My new favourite trail run- The Raglan Karioi Trail, 24km, 1800m ascent/descent, off road trails, farmland, unsealed road, ropes/chains, ridges… you name it, it’s got it.
What makes this trail run stand out to me is the variety of terrain, the technical running elements and the physical toughness. Lining up on the start line I was unsure of how the race would unfold; as I’m far from a technical runner and more of a baby elephant running downhill. However, always up for a challenge and loving running around the hills, I was excited to give it a crack.
The Karioi trail run starts on private farmland on the Ruapuke side of the Karioi mountain, involving 2 ascents and descents of the mountain, forming an initial out and back, and clockwise lap of Mount Karioi.
An initially deceiving and gradually ascending farm track makes for a kilometre of easing in the legs, only to be rudely awakened with a sharp right, and a step ascent heading up a fence line into native bush. Before even reaching the bush line (less than 2km in) and I’m walking- a planned wise decision. It’s definitely a run you want to push the pace when the terrain lets you, but the gradient of the first ascent would have blown the legs up too much, making for a painful 2nd half of the run.
Once in the bush you’re climbing up through a well marked out Department of Conservation Trail (DoC). It’s wet and slippy underfoot from the recent wet weather, and the tree roots make sure you’re focussing on your footwork. The elevation profile means the quads and calfs are working hard, not to mention the arms, using any muscle available to haul yourself up. It’s just over 3km to the top of the first climb where you pop out at the trig point of Mount Karioi with 360 degree views over the West Coast and The Waikato. There isn’t much time to take in the scenery as the technicallity of the terrain, which traverses around the trig point, requires some concentration: lowering yourself over large tree roots, steep drop offs and slippery rocks. At the top you traverse around for a few hundred metres before steadily descending. This section was pretty boggy and wet, but good enough under foot that you could pick up the pace, and the downhill was a welcomed break for the quads and the lungs.
Once at the track junction, a friendly volunteer, appearing from nowhere, directed us clockwise around the mountain and down towards the shoreline. This is where the fun begins and the pace significantly slows (unless you’re willing to risk a broken bone). The course initially descends 110 vertical metres over a distance of 400m, no wonder there are chains/ropes to help lower yourself over the steep rocks and tree roots. Technical, yes, but the trees, chains and slippery surface make it perfect for a good old bum slide (that’s how all the pro’s do it right?!). The track then flattens out to a more runnable gradient and continues to descend through the bush before opening up into a deceptively challenging track through a wide open grass field. The song ‘the hills are alive, with the sound of music’ is probably fitting to describe the terrain, but underfoot the large boulders make hard work of what should be a fast descent.
Reaching the unsealed gravel road is the second welcomed increase of pace for a few undulating kilometres, before we hang a hard right uphill for what seems to be an additional detour from the road ‘just to make things more interesting’ (I’m sure if we’d stayed on the road it would have been: a. Quicker b. Less interesting and c. Less elevation… but who wants that!).
In just under 10km you’ve descended from the summit at 756m to the lowest point on the course at ~50m (above sea level, according to my garmin). Once at Karioi Lodge you start with a gentle incline ascending back up Mount Karioi through native bush. The incline and terrain allow the legs to keep ticking over at a steady pace, the gradient not quite enough to justify walking yet. I think this part of the race is where people may have made up or lost some ground, it really was a case of ignoring all rational sense and blocking out the legs and lungs screaming at you. Thankfully, soon enough, the gradient increases and the terrain allows for a change of muscle group, scrambling up rocks, swinging from tree branches and navigating over ridgelines. Ascending just short of 5km you reach the junction at which we passed through after the first climb. The lovely volunteer shouts ‘you’ve done this section before...easy...home run now’ to which I wrongly interpreted to mean, ‘it’s all downhill from here’. This section just went on and on, not what I remembered on the way out, feeling fresh and feeling like I was on an episode of ninja warrior. Ninja warrior I was not. The track undulates, overall ascending back to the trig point for what seems to be an eternity. The legs are tired which leads to silly footing mistakes, and many a time hitting the deck, into what is now a mud bath from the passing foot traffic of the competitors. Climbing the ladder up to the trig and a sigh of relief, now it really is all downhill retracing our steps to the finish line. The descent is the last challenge for the legs and I’m sure the photographer at the bottom of the hill heard the baby elephant coming from a mile off. One last rye smile at the photographer, before passing him and extravagantly going head over heels in a pile of cow shit, that really was the last hit the body needed at this stage. Reaching the farm track I can see the finish line, and that’s all I needed alongside the gentle downhill to pick up the pace and cross the line in 3.27.54.
Overall, it’s a race for those who want to challenge themselves physically...and mentally... but also one whereby you can have fun along the way, with the change in terrain and technical elements. It’s definitely not a road runners race, or one where you can maintain a constant fast pace; but with some overall strength in the legs when the change of terrain demands it, and the mental stubbornness to block out the pain and self-doubts, this race could be for you.
This was the first running event in a while where I’ve grinned from ear to ear, shouted out loud ‘I’m on ninja warrior’ and been so frustrated at myself for constantly falling over.
What makes me talk of this race so highly is the physical toughness, the organisation and execution on the day and the community feel it gives you from start to finish. Crossing the finish line, the organisers and volunteers are keen to hear everyone’s story, help get you fed and watered with beer and a sausage sizzle, and welcome you to stay to be part of their event.
All you can ask for.
I will definitely be back for more.
Here is the link to my garmin which will give you more of an insight into the trail: