It was a cool winters morning as I pulled up to the Matakana Country Park 60 minutes north of Auckland’s CBD. There was a light sprinkling of rain as I made the short walk from the car park down to a pagoda manned by the friendly team at the Matakana Military Arts Center. The Center is known for its small group and corporate team experience and building. They are well versed in delivering military themed tasks and activities with their signature military grade obstacle course, which to my knowledge is the only one of its kind in the greater Auckland area.
Now, as one of New Zealand’s experienced obstacle racers I feel I have the credentials to judge an event and compare it to some of the events I have experienced in Hawaii, Australia, England and good old NZ. Spoiler alert the Matakana X Run is “Mean As”, which in the world of crazy obstacle racers means it’s well worth the effort.
The race consisted of a 3km course multiplied over two distances, 6km and 9km. As an obstacle racer who has a couple of Spartan Trifecta weekends under his belt, 9km’s did not concern me despite my recent return to the sport after a six-month hiatus. Truth be known, this course kicked my ass! Thankfully I didn’t have to suffer alone. My poor uninitiated race partner Miguel Gonzalez AKA Magz made up the second part of team MAGJAM. Despite Magz being an obstacle racing virgin, he has recently completed an Iron Man, which for me established his crazy credentials.
As I approached the event hub I instantly recognised the characters that are Liam Wilkinson and Scotty Thornton, two of the nicest guys you could wish to meet. But don’t be fooled by their mild easy going nature, these guys are serious competitors and seriously experienced and accomplished obstacle racers. Spotting such obstacle racing pedigree at this event instantly confirmed to me that this was an event worth attending. Also on the start line was the familiar form of Manuel Casado who recently placed second at the Loaded Tough Guy and Gal mud run. Speaking of which, Leda Daniel, who provided this year’s Tough Guy and Gal Auckland venue, was also in attendance.
As the rain started to increase we were directed to the start line for a quick course brief, and it was at this point I looked around and noticed that there was not a huge crowd of participants. I have attended a few events now and I am constantly surprised how many people turn up and how popular the sport has become. The Matakana X Run, on the other hand, had a different feel, no loud music or food, or merchandise vendors, just obstacles, mud and the hottest shower I have ever experienced at an event (and they needed to be!). It struck me that only the most dedicated racer or the mentally unstable would pitch up for such an event… I consider myself to be both.
The race started with a simple “ready …set …go!” and we dropped down from a small grassy knoll onto a horse racing track, providing a fast running surface for the first 400m before we entered the soft grassy area in the middle of the track. This area consisted of roped off lanes containing activities like a heavy water container to be carried as a team, a camouflage net to crawl under, a body drag evolution (reaching both arms under armpits of partner and wrapping arms to grasp together at the front of your partners chest then proceeding to drag. This was when you find out whether you and your race partner wer well matched as far as bodyweight is concerned. I couldn’t help but think “thank god I didn’t try to convince Matt Ansley to join me”.) The next evolution was a bear crawl from hell. This required one to adopt the bear crawl position whilst the other slung themselves underneath by wrapping their arms around the bear’s torso (Magz and I are still struggling to look each other in the eyes after that one. Wilkinson and Thornton on the other hand had no qualms at all as they smashed it out whilst singing Whitney Houston’s ‘I will always love you’ …true story!)
The initial mid field romp definitely managed to spread out the groups prior to entering an area of bush jam packed with obstacles. Here we encountered walls, balance beams, tunnels, a rope swing and an electrified low crawl through a watery trench (and yes it was live! As I found out in a squeal-like-a-stuck-pig kind of way as I was zapped and encouraged to crawl fast and low like a commando. Obstacle design at it’s best!)
As Magz and I transitioned out of this area we followed a path that zigzaged prior to doubling back on it to re-enter the bush for a couple more choice obstacles. Once again the warped mentality of the Matakana X Run staff was evident as we approached a trench filled with what I can only describe as Mud Soup with a rope net draped through it. This obstacle was like wading through treacle. I oozed out the other end, covered in mud from head to toe looking like something a giant on a steady diet of obstacle racers would crap out.
A few meters away loomed a monkey bar frame constructed above a small but boggy creek. I managed with great difficulty to get across whilst covered in slippery mud, but in my second and third pass I found myself having to drag myself out of the creek with the aid of Magz. This was a common aspect of the race which I enjoyed, reliance on your buddy to get through the course. Not since my days in the military have I required so much help to negotiate a course and I must confess I was grateful for the assistance especially climbing out of the cold water swims. …yeah you heard right, sections of deep, cold pond water that extended approximately 25-30 meters, to be greeted by steep banks on the other side. Hence the need for team work.
A short run then led us up to another shallow trench filled with water and topped off with barbed wire. Adding to this was a constant deluge of water delivered to the face by what I can only describe as an industrial irrigation hose. Thankfully the DS thought it would be nice for us to get out from the cold …and into a pitch black tunnel filled with artificial smoke. (Now I’m really having flash backs to the endurance course in Lympstone.)
I popped out the other side feeling warm and refreshed (not!) to join Magz in a deep creek with high grassy banks on either side, which meant we were committed to wading the full length (250m). By this point everyone had been in and out of cold water several times and so this obstacle was slow going. It was therefore no surprise to see teams and individuals feeling the effects of the cold and pulling out of the race. Thankfully the forementioned hot showers were put to good use thawing people out.
Once we exited the creek it was a 300 m run to re-enter the race track to do it all again.
Magz and I were just finishing our second mid-field evolution of obstacles when I saw Wilkinson and Thornton stop racing. Magz and I thought for the briefest of moments that the poor young fellas were pulling out because they got too cold…….Aaah bless their cotton sox! Hang on, they’d bloody finished already! Wilkinson and Thornton hadquite literally blown the rest of the field out of the water (I’m still not convinced they did three circuits…Freaks!).
I’ll make no bones about it, the Matakana X Run winter event is rammed with slippy, wet, muddy, military themed obstacles, punctuated with a few energy sapping cold water obstacles. This was probably one of the toughest 9km of my race career and I was grateful to have a race partner as capable as Magz to drag me through. As an indication of how much work is required I will compare our time of 2 hrs 15 min for 9km to the Spartan Super in Hawaii were I finished 16km in much the same time.
To do well and have a good time with this event, be prepared to work hard and train your obstacle mobility skills as there is not a lot of time or distance between obstacles to get into any kind of running stride. I could not recommend highly enough the coaching skill and knowledge of Liam Wilkinson. Scotty Thornton can be found polishing his medals and trophies between workouts at 808 House of Training on Auckland’s north shore.
I would suggest you bring a pocket full of smiles and a positive attitude if you don’t want to fall victim to the cold. I would also suggest you hang around for the funniest and most bizarre prize givings I have ever witnessed at an event.
Kudos to the folk at Matakana Military Arts Center for putting on an event that I predict will become a major obstacle racing event in the future.