In It For the Long Run at XTERRA Auckland
From May until September, runners in Auckland, New Zealand can compete in six incredible trail runs in six beautiful locations as part of the 2017 Auckland XTERRA Trail Run/Walk Series.
On June 18th, runners headed to Shakespear Regional Park, where they could choose between three different distances: a short course (6.5k), a mid course (10.5k), a long course, (16.2k), and a super long course (20.2k).
Vicki Wooley, XTERRA Auckland Series Course Manager was there to give us a detailed recap of the days races. Wooley is also editor of Kiwi Trail Runner Magazine and AusTRAILia Runner Magazine.
The XTERRA Auckland Long Course Race
Three minutes until gun time, and as race briefing finishes up, a wave of excitement washes through the gaggle of people thronging the start line.
XTERRA Auckland Series regulars clasp hands, laughing and jostling each other, exchanging hugs and friendly insults. Towards the front it is quieter: taut, lean bodies stretch and jiggle, avoiding eye contact. Those eyeing a podium place think about their race plan.
As soon as the gun goes off, Matthew Battley leaps off the line and charges into the first hill like a bullet. Those who don’t know the 22-year-old smugly predict he will blow up within three kilometres. Those familiar with Battley’s ability to consistently maintain a sprint pace over a half-marathon distance shake their heads in wonder. A kilometre in and at the top of the first hill, Battley has his customary 100 metre lead on the chase group.
Today, however, will be different.
Shakespear Regional Park lies at the tip of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula. The park is pest and predator free. It is a delightful open conservation and recreation sanctuary. Pockets of native bush dotted over the working farm are a haven for native and protected birds, and provide cool respite from beachgoers tiring of the summer sun.
After climbing to the highest point in the park, XTERRA Long Course participants dive down through one such forested enclave before taking to the rocky coastline, and it is here that the fight for the lead begins.
Elite runner Andrius Ramonas (2015 The North Face Australia 50km winner) drew on his considerable experience over technical terrain as the field disappeared around the headland, the sea winking in golden winter sunshine. At times knee-deep, at times slippery – always shifting and uneven underfoot – this untracked section had nothing Ramonas couldn’t easily handle, and he came off the coast well in the lead.
It has been quite some time since Matt Battley was challenged at an XTERRA run, and as he gears up for the World Mountain Running Champs later in the year, he was hungry for the fight.
Sand flew from their heels as the pair devoured the beach. Back on the farmland with six kilometres remaining, Battley chased hard, slowly clawing his way back to Ramonas. Throwing themselves into a stiff climb to the top of a ridge, the duo temporarily lost sight of each other as they hurtled down through a wooded grove, skidding over boardwalks and through tight turns.
Open, undulating farmland now stood between them and the finish, and it was the marginally quicker Battley who led onto the final stretch of white sand before the finish chute.
Ramonas poured everything he had into those final metres but Battley closed out with a six second lead, thrusting through the tape in 1:07:42.
Exhausted from battle, the boys lay panting on the grassy reserve for a full eight minutes before third place-getter Trent Dodds crossed the line. - Vicki Wooley
Next up in the XTERRA Auckland Series is Race #3 at Waiuku Forest on July 9th. To learn more and register, visit www.trailrun.co.nz.