This year National Road Relays was run from Sign of the Takahe to Akaroa, 76 kilometres over the hills of Christchurch with stunning views that nobody ever remembers seeing because they are running too hard.
From the moment the team lists came out from Athletics Canterbury, the messenger chat tones started to ding with predictions of who would come out the victors. Teams would change with people pulling out due to injuries, but the respect the Scottish ladies have for captain Lindsay Barwick meant that nobody DARED to get injured (or not fly all the way to Dunners at 8.30 on Friday night then drive to Christchurch and arrive at 3am to make the start line), and so the Scottish teams remained perfectly intact.
UC had the strongest line up featuring Olympian Angie Petty, several national medalists, world mountain runner Sabrina Grogan, that Barwick-sized Scottish lass that smashed the NI XC course, ex-Scottish member Ariana Harper, and the legendary Fiona Crombie who holds the women’s course records for both lap 3 AND 5.
Bays Athletics were down two entire teams after a win in 2017, and their B team taking a solid 5th. They were missing a few key members with Annika Pfitzinger in the US, and Lydia O’Donnell and Esther Keown busy elsewhere racing and promoting Anchor Protein+ which unlike most flavoured milk drinks, contains no added sugar. After a bit of digging around the ANZ rankings site it was clear that they still had the depth to place, but sadly it was looking like this year’s Instagram boomerangs would not be from the very top of the podium.
To Scottish’s delight the Hamilton Hawks had lost Nicole Mitchell, but definitely had the best cartoonist in the field with Dawn Tuffery. Alaina Brent had finally broken ties with WHAC to strengthen the Hawks line up, but some of their top performers from 2017 were missing.
The North Canterbury team would take way too much admin to stalk results for so it was assumed that they would not be an immediate threat to the podium, and they flew under the radar/ thousand foot long irrigator like tumbleweeds with really nice drought-coloured hair.
Scottish’s arch rivals WHAC have a solid line up every year, and this year was no exception. Their team included new seniors Maiya Christini and Kelsey Foreman, who make other seniors look forward to their 35th birthday. They had recently lost Mel Black to injury, Alice Wilson to the Middle East, and with Sarah Drought slowed down by about 4% heading in to her third trimester, would they still have the edge to make the podium?
Scottish had the strongest A team in recent history and looked to be in with a medal chance for silver or bronze. The years of the ‘A’ team being last by twenty full minutes were gone. Captain Lindsay Barwick (who is not quiet) had been quietly working away all year to form a team. It included NZ Master’s record holder Tina Faulkner, national 10,000 medallist Ayesha Shafi, trail specialist that will also beat you on any other surface Ruby Muir, and the perfectly tanned Nicole Mitchell who happened to not be in Bali that weekend.
But the real competition would be at the back of the field for 7th and 8th. Our neighbours to the north, Olympic Harriers were rumoured to be Riceman-ing together a team, and special dispensation had been obtained to run some junior women in the senior grade. A club plagued with mutli-sporters they had convinced Grace Seely to ditch the mountain bike and Jo Doherty to take a trip to Christchurch to show the rest of the field what your upper body can look like if you care to use it.
As the only person who had run Takahe to Akaroa before, I was bestowed the honour of B team captain. I quickly set up a group chat with my team and somewhat less painfully than the other birth I’d witnessed this year, the B-Babez were born.
A coffee roaster, a self-described choreographer, a vegan, a baby. On paper the team did not look like a threat to any race records, but you don’t need to be fast to be legendary.
Emma Bassett gave us the early lead over Olympic on lap one, 4km steady uphill then a rapid descent with undulations to finish this 9.6km lap. The hint of nervousness I detected the night before the race disappeared as she pounded down the hill, hooning through the changeover while pointing at things to feign confusion.
Olympic had harnessed the hurricane that is Deb Lynch for lap two- a long 10.4km with a large climb to Gebbies Valley. Every Scottish team has an import and thankfully we had the budget this year to ship Clare McKinlay across from the UK for lap two. Head to head with Deb on this lap, the triathlete’s strength gave Olympic the lead heading in to lap 3.
Danielle Trewoon, amping after 80 minutes in a confined van shaking with drum and bass was fully committed to getting back to her stash of VB as fast as possible, and ran close to a PB on the flat 10km lap 3. Grabbing the lead back from Olympic this gave Jaime Vessiot a two minute head start heading in to lap 4.
The juniors proved how indispensable those dispensations were with Emma Douglass dominating the 9.4km lap 4 to give Olympic the lead again. With the head Riceman Sarah set to run lap five it was looking like the B-Babez would be but a distant memory in Olympic’s race recap. On the longest lap number 5, Kate Slater tackled the headwind for 10.7km and made sure that Sarah was never more than a few hundred metres ahead.
At the lap 5/6 change-over Charlotte Riceman and myself stood peering down the road into the distance, past the other waiting teams, past a cow giving birth in the paddock, past Nick Horspool lying in the long grass in a foetal position, awaiting our team members to arrive.
‘I can’t see her coming, is she coming?’
‘Don’t think so…?’
‘No I literally can’t see, I’m pretty much blind, can you tell me if you see Sarah?’
What would happen if I didn’t? Would I witness a guttural scream from Sarah alerting Charlotte to her arrival? Would she straight mow her sister down in to the gravel and run her over?
As these scenarios played out beneath my neatly pigtailed head Sarah ran (quite fabulously) in to sight and Charlotte moved to the middle of the changeover then off towards the 6km long hill.
A few minutes went by as I nervously waited for Kate to arrive, and when she did she was giving it everything. There is nothing quite as motivating to set you up to run a great race as witnessing someone digging deep and putting in work for the team.
I took the flax baton, painted in Scottish red, yellow and black and set off to run the hill that has DOUBLE the elevation of the Makara hill climb.
The men’s teams were all catching up at this stage so I had multiple cheer squads on my lap. ‘Good job Amanda!’. Support is nice, but what really works for me is a bit of Britney.
Up, up, up, around sweeping corners with views down a valley that I couldn’t enjoy because my eyes were crusting up with sweat. At least I knew Charlotte wouldn’t be seeing any of it either. I kept looking at the distance on my watch, half way, oh dear.
Brendon and Elliot were cheering for me along the way, only because they like my boobs (which looked massive in the company of runners) and I finally caught up to Charlotte with 300m to go.
As I crested the hill, Naomi Christensen was waiting at the changeover ready to sacrifice her quads on the 9.5km downhill lap seven. As Naomi descended in to hell, Emma came up with a bag of Jaffas because she is the best person in the world and offered me a handful in exchange for the details of my lap time. A victory for the ladies, we had beaten the Scottish SM D team runner by two minutes*.
Meg Fahy had stipulated in the lap selection conversation that she did not like ‘uphills’. Taking that quite literally, Meg was given lap 8. It wasn’t just uphills. There had been murmurs within the team pre-race that this was the hardest lap, and very hilly. I calmly waved these aside and flat out lied about how easy the lap was, because sometimes that’s what you have to do. Two weeks of stressing about a run? Or 50 minutes of awful pain in your legs and hatred directed at your team captain?
Olympic had Jo Doherty on their final leg so unless the loud screaming from their van popped one of her eardrums, setting her off balance and sending her down a cliff into the harbour, our battle for 7th and 8th was all but over. Meg was a champion over the hills and arrived in Akaroa looking a bit like ‘What the fuck’ and charged across the finish line to bring our team home in 5.48.54.
Our team was 8th behind Olympic, we bettered the last Scottish A team’s result from 2015 by 13 minutes, and we were the B team! With the new depth within the club’s women’s section it won’t be long until we achieve the notoriety of our men’s sections B-Boys.
Our SW A team did win bronze, their first medal since 2014 on this same course, and 8 minutes faster than the bronze medal winners of 2014!
Full results are here, Scottish cleaned up in the men’s races but perhaps most impressively, there were 14 teams from across every club in Wellington on the podiums. Seeing the familiar faces from inter-club events, track sessions at Newtown Park and casual runs around the bays beaming from the podium, cheering for their team, collapsing with relief at the finish line and celebrating with their mates shows what an incredible running community we have in the capital city.
Our club Scottish came away with top club for 2018, a great result for the 16 teams and 130 or so runners and supporters who travelled to Christchurch for the weekend.
Note*A late challenge was put fourth to the Scottish B-Babez by the senior men’s D team. They may have beaten us on total time but we bettered them on laps 1, 3, 6 & 7. They can call that a victory if they like but I’m yet to see any nail art or baby mascots from them so…