The Dual

In my Round the Bays post I mentioned another run that was coming up: The Dual. Well that happened a couple of weeks ago now, so here’s my report of that event.

The Dual is held on the connected islands of Rangitoto and Motutapu in Auckland bay, about 30 minutes ferry from downtown. I had entered the half marathon distance (my first ever), although there were others doing off-road triathlon, mountain biking, a marathon and shorter running distances. All events were off road along some of the trails around the two islands.

I arrived on the ferry with the other half-marathoners into the pretty bay on Motutapu. There was about 40 minutes before the start and in that time I changed into my running kit, dropped off my bag, listened to the pre-race briefing and then lined up at the start. The start line was on one of the main tracks on Motutapu, but also one that was being used by the mountain bikers, so as we waited for the start we’d have to periodically all clear the way to let a mountain biker through. After a short wait we set off.

The first part of the course took was a continuous climb to the top of Motutapu. The terrain underfoot was good, so it was just a matter of making my way through the mass of runners to find a group that were running around the pace I felt I could run at. By the time I was about half-way up I had got past runners who were a bit slower than me and had settled at roughly the right pace. I reached the top and there was a fairly gentle descent down to the bridge between the two islands. I was feeling fine at that point; the next part was to climb up once more, this time to the top of Rangitoto.

The difference in scenery between the two islands is very noticeable: whereas Motutapu is older and looks more like a rolling English countryside, Rangitoto is much newer (about 600 years old) and so it still has a lot of volcanic rock visible. The paths to the top were good though, pretty wide and fairly finely crushed rocks, so not much different from running on a road. I kept a good pace going up to the top and then at the top the track changed as we went into the trees and it became more undulating single track with volcanic rocks to navigate. That was only a short stretch and I was soon back on the main path down from the summit to the Rangitoto wharf (a path well travelled by visitors to the island).

By the time I reached the wharf at the bottom I had covered about 12km, I felt good, I knew I had to go round the bottom of Rangitoto, go up Motutapu and then downhill to the finish. I was over half way and felt like I might be able to push a little more. The first part of the trail round the bottom of Rangitoto was smooth track again and fairly flat and I was confident I could keep a good pace. Then the track changed and became much more technical, instead of being flat it was undulating, with lots of rocks to avoid. The continuous up and down of the undulations, coupled with having to pay careful attention to the rocks meant that it was energy sapping for the legs as well as for the brain, which had to make sure that my feet were in the right places so I didn’t fall. After 3km of that I was starting to really feel it and was looking forward to getting off the island. But it didn’t stop, I kept grinding away and it just seemed to go on and on. I think it was about 6km round the side of the island, but it felt much longer and was glad when I finally started to come out of the trees and came round the final part more on the shoreline where the path was easier.

I reached the bridge between the two islands feeling happy that I had no more of that energy-sapping terrain to cope with. I’d under-filled my hydration pack – expecting to need less water than I actually did and so by the time I reached Motutapu again I was pretty much out of water. There were still water stations along the way, but using them is tricky because it’s difficult to drink and run at the same time without spilling most of the water. So I was forced to slow down a little after taking a cup of water just to make sure I could actually drink it.

At this point I knew all I had to do was to climb up Motutapu again and then it would be downhill to the finish. The climb was slow, but I started well and overtook a few people as we made our way up the continuous slope. If you have ever climbed a sizeable hill or mountain then you will know that feeling of seeing what you think is the summit above you and then finding out as you get closer that it’s not and the summit is still further on. I got that a couple of times during the climb to the top and it is very demoralising when your legs are feeling very tired and you have to dig deeper to keep them pushing you up the hill. Near the top was another water station and I had to walk for a short way to get more water on board – climbing hills is thirsty work.

Finally I reached the top and felt the relief of being able to see the finish area a little way off at the bottom of the hill. I was able to relax a little, increase my stride length and just let my legs carry my downhill. By this point there were many walkers around who were also coming to the finish of their 6km walk. They made it slightly more awkward because I had to weave around them as I went down the hill. As the gradient of the hill increased I felt more and more pain in my legs as my muscles had to work hard to slow me down and keep my descent under control. My toes were also hurting because over the course of the run they had been bashing against the front of my running shoes. Every step was painful and jarring and it was battle to try to descend as quickly as possible while at the same time minimising the jolts my legs were receiving. By the time the hill eased out at the bottom there was not much left in my legs, I managed to accelerate little towards the finish, but it wasn’t much of a sprint. I ran through the line, under the big inflatable finish line and it was over – I had finished. Through my exhaustion I managed a smile; yes, I had finished.

I staggered around the finish area, breathing heavily and feeling slightly dazed from low blood sugar. I sat down for a bit to catch my breath and then filtered out of the finish area, grabbing a cold bottle of free cider on the way out. There were some stalls with free water and electrolyte drinks as well as slices of watermelon so I grabbed some of those as I continued to walk around. I still felt utterly drained and it was while after I started eating cereal bars, my lunch, etc, that I started to feel a bit more normal again.

I went and picked my time for the ferry home and then went to watch the presentations and spot prizes. I managed to find a seat, but didn’t win the trip to Australia or the big flat-screen TV. After that I found a quiet spot and lay down and rested, then it was time to catch the ferry and come back to Auckland.

I had hoped to run the course in around 1 hour 40 minutes, but my final official time was: 2:18:37. I reached the 12km mark at around 1:05, which was around 1:55 pace for the 21km. My assumption that the track around Rangitoto would be flat proved to be the thing that really broke me because after 6km of difficult terrain I felt like all the energy had been leached from my legs. My initial estimate didn’t really take into account the change of elevation on the course, which was about 550m and judging by the fact that the winner of the race did a time of 1:45:50, I think 1:40 was very ambitious, particularly for my 1st half-marathon – still, it’s good to have something to aim for!

So, will I do it again? Well if you’d asked me that as I ran round the edge of Rangitoto, or near the top of Motutapu or near the bottom of the hill near the finish I probably would have said no. But, if I do do it again then I will know what to expect, there won’t be any surprises and I can prepare both physically and mentally so that I cope better next time. I am already looking at signing up for some winter trailing running events of 15-20km distances (with similar elevation changes), so hopefully next year I will back and will take a big chunk off 2:18:37!

PS. The following day I was still pretty exhausted and I discovered that the nails on 4 of my toes were going black and the others were badly bruised. Maybe I’ll invest in some proper trailing running shoes before I do this again.

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