Nelson Lakes winter mission

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Mt Hopeless from the slopes of Mt Travers

Several months back I started dreaming of another epic to the hills and made contact with the usual suspects to see if there was interest. Of course Hardman Howell and Trooper Tom were keen for some more action in the high country. We were joined on this outing by Andy and Paul, both veteran adventurers of years at sea in the pacific in a small yacht (Andy) and Paul, a Canadian import with enough tales of bear encounters in the Canadian wilderness to keep us entertained well into the evening in the backcountry.

So as usual the plan was to get high, above the snow line and hopefully bag a couple of peaks. I had never been to Nelson Lakes  in winter and it was decided the scalp of Mt Angeles (2075 m) and Mt Travers (2338 m) with a alpine traverse of the Roberts Ridge would hit the spot. Carrying close to a 20 kg pack my training had involved my usual running with the MEC with several pack hikes with James on my back up and down the Auckland volcanoes.

Unfortunately I ended up being unable to join the start of the trip with work commitments meaning I was flying south 36 hours after the other guys. We had planned to have 4 nights in the hills so I would have only 3 and was a bit gutted to miss a good weather window. The other guys decided to make the most of the fine weather forecast for the initial couple of days and head up the ridge and stay the night in the Angeles hut, heading up Mt Angeles the following morning, then over the Sunset saddle and down Hopeless valley. I was flying down on the second day, heading straight to the lakes and managed to hitch a ride with Rotoiti boatman/political commentator Hamish on the water taxi saving 3 hours of walking up the lake. I still had another 16 km to hike up the valley solo to meet the guys at John Tait hut.

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Enjoying the solo walk in with me and my Macpac

I was enjoying the stunning winter bluebird day walking up the valley and as I rounded a corner not far from the hopeless valley I got my first sight of the mighty Mt Travers rising out of the valley. It was a breathtaking sight and looked like a monster towering on the horizon. I have to say on initial sight it looked enormous and from this angle steep and intimidating. I wondering if we would have any reasonable chance of getting up there.

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Mt Travers from the valley. We went up Route D and got as high as Col above the D letter (photo courtesy of climbnz.org.nz)

As I pressed on I felt excited by the prospect of a summit attempt the next day with some anticipation and a fair bit of uncertainty. I had been walking for 5 hours in fading light was looking forward to the rendezvous with the mob at John Tait hut. I was surprised on arrival at the hut to find three Nelson chaps who had come straight from the meatworks with my mates nowhere to be seen. They had a chuckle when I told them I had left from north of the Bombays that morning.

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The lads pumped to reach the summit of Angeles

Not too long later the guys arrived, they looked a bit ragged but stoked after a dawnie start, a perfect summit of Angeles and epic ten hour mission out the Hopeless valley. They had smashed it and scored a totally epic winter day on the tops and were elated with the summit. I was pumped to have some company and we started pouring over the map of the routes up Travers and plans for the following day. We had spent some time watching the weather forecast the previous few days and knew a couple of frontal systems were on the way later in the week. The latest weather forecast we had showed a frontal system coming in the following night with weather starting to deteriorate the following afternoon so we knew we had to be prepared to turn back early.

We set off the following morning in darkness under a clear sky at 7 am. We had 5 of us walking as a group and 2 Km up the valley turned off the track up the summit creek true left and started making our way through lush beech forest. The going was more straight forward than I anticipated with route finding pretty easy. We continued up and after a bit of a grunt we came out of the bush line and got some sweet views up to the summit. The cloud had started to roll in already on the tops and I have to say I was pretty gutted as this was the only day I had to get up to the tops.

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Andy looking up the valley as the cloud starts rolling in

Toms knees had started to give him grief after 2 big days in the hills with a big pack and the 5 of us had a discussion about the plan looking at the weather ahead, the forecast, and the fact the party had to split as Tom couldn’t go on up. I was still frothing to at least get my crampons on and get up as high as I could and of course hadn’t had the triumph of of standing on a summit the previous day. (I’ve always suffered a serious case of FOMO). Tom convinced us he could slowly make his way down solo and the four of us pushed on. We ran into a few bluffs on the true left of the valley as we got higher and downclimbed under a ice water all that hadn’t looked like had seen the sun for a few months.

There was a large bowl of snow surrounded by the rugged ridgeline to Mt Cupola, and I was stoked to finally hit the snowline after the long climb up from the valley. Paul was feeling fresh and the cloud had lifted so we pressed on up the bowl. By this stage the day had worn on and we decided with the forecast it would be prudent to turn back at 1 pm. We did not want to be stuck high on the hill if the weather deteriorated. We knew with a 1 pm turn the summit would be off the cards and focused on reaching a narrow col which would give us views out towards the southwest into the Sabine Valley.

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Paul enjoying a bit more snow than the Kaimais overlooking the Sabine 

As we climbed up higher approaching 2000 meters I was in my happy place. High up the hill, surrounded by rugged snow capped mountains. We had epic views towards Mt Hopeless and Mt Cupola which looked like fearsome and exposed mountains. I was surprised by the ease of travel in ideal snow conditions on what looked more intimidating from lower slopes. We were constantly looking up towards the summit and could see a clear route up to the right of the north buttress, which would take you up to the final slopes towards the summit.

We hit the Saddle and I was frothing, with epic views all around and steep rugged ridgelines going either direction from our position. The weather had actually improved on the morning and I felt a bit of disappointment that the summit was now out of our grasp, but total elation to be up high in the hills.

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On the col below Travers

After a few photos we turned three hundred vertical meters from the top. The walk down we avoided the bluffs and made good time. That night we consumed our whiskey rations and enjoyed the afterglow of and awesome day in the hills.

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Waiting for pickup after a beauty in the hills

It was an awesome trip and will remember those scenes up the top for sometime to come. With a little bit of time and reflection on the way out I had a think about some takeaways for next time :

  • Lock the time of work in the schedule to ensure I’m around for the full window
  • Mt Travers summit was in our grasp had we really wanted it. I have to say I was pretty intimidated by her when I first saw her rising out of the valley the previous day and perhaps at that moment she got the better of me and I gave her away. The takeaway ? Have self belief and stick to the goal even if it feels/looks intimidating. Until further information dictates otherwise or good decision making means you give it away, keep your objective clear – mountains often look steep and unclimbable but a route can be more doable than it looks. Make sure you and your crew are on the same page. The Leadville 100 motto rings true “You’re tougher than you think you are, and you can do more than you think you can”
  • The crossovers between ultra running and alpine tramping are numerous – mental strength to push on hour after hour, importance of planning and nutrition, the satisfaction of standing on a summit/reaching a finish line, the camaraderie.
  • To be high in the hills in a remote place with some good mates is what stokes the fire for me, regardless of summit outcomes.

Strava link for the summit day https://www.strava.com/activities/1098716422

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MEC Midwinter Mountain Mission

Day 1

Fernhill Loop and Ben Lomond Saddle

Distance 15.7km

Elevation Gain 1,328m, Max 1322m

Elapsed Time 3:14:34

Flying into Queenstown first thing proved to be a great way to start – a good night sleep and a reasonable wake-up time coupled with getting to the destination quickly. No one misses a long car drive or starting at 4 am! We were at the Ben Lomond trailhead before 11. We whipped off our travel gears and put on our tights and thermals on the side of the road and headed up into the hills.

The weather was very mild, temps 6-16 C in town, good bursts of sunshine poking through the overcast sky and mild Northerlies to keep things crisp. We powered up the smooth Fernhill climb under cover of pine trees, and marvelled at the view from the top before relishing the beech tree forest with roots and occasional bermed corners as we dropped back down.

Descending through the beech forest at Fernhill

We then climbed straight up the Ben Lomond track, again very steep but well graded and under tree cover. It quickly got very hot as we burst above the tree line into the open sun that was melting the snow and making the track quite muddy. We made great progress to get to the saddle (1322m) where the wind was really strong. A quick calculation revealed that if we kept going to the top we would have no time for a second run that day. We opted to ‘cut and run’ and so we enjoyed a second downhill drop back to the carpark.

Ben Lomond looms… we’ll be back

Burgers and beer refuelled us in Queenstown, and then we were on our way toward Mt Dewar (head towards Coronet Peak, its on your left).

Mountain run fuel

Devil’s Creek Track and Mt Dewar

Distance
 14.4km

Elevation Gain 994m, Max 1304m

Elapsed Time 2:35:52

Out of the car by 3pm, we knew the sun would set at 6, so we had to make good speed and check our progress before deciding if we had time for the summit. The track was open 4WD in some grassland/tussock. It rises up from the road and then drops down as you head towards skippers Canyon.
A quick jump across the river and you are brought over through grassland to the nose of the climb that takes you up to the Mt Dewar summit. We could see the snow on the summit, and it got cold as the clouds moved in as we neared the top.

Approaching Mt Dewar

Our steady effort was rewarded as we made the top well before sundown, took some quick pics and then sped down the gravel access road on the north side.

‘Skiing’ back down Mt Dewar

An MTB single-track took us back to Coronet Peak road and the car, a few minutes before sundown. We enjoyed a tasty Indian meal, caught the last half of the Bledisloe Cup match and then showered and slept at Burton and Mel’s place (cheers guys you are terrific).

 

Day 2

Isthmus Peak

Distance
 16.0km


Elevation Gain 1,244m Max 1386m

Elapsed Time 3:15:19

Following a well earned rest, we started Sunday morning’s run at quite a gentlemanly hour. We were taking on the Isthmus peak track, located on the West of Lake Hawea. It’s the small range that separates Hawea from Wanaka. We climbed up from the road carpark on another 4WD farm track, but this was more grassy and less tussock as we followed the switchbacks up. There was a bit more wind than Saturday and the sun was behind the clouds so it got a tad nippy as we crossed over 1000m elevation. We could see the snow on the final ridge run to the peak, so the boys stuck on their micro/nano spikes and I clung to my poles for grip. Although moderately thick, It wasn’t too icy so not bad going and no steep runoffs so we were safe. We hit the 1386m peak, and then blatted back down again.

The cumulative toll of plunging descents struck James’ quads and he was in a bit of pain going down. As was usual for this trip, it took us about half as long to get down as it did to get up, and we were back at the car ready to hit another cafe for fuel before our afternoon mission.

 

Motatapu Track taster

Distance 11.3km


Elevation Gain 537m Max 709m

Elapsed Time 2:03:31

We moved to a non-peak option to give the legs a bit of a rest from the punishment of steep, unrelenting descents. We thought the Motatapu track would be nice and gradual as it winds up from Glendhu Bay to the Fernbern Hut. It looks gradual on the thumbnail elevation chart and it does start off with a gradual climb beside the river on pasture land. However, once it enters the conservation area, it becomes a technical and fiercely undulating track skirting the steep valley edges. The setting was beautiful with cascading waterfalls, leaf litter padding out the trail and little piwakawaka chirping and dancing around you. We had given ourselves a one hour out limit to get to the hut, and with the slow going probably got within less than a km of it but had to turn to get back in good light. A very different trail and an excellent addition.

Day 3

Roy’s Peak

Distance
 15.7km

Elevation Gain 1,275m Max 1586m

Elapsed Time 2:48:26

On the final morning we got up with a bit more haste, as we needed to be done in time to get back to the airport. We gave ourselves 3 hours, expecting about 2 up, 1 down. James was giving his legs a different kind of workout on a MTB track around the Lake Wanaka and the Clutha river. Meanwhile, Sean and I were the second vehicle at the trailhead carpark and we took off up the grassy 4WD tracks. There was hardly a breath of wind at the lower reaches, but again after 1000m this picked up, though not as gusty as the day before. Cloud moved in at the 1300m+ range so our last kms were without views, and across melting snow, thankfully without steep drop-offs (we’re runners not alpinists!). For the final stretch you cross the ridge to approach the summit from the Northwest. This section was in deep snow and it was necessary to follow the previous tracks to avoid dropping to upper calf level. But it wasn’t very long (500m) and we were at the top – success! Our last destination reached, we grabbed some pics, turned around and cut loose on the descent. We alternated running at speed with taking photos and stopping to shed the layers of warmth as we emerged from the cloud into open sunshine without any wind – a scorcher! Sean showed his downhill mastery notching up several sub-4 min/ks and we arrived at the carpark in under 3hrs.

 

Summary:

5 runs, 73km distance, 5350m climbed.

A fantastic trip, outdoor adventures, amazing comradery with great food and drink and comfortable beds – what more could you ask for? This format had its genesis in the Apennine adventure and I only like it more and more! Bring on the next one.

GPS tracks routes available at https://www.gpsies.com/mapUser.do?username=doctamike

GPS Bumper Update Incoming (actually, truly this time)

Update – the initial Suunto Spartan Ultra trail review is up.

Yes, it’s been a while. The sabbatical in Italy put a dent in testing, sure. Then came a disc bulge which took any decent running load out of the picture. On the upside I took the time out to brush up on my geospatial-data-dorking skills in R and PostGIS and rebuilt the process entirely in R script. Yes, it’s nerd. The result is a complete re-analysis of collected data to give better insight into the capabilities of the GPS models tested.

In short, the updated methodology is leaning more towards quantified GPS performance bench-marking rather than a subjective review. Plus the future collection and analysis workflow is super easy which equal less typing and more running. Or beer, or whatever.

We can make pretty pictures like this track point cloud that shows GPS positional accuracy over a large number of runs (hint – this is a recent model GPS).

SpartanU_cloud_2017

 

Having powered up the analysis we can now see the impact of tree-cover, bendy paths, running speed, sampling rate, satellite availability, and even how much the satellite data is actually filtered out from the recorded distance (ie. does the watch work like a glorified activity tracker). The results give some great insights on which watches work best in actual trail conditions. With a couple of statistical tests we can formally identify which comes out as the better, or worse, performers. And the data can be modeled to show which factors effect watch accuracy.

As a teaser, the chart below shows the accuracy of all models across easy, mixed, and difficult conditions as recorded by the watch (ie. as you see it) in purple and as recorded by the raw GPX data (ie. buried underneath what you see) in yellow. The brown is the overlap of the two. The dashed lines are means, and grey is the true distance. We can see here the accuracy deteriorating between the conditions nicely. At the individual watch level there are huge difference in performance between these categories. Given we normally spend a lot of time running in the mixed to difficult conditions (when we are not testing) this analysis gives a great view on which watch will give us the good trail running numbers.

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The vertical purple line is average watch recorded accuracy, yellow is raw GPX (satellite) accuracy – is hidden behind the purple one in the bottom two panels

Plus, we’ve sold a kidney and promised a first born child to get hold of a Suunto Spartan Ultra for testing. The first round of formal surveyed trail testing is done, though sadly the +20hr endurance run test is off the cards for now (back prognosis points to a Spring running recovery). At the same time we tested a Sony Xperia Z5c using the SportTracker app. The results are interesting… our advice would be hold off any purchase till you read the review.

We’ll be writing up the Sunnto Spartan Ultra and Sony Xperia Z5c and updating existing reviews over the coming weeks. And data collection is in progress for the TomTom Adventurer.

 

The Great Kauri Cranleigh Run – 2017

You know when you get 3/4 through a race & find yourself still really enjoying yourself that it’s been a great day out. To be fair, 10 minutes later I was yelling my head off from agonising cramps. But hey, you’ve got to focus on the positives – at least I wasn’t vomiting too.

When Thom suggested a weekend away for this run down in the Coromandel I thought why not. Training had been pretty sparse, but there was plenty of time to get into shape and it was sure to be a fantastic run. 32km, ~1200m of elevation, panoramic views & a heap of beautiful Coro bush trail. Sounds epic.

The “get into shape” part never really happened. With work, projects & family life all being flat out, something had to give … and it was the training. I’d pulled back to the bare minimum of generally 1 run a week – maybe averaging around 15km/wk for the past few months. The one potential redeeming factor is most of that limited training was hill work.

My general race plan on the way down to the race was to take it real easy, try not to blow up & maybe just maybe (hah! Yeah right) have something left for the technical section & big downhill at the end. Thom quickly pointed out that I’ve pretty much never had a race go like that, and he would put money on this not being the first.

Sure enough, Thom the Seer proved correct, and arriving at the start line I threw out the conservative approach & decided on a new race plan. With 2km of beach going onto single trail, I was worried if I took the start too easy I’d seed well back in the field & spend the next hour burning lots of energy trying to pass people on single trail. So new plan: start faster, but not too fast & try seed near the front. Once we got onto the trails, run completely to feel & try to be at least a little bit sensible – especially conservative on anything steep. And then hope like hell I didn’t blow up with 15km still to go.

We set of down the 2km beach section at a reasonably comfortable pace around 4:30’s/km. I paced myself just off the lead bunch, settling in about 20m behind Sean. Coming off the beach you have a beautiful few km of winding bush trails with 4 or 5 stream crossings, and a runnable hill climb through the first 50-odd metres of elevation. I felt I was taking it reasonably easy, but still hanging with a bunch of guys in 3-7th (Chris Morrissey & one other had vanished as soon as we got off the beach). The going got tougher & we pulled back to a hike & ground out a steep climb eventually pushing out of the bush up at the first trig point @ ~7km mark, 350m above where we started. I’d shuffled a few places, but was sitting around about 5th with Sean in sight about 100m ahead in 3rd.

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Stream crossing at the end of the beach. 2km in. No point in trying to keep the shoes dry!

The next section involved repeated steep downhills, followed by steep uphills – starting over pasture, and moving onto a quad trail through the bush. The uphills we ruthless – I remember seeing the grade break 40% a number of times – and I decided it was time to pull back or suffer the consequences of trying to keep with the others. So I let the guys ahead disappear, shortened my stride on the climbs, walk more hills & tried to not bomb the downhills too hard.

I felt like this slightly more defensive strategy (as far as protecting the body goes) seemed to be working quite well until at the 13km mark I half tripped on a gorse bush that surprised me lying across the track, resulting in sharp spasms of cram with both calf’s locking up. Oh dear. Not even half way through. This could go terribly wrong. However I had been in similar positions before & knew at this stage it was more of a warning sign than anything too debilitating & could be managed. So I set off again, having lost 1 position (chick’d), started popping electrolyte tabs, cramp spray, & anything else I could think of to hold things at bay.

Everything went pretty smoothly through to the next aid station & the following next 6-7km was a beautiful ridge line bush run, completely runnable along a quad track with interspersed epic vistas of the east and west coasts of the Coromandel.  I held strong pace through this section but saw no one, eventually coming out at Kennedy Bay Rd. I was pretty stoked at this point. I was 3/4 through the race, had felt great the whole run so far & was really enjoying myself. My nutrition was, for once, going to plan. Staying off solid food & a less aggressive fueling approach of a gel every 40 mins with a roughly 1/3rd mix of electrolyte drink to water in my bottle was seeming to do the trick & I’d had no sign of nausea, or any ‘low points’ on the energy front.

However I’d known the whole race that this next section was going to be the real test. A steep climb, followed by a heavy technical steep up & down section (mostly up) on fatigued legs that hadn’t been this long or high in a long time. The first steep climb (~130m up) went great, I felt strong with lots of energy & tried not to fall into the trap of slamming my legs. However as I crested & entered a steep technical downhill the cramp finally bit hard. I’d been looking forward to this section the whole run, so it was a bit disappointing (not to mention immensely painful) to have my calfs, quads & hammies taking turns, or often all at once, going into full blown cramp lock down.

Stretching out was doing nothing, and was often impossible as both quad & hammy were cramping at the same time, so to stretch one was to fire off the other worse. In the end I had to just try & hobble/shuffle/walk with the cramp still in full swing. It must have looked pretty funny (not to mention often yelling my head off), my foot would often stick out a funny angle as even my shin muscle would cramp. But standing around wasn’t working so I gritted teeth & began to force myself forward.

This went on for a couple of nasty km over the next half hour. I was resigned for a slow & painful slog out to the finish when I summited at the last high point – the Kaipawa Trig and beginning the 560m descent over the last 7km ahead of me back to sea level. Miraculously I’d only dropped 1 place (chick’d again) through this ordeal – I guess a good place to blow up is in a highly technical section where everyone is going slow anyway – I’ll have to keep that in mind for future races.

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Gotta stop for cramp anyway so might as well take a photo.  Finish line in the distance a long way down. Managed to half remove the grimace for the second it took to take the photo 🙂

Through this section I had been noticing that the cramp seemed to be more to do with climbing than downhills, and as I got into the descent, I was relieved to feel the cramp letting go more & more – finally managing to string more than a stride or two together at a time. I was soon ambling along, shortly after running freely, shortly after bombing down the windy, often slippery track – more concerned with careening off a cliff than with muscle seizure. Surprisingly I managed to hold this all the way back to town, only starting to see signs of the cramp when things flattened out on the 2km road run back into town.

I could see there was no one for a long way either in front or behind so I opted for as conservative an approach to the finish as I could bring myself to. I knew the only thing that could cost me a position would be pushing too hard & having to stop to stretch out cramp – so I ran to feel & each time I felt the cramp building I would drop back another 10-20sec/km until I found a pace I could hold.

Seeing the wifey who had lined up a couple of excited toddlers for me to run in the last 100m was a nice boost at the end (despite firing off a hammy cramp trying to pick one up) and I crossed the line in 7th place (5th guy) in 3hr 27m. Overall I was pretty stoked with how the run had gone. I was about as unprepared as I felt I could be for it, and despite wishing the cramp held out for 2 more km at the top of that hill, it couldn’t have really gone much better in the circumstances. I knew I was pushing the line as to what the body would manage so to not blow up earlier was a good outcome. Aside from the obvious, it was a really enjoyable day out. The scenery was magic, the trails (especially the bush single track sections) were awesome & I felt really good throughout the run.

Congrats to Sean who ran really strongly & took out 3rd in 3hr 03 Awesome effort. Also to Thom who battled it out to finish in 4hr 28 despite also having a average lead up, and his old man Alistair who was only 1 minute off taking out the 60+yo ‘Classic Men’ section in 5hr 02 – his favourite line about the trail “why do you keep calling it technical? It’s just bush trail.”

Finally a big thanks to the organisers of the run. They’d obviously done a lot of work on parts of the course for the race. Everything was really well run, everyone was really friendly, the course marking was great and all proceeds from the run go to adding to the 3000+ Kauri trees they’ve already planted along the trail over the past 12 years they have been running it. A great initiative.

Full results here.
Strava link here.

World Masters Games 2017 – An Athletic Odyssey

WMG 5000 startThe World Masters Games 2017 have been on my radar for a couple of years. A unique opportunity to compete against your peers from around the world. Hopefully finding that ‘sweet spot’ of similar competition that brings the best out of you and gives you amazing mid-race battles. The entry fee is steep, but you get a road run, a cross country and up to six track and field events all for entering the “athletics” section. My approach was to get my $ worth by entering any running event over 400m.

Event 1: 10k Road Race, Saturday 22nd April.

WMG 10k startThis was a target event – I wanted to set a PB (basically anything sub 36 would do it). The plan was to run evenly (no costly surges) and hope to hold 3:30 – 3:35 min/k. We had the most spectacular and perfect Auckland Waterfront morning. Still and mild, it was made for running fast. Unfortunately something didn’t fire fully for me and I was never on goal pace. I gave it a good race effort though and split 18:31 for the first half and 19:11 for the second to give 37:42. A fine result, made sweeter by coming in 3rd in the M35 AG and getting a bronze medal! Caleb stormed to a PB and Evan paced like a metronome to smash his as well.

10k thumbs WMG

Too young and fast for the camera (or how being caught at 7k can shake you out of a slow burn to the finish)

Event 2: 5000m, Sunday 23rd April

WMG 5000 startThis was a mean schedule. Backing up with 5000m after yesterday’s 10k. So the plan was to not focus on time, but try to race as smart as possible. Looking at the field, I thought I was about 7th seed in my division, so a top 5 would be the goal. There were two no-shows, making this easier. But what was also easier was how my legs felt vs the expectation of pain and stiffness. They were feeling nearly as good as the day before, with only a hint of tiredness evident in the 4/5th km. I ended up running at the front of the chase pack and taking the wind, but was happy to be running faster than expected at 3:25 min/ks so just kept going. I got passed by the 3rd guy in my AG with 600m to go. He accelerated away and I had no response, but I finished in 4th place (7th overall) in 17:36.

WMG 5000 shoulder check
Into the wind, who else wants a turn?

Event 3: 1500m, Tuesday 26th April

It was nice to get a day off on Monday, as my legs were way more smashed (tight-sore calves and tired quads) after the 5000m than after the 10k. I had a day of easy running, plus continued my nightly routine of getting on the foam roller to help hasten recovery along.

Seems to have done the trick because I was feeling pretty good as I warmed up for my midday 1500m on ANZAC day. The 30-34M went first and it was great to watch Caleb running super strong to get his third medal of the games.

WMG Caleb lead 1500
Caleb leads the M30 1500m

I was 5th fastest M35 going into my race and was hoping to PB with a 4:37. My plan was to let the fastest two go (they were another level altogether) and then work hard to keep in contention with the next two guys Andrew and Eric. Andrew got away after a fast start, but I stuck with Eric the Frenchman (he was the guy who stuck behind me in the 5000m).

WMG 1500 lap 1
Lap 1, me well positioned in sixth.

The first 800m was 2:29 and we hit the bell lap at 3:23 (bang on schedule), me right behind Eric, and both about 30m back of Andrew. The race had hurt from about 600m into it, but I was glad with how I pushed through. Now in the last lap I really dug deep as Eric surged, somehow managing to hold close. We hit the final straight now only 10m down on Andrew. I gave it everything and closed the gap, but wasn’t able to pass. We all finished within 1.2s of each other.

WMG 1500 sprint
Final straight fever

This placed me 5th, in 4:31.25, a massive new PB, and exceeded my expectations. The last 800m was 2:21, with a final lap of 67s.

 

Event 4: 10,000m Thursday 27 April

WMG 10k front bunch
Early days in the front chase group

Another day off proceeded the toughest day of the games for me. I had the 10k and 800 on the track. But I could tell that these also offered the best medal chances so I needed to hit them hard.

WMG 10k pacing
My M45 pacers, duking it out while I hang on.

The 10,000 was hot. 11am in the sun. I started quick, but felt very comfortable. I kept pace behind two 45-49 year old guys in 5th place for the first 4k. The legs started to tire a bit though and through my 5th km I started to slow. It just felt like plain fatigue, my start was at the top end of what I can do, but felt controlled. I now had a 5k grind of endurance – holding on to see if I could stay ahead of the others and what time I would make.

WMG 10k sprintI wasn’t caught, but man it was gruelling. I finished in 5th, 2nd M35 in 37:35. My 5k split was 17:25, which was faster than Sunday’s 5000m. Silver medal!

Event 5: 800m, Thursday 27 April

I did what I could to recover before the 800m. I guessed I was 3rd seed with two real speedsters ahead, so my goal was 3rd and a time around 2:14. I went out strong, going through halfway in 65s, the second half was as hard as expected but I held on for 3rd and 2:15 – my 2nd fastest time for the event. Two races, two medals, today.

WMG 10k Heidi hugEvent 6: 3000m Steeplechase, Friday 28 April

Oh how weary I felt! The double effort the day prior meant my legs were both tight, sore and fatigued. But I made it to the start line OK. And when we got to the TIC I found two of the top seeds (as well as most of the field) hadn’t turned up. So it was game on for an unexpected possible medal chance.

Maybe those no shows knew something about this event. It was my first time so I didn’t. Let me tell you what I found about steeplechase: It’s hard, requiring lots of strength and a good bit of technique and flexibility too. My water jump is not something to admire (yet). I dropped into the water pit and fought my way out again like an old dog shaking off after a sea swim. It was also rough on the left achilles which took the impact all seven laps (as a side note the Achilles had been best it has for months up to then). The other thing I found is that it is compelling, and I want to have another crack at it, and I’m sure some technique practice would do wonders.

Evan and Caleb went hard from the start and I only caught Evan with 600m to go. So we got silver M30, and silver and bronze M35. MEC represent!

Event 7: 8k Cross Country, Sunday 30 April

Holeshot XC
The early leaders enter the first corner

Last event. It was so good to get the Saturday to rest up first, I came to the start line feeling much improved on Friday. I knew I wouldn’t be fresh, but I wasn’t feeling like lying down at the start. The Domain course was better than expected, despite the lack of real hills there was enough variability to make it feel different to a road race or track event. It was very warm, the sun had come out after the storm and there was a good gusty wind blowing too. I paced myself sensibly and worked my way up the field over the first two and half 2k laps. The guys I passed reformed as a group and I had to work to hold them off on the fourth and final lap.  I came 18th, 7th in M35 in 31:32, lap times: 7:35, 7:55, 8:05, 7:57. Full field XC

Reflections on the series:

My speed increased over the first five days or so, while the fatigue increased throughout. I noted the fatigue would slow my legs in the later stages of an event. My HR would actually dip as the legs were unable to move fast enough to merit that level of cardiac output. Dropping a couple of events would have made my times a bit faster overall, but my schedule was more for the experience than for the strategy.

I think I may have been fighting something at the start of the Games as I was genuinely surprised at my speed in the 10k and 5000m. I had done a 17:06 5k in the rain a fortnight before and felt that my preparations had gone very well. My first couple of races were a little disappointing as I don’t think my efforts reflect my true fitness/potential at that time. I reckon I am in sub-17 5k and sub-37 10k shape for sure. I will hopefully get a chance to show that later on this year.

The 1500m was my highlight, I got a big PB and had an amazing racing experience which took me right to the edge. The whole track experience has been really exciting, and I have got a bit of a taste for it. you really get to experience the pure thrill of racing when you take to the track with good competition. I will keep an eye out for opportunities to run against similar competition on the track in the future.

My body held out better than expected too. I was tired, and I got a bit sore a couple of times, but thinking back even 12 months, I would struggle to run the day after a hard race. Back then I couldn’t even comprehend running hard for several days in a row. So the good functioning of my body has been another positive to take away. I look forward to seeing if I get any notable fitness kick out of all that racing stimulus.

The next World Masters Games is in Kansai, Japan in 2021. There are also NZ Masters Games, Pan-Pacific Masters Games, Asia-Pacific Masters Games etc etc… get ready to race some track soon!

Endless (End of) Summer Writeup

Tumeke Waewae at Tarawera 2017

The follow-up to the Ultra Easy 100 was the 2017 Tarawera Ultra. This has become a feature of my calendar for nearly a decade – it’s such a cool event, I just love to come back. However, last year’s race showed me that my motivation was a bit tepid for the 100k. So doing the two-man relay was a perfect way of scratching the Tarawera itch and not being silly doing two massive events in a fortnight.

Ron and I combined our powers like a trail-running Captain Planet to make team Tumeke Waewae. We were joined by another couple of MEC teams – Brent and Burton facing off against Evan and Thom. There was a fierce rivalry between those two, while Ron and I eyed up some well-fancied opposition from the Sportslab crew.

TUM_2017_010021We applied the self-annihilation attack strategy to this race. It would be a unique opportunity to run with the big boys – they were doing 100k solo and we were just knocking off a couple of 20k-ish legs. So could we stay in touch and learn a thing or two from the pros.
Ron had the first leg, and claimed to be still finding his running fitness after his Italian sojourn. But he still managed to redline it from the gun and come around the Blue Lake just outside of the top 10.

TUM_2017_020356My turn. I noted that Aaron Jackson, first team member for our main opposition was ahead, and  (legendary ultra runner) Mike Wardian behind, so I got into my own over-zealous pacing to see what I could do. Wardian caught me within a quarter of an hour and blasted past up the new trail around Lake Okareka. I then held my own, catching several bods over the Western Okataina leg. It felt good running it with more intensity then usual. I came in to the Okataina changeover and we were just behind our marks – the Labrats, and keeping right on our schedule.

TUM_2017_002980TUM_2017_002984Can’t tell you much about leg 3, except that we had vastly overestimated how long it would take Ron ‘unfit’ on ‘tired legs’. By the time I had driven through Kawerau and arrived at the Falls carpark, Ron had been waiting of me for nearly 15 minutes. Im gonna be the bigger man and say that it was his scheduling that cost us that, not my yarns with the other MEC lads while eating at the aid station buffet.So the final quarter had a shambolic start, but Ron through me his water bottle and I put my tunes in on the go and got into it. What a great leg it is to Titoki when you don’t feel like rubbish! That long downhill is dreamy, legs spinning at sub 4s and life is good! There were a few more technical bits afterward and some inevitable discomfort (NB nothing like 100k pain though, not a bit). We had got solidly into the lead of the two person division and it was a gratifying  final few run for the final few kms to take the win for Tumeke Waewae.

TUM_2017_002988Lessons:

Logistics in two person team events are actually rather challenging. You have to know quite precisely how long you will run each leg and how long the drive will take. I have never had to get around the course in a car before – its harder than I realised!

But the relay is a great option – you can run hard, you can share the day with mates and it doesn’t have to shatter you like a massive ultra tends to. I’d be keen to repeat, but I think Ron misses the 100, so we’ll see what 2018 brings.

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Coastal Challenge 2017

The bravest race director award of 2017 goes to Aaron Carter and the TS crew for holding this event which has plenty of ocean interaction during the tail-end of a cyclone. I couldn’t believe it was going ahead, but it did, and it was epic as usual. Thom Shanks and I decided that mother nature wouldn’t hold us back, and drove North to Arkles Bay with the mighty Stu Hale as team photog and crew.IMG_4569

The course changed a bit – it was lengthened to help reduce the length of the swim across the Okura estuary and we ran over the Long Bay headland track rather than risk rockfall around the coast up there. Otherwise it was the same juicy wet goodness it always is.

I got stuck a little further back then I would have liked at the start, about 20th at corner one. I worked my way up and was in top 10 by the Wade River swim, and top 5 by Okura swim. A few kms after Long Bay I moved into 2nd when one of the leaders dropped with an injury. The gap to the front runner Nick Berry varied between 5 and 9 minutes, but I wasn’t able to catch him in the end. I was pretty bushed from Takapuna onwards and held on for (another) 2nd place here. Nick is a beast Surf Lifesaver / sub 9 min 3000m runner so not a bad guy to be beaten by!

Onward to the World Masters Games… time to add some speed to the stamina!

2017 Ultra Easy 100k

Ahh the goal race for the season. Worthy of a full race report, this one. Make your self a cuppa and sit down, this could take a while:

This race is a beautiful beast.

Vital stats: 100k, 4700m climb/descent, anticlockwise loop in Wanaka, with elevation between 270-2000m.

I saw it online when looking for a new ultra challenge to replace the Tarawera Ultra. As I said in my 2016 report, I love that race, but need to get away to be able to come back with the true hunger to race that. So, when I saw the course map, with its three massive climbs and natural loops in one of NZs most pristine alpine areas, I was in.

And my training over the summer has been focused on this one race. The goal was to log regular 65-75 km/week and try to get about 2000m of vertical each week as well. Of course it would be better to get more, but I have worked out that those numbers are about what my schedule can accommodate without displacing family, friends or work commitments. And I have to say I did well, more or less hitting those numbers for a good 10 weeks following my recovery from the Auckland Marathon.

I had a week down in Wanaka with the family to holiday and check out bits of the course. I ended up only running twice down there for several reasons:

  1. The parts of the course I wanted to check out (Pisa range) cross private land, requiring difficult logistics to organise your own way.
  2. I didn’t want to get weary before the big day
  3. Holidaying is fun, so I was happy holidaying.

I caught up with Burton and we did a brief shakeout up Mt Iron, and Myles came down for the 42k as well, so we had a good MEC crew lining up.

I have to mention the weather: It was meant to be Central Otago in summer – think blue skies, low winds, hot days and cool crisp nights. Instead we had a week of significant wind and on the Saturday prior to the race, a blizzard came through and it snowed on Mts Roy, Alpha and Pisa. Interesting. So that’s why you have to take all this compulsory gear…

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3am and we are off!

But on  race day (the 28th) we had perfect weather. The 50 or so solo runners plus another 50 teams were sent off from the Albert Town Tavern at 0300, heading up Mt Iron, then along the Wanaka waterfront to the base of Roy’s Peak. There was a bit of a breeze blowing in from the West, and at that time of the morning it makes it kinda cold, but within a few minutes I was comfortable with my chosen outfit of merino T shirt with arm warmers plus extra merino T over the top (to be ditched once things warmed up). My bottom was covered with running shorts, my calves with compression socks and my feet with inov8 trail roc 255s.

The game plan was straight-forward: Get to the highest point (Mt Pisa) at 68km in decent shape, then use whatever is left to run the long downhill and flat section home to glory. I’ve done a few Tarawera 100s, but have limited experience in the mountains, and so wanted to make sure I wasn’t exposing myself (if you will) in the high altitude.

Leg 1 to Roy’s carpark was smooth sailing. I ate and drank to schedule, and found myself moving comfortably at about 5:15 min/k on the flats. It was interesting how fast others seemed to go at the start, I was initially left in the back half of the field. I came to Aid 1 (15k) right on schedule at 1:30 and struck my first hurdle: My drop bag was no where to be seen. No drop bag. Dang. That one had my gels, my bumbag and 600mL bottle and most importantly, my trekking poles.

This took me aback and I wandered anxiously, searching for the missing bag. The RD Terry was at the station and so the aid crew summoned him. He quickly helped me find the Aid 2 drop bags and we looked for the missing bag in there. Negative. Oh no. Suddenly, I remembered that I had dropped this bag off at the last minute, after having returned home to add my poles to it. I had absent-mindedly put it in the container on the far right, which meant I had sent it to Lake McKay Aid at 88k! Terry (what a legend) said he would see if someone could get it for me and bring it to Aid 2 at Cardrona Valley Rd.  I thanked him, nervously filled my bottles and grabbed a handful of the gels available and headed up the climb. I spent 10 minutes in that Aid and really should have only spent 2. But that was my fault, so there you go. What this incident did get me to do though was flick from a ‘I need to race this thing’ mindset to a ‘this thing is a mighty challenge and I need to do whatever I can to make it through to the finish’ mindset. That was a good thing, methinks.

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Great view? Yes. Great photo? Not so much.

A word on trekking poles: these things are wondrous for mountain running (hiking). They take pressure off your legs and keep you feeling stronger for longer. Its like having someone behind pushing your sorry ass up the hills. They don’t work on tight single track or overgrown grass/foliage or over boardwalks where they get stuck, but they lap up wide open dirt roads. I got mine on Dec 31 and had worked on my pole conditioning and coordination (my ‘pole dancing’ technique) so I would be ready to race with them on Jan 28.

Climbing up Roys Peak was fun. Through switchback after switchback we gained 1000m of elevation as the sun slowly rose over Wanaka town to our East. I calmed myself down and chatted to a few folk, most of whom were faster at hiking than me and steadily moved ahead. Brad was one of these people and he kindly gave me some of his fruit Danish as we told each other of our build up to this race. By the time we hit the final ridgeline (somewhat precarious) to the summit it was light enough to turn the headlamps off. I had warmed up, and paradoxically, the wind had dropped now that we were at 1500m too. There were plenty of tourists at the top, as the conditions were perfect to witness the sunrise. It was truly spectacular to have beautiful landscapes in 360 degrees as the sun peaked over the hill and I was feeling good!

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I don’t always watch the sunrise, but when I do I wear my butcher’s boots.

I took a pic or two and headed along the skyline singletrack to Mt Alpha, marvelling at the view of Mount Aspiring and the Southern Alps to the North West. The great reputation of this trail totally matched my experience and I felt filled up by the rich visuals surrounding me.

Happiness on the ridgeline
Happiness on the ridgeline

The ridgeline to Mt Alpha was great fun, and I started to catch back up to a few of the fast hikers. We summited and then started our descent, running swiftly to the amazing Alpha Aid Station. Co -RD Ed (co-legend) had driven his 4WD up and he was there with his missus dishing out water, chips and hot pies. Yep, they had a diesel generator at 1500m and a pie warmer. I gushed, and promptly downed two mince pasties. Then, with bottles filled, I continued my descent. It was 12k downhill to the Cardrona Valley and I steadily caught runners despite taking it easy on my legs. Again, this part of the trail was truly gorgeous and I arrived in Cardrona with the body feeling good and the mind at peace.

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Alpha Aid Station. Yes, that’s a pie warmer. Best. Alpine. Aid. Ever.

It was great to see the family at this point. We had been going nearly 40k and taken a good 5 and 1/4 hours. It was also great to see my drop bag had made it with my poles! I took my time to swap clothes, and top up supplies before chasing back after Brad who had already made his way toward the big climb up the Criffle Range.

We crossed the Cardona River (chilly but nice at mid shin level) and I cranked out the poles as our second 1000m+ ascent began. This one differed from the first in that you couldn’t see right to the top as it had several false summits, but you could see North to Wanaka and South to the Alps so we enjoyed some terrific views as the sun continued to rise. It wasn’t too hot though, I was fine in a t-shirt merino with the gloves and arm warmers well and truly stowed now.

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View from Criffle range to Wanaka.

I was a bit more on pace with my contemporaries on this climb, but again Brad pulled away. It sure felt nice having the poles to assist though. I got to the top of Little Criffle in just under 2 hours. At this minor aid station there was a lonely looking dude sitting on the back of a quad bike loaded with water and a bag or two of chips. I topped up the bottles, took a selfie and said a hearty thanks as I left.

The 12k section south to Bob Lee Hut was rather bland. You follow a 4WD track along the top of the range, but often so far inland that there are no views. The only vegetation is tussock, so although your first 5k of this is rather pretty, it is nothing on the visual symphony of Roys Peak and the skyline trail.

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Top o Little Criffle Selfie

Coming into and out of Bob Lee Hut Aid I made a couple of errors – I lost the trail twice in a short period of time. The first time was my fault, I saw a crushed red cone ahead and missed the massive row of intact cones on the left hairpin when I passed through a fence. The second one could have been avoided with better markings. As I left the Hut, I was told to follow the fence line down to the track. I ran down the fenceline for 100m where the track departed from it to the right, which I took and ran downhill for half a km. Then I realised I hadn’t seen any markers and had to walk back up the hill to the station where I had departed the ‘track’. I was surprised how buoyant I was when faced with these wasted efforts. I think pacing my run to finish strong meant I had a good reserve and that helped keep me going when these things went astray.

We were now 60k in, 9 hours down. I was feeling weary but not really sore. My nutrition and fluid regime was working well (gels and water only on the go, topped up by real food PRN at the aid stations). The real milestone though was getting to the top of Mt Pisa. I remembered it being about 10k from the Hut, but the advice we got as we left was that it was 12 or so. In any case, I was keen to get there in good shape. For me, being 2000m high and 12+k to the nearest vehicle was not a place I wanted to run myself into the ground at. So I was really happy to pull up alongside Andy from Dunedin, and I took it easy while we ascended and chatted together. We made the top in 1:36, meaning it was nearly 2pm. It was still sunny but it was pretty cold with gusts from the West. My arm warmers were back on when we hit the aid station. Some poor soul had been abandoned to serve water to sweaty runners on this desolate mountain top in the wind. Lucky guy. If I thought the section to Bob Lee was a bit barren, this leg was just plain stark desert. Few tussock remained and we traversed long straights with nothing but dry rocks at our side. This was not the Southern Alps that make us romantic and misty eyed. Having run through the Rangipo desert a couple of times, I can tell you I would far prefer that environment, because you have a view. I guess what I became aware of on this run is that I like running in the mountains, but more accurately I love running where there are great views and interesting features. I want a visual feast if I am to don the ultrarunning robes. I want to at least get a buzz on if I am to drink the cup of suffering.

So no, you will not find me entering any of the masochistic ultras anytime soon. I am a trail runner, who runs ultras on occasion, but there must be a payoff. You may not care where you run, I do and I’m OK with that. Runner, know thyself!

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Top o Pisa Aid. Misery loves company.

Where were we, oh yes, top of Mt Pisa. Well, now the fun begins: a 20k downhill where we drop from 2000m to 300m ASL. It would certainly be amazing on a MTB – that Big Easy ride would be all time! Its not such a picnic running down however, especially on legs that have run for 11hrs+ and 4000M+ climb. So I changed plans and kept my poles out, hoping that they would take a bit of the bashing my legs were gonna receive over the next 2 hours.  I turned the music on and started to let the legs roll. After a while, people I hadn’t seen since before I lost the trail came back to view. I was making ground! Then the view appeared as we moved out of the centre of the range and all of a sudden I was hit with the magnificent scene of Lake Hawea, the Clutha River, Mount Iron and Wanaka. The grin appeared, the arms went up. I began to hoot and cheer. This was great. The hill high carried me down to the farm at the bottom, somewhat tempered by the increase in gradient as we finished the descent. The knees were letting me know they had been abused, but there was no catastrophic damage and I was a happy man rolling into Lake McKay Aid to see my family once again.

12 k to go to the finish. I put on the MEC singlet for the heat (and to represent!). I keep the poles, as I have a hunch they will help me start up every time a stop threatens to seize my legs like rust. I pass more people and although I am well achey, I am in good spirits as my race plan seems to have been a smart one. But somewhere just before Stevenson Road Aid my knees become more than sore, and I stop running freely. Have I eaten lately? Not really, I thought I could cut back now we have just 7k remaining. Those caffeine gels are tasting gross and I’d rather not have another thanks. I will myself to the Aid and realise that I will be caught if I don’t shake this shutdown. So I smash some fluids. They don’t taste sugary enough (who makes that non-sugar electrolyte rubbish, what absolute homeopathic codswallop… rant over), and I know I need energy. So I have a half banana, and then another half. Then I make myself leave the Aid, despite the chair looking so appealing. It hurts so much to start running. The flats are the worst. I can walk hills guilt-free. I can run down hills. But flat running is not working for me right now.

And then I get caught, first by a team runner, then a guy with mini polls I haven’t seen for ages. Then Victoria, a Chilean runner who has yo-yoed ahead and behind me since Mt Alpha. She tells me to stick with her to get to the finish. I rally somewhat and start running a bit more, but she moves steadily ahead as we cover the last few km. We hit the road at Albert Town and I look back, no one behind me, and nothing left in the legs. I walk-run to the final bridge, see Heidi waiting for me and greet her and Heather gladly as the kids join me for the final walk to the finish (I would run but Beau decides that walking is what he would like and I’m a very selfless guy). So I finish, exhausted and full of running in 14:40:48, 18th place.

On reflection I’m very pleased with this run. It was by far the hardest course I have tackled, and I measured my effort 95% spot-on. Lessons include better attention to drop bags, and making sure to eat right to the end. I fully recommend this event, its got a great team behind it and the first 40 and last 32k are just sublime to spectacular.

One more thing – We used these great GPS trackers called Yacht-Bots, which enabled friends and family to follow along at home – this was awesome! I hoped you enjoyed it – I certainly loved reading up on the FB comments from those who were following live. More (all!) races should do this. Review the race

Results

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