Why Mount Difficulty?
It’s one of my favourite vineyards, they do seriously wonderful wine. I’m not sure if this should be top of my list when choosing a race but.. well.. it was…
Location, location, location… Bannockburn is an absolutely stunning part of the world, last year we helped do a bit of course clearing, this Summer we headed to the region for the Goldfields Cavalcade and to be honest I can’t get enough of the place.
Also though I chose this race because it’s a Terry Davis event… if you don’t know Terry, he’s the race director that you love to hate, and hate to love. A guy who once carried a lawnmower around the 72km “Round the Mountain” track at Ruapehu. He tells it how it is but in a candid, comical, and enthusiastic way. Fizzing with energy for the outdoors and relatively infamous for putting on events that are about beauty and suffering in equal measures.
With these thoughts in mind when I saw a grabaseat flight deal, with no races lined up, and in need of some ‘me time’ after a busy Summer season I decided to go for it. This would be a great place to kick off some Winter training.
Friday afternoon, pre-race lunch. Wine tasting, and a delicious platter at Mt Diff. A small ‘rest break’ then off to race briefing which was a special kind of entertaining, with warnings not to ‘muck around or you could fall to your death’. Love it.
It’s bloody windy. Gusts of wind and light drizzle. Not ideal but this is a race in the South Island in Winter, I’m not sure what you’re supposed to expect but I’d say this kind of weather is it.
We set off through the sluicings and the vineyards. The sky is all kinds of pink and purple haze. The wind is chilling. It’s a rare day I run in thermals and waterproof jacket as well as gloves and hat but today is that day.
We climb up Nipple hill. Yes that really is its name, and to most people that hill would be the equivalent of size F or G rather than the inappropriate AA sounding name it has. We climb a couple of hundred metres vertical. Anyway we aren’t here to debate names, we are here to climb and descend some hills, this is a Skyrunning event after all.
At the top of the hill there’s a barbed wire fence to clamber over. Terry has kindly wrapped part of it with something, there’s a few pricks sneaking through though and I’m ‘quite’ nervous because I actually have to make ‘contact’ with this protectant. My legs are too short to clear it and I can’t hook into the wire to raise my crotch a safe distance above it. A guy next to me kindly tries to hold the fence down and I tell him I’m ‘worried about barbed wiring my vagina’. This was not the only one to climb in this race. Next year I vote for styles over these.
We descend the other side of Nipple hill and run alongside the Kawarau river.
Then it starts.
One of the gruntiest of climbs.
Straight up, and up, and up. There’s an Australian lady behind me who mustn’t have realised what she was in for. She asks after about 100m of vertical, ‘are we halfway?’ I’m not in my most sympathetic state so ‘No, not even close’ is what I tell her. No letting her down gently, this is Mt Difficulty so I figure honesty is the best policy.
A bit after this point I take a video showing the climb, and pan up to where we’ve got to go still and call Terry a sick bastard. I’m laughing because I know he’d just be smiling and thinking how awesome this is. And it is. The scenery and the climb is unreal.
I’m nearer the top and I hear Aussie lady vomiting from down the hill, multiple times. Ouch. It sounds nasty. I warn the guy at the top of the climb to check on her.
A bit of a climb through matagouri and rose briars as well as a few cheeky Spaniard grasses to boot, then there’s some lovely golden fields and a 4wd road.
We hit the ridgeline and I realise that soon we have THE descent. The one they’ve had to put a rope beside for health and safety requirements. Some people bum scooch. I love this part. Rolling down the hill holding the rope and knowing I have one solid climb left, I can see Nipple hill to my right and reaaaaallly wish there was a way across. Nope, up Nipple hill we go. It’s hot at this point. Finally we reach that barbed wire fence to cross and I know that’s the crest of the last big hill.
Descending I look to the distance and think I see Felicity, because she’s wearing bright pink thermal tights. I think ‘oh she’s waiting for me’. Then I laugh. I realise Felicity is actually a road cone. I smile running down the hill knowing she will find me mistaking a road cone for her as funny.
There’s road and I think to myself ‘maybe I’m more of a road runner, this feels so good’. The Aussie lady catches up and says she’s ‘still feeling rough, would I like to spend the last few KMs with her?’ Sure thing. I’m happy to chat and try to keep her positive, it seems like this run has been a bit ‘are we there yet?’ for her. So we hike the hills and run the flats. We talk through the vineyards and the sluicings and then hit a sweet downhill to finish. It’s a small finish line with hardy locals and a smiling Terry there. If you show your race bib at the stand at the finish you get three things chips, pizza, drink or soup. Which is so welcome. There’s wine tasting but I kinda did my dash yesterday so instead it’s soup and chats with a few other runners. We pop home for a quick shower then head back and cheer in some of the 44km runners. Kudos to them, that’d be a beast of a course. Terry jokingly laughed/cried to me at the finish saying ‘some people are telling me my dream course is horrible’ which made me laugh. It is a good kind of horrible, he really does love the terrain, the scenery and the challenge. He puts these things on because he reckons it will be a fun adventure and it is.
This event is a real grassroots event with lots of heart. Stunning scenery and rugged terrain. Mt Difficulty you’re a ripper!