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Monday, 10 December 2012

#37: One Saturday in July — Part Two

Amid a sea of dust, taut legs and cheers, 203 energized trail runners pulled the trigger on their 2008 Knee Knackering North Shore Trail Run experience.

Determined to take advantage of her skills on the hills, Susan the Hawk shot out of the blocks as if being chased by a bull –  El Toro was not too far behind – taking the lead in the women's race and keeping a close eye on the speedsters at the front of the pack, including 3B (Bill the Bionic Beaver), who was determined to celebrate his 10th Kneeknacker with a PB.

The Hawk’s strategy was to put herself in position for a clear run at Black Mountain (without having to negotiate stragglers), which she then ascended at a fair-to-middling clip; not all-out, but not far off.

Both her female and most of her race-within-the-race (RWTR*) rivals were shown a clean pair of heels as The Hawk stamped her authority on the early part of the Knee Knacker and glided effortlessly ahead.

Not a million miles behind, El Toro, having thundered up Black Mountain 12 months earlier and paid for it in the second half of the race, pulled the reigns in on his pace, allowing The Hawk to carve out a sizable lead – and The Albatross and Antelope to fly/canter ahead respectively.

The latter pair seemed to have energy to burn as they kept The Hawk in their distant sights, clambering expertly over the stretch of rocks known as 'The Boulder Field' and then power-walking up the second stretch of Mont Noir.

Near the peak of the ascent, just past Eagle Bluff, The Albatross allowed The Antelope to show him a clean pair of hooves, though was soon left ruefully plucking his feathers in frustration as Abby galloped off into the distance.

The latter had actually been ahead earlier, only for nature to call at an inopportune moment – the curry-pizza combo The Antelope had devoured the night before surprisingly proving a less-than-optimum pre-race meal for a plant-eater.

Back in the pack, Campbell the Coyote was handing out weblog flyers to unsuspecting marshalls – who were grateful for something to wipe the sweat from their collective brows as the steamy sun of a glorious summer's day began to flex its formidable muscles.

This fitted in with The Coyote’s strategy of taking it easy early on, so as to conserve energy for Part II of the race – which contained several favoured sections he'd relish tackling… and several road-runners he'd relish chasing.

Keeping The Coyote in his sights was Sukhi the Sabre-toothed Squirrel – Sabretooth to his friends – who was trotting along in the mass group and saving his best for later. Maybe he’d only need that solitary cup of water at The Dam this year.

The Hawk maintained a blistering pace up to the top of Black Mountain, then negotiated the transition to Cypress with ease, swooping down to the first major aid station – the quarter-way/7.5-mile mark – with gusto and looking as fresh as a daisy. She clocked in at 1hr 41mins and sat 24th overall.

In the RWTR, however, The Hawk was now only just hanging onto a podium spot. 3B was through Cypress station two minutes faster, having chased down The Hawk.

Both had been eclipsed for top spot by a rampaging Abby the Antelope, though who, despite going hoof-over-tit a couple of times in the descent to Cypress and stopping periodically to guzzle lashings of grass in a bid to restore his gastric equilibrium, blasted through the quarter mark in 1:35:15, bursting into the Top 10, overall, in the process.

Keeping his fellow feathered rival, The Hawk, in his sights was The Albatross – through the 7.5-mile mark just 17 seconds later and immediately downing a cup or six of ice-cold defizzed cola & Gatorade (from separate cups).

Less than 120 seconds later it sounded like the North Shore mountains version of the Calgary Stampede, as El Toro charged into view, having ramped up his speed several notches with the potential race-wrecker, Black Mountain, safely negotiated.

A little way further back were The Coyote and Sabretooth, still well inside the Top 100 as they made their first proper pit-stops of the day at Cypress.

Stage 2 – the second quarter of the race – was the fastest section on the course, where the enduro-trail-racers could really let their hair down, and eat up time like food at a post-race buffet.

The Antelope really threw the gauntlet down in this section, powering down through Hollyburn Chute and onto Cleveland Dam with more than a degree of urgency. In fact, he couldn't have gone much quicker if being chased by a starving lion.

Abby took another tumble or two down the Chute, but, as if possessed by the spirit of Chumbawamba, he “got knocked down, but he got up again... and again... and again... no-one was going to keep The Antelope down.

TA bounded into The Dam – doubling as the Knee Knacker’s half-way mark – in a swift 2hrs 44; good enough to elevate him to the heady heights of eighth place overall. His time for the second quarter was 1:08:49 – fifth quickest in the field.

3B was unable to keep pace with the adrenalin-fueled Antelope, but nevertheless flashed through The Dam in under three hours – 2:56 – well on course to set a new PB... and possibly break the hallowed six-hour mark.

Meanwhile, El Toro, having thrown caution to the wind somewhat after reaching Cypress, quickly caught and charged past The Hawk through Hollyburn Chute, before ripping along the remainder of the route to The Dam, reaching half-way in a sprightly 3:02, and moving up to 28th overall.

Five minutes later, a brace of birdies, in the guises of The Hawk and The Albatross, flew into the second major aid station and enjoyed pecking wildly at an array of tasty treats, before taking off on Part II of their journey.

The wily Coyote, having run short of flyers and patience, began to seriously stake his claim for glory with a swifter second quarter, cracking half-way in 3:12.

Meanwhile, Sabretooth, scampering along back in the pack, reached The Dam in 3:33, allowing himself an extra cup of water & bonus treats, before chugging off up Nancy Greene Way, with Grouse in his sights.

Though they didn't know it at the time, the top two podium places for the RWTR were essentially sealed by half-way – while the third developed into what would be a tumultuous three-way battle.

* The RWTR (Race Within the Race) was a mini-competition between our training group – featuring all the esteemed and red-hot running characters mentioned in the story.


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