Naseby race fills the ultra void

By Peter Thornton

The Great Naseby Water Race largely parallels a water race built to supply the goldfields of the 1870s. Picture / Otago Daily Times
The Great Naseby Water Race largely parallels a water race built to supply the goldfields of the 1870s. Picture / Otago Daily Times

Jamie Sinclair is pretty proud of his "wee race in the Southern Forest by the highest town in New Zealand".

The Great Naseby Water Race is a unique New Zealand ultra-marathon event held in Central Otago.

In 2011 there were 84 entrants and to put it mildly the day was a challenge. Snow covered parts of the course and as the day lengthened the slush got deeper.

The conditions were more difficult than in 2010, but records were still set. Next weekend in the pre-dawn gloom at 6am, runners in this year's 100km event will leave the start line and head through the forests around Naseby once again.

The route they will follow largely parallels a water race built to supply the goldfields of the 1870s.

By 9am the last entrants, competing in the 50km individual race and 60km team's race, will be treading in the footsteps of the earlier starters.

The organisers are hoping to break 100 entrants for the first time. It started in 2007 with 14 athletes.

So far, 15 people have signed up for the 100km, six for the 80km, 28 for 50km and there are 10 two-person teams running 30km each.

Sinclair is the perfect man to organise the event. The 57-year-old first started doing "silly races" when he was 38. In that time he completed ultra-marathons at Southern Crossing, Southern Traverse, Gold Rush (multisport), Kepler, That Dam Race (100km) Molesworth, St James, Western States and Tahoe Rim. "Now that age is creeping into the equation I limit myself to one big race a year," explained Sinclair.

He plans to compete in the Northburn next March and then one more in the US before he turns 60. Then he'll just do "little 50kers". We caught up with the veteran of long distance running ahead of the only ultra-marathon in Central Otago.

What makes the Great Naseby a special event?It was started because of an ultra running void in the lower south. We only had the Kepler, now there are a few more choices. Naseby is for people wanting to extend themselves. They have done a half marathon, done 30km, done a full marathon and, then do a 50km run. The figure eight loop course is easy to manage, is spectator friendly, and if we need to extract someone because of injury we have vehicle access.

After last year how will the weather affect this year's event?
We are in the hands of the weather gods; we take what they dish out. The race is on the last Saturday in August no matter the weather. There is no alternate date. A week out last year we had a metre of snow on the start line and were quite worried. After the 6am start I borrowed a rake from a nearby house and cleared the straight by the finish line. The rest got packed down. Each year the conditions have been different. It could be muddy this year. After all it is the middle of winter in Central Otago and we are at 2000ft. Softies don't do ultras, that's part of the attraction: extending yourself.

What is the challenge of running 100km like?
Running 100km gives one an amazing feeling of accomplishment no matter your time. Just to get into three figures is special. It has a pitfall however, for once you recover from that then 100 miles seems to beckon you on, and then, well it's quite insidious actually. The mental side is the hardest part because the mind will give up before the body does.

What is the terrain like for this course?
The course is half forest gravel road, half grassy single track beside the water race, hence the name. It is gently undulating with a couple of small climbs and descents which get bigger each lap. That's the mental bit creeping in. The snow on the mountains makes it spectacular.

The support of each other must play a sepcial role in getting each other home?
Timekeepers tick off each lap and cheer everyone on. Support crews can resupply their runner each lap, halfway aid station have food, drink, and music all day. The event has a great atmosphere actually. We are all in the same boat, just trying to finish and the support is fantastic.

What advice do you offer to newcomers to their first ultra-marathon?
The advice I offer for ultra-beginners is it is just like eating an elephant, take small bites and you will get there.

The race

When: Saturday, August 25

Where: Naseby, 15km north-west by road from Ranfurly and 145km north-west (via Middlemarch) from Dunedin.

Event Options and Start Times:

100km - 6am

80km - 6am

60km Team - 9am

50km - 9am

For more information visit: www.greatnasebywaterrace.co.nz

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