Tarawera Ultra, The Big One. The highlight of the MEC calender, the prized goal. When Mike forwarded the link to the early bird registration all those months back, I hadn’t thought too much about it but knew straight away I was going to be in. The FOMO of missing out last year and not being part of the pack wasn’t going to happen this time, and I figured if you’re going ultra you may as well go the whole hog and do the hundy.
Training had gone reasonably well, I was stoked to be injury free in particular. My general volume/frequency of training had been a bit lighter than I would have liked but a successful Westcoaster in December was a definite highlight and I did manage a handful of 30ish km runs including some beauties in Coromandel, San Fran, and LA.
There were a few glitches along the way, a crash and burn in the Auckland Marathon https://mendurance.wordpress.com/2014/11/04/auckland-marathon-attempt-2014/ but probably more so a bunch of confidence was lost when I missed the MEC Hillary Trail epic just prior to Christmas due to gastro. Feeling a bit like the water boy after missing out on this biggie (75+km) I knew I was well behind the pack – I would have to sort out a solo mission. I was happy to get connected with some trail junkies in LA who sent me on my merry way to the Santa Monica Mountains. It was no Hillary but a solo 9 hour and 60 km later with 2100m climb I felt mentally in a better place, although could still not imagine pushing to 100 km ! My issue with bad chaffage was rectified with a new pair of skins and a half marathon chafe test around Vancouver a couple of weeks before the event.
I was pretty excited to be on my first 100 km with such an awesome pack of lads and a big MEC turnout, the race was never far from my mind for the last couple of weeks. It felt like a huge unknown stretching out to 100 km and after seeing the carnage of the Hillary/the DNF of Auckland I was wary. Completion was definitely not a certainty. My strategy was simple:
1. Stick with Dave for as long as possible and take it very easy for first 60-70 km, walk all the hills and then if I had something left use it. Be wary of crashing and burning right at the end ! Don’t worry about time, this is only about completion. Mike said 13 + hours. So don’t expect to finish before that!
2. Don’t be sick or jetlagged in race day. Plan an easy week before and have the best sleep possible night before
3. Have gels not more than 45 mins apart, drink plenty (Water, not beers)
4. Scoff like a pig at the aid stations
5. Keep the mental tank full up on the joy and goodness of race day, stunning scenery, supporters, MEC camaraderie, and pacers.
The day started well after an awesome sleep thanks to Brent’s sleeping tablets. Brent was his usual pre- race frantic headless chicken in the morning which provided some great entertainment. I was carrying a carbo-loading-fuelled Big Bertha that refused to budge so was obviously jealous of lads successful visits to the bog pre race and I hoped Bertha would not come unstuck at an unhelpful time.
It was epic to arrive and see the lads at the start. The new MEC green shirts looked swell. I was frothing as we kicked off some way down the field – pace was determined by the pack as the track narrowed through the bush. There was plenty of banter amongst the MEC brothers, particularly on the highly disappointing colour of Todds shirt. (black? What’s with that?) Once the field thinned a bit I was happy for Dave’s insistence on not pushing and sticking to the plan.
The course was stunning and I only felt good vibes as the kms fell easily. We headed up the track after Millar Rd and Sean was having some issues walking the hills with his knee but apparently not running so he suddenly disappeared like a mountain goat racing up the track never to be seen again. Once we started coming down the hill into Okataina at 37 km I relaxed the legs and let the pace go a little more. I arrived into Okataina to a large contingent of extended family support including Elysia with young James which was epic. I hung around scoffing my face, replenishing my supplies and generally sticking around way to long enjoying the festive atmosphere.
Dave and I were staying together as we launched into the next section to Humphries Bay and Tarawera Outlet. As warned this section was very slow with lots of up and downs over rooty rocky ground. We plugged away I started to lose some of the previous high as kms fell with much more of a fight. Perhaps it was the knowing that we had not even reached half way that yet that got me down a bit. The mental dark clouds cleared considerably as the trail improved underfoot and gave way to beautiful vistas over Lake Tarawera and the mountain behind. I stayed as long as necessary to replenish at the outlet and pushed on, the good times were back and I relished in the beauty of running beside the river and into the Tarawera Falls. It was awesome to arrive at the Tarawera Falls with all the excitement of the 60 km finish and have a boost of encouragement from the supporters that were there. I had been there for a few minutes when Dave arrived and we decided to part ways and run our own race. Dave mentioned before parting that we “only had a marathon left and man, we’ve got this bro” and I headed down the forest roads to Totoki knowing I only had a solo 10 before hitting my pacer at 70km. Mentally I was in a great place. A slightly tweaky knee got me concerned for a few kms then passed, and I gradually started to overtake a few other runners.
I arrived in Titoki with loads of self belief feeling fatigued but happy knowing I had pacers by my side to get me through the great unknown of the final 30km. Dad (at 67 yo) was my first pacer and an absolute trooper as he launched out of Titoki with some enthusiasm. While we sweated our way up to Awaroa he kept me distracted with epic tales of woe and winning on the Oxfam 100 km and how we were going to pick off the field in the last 30 km. The Big Bertha kindly dislodged herself just prior to the loop of despair. By this stage I was feeling a bit nauseous and unable to eat. Thankfully I managed to keep gels down. There was some carnage at the Awaroa aid station including a woman wailing with despair and water supplies had temporarily run out. I was happy to feel mentally good but physically the long climb up to Awaroa and the loop itself took its toll, and I was concerned about not having any food.
The nausea faded a bit as I left Awaroa and I was stoked to have something left to run the flat and downhill trails, and I gradually picked off places as we continued on. Fisherman’s Bridge arrived and Matt my brother was there to tag Dad out and run with me for the last 10 km. Dad wouldn’t have a bar of it despite already running 20km and stayed with me. Flanked by the Shanks clan was a real treat. They followed my gruff commands to slow down or speed up. We arrived at the last ‘pink’ aid station to Elysia frolicking through the woods doing the cancan in bright pink accessories and I was nothing shirt of ecstatic, only 5 kms to go, and Dad checked out after a solid 25 km support. I set out and felt like I was flying (ok sub 6 min/ kms feels like flying when you’ve done 95!).
It was only overwhelming joy and gooodness I felt despite a tired body as I ran those last miles into the finish, following the Kawarau river. I picked off at least a half dozen runners and having the MEC clan and supporters cheer me down the chute with my bro by my side was wild. I finished in the fading light with an official time of 14:38, which I was happy with for my first 100 km.
1. I aimed to start slow and was adamant to avoid the DNF so was stoked to finish. Because of the unknown distance for me I maintained a relatively conservative approach throughout but next time would keep things moving a bit faster, especially in last 40.
2. Was happy to finish ‘strong’, I had no one overtake me since 60 km mark (unless they did it in the aid station) and the mental lift of picking up places was great. Brent’s got a great race data analysis here https://mendurance.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/tum-2015-data-geeking-analysis/
3. I was a bit surprised to never mentally enter a particularly dark place, in my 60 km in Santa Monica hills I felt mentally in a more difficult place. I put this mainly down to the last 3 hours running in the dark solo abroad compared with the beautiful goodness of the course, race day and supporters, camaraderie.
4. I had no issues with injury, sickness, chaffage etc. The nutrition plan of stuff my face seemed to work well
5. I spent ages at each aid station, a bit too long. A large part of this was my focus on eating, my current racepack has no access to food without taking pack off so did not eat at all between stations, except for gels. For my next ultra (did I say that?) I want a racepack that I can access food while on the go. And spend less time chewing the fat with supporters and soaking up that epic atmosphere at those aid stations! although that was one of my highlights
6. From pre race feast at Daves place to the post race meet up on Sunday the highlight for me was to go through the pain and glory with such at top bunch of lads, and all the months of training. Dave was a legend to run alongside for the bulk of the run. The support from Elysia and the rest if the mob (and the ridiculous enthusiasm of Toddy at the aid stations) was epic. Dad and Matt were legends to finish the race with. Thanks Mike for encouraging me to do the full 100 km, it always seemed like an unattainable goal until I did it. And I have to say Paul and the organisers of the TUM put on an exceptional event with a great vibe.
Here’s the strava link https://www.strava.com/activities/252273800
If you want to see more photos of the scenery enroute check out the other fellas blogs. Well done for getting through my ultra-length race report, you know me, never short of words. Cheers! Thom