Ever since I returned from spending nearly two years in New Zealand back in 2008 I have wanted to go back! I finally managed to round up a few races and make a trip of it, flying from the UK it's not really somewhere within range for a quick weekend trip.
After searching through the races around in New Zealand I came across The Ultra Easy.... 'A good honest 100kms' with 4700m ascent it sounded ideal 6 weeks out from the next 100 miler. I believe the race started as a MTB race starting at the top of a mountain and finishing at the bottom so being named the Big Easy, then there was a marathon run added and finally a great idea to add the 100km race in and just keep the name 'cos it's easier!
After a hectic week of travel I arrived in New Zealand and drove it down the islands to arrive in Wanaka. The race registration and briefing the night before was all good apart from my long sleeve tops not being up to a particular standard. I've never had an issue with kit checks in over 150 races so I ended up packing a down jacket in with my kit too! Looking at the next few races I've got the kit lists are a bit more extensive than anything I've ever seen before which I was surprised about considering the general laidbackness of NZ. As long as everyone is safe and having fun though hey?
So race started at 3AM!!!! I laid down for a couple of hours but don't remember getting any sleep and then the alarm was going at 2am. I didn't really feel like eating but wolfed down a couple of bananas and rolled onto the start line just in time. I thought it would at least be cool starting at that time but not so. I was roasting up the first tiny hill before hitting the lake track. There was a group of about 5 ahead and we all made some quick progress along the flat lakeside trail to the bottom of Roys Peak around 13km. From here there's a good honest climb of about 1200m in 7.5km.
It's a pretty sustained climb at a fairly constant gradient. I knocked it out in just under 1 hour 20 mins and was sat somewhere around 6th or 7th on the way up. It was coming light near the top but it took another 20 mins or so along the ridge to Mount Alpha before I turned my torch off.
So as promised there was a pie oven up on the top of the second peak just below 1600m as sun was breaking. I heard some of the runners made use but a whole pie sounded a bit heavy with the descent coming up! Great to catch the sun popping out over the horizon during the lonnnng descent into the Cardrona checkpoint.
Quite a lot of people out at the checkpoint and I caught a runner who'd been making the most of the refueling. We made our way through the fields and through another river crossing that was actually nice and refreshing. Although we were still pretty much sheltered from the heat of the sun as we were in the valley and it was still only around 8am as we climbed. Once up on to the Crifel Range it was undulating for a few hours and the heat was picking up but I was soon at another checkpoint.
I didn't see any other runners during the second half that were in my race but I hit the Bob Lee Hut which is near the start of the marathon at 11am and the MTB which had already started. I had some watermelon at the cp and it was the best thing in the world! So refreshing! I had about 45 mins before the marathon runners would be chasing and I passed a few riders who were changing a chain and caught a couple more on some of the climbs. This undulating section seemed to go on for a while and heading towards the sun it was 'toasty warm'! This Mount Pisa that I was heading towards eventually came and from here it was about 20km down hill and then 14km on the river to the finish!
A while after the descent began I was coming in towards another checkpoint around 10 hours in and caught sight of a runner coming up behind as I filled my bottle. I carried on and it was a few minutes before he caught me, the marathon leader and edged off into the distance. Not long off the bottom of the descent which was just steep enough to enjoy, I imagine it caused some damage to a few sets of tired legs, the second marathon runner caught me but stayed within sight.
I hit the checkpoint at Luggate and was mistaken for a marathon runner. By now there was the top 5 with me or already passed. I think I moved ahead of one of them and we made our way around the back of the airport to hit the river trail. I was so tempted to go in for a dip but was wary that I was going to be cutting it fine to finish under 12 hours when I checked with 10 miles to go and 90 mins to do it. The route was stunning pretty much all the way around and this last bit was no exception!
I passed through the final cp and had a quick cup of coke and sponged some water over my head and pushed on hovering around 8 min miles but really feeling the temperature. A quick river crossing felt amazing but I didn't hang around knowing that I was going to pop out at the finish any minute. There it was...
The finish... 12 hours 1 minute and 23 seconds.... 6th back!
There was plenty of activity at the finish and refreshments, loads of support out and generally a great atmosphere. The medals and prizes were out the following day along with brunch at the pub! Great idea! A very rusticy authentic looking medal with some good old number 8 wire from the mountain fences.
All in all it was a fantastic route that took in many of the local mountains. There was a lot of support, seemed as though the checkpoints were very close together with 8 on the route. I didn't personally bother with drop bags after having to carry so much kit but they were available at 3 spots on the route too. Organisers did a great job of entertaining us all in the briefing and presentations and looking after us all around the course.