Picture endless rows of grapevines stretching all the way to the coastline on a beautifully warm Marlborough day. Throw in some classical music, overly friendly chickens and about 300 women in all manner of dress and you've got a bloody good setting for a running event. The Yealands Yak has been on my radar for a few years now and I finally got organised with some of the girls from work to enter a team for the last weekend of February. Based at the sprawling Peter Yealands Winery, all female teams of up to eight can walk or run as many of the 3-8km courses as they can in six hours. With at least two team members needing to run at any one time you can make this as casual or competitive as you like. - some teams expended more energy on costume design than actual physical training for the day.
'After pulling in a couple of extras from outside of the office, we assembled our team of five in Blenheim on a scorching hot Friday evening over a couple of drinks. Race day planning consisted of a we'll figure it out when we get there philosophy and promptly wandering off to find a nice restaurant for the evening. Thanks to sweltering temperatures that night, we were less than well rested the following morning as we bundled into the car for the short drive out to Seddon. The Mums in the team were thoroughly organised with practical things like shade tents and folding chairs while Rebecca and I contributed literally nothing other than ourselves to establishing base camp at the winery. Once set up we watched in not so quiet amusement as everything from paddling pools to a full wedding banquet were erected around us by the other teams.
Race briefing was quick with special mention of when the wine tasting would begin - about one hour after the running started and five hours before we would be finished! Our first pair stepped up to tackle the 3.5km opening loop and we were underway. With the exception of an 8km second lap most of the courses were either 3.5km or 5km, meaning we never had to wait long for our next turn out in the field. The day quickly settled into a rhythm of short stretches relaxing in the sun at home base interspersed with running loops around the different parts of the vineyard. Some gave beautiful sweeping views of the Awatere Valley while others took you down and along the beach and over rolling hills. With classical music being belted out of loud speakers (to help the grapes grow of course) and chickens that chased us along the paths between the vines, it was unlike any other race I have competed in.
After completing all eight loops once (just shy of 40km), most team members were hearing the call of the cellar door and so we called it a day with repeating only the first lap a second time. The catering company had put on an amazing spread and a sparkling Pinot Gris was the perfect end to a great day out. While the prizes for best dressed teams went to the much more deserved, we did pull off third place in our category for the actual running. The Yak was really well organised and the complimentary bottle of wine in our race pack was well received (thanks Yealands!). I would definitely recommend it for pretty much any ability but you could make it a real challenge by having a smaller team or trying to do the whole course multiple times in the six hours if you're a sucker for punishment.
Rachael and Jeremy