Tarawera v6 2015

Just about didn’t make this one. And I usually have a good go at not making it, so that’s saying something!

Training Summary: Did 23k of actual running in the last 6 weeks. Got some reasonable vertical covered with all the hill hiking I was doing.

Details of previous 10 week’s training totals (see if you can spot where I got injured):

Week 0 – 9.3k, Week 1 – 10k, Week 2 – 14k, Week 3 – 37k

Week 4 -28.5k, Week 5- 30.9k,  Week 6 – 28.3k, Week 7- 86k

Week 8 – 60.5k, Week 9 – 37k, Week 10 – 69.9k

So, I actually sent out an email the week prior to the race when I was convinced it was over for me. No pain free runs since Dec 20. All my usual tricks at speeding recovery had been to no avail. My thoughts switched to how I could recover rather than how I could race.

But I had a painfree walk run with Ron on Tuesday, repeated it with a 3.5k run walk home and thought – I’ve got to give it a go. No way I was missing the race if there was any chance, even a small one that I could take part. So it was great to be down in Rotorua with our biggest MEC contingent ever. We had a fantastic pre-event pasta party at Dave and Evan’s family bach. It was a cool family occasion (and thanks guys for the great pressie).

Team Green ready for a good day's running
Team Green ready for a good day’s running

Race day was as predicted: Cool start (approx 8 degrees) but low winds and mod-warm temps in the afternoon (officially 22 in town). We all met up for the pre-race festivities and I was delighted to be in fine company for the first leg, going out at an easy pace with Dave, Todd, Sean and Thom. We were probably 2/3 of the way back and there was plenty of unavoidable walking in the first 5km. This suited me just fine. That meant no temptation to run on my legs that hadn’t run for more than 6k at a stretch in the last 7 weeks. We had a glorious time laughing our way through the redwood forest and down to Tikitapu. We got in to the Blue Lake aid 30 minutes after Ron and 15 minutes back on Caleb and Brent. I was pumped – no pain in the calf, and the day was looking like it might come together.

We made our way down to Okareka aid station and shortly after our party of five were split. Todd and I were moving faster and got a gap on the other three. I was getting more confident in my calf by the time we left the Miller road Aid station at 21k, and was running more freely on the leg. Over to Okataina we ran together well, catching heaps of people and only stopping occasionally for me to stretch or knead the calf when it felt tight. The downhill to Okataina felt good, and I rolled ahead of Todd who was feeling pretty sore by now. I finished the leg just under 2:17 (over 20 minutes slower than last year). I felt fresh and took on supplies at the aid station before heading out.

Leg 3 was where I really let the brakes off. I was pretty sure my calf would hold for the day, and so started to run my natural pace. I noticed that my heart rate was 10 beats or so higher than I would have expected for the effort, but put that down to the nerves of the big day. I steadily caught group after group (sometimes getting stuck behind for a while on the snaking singletrack) as I made it my goal to reel in Caleb and Brent who had started the leg about 13 minutes ahead of me.

As I ran over the hill to Humphries Bay, a MTBer commented on my singlet and said he had seen a couple of guys in that singlet not too many minutes before. Encouraged by the sense of progress, I kept pushing along. I made it to the Tarawera Falls aid in 7:30 – about 30 minutes slower than 2012, but that was all from the first 2 legs. My watch had frozen on leg 3 so I re-started it at the aid station, filled my bottle and my hat with ice and went into the forestry road section.It wasn’t long before I was caught by Caleb and Brent. I had actually passed them while Brent took a pit-stop, so I waited and we ran as a threesome for a bit. I was feeling good. I had eaten well, and wasn’t too sore. I ended up pulling ahead and so said my goodbyes.

My technology was not aiding my ambition. My watch had 3 meltdowns, and on this part of the trail I became aware that my mp3 player wasn’t gonna work either. That was a bit of a blow, as it was meant to focus and lift me through the last 30-40k.

The scenery is pretty, running form... not so much
The scenery is pretty, running form… not so much

But I wound into Titoki aid still feeling good and making progress. Then it got real. Real hard. My body remembered its lack of training and around the 75k mark I started to slow, feeling tired and sore. The Awaroa loop was tough, I moved OK on the steep uphill, but it was very very sore going down. The heel inserts that had taken the pressure off my calf, had re-allocated it to knees and they cried out in protest. I went from catching up to seeing people pull away, and then getting caught myself. I still had 20k to go and it was a struggle to run at all (interestingly walking was quite fine – unlike meltdowns in 2010 and 2011). I heard a yell and Caleb was roaring down the hill to me. He slowed to talk for a minute and then sped off. I wished him well, so good to see him finish like that, but I took a mental dive as his smart race approach contrasted with mine and I saw my race unravelling at the end. Oh! The beginners error! Made on my 6th TUM, I should have known better. I castigated myself for my foolish leg 3 antics, and questioned my sense in running 100k on such unprepared legs. The self criticism of course made me feel so much better. And I began to walk with a dark grey cloud around me.

I tried to keep myself honest. I stopped and stretched my quads to take the pressure off the knees. I felt a bit freer and ran for a while before the pain took me down again. The aid stations would give a similar, fleeting boost. I was just relieved to see the kms tick over as I pulled into Fishermans bridge at 90k. Dad was there – his impeccable crewing had got me through all day. Every aid station he would give me splits and info and ask what I needed. I no longer need cooling as my speed had reduced. But he was able to pass me my iphone and I plugged that in for the final 10k to the finish.

Not sure if it was just having 10k to go, or the music or what, but I was able to lift into a slow shuffle for the rest of the journey. I actually caught a few people who had taken me earlier. The pain was still there, but was more background now and I made much faster progress. This was better.I crossed the bridge over Tarawera River with about 2k to go, I didn’t really have much more to give this time and I just chugged in over the fields. It was quite emotional getting to the finish line after being in pain and a bit down for a wee while. Heidi was itching to run with me, which made my day, so we held hands and ran the chute together, stopping the clock at 12:16.

Q.E.D. Not quite.
Q.E.D. Not quite.

Brief Reflections:

Nutrition – ate well, did my gels on the half hour plus aid station food.

Hydration – drank water to thirst and felt fine.

Pacing – Started spot on, but worked too hard on leg 2 and especially leg 3.

Preparation – Minimal, and again the ultra had to teach me not to underestimate how much it will require of you.

Philosophical Reflections:

I think because I so love the experience of testing oneself and experiencing the natural environment, I can forget how hard these ultras are. This sometimes leads to me not counting the full cost (until the race day, whereby I will pay the cost, oh yes). I will try to remember this because it feels SO much better to finish strong (even if you are sore) then to self-destruct along the way. What I love about this sport is that anyone can have the perfect race – it’s not about finishing first, it’s about delivering your best performance in all areas on the day. I had three great performances 2012-14 where I squeezed the best race out of my self I could, and I’m gonna make sure I have some more.

But, how crazy is it that I was even able to run? 1 week before I would have been happy to run 10k, and would not have expected to complete this event. So I’m gonna be grateful for my own little on-the-trail miracle recovery. As I said to the guys, what I really love is getting to share this whole thing with friends and family – having the competition and the comradery. And that’s what we did – 8 MECers with whanau in tow took on the Tarawera. Look out for Team Green next year!


One thought on “Tarawera v6 2015

  1. Great read mate. Unbelievable comeback from no running to smashing a hundy! You must have been moving out from Okataina through to Tarawera Falls to pull me & Caleb back in 13 mins as, while not going full out, we weren’t mucking around either (we picked up 42 places on that leg ourselves).

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