Jumbo Holdsworth Trail Race

One of the most grueling yet achievable mountain races of the lower North Island is held each year in January in the mighty Tararua ranges. The race in question is the Jumbo-Holdsworth Trail Race, formally known as the Holdsworth-Jumbo Trail race for so many years. These days, however, you can legitimately call it either of those, as you can actually choose the direction of the circuit you’d prefer to run. We had a chat with Andrew Thompson who is the new race director on why this is an iconic event for the serious mountain trail runners bucket list.

Could you tell us a bit about the Jumbo Holdsworth Trail Race and its history?

The Jumbo Holdsworth Trail Race is a solid grunter of a mountain race set in the Tararua Range in the North Island of New Zealand. The Tararua Range runs northeast to southwest for circa 80 kilometres from near Palmerston North to the upper reaches of the Hutt Valley. It is a popular area for hiking and camping in the lower North Island.

The Jumbo Holdsworth race sends those keen enough to take on the challenge around the popular 3 days tramping loop that summits the Holdsworth and Jumbo peaks. The race is unique in that it allows competitors to choose which direction of the loop they wish to race.

Editor’s note: See our write up of the Jumbo Holdsworth Loop.

The inaugural event was held in 1995. Initially running only in the anti-clockwise direction. Now as mentioned before runners can choose either direction to complete the ~24km loop. Due to the popularity of the event, the shorter Hooper loop (~12km) option was introduced in 1998.

Competitors at start of the Jumbo Holdsworth Trail Race

Competitors at the start of the Jumbo Holdsworth Trail Race (Photo supplied)

It all came about because a bunch of hardy runners in the Wairarapa would often find themselves wanting to run in the Tararua range, off the long flat roads of the plains.

I first got interested in the race as it was popular with a lot of orienteers I knew who suggested that I should give it a go. As a kid, we used to tramp in the Tararua all the time, and I thought running that entire loop was insane and impossible at that time, but after seeing so many people including some of my mates able to complete it fairly comfortably, I gave it a go and was hooked since then.

What was your motivation in taking on organising an event like this?

When I was offered the chance to take on the race directorship, I was initially quite reluctant to the idea and taking on the responsibility of organising such an iconic/popular event for the region. This race has always been one that I’ve loved competing in and have coveted the ability to do well on. When getting back into training, this was the race I wanted to be fit for and wanted to use it to prove I could run well in the mountains.

After some thought, it was apparent that I would be silly to not jump into it. I’m not going to be running forever, and I was excited to be involved in the event I love so much in a way that is more external to just my own aspirations. I can involve my family and friends, and get to know and work with many volunteers, marshals, sponsors and members of the running community. It’s a great creative and organisational outlet outside of my day job and my day to day training. I’ll still be gutted to not be out there racing it up the hills with everyone else, but I’m also really pumped to be enabling so many runners to be experiencing the race I love so much.

Race Director - Andrew Thompson

Race Director of the Jumbo Holdsworth Trail Race – Andrew Thompson (Photo supplied)

Why do you think people should do this event and which international pro runner would you challenge to take on this event, who would it be and why?

The reason I think this race is so great is that it’s a solid dose of tough alpine mountain running, on a fairly compact loop course, that has an excellent start and finish area.

As a participant, you get a good taste of all aspects of the Tararua experience. From running fairly easy in the lush valleys, grinding hard up some steep hills, and of course the chance to experience the fantastic exposed ridge running above the tree line and the spectacular views (on a good day) that the Tararua range has to offer. All with the relative safety of a managed event finishing off with exhausted and happy competitors being able to enjoy a catered BBQ lunch next to a lovely swimming hole.

Running along the open tops of the Tararuas

Running along the open tops of the Tararuas (Photo supplied)

Like everyone I suppose, I’d love to see the likes of Kilian Jornet take on this course, as he would eat up this sort of terrain. I think he’d actually have to work quite hard to get the record of 2hrs 14minutes set by Daniel Jones in 2018, which is insanely fast, so it’d be a good spectacle to witness.

A more realistic request, however, would be Ruth Croft from the West Coast. While a little shorter than her standard distance, everything else about the event would have her in her element, and she’d have a very good chance of setting a female course record that may stick around a while.

We’ve had some fantastic local runners take on the course and I’d love for more people from around New Zealand to come and give this one a go.

What sort of training is required to successfully complete the event?

With mid-pack competitor finish times equivalent to 3:30 to 4:30 (hrs), it is much like training for a marathon event with a fair bit of elevation. So any sort of volume that would have you being able to complete a marathon should see you finishing this event. I’d make sure that a decent portion of your training is done on hilly technical trails, including some that involve fairly steep uphill hiking to get used to the steepness of climbing up to and above the tree line.

I also would recommend as much as possible at doing some regular core work, like planks and glute bridges, in order to make sure you’re stable as you traverse the uneven ruts, roots and rocks under your feet. You don’t necessarily need to train on the course itself, but it always helps to know what is coming. Even if you just did an out and back to either Atiwhakatu Hut or Powell Hut to see what the start or finish have in store, would pay dividends for your mental game during the race.

Editor’s note: See our write up of the Jumbo Holdsworth Loop.

Who are the main supporters of the event?

I have to say first of all this event couldn’t happen without the massive effort put in by a heap of volunteers on the day. They range from Radio operators to Marshals, to those on the post-event BBQ grill. Some of the people out there on the day have been doing this for many more years than I’ve been involved with the event, and I’m grateful for all they continue to do.

In terms of Sponsorship, we’re incredibly lucky to have the involvement of a great bunch of local businesses. The long-running spot prizes sponsors of Macpac (their Petone store specifically), Trust House, Copthorne Solway Masterton, The Sign Factory, Shoe Clinic Masterton, and Mizuno have all stepped up once again this year. In addition to that, we have some new sponsors for place prizes and various other race pack items such as Baylands Brewery, The Clareville Bakery, and also Leppin Sport. They’re all going to help make the event that much more special for everyone.

I also need to mention the associations with various places that are involved with the race and that some of the proceeds go towards. The Holdsworth Restoration Trust is a bunch of people, some of who are involved with the race on the day as marshals, that are helping to try rid the area of pests, in order to be able to reintroduce various native birds. It’s a tough battle, but they work very hard all year towards that goal. We also have the help of Land Search and Rescue, which we donate too and the proceeds from the coffee cart also go towards.

Stairs up to Powell or down from Powell - depending on what direction you choose

Stairs up to Powell or down from Powell – depending on what direction you choose

Tell us a bit about yourself, what running and the Wellington running community means to you?

I’m an ex-runner who became a runner again after a decent break. I always loved being in the outdoors, particularly the Tararua, and running was a way to be able to compress seeing as much as possible in a shorter amount of time. Once I started getting fit again, I wanted to see how far I could go and tried to train enough to win some races. That started to happen after winning the WUU2K Marathon in 2017, followed by winning the NZ Trail Running Champs/Crater Rim Ultra in 2018 – which ultimately saw me selected to represent New Zealand at the World Trail Running Champs in Portugal in 2019.

Running means a lot of different things to me at different times. At the moment, running is a way of seeing how strong and fit I can make my ageing body. Now that I’m 40, I feel that maybe my best years are behind me, but the fact I’m running fitter and faster than I ever have in my life has me pretty excited about what I might be able to achieve if I keep up the discipline and dedication.

Because I’m running more and am also more involved with events such as the Jumbo Holdsworth, it’s fantastic to always be interacting with plenty of people in the running community. I love the harriers club scene (I’m a member of Olympic Harriers), because it gives you an atmosphere which encourages running in a way that is just a little different from social running and there are heaps of events on throughout the year to test yourself against some of the best distance runners in New Zealand.

Wellington has an immense network of trails, so many that I’m still finding some that I haven’t run, which I am just so grateful for. It helps me to ignore the often average the weather when there are such lovely places to visit on your runs, or somewhere new to try to get to.

What advice would you give to a newbie runner?

Aim towards consistency. This is done through gradually increasing volume and not being too set on distance or paces and trying to get fit for events in too short an amount of time. Run with friends. Aside from the social benefit, you should be able to talk to someone easily on the majority of your runs to make sure you’re not overworking yourself. Don’t stress about nutrition, eat healthy food, drink water often. Just don’t eat junk all the time. Get plenty of sleep if you are training for an event during your peak training period.

Don’t overlook strength as a key part to running – be that simple core exercises, lifting weights or even something like yoga.

Get yourself a good coach if you are always battling injuries and are not getting the results you were expecting through your own training. I can fully recommend James Kuegler and Run Wellington.

Jumbo Holdsworth Trail Race – January (every year) – check the web site for event date and vital statistics.