I don’t often write event wraps. Sometimes we’ll cover some events after they’ve been run and I thought that on this occasion, while being only a smallish event, it’s one that deserves far more plaudits that it actually gets and should be quite rightly thrust onto the centre stage somewhat.
The Ultra Easy took place last weekend over in the stunning town and mountains around Wanaka. If you don’t know Wanaka, then think of Queenstown, but far less busy, just as beautiful and just downright stunning. This is the home to the Ultra Easy – a 100km loop that begins with a gentle trot around Lake Wanaka, leading you into a false sense of security before chewing you up and spitting you out in the mountains that keep watch over this beautiful town.
Many a person asks why it’s called the Ultra Easy if it’s not exactly ‘easy’ – and you’d be right to question it. Afterall, it’s 100km, or 62.5 miles for those of you reading from America, with just under 5,000m of vertical, (15,000 feet in old money) with some killer climbs, brutal descents and some wonderful technical running up top on the high Pisa ranges and corresponding descents.
Anything but easy.
But if you know of the personality of race director Terry Davis, you’ll know he’s a bit of a sadistic bastard, like our much-revered Sean Greenhill of Mountain Sports. I swear the two of them hold monthly Skype calls to devise the toughest races they can conjure up. Of course, I jest again. But Terry loves this kind of stuff, and he also does it for the love of it too. He’s a prime example of a man who follows his passion, rather than plays to the masses to collect the dollars. In that regard, when you go to one of Terry’s races, don’t expect the red carpet treatment or private foot masseuses at aid stations.
Terry’s very much an old school kind of guy. He finds a route, puts a race on, whacks a few aid stations up in the mountains and then off you go. And he’s joined by his partner in crime, Ed Stevens – the cool, calm collected guy who you know is turning the cogs in the backend and keeping things running, while Terry puts on the show at the front of house. If you like your races low key, self-sufficient and no sign of any ego within 500kms, the the Ultra Easy is a must-do race and I haven’t even talked about the scenery yet!
Now, the scenery. WOW WOW WOW WOW. Hands down, there is nowhere anywhere in the world I think that offers a better view in ultrarunning as the sun rises while you crest the top of Mount Roy. Of course, I’m biased – but it’s certainly up there with the best.
It has everything. Mountains, lakes, snow-topped mountains, more lakes, altitude, clear blue skies and just lots of god-damn awesomeness. It’s the sole reason why the race starts at 3am (well maybe not the only reason – Terry just wants to be done before midnight) – but it’s a massive part of the race. When you’re up on the ridge traversing from Mount Roy to Mount Alpha, you’re utterly alive. It’s a feeling that only ultra runners can describe I feel. There’s something about being at the top of a mountain, in great physical shape with the world before you – it’s what living is about.
While the views are out of this world, the course is equally as stunning too, with some nice brutality thrown in for good measure. All up, there are two big climbs, the first up to Roy’s Peak – a nice 1,200m ascent over about 8kms and then the massive slog up to the top of Mount Pisa. This really is the killer of a climb that takes the best part of the day to get up to. It’s broken down into stages, with a short sharp one initially, out of the Cardrona Valley to the aptly named Little Criffle, before heading along some undulating track to Bob Lee Hut and then the final push up to the top of Mount Pisa at just under 2,000m and the highest point on the course. It’s around 30kms of climbing and undulation.
You really are just up and down all day long, with such a wide variety of changing landscapes from lush green fields, to rocky track and lunar landscapes at the top of Mount Pisa. I’ve said this previously, but if you’re looking to understand what it’s like to run in Europe, get yourself entered into this race and experience the joy of descending off Mount Pisa along the rocky and slightly technical landscape that makes up the descent back down into the valley. It’s a brutal 20kms of downhill that if you’re quads aren’t already mangled, is sure to put them through the mincer completely. As if to take sadism off the menu, the final 13kms or so is just a gentle trot along the river back into the start/finish area, where a lovely cold beer awaits you.
You might think I quite like this race and you would be right. I think it’s one of the best kept secrets in Australian and New Zealand trail running and one where you can quite feasibly interchange the words stunning and brutal over the course of the entire run. Quite how Danny Garrett and Martin Kern were able to cover this course in circa 10:30hrs is beyond me, particularly with the climbs on offer.
Jan 27th 2018 – mark it in your diaries.