Jumbo-Holdsworth and Hooper Loop – Local Trail Running

Hooper-Loop – An experiment in trail running by Emily

Sharron and Sarah’s mountain-running adventures were giving me a severe case of FOMO (fear-of-missing-out) so I decided to give it a go myself. I signed up and started doing a bit of training, mostly running around the Wellington city tracks like the Southern Walkway and Skyline track.

Friday before the race arrived, and the journey over the hill was passed with a lot of talk about running shoes. This worried me, as I was planning to run in my very old and very non-technical trainers!

We stopped for dinner in Carterton. Louise, new to the club, had a cool bag full of nutrition, and she started picnicking in the park while Sharron, Sarah and I waited for our kebab-shop purchases to be assembled. At Holdsworth we found Tim and his family all settled and we pitched our tents nearby.

The Hooper-Loop race briefing was at 8:15am, so I watched the Jumbo-Holdsworth runners start and still had a few nervous minutes pacing up and down the car park until I could get going. The briefing was pretty brief, but it did include some useful directions so I knew where I was going, and important information about refreshment stops enroute; that there were none!

Pre-start photo
Pre-start photo

8:30am and we were go. I’m slow, so most of the other runners were straight past me. I jogged along at my own pace, definitely not innit to winnit. The Hooper-Loop starts along the first few kilometres of the track to Atiwhakatu Hut, then it’s a sharp left up the River Ridge Track where the fun starts. It’s a steep climb, and the track has considerably more obstacles than the Atiwhakatu, mostly in the form of tree roots. I really enjoyed working my way up the track; just like tramping but with light shoes and only a very light pack (as this is mountain running you still have to carry a few bits of gear; extra layer, map, waterproof jacket). Most of the pack were well ahead of me by now, and I pretty much had the hill to myself. At the top a photographer was waiting, so I pushed up to a sprint pace for a few metres. The rest of the way from here was downhill, down the Gentle Annie Track. I zoomed the rest of the way, really hoping that I wasn’t far enough behind to be overtaken by the first of the Jumbo-Holdsworth runners.

Having a go at a trail running race was definitely a good idea, and the Hooper-Loop seems a good place to start. Not least because I won a cool pink running shirt just for hanging around in the sunshine long enough afterwards while the spot prizes were being drawn!

Jumbo-Holdsworth 2015 by Sharron

Nothing beats a good local trail running event and the Jumbo-Holdsworth is always a cracker. The course is a tidy loop with a good mix of hills and tops travel. The event is held in late January so the weather is generally excellent and coming as it does relatively soon after the Xmas break, it provides a great opportunity to catch up with running buddies and hear about their holiday adventures.

This was my third time attending so I was familiar enough with the route and race organisation to not be stressing about what to expect and how I would go. I had other runs in the back of my mind so my main concern was to have an enjoyable time and emerge injury free from the experience.

Sarah, Louise, Emily and I travelled over on Friday night to meet Tim and his family at the Holdsworth Road end where we set up camp. After pitching our tents and catching up on holiday stories over a hot drink we all retired for the night. Tim was looking a bit tired after an action packed working week in Hawaii. There is a slight chance I would have summoned up some sympathy for him if he hadn’t kept sending me pictures of sandy beaches all week. A week when I was stuck in an un- air-conditioned office in a Wellington heatwave. My grammar checker is telling me that “Wellington” and “heat wave” can’t be used in the same sentence. I’m inclined to agree.

Heatwaves are more common in the Wairarapa and we were expecting hot, sunny conditions for our run. After completing all the race formalities such as the gear check and saying hi to everyone we knew it was time to head off. Apart from Sarah near the top of the rain gage I didn’t catch sight of the rest of our posse for the entire race. I sailed along to Akiwhakatu Hut then up the rain gage at a fast walk. The only place I overtake people is on the rain gage and today proved to be no different. Up at Jumbo I grabbed a few jet planes and waved to Chris Swallow as he led the field doing the run in reverse. I’m heading up onto the range and he is heading down the rain gage. No prizes for guessing who will arrive at the finish line first.

The Tararuas are unusually dry. The bog that usually tricks the unwary doesn’t exist. I greet more runners coming the other way and a few runners going my way overtake me. Some leap frogging ensues but mostly those that head past me remain in front. Undeterred I enjoy the views and tread carefully as I pick my way up to Holdsworth and commence the descent to Powell Hut. I’m running comfortably and enjoying the moment. At Powell I check my watch and decide I should be good to go under 4 hours which is my goal. I pick up the pace slightly just to make sure.

The descent from Powell gets faster each year as DoC makes improvements to the track. There is much debate amongst trampers and runners as to whether adding more and more stairs and boardwalks is actually an improvement but I get that they are trying to protect the fragile alpine environment from the increasing number of visitors. Of course the more accessible you make a place via boardwalks and stairs the more visitors you will attract. Somewhere a balance will have to be struck.

I don’t dwell on the carrying capacity of the Jumbo-Holdsworth circuit though. I dwell on my pace and how to increase it. Tim and I have a run to do together in a couple of months if I don’t get my butt down the hill he might ditch me for Louise. She is clearly much faster.

Louise's speedy finish
Louise’s speedy finish

Down on the flat and across the bridge and the finish line is in sight.

Sharron reverses to collect her hat
Sharron reverses to collect her hat
And then crosses the finish line with hat in hand
And then crosses the finish line with hat in hand

My hat blows off on the home straight. I have to retreat to retrieve it then carry on to cross the finish line. This causes much laughter but I don’t mind. I’ve finished in under four hours. Each year I get a little bit faster. I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts.

Congratulations to Tim who was second in the highly competitive vet male category in an impressive time of 3 hours and 8 minutes. He may have suffered but clearly jet lag is no barrier to running well.

A dehydrated Tim crosses the finish line
A dehydrated Tim crosses the finish line

Louise was just as impressive coming third in the open women category in 3 hours and 18 minutes on her first outing on the course.

Sarah's sprint finish
Sarah’s sprint finish

Sarah came in just after me but she was saving herself for a massive 100km effort in the Tarawera Ultramarathon a fortnight later.

PS You can read more about Sharron’s other running adventures, most recently the Tarawera Ultra Marathon, here: http://mustlovehills.com/2015/02/15/going-the-distance/

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