Well I did it! I can't say I ran it all, but then I don't think very many of the 300 or so people who took part can say so either. The Speight's West Coaster is one of the toughest marathons in New Zealand, the half course traverses the middle and end of the full one. With well over a thousand feet of vertical ascent, the first 6 miles is one of the absolute hardest physical things I've ever done.
The race begins on a stretch of Bethell's Beach, over firm black sand and through a shallow river meeting the sea before beginning the brutal climb up the dunes and into the hills. Any pretensions I had of running the ascent were soon put to bed. I fell back on my I'm-horribly-under-trained-for-this race plan of 'run what you can and walk what you can't', heeding the advice of my much more race experienced friend Tally, to always start slower than you intend to finish.
The course climbed and climbed over various terrain - scrubby brush, wider parts of grass, extremely narrow sandy cliffs and, just before the midway point, a cruel set of near vertical stairs. I got splinters in my hands from gorse bushes and sank to my ankles in boggy mud. I had one small moment of thinking I probably couldn't do this, but realised there was no easy way home and pressed on.
After the aid station, at which I drank more Sunny Delight orange 'juice' in one go than ever in my whole life, the going got a little easier and I picked up the pace. Not entirely, but mostly downhill, the cliffs were less terrifying on the way down and I was sure the worst was behind me.
Ha! In mile 11, just as I was beginning to think it had to be nearly over, after all, I could see the beach where we'd started oh so long ago, the course turned upwards again through a forest path and along an open field. Clambering over yet another stye, I looked in mild confusion at the course pointer set in the middle of a small, fast flowing river. There was another arrow pointing the same way thirty feet downstream. In case finishing a race with very wet feet wasn't quite harsh enough the final mile of the course took us over a quarter mile of sand dunes that pretty much felt like the Sahara. If there's anything worse than running on deep, dry sand, it's running on deep, dry sand in wet trainers.
But I did it! It took 4 hours and 25 minutes, though before you judge me the world's worst runner I should point out that the fastest man finished in 2 hours 11 minutes and woman 2 hours 50 minutes, roughly double what you'd normally expect.
Can't wait to chop that in half (at least) on a flat course, but neither can I wait to try more trail running. Just might wait for the bruises and bumps and scratches and scrapes to heal first. I'm not that tough.