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Three Peaks 2014 – a perspective from back in the pack

Russell Hurring gives us his take on the iconic Dunedin mountain running race- The Three Peaks, that took place last weekend.

3p startThe prerace talk about weather had to be expected after last year’s survival slog but true to form Dunedin balanced the deal with a fine cool day, perfect conditions for the 31st running of The Frontrunner Three Peaks Mountain Race. Overhead at least.

It was like finally visiting an old friend for me. I last ran this race in 1999 and had plans thwarted last year through injury. Amazingly fifteen years on many of the guys who made the competition tough back then remain the ones to beat. Just the age grade has changed, and the race times. We all get quite a lot more running for our entry fee now.

The ThreePeaks starts with a torrid dash up a few hundred metres of sealed road before the narrower RossCreek tracks and real climbing start. Some young bucks are panting a penalty for their ambitious starts as the gradient rises. That makes me feel better. I see most of the tough nut M50s, all looking strong, but all momentarily drop their race faces to offer a cheery greeting. Pleasantry or psyche out tactic, I’m not sure. Makes them look strong though. Chris Sole is wearing shoes. He is climbing really well too, and carrying spare shoes, Vibram Five Fingers, one in each hand. He soon disappears up ahead, really putting the pressure on.

Sarah Chisnall crossing the Northern Motorway bridge at the start of the Mt Cargill climb.

Sarah Chisnall crossing the Northern Motorway bridge at the start of the Mt Cargill climb.

The Pineapple track is an honest climb of close to 600m with no real respite and it shines a light on your climbing form. Near the summit it undulates and the course doubles back on itself here, a chance to see how rivals are fairing. I only just catch a glimpse of race leader Stafford Thompson well in charge. Of the M50s Chris has a good lead but other feared rivals are back a bit. I am pleased because we have entered a mudlark’s heaven and I will lose time here. At first it’s hard baked greasy clay with scattered rocks, then big ruts and bigger puddles. I am relieved to get onto the steep Swampy Summit climb with no M50s passing.

I’m grateful the initial descent from Swampy has been well groomed by race organisers, none of the bush bashing of early years. It’s rough underfoot though and I am being passed regularly by more nimble speedsters. The fire road that follows looks like good running but the mossy parts are very slippery. A woman relay runner I am following falls heavily three times. Each fall I worry that she might have hurt herself but I can’t catch up to check. Off the fire road and into the infamous chute, deep clinging mud, exposed wet clay, tree roots, overhanging branches, true tests of the modern trail shoe. Old M50 rivals Brian Pascoe and Andrew Town are among those passing here. Sarah Chisnall and Louisa Andrew also slip slide past engaged in a great race for first woman. I will need a big effort on Mt Cargill.

Chris Sole finishing barefoot and carrying two pairs of shoes.

Chris Sole finishing barefoot and carrying two pairs of shoes.

The ThreePeaks is often won or lost on Mt Cargill. It’s the third peak, the going is rougher and steeper in many places and everyone is tired. It’s been good to me in the past. I visualise a target on Andrew Town’s back and try to reel him in. He’s out of sight through sections of trees but once on the clearing I can see and I am gaining. I pass Brian and Louisa and catch up to Sarah. Push push. It seems to take no time at all for the summit to be reached but too late. Andrew is off on the descent. That’s his forte. My chance is gone. Sarah and Louisa are off ahead too. I better concentrate on keeping ahead of the chase pack down the well groomed Bathunes Gully tracks and the last two or three kilometres on the sealed road. Through the later half of the race we are catching runners who took the early start option and that helps a lot with motivation and concentration. Many are generous with encouragement too.

Andrew Town finishing, fresh looking, could have been just a stroll down the street.

Andrew Town finishing, fresh looking, could have been just a stroll down the street.

It’s a pleasant relief to tread carefully onto a greasy ChingfordPark and finally see the finish chute. Thanks to all who shaped my race out there. You made it rather brutal but I’m keen to take you on again next year in my ongoing search for lost youth. Congratulations to all category winners, especially Chris and Sarah whose magnificent efforts I witnessed. Chris incidentally finished barefoot carrying two pairs of shoes, tidy kiwi. Most importantly thanks to Alan Funnell, Leith Harriers and the large team of sponsors and volunteers who made it all possible.


About Russell Hurring

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