Kawerau King of the Mountain is a brutal race from the town of Kawerau, up Mt Edgecumbe, and back. I first heard of the race from Shay Williamson, last year’s winner, and decided to give it a crack. This was my first attempt at a race of this distance, having only previously targeted races around the 2-hour mark. It was also my first time doing a more pure mountain race, with a significant elevation gain over a short distance.
I found myself on the front of the pack from the start, and I think all the main contenders were happy with the early pace. Everyone was looking quite relaxed, but focused, over the early undulations. We hit the start of the real climb as a long line of runners and the gaps opened up pretty quickly on this first steep slope. After gaining 100m elevation on the main climb there were 5 of us clear with me in 3rd. As we came onto a flatter section of the course Ben Duffus moved to the front and took clear control of the race. I found myself under pressure here and decided to set my own pace, putting me in a clear 5th. The mountain ramped again with an average gradient of 40% for the next 560m of elevation gain to the top of the course. I was really happy with my intensity for most of this section and found myself sitting behind Sjors Corporaal and Lance Downie for most of it. It was near the top when I started to fade and lost about 40 seconds on the 2 training partners. I saw Sjors come crashing down the down-track just beside me as I came close to the top.
At the turn I could feel that my quads were really struggling to provide the force I needed them to, and that was effecting my aggression on the way down. Down the main part of the slope (the highest 560m) I could feel that I was not going as fast as I wanted to and started to lose hope of catching Lance or Sjors. When we came across the flatter section I wanted to push harder but my legs were just jelly and I struggled to gain speed. Once I came off the main climb I tried to increase the pace but simply had nothing left in my legs to give. My quads were hammered and I was almost caught by 6th place. Ben who took control of the race on the early slopes came away with the win in a very impressive 46:27 and I finished in 5th in 51:53.
This has been a great learning experience for me, and while I consider myself a good descender, it’s clear that my legs need to be in a good condition for me to go fast downhill. The plan is to keep attending this race to see how much faster I can go. As a starting point I can see I’m 3 minutes slower up the mountain and 2 minutes slower down than the top guys like Ben and Shay, and I expect it will take a few years to close this gap.