start. I was starting late; not the last starter but within five minutes of them. I warmed up in the paddock below the start and was ready to go when my name was called. The actual start was just inside the scattered trees to the east of the start triangle and the tape roughly followed the fence up to the triangle. As I ran up the hill I gave the overall map a quick glance and then concentrated on the first couple of legs. From the start triangle there was a short first leg that just required going the correct way around the first building. I got that right and then weaved my way through a few more small buildings to Controls 2 and 3.
The fourth leg was a longer leg and involved crossing both of the railway tracks that Barge Park is known for. One is a small gauge model railway while the other is standard gauge but is only a display track and isn't connected to the main line. We had been assured neither track had trains running today. Getting over the tracks themselves was not an issue but the surrounding areas had been extensively landscaped to cater for the tracks and I found myself descending a retaining wall that, under normal circumstances, I would have preferred to walk around. From the bottom of the wall, I ran along the side of the buildings to the end, then around them and into the control.
Apart from the railway tracks, Barge Park is also known for its old unmortared stone walls. There was a prime example of this on my way to Control 5. There was an obvious crossing point and over I went, with a few stones wobbling beneath me. Across the watercourse and up the other side and I came back out of the bush right in front of the control. Confident now, I immediately headed off at 90 degrees to my intended route, heading north instead of west. I knew I was wrong when the building went past my left hand rather than my right and ran around the building to get back on track. I entered the forest just before the small building and used a brief glimpse of Control 7 on my right to confirm my position as I headed across the track and up the hill towards Control 6. I was beginning to regret my decision not to carry a compass but the broken stone wall came into sight and I navigated quickly to the control. Back down the hill to where Control 7 had been when I had last seen it - somehow I was 20 or 30m off - and then I ran the track through the forest out into the open. Over the conveniently placed stile and up the hill leaving the first set of buildings to my right and then it was down the small path and onto the paved area with Control 8 visible ahead.
I noted the long building blocking the direct route to Control 9 and chose to run right, following the track past Control 3 and then crossing the railway tracks again. I ran to the north of the buildings and ran along the reasonably muddy grass until I came to the open hillside where I could descend to the control. From here I suspect I made a sub-optimal route choice. I crossed the stone wall and contoured across to the next stone wall and the forested area beyond. I suspect that I would have been better to run up the path to where I had crossed on the fifth leg, thus doing all my climb on a paved track. Splits seem to suggest that this was not a fatal error. However, I did struggle to gain height quickly once I emerged into the cow paddock on the far side of the forest. It was also difficult to know exactly where on the ridge to aim for although a sight of Dwayne crossing the fence heading away from the control gave me an indication of the route out of the control and this helped.
My route to Control 11 took me down the tracks past Control 13. There was a bit of long grass to slow me down as I headed into the control and then the entire leg to Control 12 was similarly blessed with knee high vegetation. This is where the advantages of starting late came into play. It was easy enough to run straight down the elephant track that fifty odd earlier starters on my course had carved out of the undergrowth.
If you look very carefully at the southern vegetation boundary to the east of Control 12 you may notice, if you use a magnifying glass and a little imagination, that there is a track marked leading to a crossing of the stream. My initial plan had been to cross the stream directly but as soon as I was out in the open it was obvious that this would only be accomplished by swimming and my desire to do well in this event was great but not that great. Luckily, the aforementioned track was also obvious and, as I ran along it, the crossing hove into view as well. This was good news and I ran up the hill to Control 13 knowing that I had a long field run to come.
I'd been running flat out for around 2km now and normally my enthusiasm would drop somewhat on a long, flat, straight leg like this and take my speed with it. This, however, was different. There, 100m ahead of me running flat out, was Dwayne. Well, this was a challenge I couldn't resist. I stuck my head down, marshalled all my remaining reserves and set off in pursuit. Across the field we went, through the gate and along the tracks, reaching the final control by the pond with me now only ten metres behind him. We punched and headed up the hill. The finish was visible at the top of the hill but it took Dwayne a few seconds to spot it, seconds during which he was heading in slightly the wrong direction. This allowed me to catch up another couple of metres and then it was a drag race to the top. Near the beginning of this account I mentioned being at the finish and referred to this leg as a "small hill". Running up it I changed my mind; it was longer and steeper than it had appeared from above. Slowly I drew level with Dwayne and then pulled ahead, punching the finish an entire second before him. We both collapsed on the ground from exhaustion. It had been worth it though, the duel with Dwayne had pulled me up into third place, a very respectable finish after this morning's disaster.
Links and Results
Auckland Club members who placed in the top three in this event were:
M10 Hayden 1st, Matthew 2nd
M12 Patrick 1st, Ben 3rd
M20 Jonty 2nd
M21A Roger 3rd
M40 Steve 3rd
M60 Tom 2nd
W10 Anna 1st, Rebecca 3rd
W12 Tessa 2nd, Lucy 3rd
W14 Hayley 1st, Anna P 2nd, Anna C 3rd - a clean sweep of all three placings for AOC!
W21A Alina 1st
W50 Annette 2nd
W60 Joanna 2nd, Jill 3rd
Well done, everyone.