The 4th running (and 5th biking) of the Big Easy Mountain Marathon took place this past weekend in central Otago. The Big Easy is truly a unique race in many ways- more vertical descent than ascent, the crazy landscape of the Pisa Range, stunning views of Lakes Wanaka, Hawea and Dunstan and the Southern Alps.
It is a race that I have been keen on for a few years and having just moved to the Southern Lakes- 2 blocks from the Albert Town Tavern- the finish line for the Big Easy, I was hard pressed for an excuse not to turn up. The last Highland Events race I did, the now defunct Skyline Traverse, ended with me throwing up and a bad case of dehydration. That was in 2010 and I think it has taken me this long to prepare for another one of Terry and Ed’s races.
From the get go the pace was solid- well under 5′/km pace going uphill- the group of 5 quickly whittled its way down to 3 and at around 3km in I almost expected to be running by myself. Thankfully Matt Grummer decided to keep me company and the 2 of us kept a solid pace climbing up towards Mt Pisa. I was enjoying the company, but found it easier to listen to music and take in the stunning views rather than chat. It was the first time I had ventured into the Pisa Range and my mind drifted repeatedly, dreaming of what it would look like in winter and what the ski touring options would be. In and out of Sally’s Pinch and down to Lake Mckay I was in dream land, looking around, when Matt went flying past- I snapped out of it and reminded myself that this was a race. We cracked along and I gapped Matt as he stopped at the 20km aid station for water, but this was short lived as he was descending like a demon.
It was perfect- once off the hill we had 14km of relativity flat and fast trail along the Upper Clutha, the harder Matt worked to catch me on the down the less he would have for the flat and fast stuff to come- at least that was what I was hoping…..
Once we hit the flat after the Wool Shed at 30km I made my move, quickly putting space between Matt and I before we hit the Upper Clutha Trail. I guessed about 30sec and growing- I guessed wrong. Looking back on the winding trail I couldn’t see Matt, but at the Stevenson Rd aid station, at 36km, young Matt was still too close for comfort. I was lucky enough to have Jane and little Bella (guess Zach decided just to hang at home??) clapping for me here and I even had George Dog tear off with me for the final km’s. A km or so later on I managed a time check- 40sec tops back to Matt- he was hanging tough and blowing my plan of a solid training run- rather making me work (hard!) for it. Reaching the “4km to go” sign I did some quick calculations and figured Matt and I would be well under last year’s winning time (which at the time I believed was the course record). The river trails around Wanaka are littered with rabbits running a muck and GDog never misses a chance to chase them. I think yelling out for George to hurry up was a great way to let Matt know I was just around the corner.
With less than 1km to go I finally felt I could relax a little, I ducked under the Albert Town bridge and up the steps to the A-Town Tavern like I have 30 or so times before in the last 10 weeks since moving here, this time with a number on my front. George took line honours and I feel like we might have caught Terry and co off guard at the finish. I slumped over on the bouncy castle and Matt arrived a minute later.
Big thanks to Ed, Terry and all that helped put on this race. And to Matt Grummer for pushing me hard- it was great fun. With out Matt cranking along it would have been touch and go on getting the course record, but in the end we both ran under it by 10+ minutes. I am savouring the win, as you never know, it could be the last.
In the women’s race Mel Aitken made it 2 in a row, but did not better the stella race record she set last year. The cold and wind seemed to slow a few folks down this year compared to last year’s times.
Post race there was a bottomless bucket of cool beers and a big spread of roast chicken and salads, but these were totally outdone by the mass of prizes on offer. The event as a whole is a big winner and I highly recommend it. It is a fairly fast course- bring your down hill legs, or at the very least save something for the last runnable 14km.