Napier, New Zealand
I had a thought. Still contemplating heading back to Taupo for Wednesday’s 5k, I looked on the NZ running calendar site and lo, there, sitting pretty on a Tuesday night; Napier Harriers’ 5k series. Phew.
My bus wasn’t till the afternoon so I passed my morning by the lake, in the sun, with a book. It’s only a couple of hours to Napier so I was there by mid afternoon and into a hostel by 4. Very French, this one, and plenty of backpackers having a day of rest. Or dossing about, if you prefer. They certainly seem to, but I think for many it is a case of either working or trying to spend as little money as possible, and the easiest way to do the latter is by staying in with friends and shooting the breeze. I got ready, checked my route and jogged the 4k – Google had it right – to the start at the Bluewater hotel.
A great low-key race. $5 for a non member, nowt but recognition for the higher places but some food for all and spot prizes for the lucky few, with that tilted towards the younger members which was a nice touch. After the weekend I was hoping for a sub 19 time, which would be the first of the year and after a slow start too far back for a field of 50, I started to pick people off. A couple of girls were in the first 10 and one came with me when I went past, clocking 3.40 for the first km – the first youngster doing the simultaneous 2k had already turned at the cone ahead by then. Even so, with a female course record of 19:33, I figured she was giving it a real go as she stuck near me for the next km but she fell away afterwards and I struck on towards 7th place, who had gone off hard but seemed to lose interest.
Passing him I figured I was done, but as we continued on the waterfront to a cone turning point, I was making some headway on 5th. I’d thought he was a backpacker, with a European flag-Hungary?-I had spotted tattooed onto his leg as he emerged from a VW campervan, and the idea of being first backpacker kept me going even as I slowed again in the fourth km. I passed, trying to make it stick and grateful for a good surface underneath, and for single file traffic until berate the end. There were a couple of obstacles, a sharp turn on grass leading to a narrow path past a low fence which I had hurdled to pass the girl on the way out, and then a similar low fence to go over before a sprint across grass to the finish. None of that stopped me, though, and I crossed the line 5th in 18:50, very pleased. The winner only made a low 18s time, but given that he had been miles ahead and then passed me again at 3k, he’d obviously done something a little creative. Apparently he’d stopped to use the facilities, but there are points in the series for beating your time from the race before, which might have affected his decision.
My fellow backpacker wasn’t exactly that, in fact a Brit who had emigrated, travelled New Zealand and decided on Napier as the place to live. He is also a fellow parkrun 100 club member, though not as obsessive – he doesn’t travel to Hamilton to get his fix, that is, though he is thinking about proposing a parkrun locally.
After prizes and food, I finally explored the centre of Napier a little as the sun set. It was mostly destroyed by earthquake in the 1930s, but they took the opportunity to rebuild much of it in the Art Deco style, which is stunning in places and gives it a unique charm. The city is right on the seafront, so I took fish and chips from the centre to seats by the water and listened to it crashing into the shore while the last of the day disappeared.
Reading: Lee Child, 61 hours.