The Abel Tasman Coastal Challenge is a one day event taking a limit of 300 runners from Awaroa Inlet to Marahau following the impossibly gorgeous coastal track. Track conditions are excellent and the event is well organised by the Nelson Striders (the web site is under the banner ‘Nelson Events’). The distance varies depending on who you talk to, but is about 36km. This may change as there is a rumour that they will run a longer route next year. There is an option for supporters to take a boat trip to walk the last 14km from Torrent Bay.
Being a late initiate into running and quickly finding tarmac to be a little tedious, heading off-road was inevitable. A cursory web search reveals that we have an ever-increasing choice of intimidating but spectacular events. Richard, an old college mate and companion on various hare-brained adventures in our youth requires no encouragement.
Unfortunately, our first attempt founders with the cancellation (after we’d trained up) of the 2011 Tararua Mountain Race, due to SARs resources being required for the second Christchurch earthquake. It’s a while before our affairs coincide sufficiently for a repeat attempt and it is the Abel Tasman that catches the eye. A training schedule is drafted up and largely ignored as we try to fit a few ‘hit outs’ around work, family and winter weather.
We take the Friday morning ferry and have a leisurely trip to Marahau via the Slip Inn Havelock (try the seafood chowder) and the Sprig and Fern (takeaway riggers of good craft beer). Friends have booked a house in Marahau just around the corner from the registration point so we have a very relaxed evening in which to savour the ‘riggers’ of pre-race nerves.
The organisation on the day is seamless. At 7am we register at Marahau, board a bus to Kaiteriteri then a scenic boat ride to Awaroa. The morning is cool, but sunny as we study our map and the passing coastline to get a feel for what the next few hours will bring.
There’s a short walk from the boat to the starting point on the Awaroa airstrip with a few competitors being taken aside for random gear checks. The compulsory gear feels very modest compared to the average Tararua day pack. A few duck into the lodge to use the facilities and here we must offer a thought to the punter whose race ended when he tripped and tore something vital while exiting the loo.
As the field lines up and warms up, we acknowledge the Royals of the event; these are the three gentlemen who have competed every year since the race’s inception. Truly impressive; we speculate about how none of them could possibly consider not being there each year and whether the last man standing wins a car.
The horn goes and the pack sets off down the airstrip with yahoos and cheers. Those in the know put on a bit of pace in order to beat the queue that forms where the track narrows to single file.
This is one of our great walks so there is beautiful bush with view windows opening over secluded golden beaches and an emerald sea. There are mossy waterfalls, granite outcrops and at times the track meanders through cool bush along a bench cut at the water edge. However, our focus was less on the aesthetics and more on the two meters of track ahead.
Support during the race is good and the most obvious wrong turns are marked. Supporters, volunteers, and residents appear at various points throughout the event to bolster spirits and provide water and snacks. The day is calm and sunny but the air stays blessedly cool under the canopy.
The track is mostly well packed and of gentle grade varying between 0 and about 150m, but there a lot of ups and down and a few steep sections to keep you on your toes. Things potter along well until Torrent Bay; 14km from the end. This is where we start to pay the price for a somewhat casual approach to training.
The last 10km are unrelenting; Richard’s Achilles is playing up and it is hard to judge progress amongst the trees. Each gentle rise sucks a little more from depleted reserves and the last few kilometres are interminable. We are not the only ones feeling the burn; the track is littered with souls who may have started the day at a slightly optimistic pace.
At the line I have nothing left in the tank and the first overwhelming emotion is absolute relief. It takes a few minutes to get around to feeling satisfaction at coming in under our 4 hour target; quickly followed by guilty relief at getting away with a somewhat slack training regime. It’s a few hours before cockiness sets in and we start contemplating what the next event might be.
The organisers provide pineapple at the end, a subway lunch then a generous meal in the late afternoon before prize giving. While the winning times are impressive (the overall winner is in our 40 – 49 age group so we didn’t stand a chance!), the highlight is the acknowledgement given to the oldest finisher. At 82, after well over 5 hours on his feet his standing ovation is well deserved; what a legend.
No regrets and a great deal of enjoyment. I am very pleased to have been part of this event. At $195 it feels quite expensive but you get: a unique run, scenic boat trip, support during the run, lunch and dinner… and a bunch of priceless memories.
There are limited entries so book early for the run and accommodation. Having accommodation nearby and a good group to share it with was fantastic. We left a car at the race end which meant a quick shuttle back to our accommodation.
The race website leaves a bit to be desired, and they do not offer a decent topo map of the course, however the organisation on the day more than made up for it. If you’re like me and want to be able to visualise the route, it would pay to get the Topo map and talk to someone that has done it to identify exactly where the track goes. DoC and others have contour graphs of the coast but not all of them follow the same route, particularly out of Torrent Bay.
The time of year means the weather isn’t too hot but you are training through winter. Do a fair amount of hill training; although the route only climbs to about 140m, it bounces up and down throughout the race and by the time you reach Torrent Bay the legs are feeling it. It’s not like running over a mountain where you know it’s all downhill at the end.
As with any longish off road event, unless you’re fit and experienced, I suggest getting advice and planning your training, gear, hydration and nutrition carefully. Knowing the course is an advantage, especially in the final stages where the run through the bush seems to go forever.
Finally, there are limited pre-race loo opportunities so get into the queue on the boat early!