The Goat Kaimai seems to have the little brother reputation when compared to its older, longer , more mountainous sibling held at Mt Ruapehu. To my eyes, the Kaimai is one mean younger brother. Steep, root infested trails. Beautiful, mysterious forest. A sense of distance, as the race traverses across the Kaimais. I enjoy Tongariro, and have been back many times, but when pushed, I would say I prefer Kaimai. Goats do live in the bush after all.
Cloud, mist and light rain hung over the Kaimai Ranges for the 2016 race. The weather had no bearing on my tactics. I was planning on going all in and attacking from the start. I was hoping that a fast start would weed out any pretenders and create a selection early on. From there my plan was to feel them out on the flat paddocks at the start, before running away up the climb. I know the main hill reasonably well and I planned on using my local knowledge to help build a gap up the climb. From there I would try and run steady across the technical top section, leaving a little in the tank for a battle in the final kms. Such a simple plan, how could it possibly go wrong.
By the climb two of us were clear. Carl Fischer closed the gap from the farmland on the early parts of the slope. As planned I used my course knowledge to try and build a gap. I could get 5 seconds or so, but never really distanced Carl. We burst over the top of the hill in a tight duo.
The first section on top of the Kaimais is one of the highlights of the course. Grasses and ferns hang across a narrow ribbon of trail, obscuring the ground. The trail dips and dives with slight rises and depressions. The trail demands full attention, and I find that being able to see, process and react to the trail as it changes sets a limit on top speed. The trail is mesmerising, especially when locked in a tight battle with another runner.
Our battle is like an arm wrestle; one gains a slight advantage, only for the other to force their way back into contact. After an intense few km the rubber band holding us together snaps and I drift off the back. Carl is flying on the downhills, throwing regard for safety out the window. I’m not so bold, searching for more confidence inspiring pieces of terrain on which to step. We briefly come back together as we both take a wrong turn into a river – only for Carl to once again open things up once we are on track.
By this point my old friend cramp has arrived. Cramp is a neurological phenomenon, most likely related to fatigue at the motor end plate (where the nerve meets the muscle). It occurs when a motor unit (muscle + nerve supplying it) is exposed to a stimulus more intense or longer in duration than those it is used to. Put another way, cramp shows its head during races when you hit situations that you have not adequately trained for. By this point we were about 60 minutes in, with a whole lot of lactic acid and threshold level running already done. I was lucky to have lasted this long before cramping! Knowing that there were likely a few more runners not far behind I focussed on efficiency, attempting to minimise the stress on my rather unhappy calf muscles.
Emerging into the farmland on the Aongatete Lodge side of the Kaimais was a welcome sight, a signal that the finish was near. Hitting the final 400m of gravel road I took my chances and lengthened my stride again – the calves can just deal with it. Carl was no where to be seen ahead, and I could see no one behind. Heading into the finish I was satisfied. Plan executed, though not with the desired result, nevertheless I felt that I ran to my strengths and my time and result probably reflects the best I could have achieved on race day. Carl was simply a better goat. Another 2nd place in the books just means that I will have to come back again to try for the top spot on the podium.