This year we had a new course, replacing the country's oldest and most beloved Takahe to Akaroa relay. It was based at Loburn, near Rangiora, just north of Christchurch.
The event is based on a 4-lap 34km loop; 8-person teams do 2 loops to make it a 68km race. Individual laps vary in distance from 6.2km to 11.2km, and the terrain varies from flat to hilly.
- Laps 1 and 5: 8km, 70m elevation gain
- Laps 2 and 6: 11.2km, 90m elevation drop
- Laps 3 and 7: 8.35km, hilly with some very steep sections
- Laps 4 and 8: 6.2km, gentle and easy
This year Olympic just sent one team, running in the M50 grade. Conditions on the day were chilly southerly - particularly tough for laps 2 and 6.
The Whippets Running Project won the top club award, just ahead of Don Greig Racing Stables.
Joe's race report
Never underestimate the effort required to get a full team of eight runners to a national relay event several hundred kilometres away. The planning, logistics, cost, accommodation, transport, etc are all challenging enough, and that’s before you overcome the hurdle of getting a full team of over-50s to the start line in good enough health to run from the start to the finish of each lap! Half the battle is getting there and completing the course. We did, and more. Here’s our race report!
The National Road Relays 2023 took place at the brand new ‘Loburn 68 Relay’ hosted by Canterbury Athletics. The course was designed to fill the gap left by the perhaps permanent closure of the Takahe to Akaroa Relay, which ran nearly every year from 1935. The race organisers had listened to what clubs wanted from a substitute and landed on an undulating two-lap course just north of Rangiora in the rural settlement of Loburn. The course was held on reasonably quiet, 90% sealed country roads, which allowed teams to follow their runners around the course in their team vans (as is the tradition), and congregate at the start and end for banter, coffee, competitive limbering up (and beers in the afternoon).
We planned well in advance to get an over-50s men’s team (at least) to the National Road Relays – as we have decent depth in that age group. This early commitment meant that the core of the team booked their flights and places in the team early. We then set about trying to complete the team facing the usual challenge of injuries, other commitments, and so on. A month or so before the event we had a full team of M50s (including one W50!) confirmed, and team members Michelle and Rik booked us some great accommodation in Christchurch (Papanui). It was great to have our own space where we could cook food to the exacting requirements of elite athletes, chill the beers, and fill the fruit bowl with optimistic numbers of bananas. Joe and Darren attended the Team Managers’ briefing on Friday evening to get important health and safety information and guidance. Unfortunately, most of the hour was spent listening to people arguing about whether all-star teams (‘clubs’ featuring top runners from all over the country) should be able to compete for regional prices. Meanwhile Deb, AJ and Keith were conjuring up a tasty pasta dish, which we washed down with a few zero per cent beers. An early night followed – given the need to be up at an early hour to do whatever runners do in the hours before races.
The next morning, we set off at 7:30am, picked up Craig Holden, and drove to the start area at Loburn Domain. As Rik Van Looy warmed up for his first lap, Michelle spotted international high jumper Hamish Kerr and quickly ascertained that they were running the same lap – a fact that popped up regularly in conversations throughout the day. Rik set off with the super-light foam relay baton in his hand at 9am with the other similarly graded teams. Rik’s 8km lap was a long gentle ascent from the domain up to Brady Road, with the last km or so on gravel. Rik worked hard all the way up the hill to get the team off to a great start – clocking 0:33:53 on the line.
Next up was Craig Holden who has had a fantastic season – with strong performances on road and country. Craig had to contend with a decent cross wind on leg 2, as he moved quickly through a long undulating 10km gradual descent with splits varying by just 9 second (3:41 to 3:50 mins/km). The leg finished with just over a km of flat tarmac - with a glorious tailwind. Craig dispatched the leg with aplomb in 0:42:09 (5th fastest M50 time of the day). Craig handed over to Butch Borlase for leg 3. Butch is training for Kepler and in rapidly improving form. Butch was on a hilly 8.4km leg that was a great match for his climbing and descending talents. Unfortunately, Butch pulled his calf about 500m into the race and found it almost impossible to attack the hills with his usual vigour. Nevertheless, with his descending less inhibited (and a bit of racing adrenaline), Butch battled through the lap in 0:33:35 – matching Craig’s 5th best M50 performance and taking us up one place from 6th to 5th in the M50s race.
The last leg of our first complete circuit of the course fell to Michelle Van Looy who is also enjoying the end of the season. Michelle pushed through her 6.2km lap with a decent headwind at times – finishing in 00:28:54 and just 6 seconds behind international star athlete Hamish Kerr!
Darren Gordon took the 5th lap, which was the same as the 1st lap without the 70m dash from the start line in Loburn domain to the road. Darren’s high cadence efficiency and end of season good form was perfect for the long gradual ascent back up to Brady Road. Darrren skipped through the leg in a rapid 0:31:26 – a time only bettered by two other M50s on the day (the two lap 5 runners in the top two teams).
Joe Fowler took the baton for the sixth lap – making a belated 2023 competitive debut for the club. Joe set off hard, attacking the gradual descent, and held on to average 3:38 mins/km through the leg to secure the 5th fastest M50 time of the day in 00:40:55. Joe handed over to relay debutant Adrian Jurke for lap 7 - the same course Butch had tackled earlier. The wind stayed fierce throughout the race and AJ’s time of 0:36:56 was enough to secure another 5th place M50.
Rounding off the race was the evergreen Keith Chapman who pushed on through a windswept lap 8 which finished with one of those ‘you thought you’d done but actually you have to run all the way round this random field first’ sections. Keith ran a sterling 0:32:10 – doing enough to fend off the rapidly finishing Lake City Athletics team who finished a couple of minutes later.
The team finished 5th overall in the M50s category with Don Greig Racing Stables 1st, Wellington Scottish 2nd, Owairaka 3rd, and WHAC 4th in 4:28:35 (about 10 minutes ahead of us). We absorbed the results while enjoying a few craft beers from the beer tent.
Saturday evening involved great Thai food in fine company with a few beers back at the house. Those with later flights back to Wellington enjoyed a social run in Hagley Park on Sunday morning (with dozens of other bleary eyed relay racers), followed by a recovery stroll around a sunny New Brighton (with a tasty burger).
Next year the road relays will be on the north island – probably Taupo, Rotorua, or Fielding. This will hopefully make this fabulous weekend of running, racing, banter, and socialising more accessible to everyone in the club. The relays really are a great weekend away regardless of your speed. See you there!
Hint: To sort results, click the column headings.
Note sorting by time is alphabetic, not time based (so 1:00:00 comes after 0:50:00 because 1 comes after 0, but before 50:00 because 1 comes before 5).
|Lap||Name||Club/Team||Grade/Division||Lap Time||Grade place|
|1||Richard Van Looy||Olympic Harriers||Masters Men 50+||0:33:53||8|
|2||Craig Holden||Olympic Harriers||Masters Men 50+||0:42:09||5|
|3||Butch Borlase||Olympic Harriers||Masters Men 50+||0:33:35||5|
|4||Michelle Van Looy (W50)||Olympic Harriers||Masters Men 50+||0:28:54||1|
|5||Darren Gordon||Olympic Harriers||Masters Men 50+||0:31:26||3|
|6||Joe Fowler||Olympic Harriers||Masters Men 50+||0:40:55||5|
|7||Adrian Jurke||Olympic Harriers||Masters Men 50+||0:36:56||5|
|8||Keith Chapman (M70)||Olympic Harriers||Masters Men 50+||0:31:10||1|