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.

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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

The Taniwha. Nice.

Hello Dad and Mike and interweb denizens, yes it’s been a while since I posted anything about running.

Soon after the last event I entered in February this year (the Tarawera relay with Mike) I suffered a rude reminder of middle age with what turned out to be a herniated disc. Unlike previous lower back spasm type incidents this also came with sciatica (nerve pain). Luckily being in my mid-forties I had sense enough to seek treatment. Not so luckily, this did sweet nothing after 3-4 months after following professional advice. Plan-B, Google my way out of it (and listen to my wife).

Solution was some McKenzie exercises and completely giving up the bike, any bike, all bikes. Though turns out running was a non-issue. Just to be sure I adjusted my running pose a little and made sure even slow runs were +180 cadence to keep it super low impact. Increasing running volume week on week had nil effect. Pain diminishing, mobility increasing. Runner reborn.

Those long, long days of not running gave some reflection of what I really wanted to do. Run fast or run long? Long won out, but with some concessions (PB’s in 5, 10, 21, 42, 50, 160km – lacking road stuff I’ve got a pretty soft history). So I entered Northburn again with the option of the TUM 100M when it opens. Turns out the TUM 100M requires a +50km trail qualifying criteria. Hence the Taniwha, a proper distance back recovery test and a TUM qualifier (the Italy sojourn put all my official trail stuff outside the time frame).

All I knew about the Taniwha was that it was a Total Sport event (good vibes and beer at the end) and the Waikato River trails were part of a MTB route. Figured my training was getting back on track and the course didn’t look so difficult as to target a 5:30 race pace. Turns out I’d mistaken the Waikato River trails for a more general family ‘bike trail’ which they are not. Instead they are sections of fantastic MTB single-track linked by forestry tracks and the odd road section.

The weather forecast in the lead-up was consistent – intermittent hosing rain but warm. Having bought a ticket to camp at the finish line, I opted not to have to get up 4:30am and pack up a wet tent in the dark and instead borrowed a friend’s car and slept in the boot (station wagon). Love that car’s window awnings. And my goodness, the location of that campground at the finish is spectacular and needs a post-event overnight stay with friends next time.

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View from the boot of the car

I’ve been fooling round with a power running meter for the last month or so and decided on a full experimental approach to the Taniwha. Calculate what pace I reckon I can sustain on the flat for ~6hrs translate that to power and let that guide my efforts irrespective of terrain. So I chose a pace of 5:30min/km looking at the course profile and previous finishing times. I made power adjustments for pack weight (water, food, and walk-out clothing options), but didn’t fully comprehend the running conditions. The Stryd power meter estimates running power via weight, gradient, and a fancy accelerometer. External resistance like mud and wind don’t factor at all. And there was a lot of mud.

Haven’t really delved into the details but figure the power readings I was following were underestimating my true output. Given that I was only looking at power, not pace, not heart rate, and actively suppressing perceived exertion guidance, there was a bit of chance at play. No better way to learn than an opportunity to fail I figure.

The Taniwha itself was great. The finish-line campsite and bus options meant I just had to get up at 0500 get changed, eat, drive 700 metres to the bus and then get ferried to the start line. Given the wet and warm conditions I opted to get wet in light merino without a rain jacket. Worked well, I may as well have been swimming at times, soaked as I was, but having applied antichafe everywhere so no worries.

Given my slavish commitment to following power numbers alone I found myself out front at the get go. I hate being in front. Fortunately I soon had company with Anthony Hancy (Ants), who was great. Chatting about family, house maintenance, training (and lack of), we were wizzing along. The pattern soon became established, I’d keep an even effort up the hills (ie. slow) and he’d pull away, then I’d catch him on the downs. The first down was a doozy, endless swtichbacks in sketchy mud.

The first 30km felt pretty effortless, though I was noting the sections of mud and snaking MTB singletrack weren’t quite what I was expecting (I’m thinking sections of Riverhead Xterra here). And the hills were a bit more biting given a lack of hill training. I was loving the muddy downhill’s doing my best flowing single speeder impression without a bike. Ants and I disconnected at some point round the 25km(?) mark so I was by myself again… though I did have a stick insect drop in for a bit. I carefully placed him/her on colour matched foliage before moving on.

The mud went on and on and on, fun but sapping. Energy levels were still excellent though my right hammy was starting to complain, given that’s my sciatica side I initially had concerns it was connected. It wasn’t, though I had to ease up all the same. Hit the road section that signaled the end of the bigger climbs of the day so just had to cruise out for the last 20km. Then the wheels came off. Energy crashed, cramp management engaged. Left leg in solidarity with right. Super-cruise button didn’t work.

Got passed by the huge smile of Cecilia Flori around the 42km mark who’d been the shadow I’d been feeling all day. Given her form I’m guessing she could have passed us anytime she pleased, though it turns out Ants is the [solid] course record holder so she was in observation mode till he dropped off (fortunately for us his training schedule got replaced by new house fencing and maintenance). I didn’t try to latch on or keep in contact, it was pure damage control from thereon.

Pity I was internally focused for that last 20km cos they really seemed rather nice, flowing scenic trail and all. However cramp spasms left & right quads/hammies/calves were a bit distracting. After the last 6km of stupendous sketchy mud a slight climb into the carpark ~500m from the finish I came to a complete stop in a pseudo-Half Foster (Crawling to the finish line: why do endurance runners collapse?).  Luckily it was only a temporary seizure, and the hobble turned walk, turned gammy jog. Thanks for the pick-up Steve.

And the result? I ran the event at precisely my estimated pace of 5:30min/km, qualified for the TUM (volunteering aside), and came in first male finisher. A mere 17min behind an in-form-quality-runner. While I came in at exactly the target pace without ever looking at pace on the watch, it wasn’t the even-Stevens result I was looking for. Though I did run the climbs slower that I might have otherwise, the overall energy output must have been way high to collapse and still get the desired finish time. Excellent learning from a successful failure I’d say.

Yes I underestimated the Taniwha in the glorious mud. Is it a fast trail 60km? It can be. Will it be easy? Nope. Would I do it again? Absolutely. Am I going to bring company? Yep.

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