Motatapu Ultra 2018

Anyone can run well at the start of an ultra. The real challenge is to set yourself up to do so at the end.

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The Motatapu Valley, looking North

My target race this season was the Motatapu Ultra, a 51km mountain run from Glendhu Bay, Wanaka to Arrowtown. It covers four mountain passes above 1200m, and passes briefly through the Motatapu valley about halfway through the course.  The high alpine tussock, sweeping views, beech forest and punishing gradients made this race especially alluring. I’ve mentioned before that mountain runs are not necessarily my forte, but I’m drawn to them for the soaring landscapes and vigorous challenge.

The summer training plan was built upon logging some big climbs and getting as much vertical gain/loss possible. I didn’t include many really long runs (>4hrs) to minimise disruption to family. The final hard session was the Tarawera relay 4 weeks prior which gave a good race effort over 4 hours in the forest. I then switched to doing more hiking to prepare for the steep alpine climbs. My race strategy was to preserve myself, finish strong and to make the most of the runnable terrain.

It was  set to be a perfect day weather wise – sunny, no cloud and low winds. It was actually very cold at the start, like 5 degrees with a slight breeze. I was glad to have switched to a merino T shirt (sorry MEC singlet), and had added arm warmers and gloves. I planned on running comfortably on the first few kms of gravel road – nothing silly but no point sandbagging at this early stage. I was surprised to find myself back in about 30th position despite running 5 minute kms into a slight climb. My headlamp, unused (and now loose) since last winter bounced up and down on the back of my head and I failed in my attempts to tighten it on the go. But it pointed where I needed to go so I just got on with it.
Into the farm tracks the group of 30 pulled away as my speed dropped marginally as I picked my way through the loose rocks. After ten minutes or so were went into the beech forest and it was proper dark. I thought my lamp was decent, but I struggled at times to find the orange arrows. I was caught by a good half dozen people, but had prepped myself to go easy and not fight through this slow section.

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Headlamps winding up toward Fernbern Hut

It didn’t take long and we were out in the open, heading up the single track toward the Fernburn Hut. The daylight dawned and we could turn the lamps off and appreciate the beauty of the tussock filled valley. I felt good, and was taking it steady, walking any climb that was steep or long. We dropped into the hut at 75 minutes, and I was pleased to be ahead of my predicted time. I filled my bottles, put the headlamp in the back and used the facilities before heading up the valley again.

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Looking back to Wanaka as we approach Jack Hall’s saddle

The next section was a bit slower than planned (and hoped). I think the climb up to Jack Hall’s saddle was about right, but I hadn’t appreciated how slow the descent would be. We dropped 400m in less than 1200m. I shuffled down this slope, aiming to save my quads for later. It was hard, as I got caught by several more folk but bit my lip and stuck with the plan. I pulled into Highland Creek Hut, 16k done in 2:40 elapsed which was about 10 minutes off my goal time (i.e. split 15 mins slower than target). Still, I was eating regularly, feeling goood on any runnable section and felt optimistic as I went into the third leg to Roses Hut.

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Highland Creek Hut

The 11k section here had two of our ‘Big 4’ climbs. It was warming up, and the arm warmers were off and we at last came into direct sunlight sometime after 9. Fortunately it wasn’t too hot and the sun was largely at our back. I kept pace with my competitors on the climbs, and usually caught one or two, but was again left behind quickly on the descent as I nanna-ed my way down again. I supplemented my gel diet with a good ol’ one square meal as I started the next climb out of the beech forest.IMG_5231

On this third climb I started to notice the first signs that people were breaking under the load of continual steep hiking. Unscheduled rests were apparent. By the top of this climb I had caught back up to Dr Andy, a British expat doing his first ultra. We chatted as we sidled our way around the contours, then as we started to come down I played the familiar game of drifting off the back. This pattern saw me in about 50th position as we got to the bottom of the Motatapu valley. It was a formidable sight as you descended – you could see the hut 400m beneath you and behind it the towering ridge 700m above, cut through with tight switchbacks just waiting for you.

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Climb 3: Looking Down to Motatapu Valley
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Climb 3: Looking up

It was a nice jog through the stream and across the valley to Roses Hut at 27k. I checked in about 11:15 (5:07 elapsed), filled my soft flasks, grabbed a couple of pikelets and moved on. I left ahead of a number of others who were less keen to move out swiftly. Andy was there and we reconnected and power hiked this last climb. I noted my HR was a bit lower than previous hikes, revealing that my fatiguing muscles were no longer able to push as hard.

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The ominous view over the valley to Rose’s Hut and Climb 4

The climb was as brutal as it appeared. The sun was hot, winds were low and the 20% gradient pitched up to over 40% as we got near the top. It was welcome relief to hit the top, and realise that the big climbs were done. This time I was not left behind on the downhill. I had more latitude to let the brakes off, plus this descent was less steep so I had some good fun rolling the wheels down.

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Approaching the top

I got to the Arrow river, 32.5k at 6:15 on the clock. I was ready to open up the engines and burn along this flat section. But it was hardly as runnable as I expected. The river was shin deep, and wading was slow. The RD had marked the sheep tracks that cut through some braids with little pink ribbon. With eyes peeled I tried to follows these shortcuts, but regularly had to backtrack or virtually crawl underneath sharp matagouri bushes. It took 40 minutes to go the 4.5km to Macetown, but remarkably I pulled ahead of several others, including Dr Andy who had taken a wrong turn.

It started becoming runnable as we approached Macetown and I was beginning to have some real fun, running strong through the river trail. Every bend in the river I looked ahead for another shirt to chase down. I had a quick bottle refill and cup of coke in the Aid station and sped off. My cruising pace was low 5 min kms, interrupted only by the very regular river crossings. I got faster still, but annoyingly the people to catch seemed to dry up. I felt good, and would have loved to know how far ahead the next person was – would pushing that extra 2% be worth the risk of sending my legs into withering cramps?

We joined the other races at the Soho river (6k to go), and I was now speeding along, passing the bikes and marathoners as I let it out downhill. I ran it strong right into the finish, stopping the clock in 8:14:35, 15th male (18th overall).

Reflections: Mission accomplished – I saved my legs and hauled myself back more than 30 positions in the last 2 hours or so. My hiking has improved, but is still the area that would need the most work to improve my position in this type of race. I ate, drank and paced very well. I feel really satisfied with this effort and it has been a great race to savour. I think last year my time would have placed me 5th overall!

Big thanks to my family for letting me indulge in such joyous endurance, and to me MEC crew for the shared times on the trails, car rides and spare beds. I’m a lucky man.

Now, time to drop the climbs and see if I can bring some stamina out of the strength.

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BTW: Burts and Ev also had cracking races, I will leave it to them to tell their stories.
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Tarawera 87k Relay 2018

MEC involvement with the Tarawera Ultra has been a constant over the last 9 years. It’s a great event and a great time, so I love to be a part of it. I didn’t have the right appetite to race it solo last year, and again this year wanted to focus my summer campaign on something more wild and enticing (stay tuned for Motatapu reports). That seemed to be the mood of a few others at MEC so we set about creating relay teams that would allow us to be involved, have a great duel and get an excellent workout prior to the big one in the South Island.

So the teams were set, Evan Atkinson and I would face off against Thom Shanks and James Spence. The MEC Thinkers vs the Feelers. It was a pretty even match with two legs for each player. Unlike last year, we couldn’t alternate legs as the no vehicle policy for the Tarawera Forest plus the new changeover spots meant it was a logistical impossibility. So it was a 1/4 and 2/3 split. Leg 1 (26k) is the most runnable, leg 2/3 (40k) the most technical with significant climb, Leg 4 (21k) a good climb and fast flat finish (if you are ready for it). Thom and Evan elected to do the 1-4, giving me and James the 40k middle section.ojohabkwiv_tum_2018_005584

Players. On paper it was very close as mentioned. James would be my mark and he had just come off a stirling 2:55 at Auckland Marathon. Adding to this stamina base he also had posted some of the quickest hill climb and 5k times in recent MEC workouts. Thom and Evan’s face-off was also tight. Thom had come off a great Auckland Marathon too, posting a 3:24 and beating Evan’s PB there. He was looking like the favorite until a summer of lethargy and injury meant he had a patchy buildup. Evan had worked consistently, balancing family and work commitments to fit in some good sessions in his full weekly schedule.

Tactics. The Thinkers reviewed this information and came up with the game plan. With Evan now the better prepared athlete, and Michael likely to shed some time to James in a straight race, the tactic was to make Thom hurt from the start. A fast start, hopefully leading to a few minute buffer for me to have over James. Then, with James chasing hard, he may make some errors giving me the opportunity to run smart and hand over to Evan to dig deep and bring it home (hopefully having inflicted more damage on Thom than he had on himself).

The duel. On the wet and warm race morning Evan took off as planned. He ran 4:40 min/ks on the flat, raising Thom’s eyebrows but good old Shanks was playing smart and held to his mark. Evan blazed through the first aid station, and Thom was forced to grab just a quick hand of jellybeans as he tried to hold on. They ran alongside the Brother’s in Arms team for a bit, just back of the front runners. Evan eventually worked his way ahead to a 50 metre lead. Substantial, but not long enough to be out of sight on the long fire roads in Tarawera forest. Thom could see his man, and would do all he good to limit the damage.

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Evan took a gel, and missed a corner. He was wondering why the trail markers were missing when he heard Thom call from inside the forest. Disaster! He quickly about-turned but the 50m lead was now in Thom’s favour. Ev doubled down on his workrate to now catch Thom. They came out at the Falls Aid station with Thom still ahead. He can be viewed here looking suspicious (watch from 2:40-3:10) in the aid station before de-fouling our pristine natural environment with a watermelon skin.

Evan poured it out over the last 5k to the Outlet aid station, slowly bridging the gap. In a gesture of goodwill Thom paused briefly and they ran into the changeover together, both exhausted having covered the ground well faster than expectations.

I got out of the changeover a little ahead with James quickly right behind me. I had the lead for the first few kilometres. It wasn’t the situation the Thinkers had hoped for, it was gonna be a straight duel. We shared some fun times on the trail before James offered to take a turn at the front. The pace increased and I was quickly faced with running myself into a hole with more than three and a half hours to go, or backing off. I chose the latter and James moved out of sight on the tight windy trails toward Humphries Bay.hhqjbhrnpy_tum_2018_004037

I got to Humphries but James had already cleared out, the volunteers saying he was just ahead. No point blowing up catching him this early, so I just ran at the fastest pace I felt I could maintain. The trail was pretty chewed up and the muddiest I had seen it over this section. I pitied the 100 Milers who would face this in a much worse way later as I passed throngs of 60k walkers and joggers who were generally very obliging to let us through.jjphruibzv_tum_2018_020154

I got to Okataina Aid ahead of schedule and saw Dave Robbo. He hadn’t seen James so I just stuck with the game plan as I power-hiked up the mighty climb to the course high point. I let it out on the bomb down the other side, big toes screaming as they mashed against the front of my shoes over the greasy clay track. Every singlet I spotted I looked for James, but despite passing plenty of people I never saw him. I kept up hammering down the road after Miller Road Aid, until slightly coming unstuck on the last 2 k, slowing as we wound back up Tennants track in a mix of exhaustion and oncoming cramp. I got to the Blue Lake and heard the bad news, James was already 10 minutes up on me. Dang.

Evan’s face at the changeover revealed the futility of our position. This gap wasn’t going to be clawed back, barring disaster for Shanks. The game plan had indeed dug a hole, but for both Thom and Evan. James’ demolition of the leg 2/3 section (fastest in category) meant we were out of the game. Thom and Ev dug deep and pushed home. The Feelers crossing the line in 8:32:20 and the Thinkers in 8:44:00.dwtkfedfiy_tum_2018_011783

Another great day, a great race (well done and well deserved to the Feelers who won the 2 person section with Thinkers second). Full credit to all the MEC racers: Ev ran a bold race, James absolutely smashed his section, and Thom showed what a competitor he is, fighting hard and drawing from the well he has dug deep over years of training. I was happy with my performance too, hitting my goal splits for all but the last few k.

Relay pace curve 2018
Leg paces for Thinkers (pink), Feelers (orange), Solo race winner (blue)

Mission accomplished – a great event, weekend away and training set in the bag, now bring on the goal race: Motatapu Adventure beckons.

The 100 Miler DNF – an exercise in honesty

The miler (161km). Are you prepared for this distance? The course? All conceivable conditions? Physically? Mentally? Do you have a goal time? How much support do you need? How much are you responsible for and how much are the organisers? And if everything goes pear shaped? Why are you doing this?

If you can recognise the need to give an honest consideration of all these (even if you can’t actually be certain of the answers), then you are all set.

From a general preparation and fitness perspective I was all good. Though I was going into the event with some bio-mechanical issues. Got bi-lateral significant achilles/calf muscles tight/tenderness mid December for no obvious reason. A new physio finally booked the week before the race linked it back to a twisted/tilted pelvis (also likely related to lower back issues of last year) and noted tightness round the hips. So he did a bit of work to increase mobility in the area.

Race start was rather quicker than I had prepared for, though I backed off after 30km or so. The left achilles was a little tender from the start but not dangerously so, though the hip issue presented itself somewhere soon after 30km. An auto-diagnostic check revealed shuffle running flat surfaces in a straight’ish line was relative comfortable. Unstable and sketchy stuff not so much.

The first section of the miler course was pretty good in that regard, so I figured if could get through from Tarawera Outlet to Okataina I’d finish. The course and terrain were familiar enough. The conditions were wet, though I’d previously run the 100km in similarly heavy rain. However, the amount of mud we experienced after 1000 runners had already churned up the course was far from expected.

I was a bit anxious about the issue of chafing. I’ve got soft skin, it scratches easily, marks easily, and chafes easily. Wet weather distance running for me requires a similar approach to ocean swimmers. A base layer of body-glide around key seam and contact points, and handfuls of vaseline over the top. Went with merino sock and shirt combo – as I’ve previously come away from 12hrs running through rain scar free. I also sported running putties to slow mud from getting into the shoes. And carried body-glide in the pack.

While a pack was necessary to carry compulsory gear (thermals, emergency bag, etc), I was leaving my nutrition, hydration, and support requirements entirely in the hands of the aid stations. I was originally planning on leaving multiple drop-bags at stations with dry gear and bepanthen/vaseline. I left my organisation a bit late and left a single bag about 100km in at Okataina. Turns out that was about two aid stations too late as chafing was already getting bad by Tarawera Outlet (where I found out that anti-chafe gurney goo burns if you put it on after chafing is underway).

I’d also left running poles in the drop bag and was counting down the km to them with hip discomfort increasing. So I was somewhat disturbed when the bag was nowhere to be found. Okataina aid station was a bit chaotic, they’d run out of electrolyte and drop-bags were scattered. I’d previously used drop-bags and aid stations on the 100km TUM editions for support and they were efficient and attentive. As a 100 miler we were coming through at the tail end of the race and generally had to be a bit more proactive to get what we needed.

While I’d briefly considered withdrawing when the hip issue first presented, it was here that I seriously considered withdrawing. No poles over that hill would have been foolish given my state. Bag found, shirt and socks changed, fully lubed, and refueled (not necessarily in that order), I moved on out of the station. All this took a mere 45min. Also started txting updates about situation, with the offer of an official pacer from Logan at the 145km point which was accepted after a short period of self-pitying darkness.

Don’t know why but I’d expected the ground conditions of the next leg to be better than the last mudbath. It was not. Far from it. I ended up walking the vast majority of it, which was pretty frustrating as the running bits on my legs (muscles) were actually ok, energy was also good and I was eating well. Got into the Millar Rd station after what felt like 6hrs. Moved on after performing the essentials which again took quite a long time. While I was relying exclusively on stations for nutrition, I didn’t have any way to stash food and eat it on the fly without it dissolving in the rain, sweat, and lube.

Got message around here that Victoria was at the next station with a toothbrush and moral support (beauty!). A few minutes after leaving the Millar Rd I could manage a reasonable walk shuffle-run pattern on the road section. Was in a bit of pain by now though via a hip and chaffing combo. Got into the Tikitapu station about 9:20pm. Victoria was there, Logan was there, Victoria’s entire relay team was there. She brought the toothbrush and a wide variety of food/drink. And a car.

So here’s the decision. Push on, get that finishing toki. And if most of the rest of the course were on likes of forestry roads I’d have a chance of coming in under 24hrs. If not I still had plenty of time to walk out, energy levels and leg muscles were good. Hell I was even mostly lucid. On the other hand I felt that I’d used sandpaper instead of a towel to dry myself. My back, shoulders, flanks, crotch and butt were angry red and a bit weepy. My trusty old merino shirt had started dissolving and I had to pick bits out of raw skin. The hip pain was only increasing, possibly with an increasing likelihood of real damage. And I was nursing my left achilles, though that was very nearly drowned out by pain elsewhere. And though I hadn’t originally counted on a pacer, Logan couldn’t pace me as he didn’t have all the compulsory gear which would have risked a DSQ.

Continue or withdraw? For me it comes to the ultimate question – why am I doing this? To push limits, test myself? Absolutely. And part of that test is knowing when falling short is a good idea. Can my ego handle a DNF? Sure. I’m not a pro, my future isn’t riding on my results or completion rate. Do I need to prove I can run myself raw or risk a serious injury? Aah no, not really, my self-image/identity is all good thanks. All that said, there were a few other factors floating through my mind that were contributed to the DNF decision. The main one being my lack of preparation in self-support combined with slow pace meant the 21km and bloody big hill between me and the next station was mentally challenging (but solvable).

If Victoria hadn’t turned up with a ride out, would I have withdrawn? Unlikely. Did I feel some regret when I picked up my drop-bag from the finish line the next day? Most definitely. Do I still believe withdrawing was the right choice? Yep. I’ve got Northburn in 5 weeks to sort this hip crap out.

Finally was my DNF due to me not fully considering those questions I posed at the opening? In part, yep. Nobody expected the course to be that bad/slow, but I absolutely should have taken more responsibility with drop-bags and food carrying capacity especially given that 21km station gap at the end. It wouldn’t have made any difference to the hip issue but the chafing would have been better and a walk-out finish palatable.

Epilogue – 1 week on

The first running DNF is hard. It’s nice to have pain free showers again. Recovery progressed regrettably quickly, no DOMS, could freely negotiate stairs. Recovery run confirmed muscles all good. Evidently had plenty of gas in tank, just wheel nuts were coming off.

Root cause analysis is pretty clear cut. I’m a dick. The casual cascade went: old back/pelvis issue caused bi-lateral calf/Achilles lock ups, late physio appointment largely resolved lower leg issues but irritated hips, hip pain initially slowed pace, further slowed on sketchy conditions. Extended (soak) time to drop bag resulted in extensive chafing. Run-out then unappealing due to hip pain, and walk-out unappealing due to extended chafing opportunities. Lack of planning to carry sufficient fuel/water between stations also a contributor.

Dick move no 1. Leaving physio too late. If I hadn’t got treatment, slowdown would be due to Achilles/calves. Dick move no 2. Not following my own clearly written down plan to leave multiple drop bag changes. Dick move no 3. Not having clear provision to carry extra food/water on long legs.

Note to self – next time don’t be a dick.

The Kepler Challenge 2017- an exercise in cramp management

 

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Happy boys

2017 has been a mixed bag of running for myself. A bumper start with the Ultra Easy in January, looking back I probably bit off a bit more than I could chew; but it made me hungry for more. One of the major things I took away from that race is that I wanted to live in Wanaka. And the wheels were set in motion to move.

February saw the TUM where Brent and myself took on the relay. My old foe cramps caught up with me on leg 4 and I limped in the last 10 or so km. The race left me in a pretty dark place about running for a while.

I had a new lease on running when I sat down and set some serious goals for the year. None of which have been accomplished as of yet. But I feel I have made some good strides towards achieving them. My main goal was to set a good marathon time at the Auckland marathon. I started working hard towards it but a bout of sore knees, flu, sinus, having a baby as well as moving to Wanaka put pay to completing the training for the thon.

The major positive for the year was the first Saturday in June at 06:00 where I secured a spot in the Kepler. A race I had done well in 2015 with a 08:30 finish as my first ultra, last year I ended up at number 1 one the wait list. So a great feeling to be back in the race. I now had a serious goal to work too, which was basically an arbitrary number I had picked which was taking an hour off my previous time!

My training was pretty solid with November being a great month weather wise and training wise. One of my my most notable runs was a recce of the first half of the Kepler course with a Dutch guy who lives in Boston, called Victor, who advertised on the Wild Things Facebook page that he wanted to do a run with some company on the course as his last long run before the event, what sweetened the deal is that he had a helicopter picking us up half way along the track. Victor was a wealth of knowledge about splits and gave me great info about where I should be when in relation to my time goal. We did the run at 08:00 finishing pace, which felt very comfortable to me. It gave me a lot of confidence that my goal was achievable.

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The pre race briefing was entertaining, there was a fair amount of fanfare as it was the 30th running of the Challenge. The local Te Anau doctor giving us some tips for the race ahead, these included having a small meal, and no alcohol that evening. I had consumed a massive box of pasta for dinner just before arriving at the briefing and had a pint of beer with Connor and Lucy too. Great start I was thinking to myself… #FAIL. He then went on to say, don’t consume any alcohol after the event either. The blood pretty much drained from my face at this point. No beer after running 60km. “What kind of quack is this guy? Someone ask for his credentials. We are talking to ultra runners here” the greatest surprise to me is that he wasn’t heckled off the stage. I presume it was due to the amount of newbies running the race about half by a show of hands during the briefing. Most of which looked like a possum in the lead lights by the stories of doom and gloom. At this point I decided that not all doctors are equal, Mike- if you ever have to do this type of briefing at a race I hope you have at least read the latest research, the research that tells us the good news about our bad habits and keep it at that. The weather briefing, seemed to have a common thread, it was going to be hot, in fact the first time in years that it was going to be a positive wind chill of +11 and mid to late 20’s down the bottom. Although it was going to be windy along the tops. According to the him it was better to run faster so you got off the course before it really started getting hot, at last someone was speaking some sense in this briefing. The local DOC representative briefed us that the course was looking superb and challenged us to go for the record.

I had a surprisingly good nights sleep and got picked up in the morning by Connor and Lucy, and set out to the start line at the control gates, feeling pretty relaxed. A last checkin with the officials we all gathered on the control gates excited, nervous and rearing to complete a lap of this beautiful part of Fiordland. I met up with victor at the start line and we set out together for the first few minutes, my time to broad bay (32 minutes) at the bottom of the hill was bang on a 07:30 finish. I had been chatting to a guy from Wanaka for most of the first section- funnily enough winging about the cost of houses. The hill climb starts fairly gently, and a few runnable sections, which I decided I would walk all the way to the tree line with a few jogs on the flat sections just to give the walking legs a break, I got passed by plenty of runners, but I still felt pretty happy about my pacing.

Just below the tree line I could hear the wind whipping through the tops of the trees, and the promised 50km/hr wind was well and truly blowing, it seemed to be in our faces for most of the way over the tops. I didn’t feel cold though, so I didn’t need to stop and put on any warm gear. The run up to Luxmore hut is a real gem, and has some great vistas of the lake down to Te Anau and across to the mountains in the west. I got to the hut in 01:46. A quick refuel and gear check at the hut and I was off. I decided to put my gloves on at this stage as I had them out of the bag anyway. One of the great things about doing to reccie run was that I knew that there was still about 500m of climbing to do before we started going back down again, and had saved my legs for what was to come. I started passing some of the uphill runners at this stage and got a burst of energy. Halfway up the first big climb past the hut, I came across Grant Guise (couple of top 10 hardrock finishes to his name) with a cowbell cranking obscenely loud music from a speaker and offering shots of tequila so we could warm up. I had real FOMO but decided against having a shot. Cecilia coming through plus a tequila shot

800BF144-FB78-48FB-9BDA-4B310EAA7EC0A couple more climbs and descents along the tops heading west with amazing views of the lake 1000m below us and great runnable tracks, we reached hanging valley shelter at 23km bang on a 07:30 split and still feeling very comfortable. Little did I know how quickly things can unravel. The Long descent to Iris Burn hut the halfway point, starts with a number of sets of stairs and that’s where the first hiccup of the race came, I had a big stumble and in my quick footing to not end up a heap on the side of the track I got a huge cramp in my right hamstring. I have had cramps numerous times in the past so I knew this could get very ugly very quickly. While I was stretching my cramp out Malcolm Law came flying past me looking very fresh. I spent a few minutes working on the cramp and soon set off again only to take 20 steps and be crippled by cramp again. The worry turned in to total disbelief that after all my hill training I was a wreck after 23km. I set out again, to tackle the 88 switchbacks to Iris Burn, only after taking a handful of salt tabs and numerous sprays from my trusty cramp spray bottle and smashing 2 gels (probably not very healthy but hey you got to do what you got to do). I started out pretty tentatively but soon my confidence was back and seemingly I was keeping the cramps at bay. I passed one runner and then another and started running well again. One runner even commented as I ran comfortably past him that he would “see me on the flats”probably a reference that I was going too hard, but I was in fact reeling it in compared to my descents on the training runs. With about 1 km to go to the aid station I stepped aside to let a runner through who was going about double my speed, as he passed me I had another stumble on a rock this time my other hamstring cramped and I spent the next few minutes in pain on the track. I repeated the “remedy” form the top of the hill and finally got going, rolling into the aid station on 07:30pace, and in 156th place. From here on in salt tabs were being eaten by the fistful and instead of spraying cramp stray I started drinking from the bottle (of course all tongue in cheek, but that’s what it felt like).

The next section to rocky point aid station was probably the best section of the race for me as I had no cramps and felt great and was running well within myself and passed Malcolm who was still looking good. At rocky point I was on approximately 07:25 splits the next two sections to Moturau hut at 45 km (145th place) and Rainbow reach at 50km (also 145th place) were progressively more difficult as the cramps returned with a bang and each time I ran a downhill or started pushing I ended up cramping up. Although I lost places while starching out cramp I seemed to make them up while I was moving, which was extremely frustrating as I was feeling great otherwise. The temperature really started cranking up as we left the shade of the bush at Moturau hut into the full sunlight. I started consuming more oranges and bananas at the aid stations as well as upping my electrolyte intake. The run along the lake manapouri down to the river is a great undulating trail in the lush Fiordland bush. One of the fantastic parts of the Kepler is the support from all the hikers on the track, many of which offered words of encouragement and claps and even on occasion organised war cry’s and chanting, it’s a real lift of the spirits when energy levels are low.

The aid stations start coming thick and fast towards the end when you really start needing them, from Rainbow reach to the end is about 10km with 2 aid stations between. I started throwing water onto my head as it was starting to get really hot. The cramps were coming thick and fast and I was loosing time. With about 2km to go I could hear the melodic tones of the announcer at the finish line wafting down the river, my hunger was growing to get this beast finished. Unfortunately my legs just wouldn’t play the game, having to stretch out another set of cramps. Suddenly I popped out of the bush and saw the control gates I knew that my 07:30 goal was over. I put in the obligatory burst of speed as I headed down the home strait while the announcer called me in. I crossed the line in 07:45 and some change and in 148th place a result that I was extremely happy with. A quick massage and a warm beer against doctors orders and I started feeling better.

A huge Congrats to Connor who put in a huge effort to finish in 07:10 a great effort. As well as Victor who finished in 08:47, who I know will be back to crack his 08:00 goal.

The back to back winner was Sam McCuutcheon bin a time of 04:49 outside of the course record set by Martin Dent. Ruby Muir crushed the woman’s field for her 5th win at the Kepler, less then 2 minutes outside of the course record. Ron’s nemesis from the Taniwha Cecilia Flori came in second.

My take home from this event is that my fitness was spot on for my goal, and my hard work during training had really paid off to set a 45min PB on the course. The homework about how not have my body reject me during these crazy adventures is in full swing and I’m looking forward to my next adventure with a cooperative body. I will be back to complete the loop around some of New Zealand’s finest landscapes in years to come. https://www.strava.com/activities/1298425597

I have committed to the ultra easy in January as my goal race for the season as I have some unfinished business on that course, and with a few changes to the course as well as adding 6km I can’t wait to line up. As well as the MEC Motatapu assault which a race which scares me, after doing a training run on the course. Unfortunately I don’t believe I will be joining Ron for the double Motatapu, NorthBurn back to back double, I just can’t seem to wrap my head around a miler just yet.

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Ready to start

Auckland Marathon 2017

With a reasonably long and to date unsuccessful Auckland Marathon history I was keen at some point to go head to head with the old girl and bury the demons. Previous attempts had ended in injury and a waddle to the finish in 3:54 in 2013, and a more spectacular crumble into an ambulance case at 40 km in 2014. Read Here. My PB was 3:42:01 at the Queenstown Marathon in 2015.

Hence with no ‘honest’ road marathon training and attempt to date Mike embraced my interest with enthusiasm when I proposed it to him a couple of months back and set me up with a training program.

I could only commit to 3 runs a week with a few things on. So the plan for each week: 1 long run, building up to 3 hours with some speed work; 1 workout (MEC Tuesday) and 1 easier run around 45- 60 mins.

The training came together pretty much as planned and included most of my long runs in the heat abroad. I also managed a couple of local beauties, notably a stormy outing up Castle rock with Sean and a tough last session with Mike and James around the domain. I was unable to enter the Onehunga half as planned so decided on a solo effort over the course pulling out a 1:35 which was an unofficial PB by 2 mins.

Things seemed to be tracking pretty good coming up to taper so I decided that my original main goal of a sub 3:30 would become my plan C. I was still pretty nervous about having a too aggressive race plan after my previous attempts and set my Plan A dream race pace for 4:50/kms, (3:24 race time), and my plan B to beat my partner in crime Evans PB of 3:27 (just quietly!). If I felt good on race day I would launch out at 4:50/kms and see if I could hold on.

I found myself up on race day early and more nervous anticipation than perhaps I had ever had in a race. It was good to catch up with Connor and James at the start line and have a warmup jog and a familiar face in a green singlet!

I settled into the race and was enjoying the beautiful morning and the good vibes of race day. The kms fell easily, I felt good and conditions were great with a cloudy day and light-moderate north easterly. I stuck to my plan of gels every 30 mins. It felt like I was holding back and struggled to not run faster than 4:50s, with a few splits in the first 20 kms faster than the race plan.

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Gels from my support team on Tamaki Drive

 As usual I was buoyed by the crowd support and of course the great turn out of MEC supporters. I caught Mike and Ron on Quay St outbound, and was starting to hit a bit of breeze blowing up the harbour. I mentally felt awesome, but the hammies were starting to feel a bit tired. I was in a pack of guys and spent a fair bit of time drafting behind some of them.

I ran a few hundred meters with Evan around Okahu bay who offered encouragement and enjoyed the company. Through this section I felt to maintain 4:50s was taking me to a higher effort threshold and I ran to feel and ran a few slower splits around the 4:55’s. I was aware in the back of my mind of mikes advice – let the race come to you – and I knew from experience you can feel like a million bucks at 30-35 km and be in world of hurt half an hour later.

One of the great things about Auckland is the out and back gives you the opportunity to see the leaders running inbound as well as your mates, and it was cool to see James on fire up with the speedsters (and Ruby Muir) and Connor not far behind.

At the turn I was pretty pumped to be out of the headwind and on the ‘home straight”. I increased my gel intake to 20 minute intervals and prepared for the private battle that I would inevitably endure and watched a few runners start to unravel around me. I was determined to not let the race slide away from me in the final reaches and held the pace to a minimum 4:50’s. The cheering faces of my family and familiar MECers were a great lift.

As I approached the last 5 kms including the spot where I unravelled last time I was working hard for my pace but was surprised how good I felt, and knew I had a bit in the tank still. I lifted the pace a bit to 4:30’s and knew that unless I was unlucky enough to have cramps I had this race in the bag.

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Feeling Strong (but not enough to stand up!)

I ended up with a good finish and final time of 3:24:30. My splits for first half were 1:42:31 and second 1:41:58 which I was pumped about. I was pretty ecstatic about the race result and stoked to finally settle the score. Thanks Mike for the plan and encouragement and all the rest of the crew for the support on the day. A road marathon raced at your best is a beautiful tension between triumph and tragedy, and it can easily go either way if you are giving it your all. I’m looking forward to taking the race fitness from here and getting back into the trails in the new year.

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With Connor at the finish line

Strava link Here

Maunga Man Prelude – Yosemite Vertical Km 2016

Prelude

As a warm-up to this years “vertical km” MEC Maunga man, I thought I would share my previous vertical KM run I did in Yosemite National Park last year, when visiting the states for a good friends wedding.

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The Classic view of Yosemite Valley at Sunset

Having achieved the primary goal of the visit; the exhilarating ascent of  ‘Half Dome’ (stay tuned for that adventures post), my climbing partner (Ryan) knackered and just the morning remaining till departure, we set a plan for a Car vs. Man race to the majestic Glacier Point. I would run the ‘4 Mile Hike’ trail straight up the valley wall, Ryan would drive the 60 miles out of the valley and back around. May the best man win.

4 Mile Hike

https://www.strava.com/activities/722224672

After the brief warm-up from the trail head the the valley wall, I quickly figured out that this Hike had only two pitches; Switch backs up the valley wall and then traverses around obstacles. Starting the climb looking west out of the valley you quickly rise up above the valley floor of cedar and pine. With each progressive switch back offering higher and higher elevated views of ‘El Capitan’ and the cathedral spires.

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Climbing out of Yosemite Valley – (El Capitan looking away from you on the Right)

With the steep pitch and stunning views, all I could muster was a fast hike up the climbs, sprinkled with jogging recoveries on anything resembling run-able. The view got better and better with each successive switch back, so this quickly went from a semi-serious attempt at a vertical km, to a good time photo taking adventure 🙂

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Nice.

Geology Corner

The bulk of the ascent was achieved in the first 6km of the trail at a fairly consistent 15% gradient of 150m/km. At this point you complete a traverse under a sheer cliff and turn to the south looking straight up the valley to reveal the imperilous Half Dome.

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The solid granite peak and sheer face of Half Dome (conquered the day before)

Fun Facts: The whole Yosemite valley was once the giant magma chamber of a super volcano. Over millennia this granite plug was lifted up to the surface where glaciers first  wore away the soil to reveal the granite and then brutally carve the valley shape that you see today. The half dome is smooth on top as the glaciers once flowed over the top grinding it smooth!

The day before, we had hiked 30km, reaching the dome and braving ‘The notorious half dome cables’  to ascend up the back of the solid granite dome and peer over the cliff, but that episode is for another day.

The view from the Top

Having broken the back of it, the last two kms you approach the busy ‘must see’ tourist stop of Glacier Point. The contrast of having run a deserted trail, to suddenly being spat out onto a tour bus lookout was quite confronting. You think, “Why don’t people bother to walk 100m down the track to unveil unique views with nobody around!”

In case you are wondering I won the race by 15 minutes. Wave after wave of tourists (dropped at the top) arrived taking enough time for their selfies before jumping back on the bus to go to their next stop…. So instead we jumped the fence, walked 50m down the point and found a spot sheltered from the wind where we soaked up the warm autumn sun. The view… was pretty darn good. We lingered for hours.

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The view from our spot on Glacier Point. 1km off the valley floor

Reluctantly, the time came to depart and drive back to San Fran so I could fly home a very satisfied adventurer.

Post Script

  • The vertical KM Maunga man will be tough! More hike than run me thinks.
  • Can’t wait!
  • If you like adventure in the outdoors, Yosemite is a must

Progression

Back in October 2005, my mate Craig Clark rang me two nights before the Auckland marathon asking if I wanted a free ticket to the race – I wasn’t a runner, and hadn’t done any training, but had been reasonable back in school.  I took up the offer not knowing the pain I was about to endure.  In fact, I didn’t have any idea as to the pain I was going to endure, even at the half way mark.  I think I ran through halfway around 1.45 or so, in relatively good spirits.  At the turnaround however, I experienced what is still to this day, the worst ever 10km journey of my life, crawling crawling inching.  See pic. I ended up finishing in 4 hours 35 mins.20x30-DFB1096

12 years and a number of marathons, ultras and halves later, I was sitting on the start line of the Auckland marathon again, with the aim of achieving what was becoming my biggest goal – beat 3 hours.

I left home after 5am, which was crazy when I think about it now, seeing as I had to uber, then catch the ferry, drop my bag and walk and warm up.  I made it to the start line with 10-15 mins to spare which I guess was ok but a small delay could have put me in jeopardy.  I lined up just behind the elites and was startled at the weight (or lack of) of the elites.  I reckon, being 77 kgs, they must carry about 20kg less than me, which reminded my of carrying my son on my shoulders.  Before I started, I had my future goal: drop at least 10 kgs.  My aim was to hold the same pace the whole way (4.08) while banking a couple of seconds before the bridge.  The gun went off and we all started.  I was astonished at the general pace and had to physically slow myself down to ensure I wasn’t banking too much time.  This was reallyheartening, with all the excitement, I felt the 4.08 pace was slow and totally manageable.  There are a couple of long slow downhills which I tried as hard as possible to use to conserve energy.  I was pretty stoked at km 10/11 that we turned onto the bus lane – I thought we were going up the back roads around Northcote, the old route.  This made the race quite a bit faster.  By the time the bridge came I was stoked to have banked 2 seconds and went into it sitting with an average of 4.06.  My goal was to make it to the top without pushing the overall average out to above 4.09 – and then gain the extra second going down.  I was totally stoked to find that by the top I had only lost one second without killing it.  I was sitting at 4.07.  That was the moment of the race I knew I was going to be ok – I had lots of supporters to come.  At Swashbucklers my wife, mum in law and two kids were there, then I saw my coach (who jumped on his bike, riding with me and telling me to lift my hips, no idea how to do that).  then I saw my sister, then Mike and the guys, it was a rolling maul.  At the turnaround, I thought I had a bit in me, perceived effort went up for sure, I thought I was definitely speeding up, but the average, still sitting at 4.07, just wasn’t budging.  Moving the dial at that stage in the race is so so difficult, it also gives you a lot of comfort that your not going to lose time too fast.  I came back into the city in total pain, trying to race with the top 3 women.  One of the only things I remember is Ron offering me a flat white 300ms before the end.  2 hours 55.127_m-100793183-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-2108_082846-12858163

I have been getting faster every year, without increasing the training.  The body must just get stronger with consistent training.  The thought of going backwards freaks me out.

much love MECer’s.

James