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“It’s not possible to love without the anticipation of loss. A spectre of despair can be the engine to intimacy”.  Andrew Solomon.

It’s been a rather interesting running year to date when I think about it. If I were to get you to imagine a graph, the highs and lows would look remarkably similar to the race profile of the Abel Tasman Coastal Classic.

Abel Tasman Boat TripBrief Race History

The Abel Tasman Coastal Classic first began in 1994 and quickly became one of New Zealand’s most popular Trail Runs.The reputation of the event, the location and its organisation continues to spread via word of mouth and the event continually sells out each year.

Back in 1994 the event started from Marahau and finished at Totaranui, – meaning a 40km approx. distance. Soon after, the event was shortened slightly with a start at Awaroa instead.  Top athletes are among the competitor tally over the years including Scott Molina, Erin Baker, Greg Fraine, Jonathan Wyatt, Tracy Clissold, Michelle Allison, Phil Costley and Rod Dixon (to name drop just a few). Nowadays we also have a strong international feel amidst competitors with runners from places such as Japan, America and Australia coming over to join in the fun.

Phil Costley currently holds the race record from Awaroa to Marahau in a very fast time of 2:22:09

The event is run with military like precision thanks to the affable race directors Graeme and Averil West and Greg and Amanda Dykzuel.

The lead up.

So I made it to the start line of the Abel Tasman Race for 2016… Hooray!, tick. Ok, let’s rewind about 18 hours. I had arrived in Marahau with 3 other chaps from the Police force and one fireman. This sounds like the start of a joke… well it wasn’t far from it going by the first nights antics. Let me explain… We checked into the bucolic setting, that of ‘The Barn’ (approximately 300metres from the finish line). So far so good. Night begins to fall; we all snuggle into our sleeping quarters. The cabin is about 3m by 4m and I’ve been lucky enough to get the squeaky bottom bunk. Now if staying in a place aptly named ‘The Barn’ wasn’t warning enough before a race, what was soon to come would surely make you think the entire manifest of Noahs Arc had just docked inside our cabin.

I thought I’d experienced snoring before, but by crikey whatever I’d experienced did not prepare me for this full on attack. Maybe I’m just a precious sleeper but the noises coming from some of the lads were immense. After putting up with this relentless cacophony for nearly two hours I had decided enough was enough. Looking at my watch I noted the time had reached near midnight and I hadn’t got a wink of sleep. I made the decision to grab one of the guy’s car keys and try and sleep in the back of his station wagon.  Peace at last but the only price to pay for this temporary sanctuary was a hard seat floor. I curled myself into a ball and attempted to sleep amidst the numbness each side my body would succumb to.

Chris Dunell race gear5am – Shit I’m cold. I crawled back into the zoo and finally nailed a solid hour of sleep. Beep Beep Beep. My alarm goes off and the last thing I want to do is race today. I decide to pick up my lip, have a hot shower and just accept my crunchy eyeball situation. Three pieces of toast with Peanut Butter/Honey and Banana (A.K.A Peanut Bononey), a small amount of quinoa/almond mix and 300ml of Beetroot juice courtesy of ENDURObeet. (www.endurobeet.co.nz)

The rest of the morning went like clockwork. Registration complete. There is a nice buzz of enthusiastic, nervous runners around me. I like this atmosphere; the positive vibes are incredibly palpable. The weather is on song, approx. 13 degrees celsius. Suns out guns out.

Due to the low tides this year we all boarded a plethora of buses bound for Little Kaiteriteri where the Water Taxi’s destined for Awaroa awaited. The boat trip usually lasts for 50mins, I find this is a really good time to do some last minute gear checks, rub the Zen spray in, talk a bit of smack and soak in the wondrous atmosphere; because after all this part of the world is truly amazing and should never be taken for granted.

  • Footwear – Altra Superior 2.0 (I have never raced in this shoe but so far the training runs have been fairly good, I appreciate the toe splay this shoe offers as well as the advanced proprioception on the trails from other models. The zero drop is something I’m adjusting to at present.)
  • CEP run socks (Ultra light) (great sock that hugs the foot, I feel totally complete with these on, compression sock which absorbs shock from impact)
  • CEP run tights (these are essential I find, especially on the long runs, they keep everything together and aid with blood flow to working muscles I find)
  • Tailwind Singlet and approx. 1.5 litres of Berry flavoured Tailwind Nutrition in Salomon 10L race vest.

We arrive at the Awaroa inlet and disembark onto the golden beach. Like lambs to the slaughter we are herded down to the airstrip where Averill West delivers the race brief.

A cool gentle zephyr makes its self known but overall the conditions are great. There’s evidence of some rain in previous days but all in all there are no complaints from this runner. I hear rumours that if you didn’t run the race in 2014 then you’ve got nothing to complain about.

The Race.

Averill starts the countdown 5… 4… 3… 2… 1 and we are off!, I decide to take things easy over the first 2km and sit in behind Dave Fitch, a well-rounded runner with previous race experience and likely to be deadly on the trail if given a sniff at victory. We make it to the first of the climbs and I feel like I’m moving well so decide to take the lead, not a planned move but just going with the flow. I notice the pace seems already faster than last year to which I remind myself to keep things in check. Dave is looking good and a young lad by the name of Latham Fairhall is making this look all too easy. Trying not to get too worried as its early days.

Chris Dunell running in abel tasman coastal classicThe three of us negotiate the first decent and make our way down into Onetahuti where we have about 1km to run before joining back up with the single trail. I note that these boys are doing this with ease and I seem to be breathing harder than both of them, a few expletives enter my thoughts. I keep calm and think to myself ‘you didn’t think this was going to be easy did you?’

The rest of the ravenous pack led by Nathan Peterson, Mel Aitken and Shaun Mcwhirter are not far behind.

Over the next 8km Dave kindly sets an honest pace through the many undulations. The climbs are enough to make you wince at the top and the descents are just long enough to catch your breath. In actual fact the flat sections are welcomed during this race, that consistent stride length is a sweet luxury. We begin to climb again on what would be the steepest of all the climbs, Just after Bark Bay. Dave keeps the grind going and we manage to open a gap on Latham. This would be the last time we would see Latham. I do hope he returns next year as I believe course experience is a useful string to your bow on this trail.

I continued to sit in behind Dave as the pace is respectable. I realise I’m not having, what I’d call a free flowing day. On the next half decent climb I begin to make my move, I feel like I haven’t led much and need to pull my weight so I decide to pass Dave as we near the crest of another gradual climb. We begin to descend and a gap slowly opens. It’s not enough though and before I know it Dave is back on my heels.

What happens next really defines the race between first and second. Dave and I begin to pick up the pace, we enter a gnarly downhill section and probably the only real technical part of the trail (tree roots, exposed rock, cliff). I hear Dave trip and land heavily on the ground/rock behind me… I stop to ask him if he was ok, there’s a delay (I begin to wonder if he’s hurt) I ask again “are you ok Dave?” he replies “yip” , still unsure if I did the right thing even now, seeing Dave get to his feet I decided to keep running. Confident he would catch me up shortly I tried to keep the same pace we had been running. Not having Dave there caused me to slow down. I knew I had to get to the 23km mark, which essentially is the last of the real climbs before Dave caught me. The next 13km is an undulating section from Anchorage to the finish line at Marahau.

Over the last 40mins I found I really had to find another gear and dig deep, my legs felt like they had been beaten by the drummer boy and I pined for my Hoka ATR Challengers to soften the load. Beating my time from last year certainly became a faraway thought that continued to slip away as each kilometre ticked over. The hurt locker was well and truly noticeable and the thought of the finish line was a sexy nirvana I couldn’t wait to reach.

Chris Dunell winsAs I rounded the last bend into the last straight which consists of 3 bridges I was relieved that Dave hadn’t caught me and the thought of a back to back victory started to sink in.

I finished in a time of 2hours and 34 minutes (about 50 seconds slower than last year)

In Summary

A Massive thanks to the crew at Nelson Events and the team at Nelson Striders for making such a fabulous event possible. To all the competitors, congratulations and well done, I hope you all had a wonderful experience and achieved some personal goals. A big thanks to Paul Webster who captured some amazing photos of the competitors. Thanks for your time Paul, greatly appreciated. View link for photos https://onedrive.live.com/?authkey=!AO34KLIG8AjyTcY&id=508C88EA13187985!739&cid=508C88EA13187985

Podium getters
Left to right – David Fitch 2nd, Chris Dunell 1st, Latham Fairhall 3rd.

Lessons Learnt

  • Although I slept well in the week leading up to the event, giving myself a better night’s sleep would be something I would look at improving on for next time.

Pats on the back

  • I genuinely thought I got my nutrition spot on and was strict on consumption times throughout the race, I may have added too much Tailwind mix to my hydration pack.
  • Happy with race tactics despite being under prepared for the event due to injure earlier in year stymieing training.
  • The Altra Superior 2.0 performed magnificently over the first 20km of the race. Very lightweight with a responsive nimbleness that felt awesome in the early stages. I did miss my Hokas in the later stages, I’m picking the Hoka Speed Instincts may have been a perfect shoe for this event.

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One Response

  1. Jamie & Aileen

    Thanks for that Chris, a good read !!!