Shunters & Grunters

Report by Sally Nicoll

In 20 years of my on-and-off membership of Hill City I hadn’t ever made it to this race before, and so when I was trying to “sell” the outing to my reluctant family I wasn’t quite sure what to say. I did tell them it would be lots of fun though, and I’m pleased to say I was right about that!

The format was a series of short races (10.5k’s, 3.5k’s, 4.5k’s and 7.5k’s) held along the Otago Central Rail Trail between Waipiata and Hyde stations. You could walk, run or cycle, and we were placed into teams to contest the 3 longer legs. Everybody ran, cycled or walked the shortest 2nd leg from Kokonga to Daisybank. There was a lot of flexibility with several people completing more than one leg, including Matt Bixley who ran the whole distance, Mike Jowsey who cycled and took photos and Liz McMecking who covered half as far again in her role as tail-end Charlie. There was an international flavour to the field, with Anna Lauer and Gwondala flying the German flag.

The organisers (John McMecking, Jane Pali and Kevin Murphy) deserve a medal for choosing the one perfect day in a fortnight of drizzle, downpour, gales and snow. There was barely a breath of wind, the sun shone and the scenery was spectacular – although it was sad to see how much of the classic Middlemarch landscape of tussock and rocky tors has now been replaced by smooth green dairy pasture.

There was uproar at the start of leg one when Kirsty Morris appeared in a Hill City running top which looked as if it had been custom-made for her. The first lap also saw Steve Pinker put in an amazing 1200 meter sprint finish….sadly this heroic effort occurred at about 5k’s, as in the heat of battle he had mistaken the distant vision of the supporters bus for the Kokonga farm shed at the end of the 10.5k leg. Needless to say this was psychologically damaging and the time it took him to recover contributed to Steve’s team, the Kokonga Knights, coming last overall. However he rallied magnificently in leg 3 to anchor the Daisybank Dragons to an overall winning spot…very confusing until we realised that Steve ran for two of the nine teams!

Barefoot runners were represented by Mr Darcy O’Neill, who completed leg 1 at a cracking pace but then due to being overdressed in a thick furry coat, had to lie down and roll in a puddle at Kokonga to recover, to the disgust of some of his fellow competitors. (It’s all right though, Mr Darcy has four bare feet).

Special mention should be made of Christine Petersen-Sharp, who had previously had a very bad experience while running leg 4 during a Masters Rail Trail event. She was determined to lay those demons to rest this time, and was only passed when she had to visit the only toilet on that leg, which was unfortunately placed at the top of the long hill just before the tunnel.

Confusion reigned at the finish line at Hyde station. First there was the disappointment of having to run past the Otago Central Pub and coffee shop, then the shunting yards proved too much of a navigation challenge for some competitors, including Alex and Johnny who really should have known better!

On leg two the smaller club members showed great enthusiasm and true grit, as when Ruby Best fell from her bike. She painfully grazed an arm and a leg but was able to recover, get back on the bike, and complete not only leg 2 but also most of leg 3. Unfortunately, Brian the bus driver wasn’t informed of her schedule and nearly left Ruby (and the rest of her family) behind at Tiroiti. Naturally Ruby became very suspicious of buses in general. Much later in the day, in the sudden silence when the bus broke down on Three Mile Hill, she was heard to say “That doesn’t sound very good…”.

Luckily there were some impressive traffic management skills shown by club members who spent an hour directing traffic round two blind corners in the dark, which prevented any serious accidents happening while we waited for Citibus to bring more fuel.

Noel Matthews organised a great barbecue at the Middlemarch station, with sausages, salad and cake at sunset to round off a fantastic day out for the club.

Prizes were awarded for:

Fastest team:

The Daisybank Dragons (Matt Bixley, Steve Pinker, Reuben Scarlett-McRae)

Fastest at the other end:

The Kokonga Knights (Steve Pinker, Jonny O’Neill, Helen Collins)

Fastest times:

  • Leg 1: Elliot O’Sullivan
  • Leg 2: Reuben Scarlett-McRae and Peter Molteno
  • Leg 3: Matt Bixley
  • Leg 4: Reuben Scarlett-McRae.