Getting back to what I've been focusing on for the year - has been my photography, and that is why I haven't signed up for events - main factor being time, if I'm not out there running events, you really do have to train for them and that would eat into my chances to do photography. I had opted to do weekend adventures where I get to combine photography and trails - which is what I've really really loved.
Xterra Waharau was my chance to see if I could do this at a event. I was armed with both my cameras, I only took one of them up running. The photo running pack - which is slightly bigger than your normal runners hydration pack, but still very compact and able to hold a hydration bladder, camera, lens and other things like jacket etc, especially for this event as there was compulsory equipment required - this one is serious! I'm getting used to running with this pack. The peak design clips - I'm also starting to use now, although the tripod mount did not work well with my Sony NEX-5R as I found out on the day - it has very odd angled tripod mount to maintain it compact size.
So along I went, I started off well, but eventually started to walk as the climb started to get tougher. We get to the first lookout point, and it must be about 400m above sea level, this itself is a great view looking out to the firth of Thames - I stop for a while, bump into Jenny's friend Vicki, she says she recognises me from the photos I post. This makes me smile for sure. We come into aid station - this is the junction for us "super long" competitors to turn off to go right to the top. I see Steve at this aid station, stop for a while, chat and take a selfie (sorry Steve it's out of focus - I need to work on that selfie game) Steve is a big inspiration - he's part of the Total Sport team that put these events together. He's a awesome runner, like really really awesome and gets to go to run in places I can only dream of at this stage, and most importantly a super awesome guy.
Leaving the aid station, off we climb now to the hardest part of course, I go past Ronald, but he overtakes me later - being on the trails is all about experience! I find myself running behind another guy, who's setting a really nice slow pace for me. I actually enjoyed this, and makes the climb not too bad and I had plenty of time along the way to take a few snaps. As we get close to Trig K - Mark from Total Sport is there checking off numbers, I stop by, take a selfie (look at the focus - nailed it!). He tells us it's another 5 mins to the top. Ingrid and Reti have now caught up to me from the last aid station, we get to the Trig, climb the viewing platform and take in the views from the top of Auckland! It's spectacular.
A few more minutes up there and I'm on the way down. I've lost the guy I was behind on the way up and Ingrid and Reti are also long gone. So for the last 10km of the journey, I'm mostly behind a lady and, in front of a guy, I play tag with both of them as I slow down to take a few photos and speed up to my pace again to catch up. This is where I really feel stink that I wasn't able to keep with any of the BBCM crew, like last year, and knew my "training" was not great. Gone are the days of running 5min/km with my ex work mates at lunch times, which was only 12 months ago! Though one thing I'm finding is - huge improvements in endurance and recovery, I can spend a lots of hours on my feet out there, with little fuel and the recovery is great as I was running 10km at the pub run the next day, albeit very slow!
Anyhow I was able to speed up a little on the downhill sections. We come back to the junction point where the aid station is, Steve is still there - I have good chat with him, I'm done with my camera put in my bag and try to find the source of the jiggling sound in my bag, later I find that I had left my keys and the lens cap in this bag and not put in my drop bag - all the rush at the start line reminds me just have to sort this stuff out the night before really.
It must be a good 5 minutes stop at the aid station, anyway I'm ready to go again. It's a great downhill run from here, there's another little viewing point - I do stop, but no photos this time, just stand there and take it all in. And then I catch up to that lady in front, pass her and I'm on the way down down down. The trail is now mostly gravel, we cross over a stream - nice to wash off those shoes from the mud. Hit the last aid station, now only 2.5km from the finish. This part is very lonely, only part of the trail I've had nobody around me - apart from some New Zealand wildlife - I get very close to a Fantail, spot a Tui or two and also a very tiny and cute Tomtit - that was the best sight; I quickly remind myself I was running a event!
I would normally stop, try to get my long lens out and try to capture these sights. I've noticed from my time on the trail I've been able to spot these things better now, and the advantages it has brought to my photography, the speed at which it takes to notice and capture one of these moments. Trying to predict the light better, as it comes through the trees. Still lots to improve on as blurry shots and just even sweat on the front element on the lens is a issue!
As we come down - the finish line has changed from last year, now further down near the entrance of the park, so going through here was very dead and eerie - absolutely nobody is around! There a short little hill, and short track before I pop up into the finishing chute. There's encouragement from a woman on a line, loved that. And then a absolute great feeling as I hear the BBCM crew cheering, shouting and clapping as I cross the finish line - high fives all round. That's the best finish I've had, so great to have such a awesome crew who waited for me for so long. I think I was about 10 minutes slower than last year - who cares! I was so pleased for the rest of the crew who had put some great efforts in training and banged out awesome times - these guys are absolute legends.