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.
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
A 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.