Race Review Tawharanui – Bivouac Outdoor Wild Auckland Trail Series

We had a fantastic weekend for the second race of the Bivouac Outdoor Wild Auckland trail series at Tawharanui Regional Park. While not my first time to this regional park, it was my first time camping there. While it did require a bit of extra organization it was a great idea, as it gave me a more relaxed start to the morning before the race. I was also booked to stay the night after the race, which turned out to be an even better idea, but that aside.

Pre-race!

I was signed up for the expedition race, which I felt would be inside my comfort zone distance-wise. The race distance (22.4 km) and elevation gain (517 m) published in the days before also reassured me. So far it looked good. I figured aiming for a time of 3:30 would be a good challenge, but regardless I’d finish comfortably within 4 hours.

But then we get to Sunday morning. It was hot! The forecast had said 19°C, but the forecast had been off a bit for the past week. There was a remarkably unhelpful north-wester breeze as well. I filled the hydration bladder as much as I could, slapped on a thick layer of sunscreen, and wandered down to event base. Got distracted by baby fantails chasing each other around/between the competitors, and then we were off, down towards the lagoon and up the first big hill.

Great views!

The first lap went really well. I power walked up the hill to save energy for later, ran along the ridge, and down to the beach. I alternated running and walking between the markers on the beach, trying not to wish too hard that I was lounging on the sand or in the water instead. Pretty sure I’d sweated off most of my sunscreen by this point! Avoid the dotterel, up another steep hill, down the single track and almost back to race base. First lap done.

Mid-race selfie!

I was at the back (second from last at this stage, actually), which didn’t bother me. We picked up the tail-end charlie and headed back towards the hill for the longer second lap. The other runner just behind me got his second wind at this stage and shot off up the hill. I made my way up a little slower than the previous lap, but still ok. The problems really started after the second lap separated from the previous trail we had taken. I’d been drinking water and had electrolyte capsules, but the heat really started to take it’s toll. I lost sight of the runner I was trailing and only (finally) hit the lighthouse track as people I had seen about four or five ahead of me on the first loop left it. I have to admit this was a little disconcerting as, despite everything I’ve experienced in the past with races, I’ve never been dead last before!

Anyway, the heat was affecting me pretty badly by this point I think, but I powered through the lighthouse loop and stopped by the marshal back on the main track to re-tape an ankle hotspot (had taped it before the race, the tape came off). That helped a fair bit as it had been bugging me for a few kms, then it was onwards again. Back along the tracks down to the beach, up that super steep hill from the end of the first loop, down the single track, and finally back to the finish!

It took me a rather long 4 hours 22 minutes, which was an hour longer than I hoped and half an hour longer than I expected. Physically I was suffering from dehydration immediately after the race, but I solved that back at the campsite with food and drink, including salt and other electrolytes; my legs weren’t actually feeling too bad. Mentally I’ve struggled a little with the slow time, but I’m also attempting to be prosaic about it and consider it a learning experience. I’ve done most of my races overseas in colder areas, and most of my training ends up being through winter, so heat isn’t something I’m that great at dealing with. In fact, I’ve only felt like this once before during a race and it passed a lot quicker. Lesson learned – have to train for the heat! Especially because so many of our amazing coastal tracks are super exposed.

I was also reading up about heat training this week (while mentally telling myself off for berating myself for being slow – go figure) and there is a thing called perceived effort, which changes how hard something is based on heat / humidity / dew point. You could do the same run over several weeks, but the perceived effort it takes to complete that run (or walk) will definitely change based on the environmental factors you’re dealing with and how your body is able to cope. Something to keep in mind coming in to summer.

It’s also important to make sure you’ve got electrolytes, not just water, available to you on hot days when training. I did have electrolytes, but for some reason they weren’t sitting as well with me as they usually do. I’ve done things a couple of different ways over the past few years, such as taking electrolyte capsules (as I did on Sunday), used effervescent electrolyte tablets in a water bottle, or mixed a powder into a bottle. It usually depends on the type of race I’m doing, but I’ve always found I prefer to have at least one source of clear water (hydration bladder or bottle) and a separate bottle if the electrolytes need to be mixed with water. I’ve tried all three types and liked them for different things, but I will note the effervescent ones (e.g. Nuun), require a little caution because of the fizzing!

Post-race!

All up I enjoyed the race at Tawharanui and was able to recover relatively quickly from what was a rather hot day. I’m glad I had signed up for the Expedition because, while the Discovery would have been much easier, I prefer to challenge myself where possible, though I think I inadvertently did in more ways than one this weekend. Camping up there was awesome (partly because I didn’t need to drive an hour after the race, partly because of the “recovery” walk in the evening to go looking for kiwi, and partly because hey it was Labour weekend!), and I think I came away with another important lesson learned as I go into a busy summer of trail races.

Kristina Arthur

Race Motivator for the Bivouac Outdoor Wild Auckland Trail Series

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