Once upon a time the Coromandel Peninsula was a giant Kauri Grove. Today only pockets of the big trees remain. This weekend, however, 250 endurance junkies took part in an innovative mountain running event that is helping regenerate the giant guardians of the forest.
Exactly 250 runners from six countries started and finished the eighth annual Great Cranleigh Kauri Run, a 32km mountain run traversing the Coromandel Peninsula. While it has been mostly the presence of man that has seen the Kauri Groves disappear, in this case the presence of runners will help bring the Kauri back because for every runner in this race the organisers plant a new Kauri seedling.
Starting at Waikawau Bay on the rugged Pacific Coast, the Kauri Run traverses the Coromandel Ranges to finish at Coromandel Township on the Hauraki Gulf. The 32km route travels through native bush, streams and over 800 vertical metres of climbing. In eight years the event has planted almost 2000 new Kauri trees.
Warm but blustery conditions greeted this year’s Kauri runners. With defending champion Sjors Corporaal not entered, the race for line honours was wide open. Former New Zealand mountain running rep, Chris Morrissey, has finished second and third in previous years at the Kauri Run and was keen to complete the set. Similarly, Auckland teenage sensation Gene Beveridge, who was third last year. While at the other end of the spectrum, Rotorua’s Colin Earwacker was looking to redeem a sub-par 12th last year following six years in the top five, including winning the inaugural Kauri Run in 2004.
It was Morrissey who set the early tempo, leading Rotorua’s Darren Ashmore, Beveridge and Earwacker by a handful of seconds through the King of the Mountain point on Waikawau Lookout after 8k. But once on top of the Coromandel Peninsula’s Central Divide Morrissey went solo to pass through the halfway mark above Kennedy Bay four minutes ahead of Ashmore, who was three minutes ahead of Beveridge and Earwacker.
Morrissey continued building on his lead throughout the race to cross the Coromandel Township finish line in 2hrs 37min 09secs. Behind him Darren Ashmore held on to second place in 2hrs 45min 46secs, but not far behind the battle for third place between 52 year old super-vet Colin Earwacker and teenager Gene Beveridge continued until the final downhill through the Success Mining Trail. The younger set of legs won through, and any disappointment over not improving on his third place of a year ago disappeared when Beveridge discovered he had finished an impressive 14 minutes faster to hold out Earwacker by 63 seconds in 2hrs 48min 02secs.
Finishing thirteenth might be a bad omen for some runners, but Te Awamutu’s Kirsten Milne was all smiles when she finished 13th overall and first woman in 3hrs 16min 02secs. In second place Helensville’s Bridget Leonard also claimed the veteran women’s win in 3hrs 33min 54secs.
The Kauri Run also has a 13k option that was won for the third time by former national duathlon champion Graeme Pearson in 1hr 01min 04secs. Second place was even more impressive with Wellington ‘s Samara Sheppard, a New Zealand mountain bike rep enjoying some off season cross-training, breaking the women’s record for the 13k route with a time of 1hr 05min 50secs.
The highlight at this year’s Kauri Run, however, was the introduction of a 70k ultra-marathon option from the top of the Coromandel Peninsula down to Coromandel Township. Twenty five people took on the inaugural ultra, which started at Fletcher Bay and followed the Northern Coromandel Walkway down through Three Stones Bay to Waikawau Beach, where they joined the normal 32k Kauri Run for the remainder of their journey.
Auckland’s Andrew Turnbell set the early pace, building a five minute lead as he passed through Waikawau Bay (38k) ahead of Switzerland’s Iso Stadleman and Papakura’s Callum Wicks. A strong move on the 8k climb up to Waikawau Lookout saw Turnbull stretch his lead out to 13min, but Stadleman also improved his workrate along the Main Divide to hold the leader to 13min. That effort cost the Swiss runner dearly, however, and just 5k later above Kennedy Bay he had dropped to 19min.
After 70k and 7hrs 02min 01sec of running Andrew Turnball crossed the finish line with 21 minutes in hand, while Stadleman did well to hold onto second place, 13 minutes clear of Callum Wicks. Among women, Auckland’s Vicki Plaistowe was seventh overall in 8hrs 24min 47secs and 38 minutes ahead of Hamilton’s Dawn Tuffery. But the race for third place was closer, with Auckland’s Natalie Seay holding off Taupo’s Kate Townsley by 11 minutes.
As well as surpassing 2000 Kauri plantings, highlights from the 2011 Great Cranleigh Kauri Run included 60 year old Warwick Nuemann finishing eighth overall in the 70k Ultra-Marathon in 8hrs 56min 10secs. In the traditional 32k Kauri Run Huntly’s Brian Smith celebrated his 80th birthday by finishing the 32k in 5hrs 45min 25secs.
The Great Cranleigh Kauri Run is the second of ARC Adventure Racing’s popular summer events, which include the K2 Cycle Classic (Oct 29), Moehau Multisport Festival (Jan 14) and the ARC Adventure Race (March 17-19). Their events benefit the Spirit of Coromandel Trust, which provides opportunities for young people to experience the outdoors.
For further details: Andy Reid 07-866-8678 / 0274-921-348. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: www.arcevents.co.nz.