The Great Kauri Cranleigh Run – 2017

You know when you get 3/4 through a race & find yourself still really enjoying yourself that it’s been a great day out. To be fair, 10 minutes later I was yelling my head off from agonising cramps. But hey, you’ve got to focus on the positives – at least I wasn’t vomiting too.

When Thom suggested a weekend away for this run down in the Coromandel I thought why not. Training had been pretty sparse, but there was plenty of time to get into shape and it was sure to be a fantastic run. 32km, ~1200m of elevation, panoramic views & a heap of beautiful Coro bush trail. Sounds epic.

The “get into shape” part never really happened. With work, projects & family life all being flat out, something had to give … and it was the training. I’d pulled back to the bare minimum of generally 1 run a week – maybe averaging around 15km/wk for the past few months. The one potential redeeming factor is most of that limited training was hill work.

My general race plan on the way down to the race was to take it real easy, try not to blow up & maybe just maybe (hah! Yeah right) have something left for the technical section & big downhill at the end. Thom quickly pointed out that I’ve pretty much never had a race go like that, and he would put money on this not being the first.

Sure enough, Thom the Seer proved correct, and arriving at the start line I threw out the conservative approach & decided on a new race plan. With 2km of beach going onto single trail, I was worried if I took the start too easy I’d seed well back in the field & spend the next hour burning lots of energy trying to pass people on single trail. So new plan: start faster, but not too fast & try seed near the front. Once we got onto the trails, run completely to feel & try to be at least a little bit sensible – especially conservative on anything steep. And then hope like hell I didn’t blow up with 15km still to go.

We set of down the 2km beach section at a reasonably comfortable pace around 4:30’s/km. I paced myself just off the lead bunch, settling in about 20m behind Sean. Coming off the beach you have a beautiful few km of winding bush trails with 4 or 5 stream crossings, and a runnable hill climb through the first 50-odd metres of elevation. I felt I was taking it reasonably easy, but still hanging with a bunch of guys in 3-7th (Chris Morrissey & one other had vanished as soon as we got off the beach). The going got tougher & we pulled back to a hike & ground out a steep climb eventually pushing out of the bush up at the first trig point @ ~7km mark, 350m above where we started. I’d shuffled a few places, but was sitting around about 5th with Sean in sight about 100m ahead in 3rd.

18449578_1643600842346634_2046979307073287929_o
Stream crossing at the end of the beach. 2km in. No point in trying to keep the shoes dry!

The next section involved repeated steep downhills, followed by steep uphills – starting over pasture, and moving onto a quad trail through the bush. The uphills we ruthless – I remember seeing the grade break 40% a number of times – and I decided it was time to pull back or suffer the consequences of trying to keep with the others. So I let the guys ahead disappear, shortened my stride on the climbs, walk more hills & tried to not bomb the downhills too hard.

I felt like this slightly more defensive strategy (as far as protecting the body goes) seemed to be working quite well until at the 13km mark I half tripped on a gorse bush that surprised me lying across the track, resulting in sharp spasms of cram with both calf’s locking up. Oh dear. Not even half way through. This could go terribly wrong. However I had been in similar positions before & knew at this stage it was more of a warning sign than anything too debilitating & could be managed. So I set off again, having lost 1 position (chick’d), started popping electrolyte tabs, cramp spray, & anything else I could think of to hold things at bay.

Everything went pretty smoothly through to the next aid station & the following next 6-7km was a beautiful ridge line bush run, completely runnable along a quad track with interspersed epic vistas of the east and west coasts of the Coromandel.  I held strong pace through this section but saw no one, eventually coming out at Kennedy Bay Rd. I was pretty stoked at this point. I was 3/4 through the race, had felt great the whole run so far & was really enjoying myself. My nutrition was, for once, going to plan. Staying off solid food & a less aggressive fueling approach of a gel every 40 mins with a roughly 1/3rd mix of electrolyte drink to water in my bottle was seeming to do the trick & I’d had no sign of nausea, or any ‘low points’ on the energy front.

However I’d known the whole race that this next section was going to be the real test. A steep climb, followed by a heavy technical steep up & down section (mostly up) on fatigued legs that hadn’t been this long or high in a long time. The first steep climb (~130m up) went great, I felt strong with lots of energy & tried not to fall into the trap of slamming my legs. However as I crested & entered a steep technical downhill the cramp finally bit hard. I’d been looking forward to this section the whole run, so it was a bit disappointing (not to mention immensely painful) to have my calfs, quads & hammies taking turns, or often all at once, going into full blown cramp lock down.

Stretching out was doing nothing, and was often impossible as both quad & hammy were cramping at the same time, so to stretch one was to fire off the other worse. In the end I had to just try & hobble/shuffle/walk with the cramp still in full swing. It must have looked pretty funny (not to mention often yelling my head off), my foot would often stick out a funny angle as even my shin muscle would cramp. But standing around wasn’t working so I gritted teeth & began to force myself forward.

This went on for a couple of nasty km over the next half hour. I was resigned for a slow & painful slog out to the finish when I summited at the last high point – the Kaipawa Trig and beginning the 560m descent over the last 7km ahead of me back to sea level. Miraculously I’d only dropped 1 place (chick’d again) through this ordeal – I guess a good place to blow up is in a highly technical section where everyone is going slow anyway – I’ll have to keep that in mind for future races.

20170513_132529 (1)
Gotta stop for cramp anyway so might as well take a photo.  Finish line in the distance a long way down. Managed to half remove the grimace for the second it took to take the photo 🙂

Through this section I had been noticing that the cramp seemed to be more to do with climbing than downhills, and as I got into the descent, I was relieved to feel the cramp letting go more & more – finally managing to string more than a stride or two together at a time. I was soon ambling along, shortly after running freely, shortly after bombing down the windy, often slippery track – more concerned with careening off a cliff than with muscle seizure. Surprisingly I managed to hold this all the way back to town, only starting to see signs of the cramp when things flattened out on the 2km road run back into town.

I could see there was no one for a long way either in front or behind so I opted for as conservative an approach to the finish as I could bring myself to. I knew the only thing that could cost me a position would be pushing too hard & having to stop to stretch out cramp – so I ran to feel & each time I felt the cramp building I would drop back another 10-20sec/km until I found a pace I could hold.

Seeing the wifey who had lined up a couple of excited toddlers for me to run in the last 100m was a nice boost at the end (despite firing off a hammy cramp trying to pick one up) and I crossed the line in 7th place (5th guy) in 3hr 27m. Overall I was pretty stoked with how the run had gone. I was about as unprepared as I felt I could be for it, and despite wishing the cramp held out for 2 more km at the top of that hill, it couldn’t have really gone much better in the circumstances. I knew I was pushing the line as to what the body would manage so to not blow up earlier was a good outcome. Aside from the obvious, it was a really enjoyable day out. The scenery was magic, the trails (especially the bush single track sections) were awesome & I felt really good throughout the run.

Congrats to Sean who ran really strongly & took out 3rd in 3hr 03 Awesome effort. Also to Thom who battled it out to finish in 4hr 28 despite also having a average lead up, and his old man Alistair who was only 1 minute off taking out the 60+yo ‘Classic Men’ section in 5hr 02 – his favourite line about the trail “why do you keep calling it technical? It’s just bush trail.”

Finally a big thanks to the organisers of the run. They’d obviously done a lot of work on parts of the course for the race. Everything was really well run, everyone was really friendly, the course marking was great and all proceeds from the run go to adding to the 3000+ Kauri trees they’ve already planted along the trail over the past 12 years they have been running it. A great initiative.

Full results here.
Strava link here.

Advertisements

Tarawera Ultra C̶h̶u̶n̶d̶e̶r̶t̶h̶o̶n̶ Marathon 2016

For some reason every year I run this race I spew. Seriously – check my previous race reports – TL;DR? They go like this: feel good, feel good, feel average, feel horrific x 5, spew & then feel good – finishing strong. I was sure my 3rd effort in 2016 would be different. Boy was I wrong.

2015 had been a really strong year for the first two thirds. I had a > 12 month period of injury free uninterrupted training, and made some good gains in the pace department, setting PB’s for 5km (18:16)10km (37:12) and half marathon (1:23:19).

However just over a month out from attempting my first road marathon @ Auckland things went pear shaped. I picked up some niggles which hampered the last 6-odd weeks there (I picked up a reasonable time, just missing my 3hr goal @ 3:05:18 after bombing the last 10km), and they got worse as the year ended up.

Between that & a crazy busy life with other commitments, training was definitely very sparse heading into Tarawera 2016, averaging just over 30km/wk for the 11 weeks prior, fitting in only 1 long run (50km) during that time. I tried to focus mainly on shorter hill training sessions which kept under the ‘injury threshold’, but in the weeks prior it was obvious I was majorly underdone. Heading into the race, cranking out the physio I put aside thoughts of pulling out & decided to just run it anyway.

The race plan was simple: take it really slow at the start & try grind one out to the finish. I set a rough goal around 13.5hrs, figuring adding an hour to last year should be about right if I could avoid the nausea that crippled me last year around Titoki.

Game On!
Game On!

The morning started much as expected. I joined up with Thom & Evan, to start with but ended up drifting away as I determined to stay well within myself, but 100% run my own race. Being quite far back in the field, the course was quite muddy in the rain and traction in my heavily worn Leadville’s was a real issue. I’d opted for the safe bet as far as my niggly lower calf was concerned, but it was at a real tradeoff for grip from the trail shoes. This caused me a reasonable amount of concern over the first few legs, as I knew I was exerting more pressure on muscles that I would have liked, trying to stay upright & not regularly bail.

Coming through Lake Okereka & seeing the family was a great little lift, and I pushed forward to the Okataina trail, briefly seeing Thom & Evan as I left the Millar Road aid station. I felt I was taking it really easy & had visions of being able to lift the tempo come Tarawera Falls. The trail to Okataina passed uneventfully although the body was definitely starting to feel quite weary, and I knew the leg through Humpheries & The Outlet would be a killer.

Feeling Good @ Okereka
Feeling Good @ Okereka

This leg is one of my favourites with beautiful scenery and windy trails, but there’s not doubt – you don’t pass through without paying the tax man. And this year I paid in full. About half way to Humpheries Bay my quads pretty much blew and heavy cramp started to kick in. And the nausea. The forsaken nausea. The scenery often helped to distract, but I was regularly reduced to stopping with fully locked quads, kneeling down trying to get them to release.

As Thom & Evan caught & passed me just out of Humpheries, there was nothing I could do but wave them on, wishing them the best. I was in the hurt locker, and with over 50k’s still to go, dealing with a serious onslaught of doubt. The crew through here (as with the whole course) were amazing & I just counted down the k’s to each aid station. Kristy offered some much appreciated words of encouragement at the Outlet & I pushed on toward Tarawera Falls with a serious decision to make … bail or man up? I was still hurting bad with the cramp, and feeling very grim with nausea which had plagued me for the last couple of hours.

In the end there was only 1 real option. I hadn’t come all the way down to bail out because I was sore (no kidding – it’s an ultra), and one of my big goals of the day was to run the finish chute with my little 2yo Sam – who just loves running.

Another 40? How hard can it be?
Another 40? How hard can it be?

I tried chowing a good amount of food at the falls to see if I could get the cramp to release. Bad idea. Nausea kicked in even harder & I bottomed out, forced to walk for the next hour or so until a kind soul offered me a ginger lolly which actually seemed to help some. I determined about half way to Titoki I was going left at the turnoff. I could still finish with Sammy having done 85km. I promised myself. “Sometimes your body just isn’t up to it” I told myself.

I lied.

To be fair I stood at the turnoff for a good 2 minutes, but fate would have it I had Rage Against The Machine blaring rebellious tunes at the time and with the Titoki crew egging me to go right, I plunged across the mat towards Awaroa, knowing there was no turning back from that point. It was actually like a bit of a weight lifted and I felt on a bit of a high pretty much all the way to Awaroa, knowing I was going to finish the race.

Pushing up the loop of despair wasn’t too drastic. Coming down was another story. Downhills were a world of hurt & often I had to experiment with going straight down, going sideways, walking backwards … anything to get the quads to not lock up & reach the bottom. If it wasn’t rough gravel I’d have probably tried rolling down.

Coming out of Awaroa for the last time, I decided I’d had enough. I’d been battling nausea for over 40km / 5.5hrs now & it was time to try something new. So on the side of the road, 88.6km in I embraced thoughts of smashing another gel & the vomit came. Out came completely undigested fresh plums from Tarawera Falls. Seriously – you could have washed them off & put them back in the bowl. I’m not a quiet vomiter either – much to the delight of my fellow contestants passing me by who release a stream of ‘encouraging’ comments.

Turns out it’s the best thing I could have done. Instantly I felt better. I managed to get a gel in me, and some water. The cramp was still heavy, but it was like my body was getting nutrition again, and I managed to push hard & pretty much run non stop from there to the end, passing a steady stream of people. It was approaching dark and I was big time motivated to get in before my boy had to go to bed – that and the idea of trail running at night without a head torch.

I ended up running the last few trail sections in the dark anyway, guided by the glow sticks & keeping my feet high to avoid face planting just before the finish. Coming out onto the fields I picked up a couple of last minute places and with a few hundred metres to go saw the delighted faces of my lovely wife & absolutely ecstatic son, complete with his official pacer number pinned to his singlet.

We raced the finish chute hand in hand, Sam waving to the cheering crowd much to their (and my) delight. I couldn’t have hoped for a cooler finish – the effort was totally worth that moment.

A big day for a little pacer
A big day for a little pacer

2016 was definitely an interesting race. My final time was 14:49:30, finishing 174/316 finishers. I’ve never had to grind it out like that before. I’ve never had to come in that far back in the field before either, seeing all my comrades disappear over the horizon. Also 15hr’s largely solo with no crew in the field leaves a lot of time to spend in your own head. It was definitely a different game mentally, however it’s kind of satisfying to have experienced a different kind of race, & I’m stoked to have still come away with the finish.

While it’s not the hardest run I’ve done (2014’s Ruapehu loop keeps that mantle), it’s definitely the worst condition I’ve been post-race. I was up most of the night feeling very ill, vomiting black sludge from an empty stomach around 3am (still have no idea what that was!). I didn’t really start to eat properly again a good 24 hours after finishing, and probably was the morning after that I finally got my appetite back. Carnage!

Smashed it!Learnings? I really need to figure out how to get my nutrition sorted & crack the Tarawera nausea curse. If it happens again though, I’m forcing myself to vomit early (and often if required). Even if it means a finger down the throat. It’s just not worth trying to hang in there.

Massive thanks to my wife who waited about 4-5hrs in the rain at the finish line with 2 kids very young kids to allow my magic moment at the finish line. She completed an ultra of her own that day. Huge congrats to my mate Phil Needham too who finished his first 60km ultra despite only ever having a longest run of 30ish km max (pacing me the year before) & getting minimal training in prior due to a dodgy knee – what an inspiring effort! And finally big up’s to all the MEC boys. Legends. (Some epic efforts in there too – Thom cleaning a good hour off his PB, and Evan chopping his first hundy like he was just out for a casual one).

Strava link here.

Xterra Shakespear 2015

Shakespear is always a favorite race of mine, and I was stoked to manage to make it again this year for the 3rd year running. My lead up had been reasonably good – I’ve been relatively injury free this year, although fitting regular training in around a very busy work & family schedule has been a challenge.

This year the course had been modified with the 2nd coastal section being replaced with a hill climb & farm downhill as well as a bush section on the ‘tiri tiri track’ being added near the end. My race plan this year was to try & stay near the front, but not at the expense of pushing too hard through the initial hill climb & bush section down to Army Bay. The technical stuff over the rocks has always been a strength of mine so that’s where I wanted to make some serious gains, while trying to avoid running out of gas for some of the hills in the 2nd half like I did last year.

It was great to see the boys with a strong M.E.C turnout with Dave, Evan, Ron, Todd and myself all lining up to run the super long.

The race started fast as it tends to, with the usual bolters out front. I seeded myself near the front & kept pace with Ron as we climbed the first hills. I felt the cardio workout kicking in near the top of the hills so backed things off a little, letting Ron & a half dozen others break away.

"Team Green" at the start. (Photo stolen from Steve Neary's Strava :))
“Team Green” at the start. (Photo stolen from Steve Neary’s Strava :))

After a fast descent down into the bush, I held back a bit through the Kauri forest, trying to ensure I wasn’t feeling gassed by the time we came out at Army Bay. The tide was high this year which I knew would work to my advantage, forcing us up onto the loose rocky surface near the shoreline instead of being able to pace it along the comparatively smooth rock face further out.

I broke out onto the coastline probably around 15th and I dialed it up a little each time we hit a technical section, while forcing myself to cruise a bit on the flatter sections to keep the cardio under control. I settled in behind Ben Firth who historically I’ve found quick around the rocky section & worked my way up the field with him. This strategy worked well, generally gaining at least one or two places each time things got technical.

Ron gradually eased back into view and I caught & passed him & Ben about 2/3’s through the rocks, eventually working my way temporarily into what turned out to be a brief duel with Kelvin Meade for 3rd behind the air force boys who were nowhere to be seen.

Coming out onto the beach behind Kelvin I eased off the gas a little knowing there was some good hill climbs coming up & Ron hauled me in & passed. I decided to set my pace off him & see if I could keep somewhat in reach. I fell behind a little as we descended through the new section down to Te Haruhi bay (courtesy having to stop to do up a lace – argh!), but started the hill climbs feeling pretty good and managed to slowly pull Ron back in, getting to within 5-10 meters on some of the climbs but with him pulling away again on the downhills & flats.

As we crested the big hill & started to increase the pace along the top, my arch nemesis “cramp” started to bite in my left calf. I backed off & stopped to scull back some powerade at the last aid station at the top of the hill in an effort to ease it up. Suddenly the trail veered off to the right from where we would usually go – something I hadn’t noticed before the race. We dropped steep down into tiritiri trail and through a beautiful bush segment and back up the other side, reconnecting with the usual course on the farm races.

With only a few km and a couple of hills to go, the cramp really started to kick in. Any hope of trying to push Ron along disappeared as he powered along strongly and started pulling away as I was forced to back off on the climbs to prevent a full blown lockdown – very frustrating as I felt I had paced well and had plenty in the cardio tank for a strong finish. While I hadn’t held any hope of overhauling Ron, I did have it in the back of my mind that I may be able to turn the heat up on him a bit & force him into a bit of a duel by bombing down the last downhill & along the beach.

Instead as I crested the last hill the full lockdown cramp kicked in. I had been keeping an eye since we started the hills on the next guy behind us. He was a long way back so I banked on stopping to stretch & see if it would let go. Unfortunately he saw me do this, smelt blood and set about hauling me in.

I set off again but the cramp kicked back in instantly. Aside from Ron I hadn’t shed a single place since coming off the beach & I was bloody determined not to do so in the home stretch, so I bit down hard & started to run as best as I could with the cramp locked on.

I made my way down the last steep hill & managed to hold around 3:50-4:20’s along the beach with a crazy straight legged hobble run. My messed up running style was burning my cardio reserves at an alarming rate, and if it wasn’t for Mr Blue Shirt behind me making startling gains I would have dribbled along a lot slower. Determined not to surrender a spot so close to the end I gave it everything & managed to hold him off – climbing up off the beach, embarrassingly dry retching all the way down the home chute to collapse over the finish line. Talk about style.

I finished behind Ron – coming in 5th at 1:32:46, a bit over a minute slower than last year – although hard to know what impact the changes to the course meant.

Overall, the last 2km aside, I am pretty stoked with the race. My best position in a race so far & I felt I paced well, executed my race plan and finished in front of a bunch of guys who bet me last year. Probably need to start hitting some longer, high intensity hill reps to try & sort out the cramp issues.  Cheers Ron for egging me on along the way 🙂 and congrats to all the boys for strong runs!

M.E.C results:

Ron King – 4th – 1:31:11
Brent Kelly – 5th – 1:32:46
Evan Atkinson – 44th – 1:49:52
Dave Atkinson – ?? – for some reason missing from the current published results.
Todd Calkin – 75th – 1:58:40

Strava Link: https://www.strava.com/activities/305946238/overview

TUM 2015: 100km … tick.

When the chunder finally came, it was almost a relief. Having felt progressively more rubbish for the past few hours, anything had to be better than the walk I had been reduced to on the long slow rise out of Titoki. And then the cramps hit.

Tarawera Ultra has become somewhat of a focal point for me over the past few years. My year is split into two parts: a few weeks of recovery from TUM, and 11.5 months of buildup for the next one. Well at least for the last couple of years since Mike & Ron managed to persuade me of something as crazy as running an ultra.

Still being a 100km virgin courtesy cyclone Luci in 2014, I was hopeful that 2015 would provide the opportunity to run the full course to Kawerau.

Great times training with the boys - "Top of the Dome" to Waiwera
Great times training with the boys – “Top of the Dome” to Waiwera

Preparation had been somewhat spotty to start with. I was sidelined for several months during the middle of the year with tendinitis in my Achilles and that and family duties saw me miss pretty much every target race in the 2nd half of the year. Training began in earnest in October when I was finally able to run freely again. I focused a lot of my training on strength rather than cardio, with a lot of vertical meters, knowing that cramp had been a problem in the past.

Conquering the 78km Hillary trail in December with the boys was a huge confidence boost, and with a few more long runs under my belt, I approached the race feeling quite confident in my prep, despite not having put in a huge amount of weekly k’s.

The race plan this year was reasonably simple. Hold back and knock off the km’s running well within myself – hopefully reaching the top of the loop of despair with enough left to start to dig it in for last 18km & push myself hard into hopefully a strong finish. Anything around the 12hr mark I felt would be a good effort.

Caleb had a similar plan & after enjoying the great company for the first 45km last year I was stoked to be able to team up with him again. Caleb is a strong runner so I knew that he would push me along & challenge me to keep pushing through my ‘downs’ during the race .

Arriving at the start line it was great to see the huge turnout of MEC boys, all clad in our shiny new singlets. We lined up nearish the front & set off. Next year I think I’ll start closer to the front as we overtook a lot of people, which probably is a bit of an inefficient way to use your energy at the start of an ultra.

The leg to the first Tikitapu aid station passed quickly and uneventfully, arriving 15 minutes ahead of schedule. It’s a beautiful run through the trees, and seemed slightly easier with the modified course. A highlight of the leg was passing a saxophone player in the middle of the bush, blasting out great tunes for the runners.

Yakkin away to Caleb on the Okataina climb
Yakkin away to Caleb on the Okataina climb

We made good time through to Okereka, and set off toward Okataina. Knowing this leg was the big climb of the race, we ran well within ourselves, walking anything remotely steep and drifted back in the field a little. We eventually crested the top and took it easy on the big drop into Okataina, careful not to put too much pressure on the quads & knees with a whole lot of KM still to go.

Coming into the aid station, I was feeling it a bit more than I might have liked, but stocked up and set off again. It was great to see the familiar faces there with some of the other guys supporters, and high fiving Justin Cheyne with my ‘vas hand’ provided some short term amusement as we set off around Lake Tarawera.

This leg was easily my favorite of the race. Amazing scenery, beautiful bush, and winding technical trail. With over half the race still to go I had to remind myself to keep the brakes on as this is probably my favorite type of trail to really let the wheels turn & pick up some places.

Epic scenery around Tarawera Falls #literalphotobomb
Epic scenery around Tarawera Falls #photobomb

Caleb & I made steady progress through this section, and despite dealing with off & on nausea I managed to keep up as Caleb started to set the pace as we neared closer to Tarawera Falls – arriving having gained a good 40-odd places. 60km down, only a marathon to go!

As we set off for Titoki we couldn’t miss a green MEC singlet up ahead & realized Mike had somehow snuck past during a brief stop at the aid station portaloo. After yelling out Mike waited for us to catch up and it was great getting to run with him for a few KM before he broke away – powering strongly up a hill & demonstrating how he had managed to catch us after taking the start very easily with his dodgy calf.

During this leg my nausea really kicked in as well as some niggling pain in my Achilles – particularly concerning due to my injury earlier in the year. I pushed through but struggled to keep up with Caleb on the hills, eventually cruising into Titoki – something I had been looking forward to for the last couple of hours. Firstly I knew my lovely wife would be there to greet me which was a huge lift. Also one of my best mates Phil Needham had agreed to pace me the rest of the way I was really looking forward to his company.

Feeling that I was becoming a bit of a handbrake to Caleb who was in a much happier place compared to my ongoing nausea issues, I suggested he cut loose so after 70km we parted ways & he disappeared off up the hill, running strongly.

Titoki at last!

Phil & I set off, only to be shortly reduced to a slow shuffle & then down to a walk. The nausea had ramped up to a point now where I reeeeealy did not want to eat anything, and was crashing my energy and general will to live. With the Achilles pain starting to ramp up I descended into a dark place where even the encouragement & positivity from Phil struggled to penetrate. The possibility of a long walk out or even those never-to-be-thought 3 letters ‘D-N-F’ started to sneak into my thoughts – along with the disappoint of feeling like I was really letting Phil down who had travelled for hours only to have to go on a long boring walk up some forestry roads with some really bad company.

Eventually I got so green that I decided enough was enough. Knowing the mere thought of another-freakin-hammer-gel was enough to nearly make me start retching, I ripped one open – banana *shudder* – and slammed the whole thing down. Achieving it’s intended outcome I promptly ripped off my straw hat, and spewed my guts out. Multiple times. 6 to be exact.

Now that my stomach had removed all my pending nutrition, my body decided it was time to freak out with a near simultaneous cramp of most significant muscles in my body – through nearly every leg muscle to my back & forearms. I managed to force another gel down & after a good dip in the river the cramp started to back off enough to start moving forward again. We eventually ambled into Awaroa having taken over 90 minutes to travel about 8km – nearly 30 minutes slower than Caleb who was smashing it!

As we pushed out onto the “Loop of Despair” the nutrition started to kick in & for the first time in hours I started to feel considerably better. Despite the warnings I’d heard about this section, I actually found the loop of despair quite the opposite. We powered up the hill in good time, and I came out at the top feeling well on the way to recovering from my bottoming-out.

This was the spot I had intended to pick up the pace knowing it was predominantly downhill from here. Performing some quick calculations in my head it came as a bit of a surprise that if I could keep to around 6 min k’s for the last 20-odd km I still had a shot at getting in under 12:30 – something I had long since written off. Telling myself I hadn’t run this long to cream-puff out in the last couple of hours, I forced myself to lean forward & run.

Potentially the youngest crew on the course @ 8 weeks old?
Potentially the youngest crew on the course @ 8 weeks old?

The last two legs are a bit of a blur to be honest. I don’t think I’ve ever focused so completely on forcing my body to obey & push beyond where I thought it could. As we pushed towards Fisherman’s Bridge the brief walks stopped and the pace increased. I kept thinking “Just two laps of the Estuary and we’re home”, just “1.5 laps of the Estuary and we’re home” etc..

We pulled into Fisherman’s Bridge around 11hr30 – 10km to go in under an hour.  I can do this. Phil was phenomenal as he had been since he joined – crewing me as well as pacing. He had my water bottles filled in a flash and was onto removing my shoes for me to clear the stones and allow me to push hard to the finish. The straw hat was off. Game on. We departed after a few short minutes & headed for home.

Keeping pace was all consuming for that last leg. I had long since decided to hold nothing back & go for broke. If the body gave in, so be it. We hauled in a steady flow of tired runners as we regularly pushed along around 5min30’s, slowing for the occasional sand-cliff to climb or bridge to cross. The constant encouragement from Phil was great, although I apologized profusely in the days after the race for my clipped 2-word instructions to ‘speed up’, ‘slow down’ and my generally poor, tired and grumpy communication. We pushed straight through the last aid station 5km out & it was all out for the finish.

As we rounded into Kawerau fields I kept lifting the pace. Seeing a couple of runners in the distance ahead I set my final goal to catch them before the end. I always find it satisfying sneaking a couple of places at the end. I figure I just ran for 12 hrs to get to my current place – if I can pick up a couple more just by pushing hard for 2 minutes that some serious ROE (return on effort ;)).

We managed to hold sub-5’s for a lot this last few km, interrupted every 500m or so of a yelp from me, some straight-legged-hopping as I tried to get a locked up cramping calf to release, and then straight back into it. We hauled in the first of my ‘targets’ with about 500m to go and was pressing on to the last one when the calf packed it in good and proper. It locked up & wasn’t letting go.

With a few inappropriate words of frustration I pulled to a halt and stretched the calf out until it released – watching all my hard work disappear round the corner into the finishing chute. Luckily there was no one behind us for ages, so I hobbled the last couple of hundred meters and managed to run across the finish line in 12 hrs, 26 min & 51 secs.

Finished!

Overall I was pretty disappointed at crashing out in the Titoki leg. I think I probably over-ate for a good portion of the run, being used to training at a lower cardio level than I probably was at as we started to increase the pace about half way through. However I am really pleased at the recovery and finish and pretty satisfied with the final finish time – all things considered. It will come in handy in future races knowing I can dig a bit deeper & push a little harder when I feel spent.

A huge thanks to my supportive wife who lugged around an 8 week old baby for half the day to support me over the latter part of the course. What a woman! Also to “Team Green” – awesome bunch of guys & love the training & camaraderie. And finally Phil Needham my complete legend pacer, putting up with my crazy emotions and selflessly crewing and pacing me from Titoki. He smashed out the longest run he’s done, supporting me the whole way without one complaint or comment about being tired – nothing but compliments & support. It was awesome to tick off a big goal with such a great mate at my side – cheers bro!

Click to view on Strava.

TUM 2015 – Data Geeking & Analysis

I had the urge to do some data geeking … so have thrown some of the split data into a spreadsheet and banged out a few graphs. If you’re wired like me (or Ron ;)) you’ll probably find it pretty interesting. I like seeing the ‘story’ of the race after only having experienced it in person from my perspective. Click here for the full spreadsheet with all of the graphs.

I find the ‘Position change’ probably the most interesting one – next to the splits.

Position change each leg
Position change each leg (click for full size)

Strictly looking at the data, I found a few aspects quite interesting:

#1: We should have started a bit closer to the start line in general. I know Caleb & I passed a whole lot of people in the first leg (not showing on the graph as our position at the start line wasn’t recorded), and you can see from the data we all continued moving up the field on our way to Okareka.

#2: The “Changing positions is an inefficient use of energy” award goes to Ron who positioned himself perfectly in the field – and finished in the exact same position as he entered the first aid station – never fluctuating more than 6 places.

#3: The “I love to kill” award goes to Mike who slayed 197 people in the space of 2 legs between Okareka to Tarawera Falls! And then a further 32 over the next 20km to Awaroa. Struth Ruth!

#4: The “soul sisters” award goes to Dave & Thom who’s spirits were so in sync that they finished precisely one hour apart. To the second. Blow me down with a pitchfork!

Splits over distance
Splits over distance (click for full size)

#5:Copy book” race plan execution award – looking at the data is an interesting one. Caleb, Ron, Sean and Thom would all be candidates. Caleb takes this one out though. He ran within himself for the first 70 and then unleashed from Titoki pulling the fastest splits for every stage from there on, aside from being pipped on the last leg by 1 minute.

#6: Ron absolutely killed it to Okataina coming in 45 minutes ahead of the nearest MECer only 37km into the race. Even from there was in the top 2 MEC splits for 2 of the last 4 legs as he powered on & held his guts, nerve & steam!

#7: I get the ‘Lazarus‘ award for getting my ass handed to me (dropping back in the field) the most & on 2 separate legs .. the first according to race plan, the latter on the way to Awaroa due to near death nausea (how dramatic – more about that in my race report). Then coming back from the dead briefly to finish strong & pip the fastest time for the last leg.

#8: Thom started to put the foot down from the falls and finished really strongly – making solid progress up the field every leg.

#9: Sean just gained and gained. He moved constantly up the field – increasing his ‘kill rate’ the closer the end came.

#10: Akie finished strong. After either holding back or doing it tough from Titoki to Fishermans and dropping back in the field a bit, he put the foot down and had a great finish – making some significant gains back up the field in the last 10km.

#11: We all made gains (some quite significant) through the technical stuff to Tarawera Falls.

Xterra Shakespear 2014

I’ve been looking forward to this race. It was the race that introduced me to the joys of trail racing just over 12 months ago, and I was keen to see how much I had improved after a year of MEC good times. This race also tends to suit my strengths, with a large portion of the race made up of reasonably slippery rocks with the odd winding trail.

MEC has historically had a pretty solid showing at this race competing in every year since it started in 2009 (though no post that year!). However this year it was only me in the superlong to represent (Ron was doing the family thing and running the short), so I guess I’m up for a race report!

I started the day with two goals: try & destroy my time from last year (finishing 18th @ 1:44:19); and finish in the top 10. With Mike (hamstring), Ron (short race), and Caleb (baby) all not running, I figured I would be unlikely to get a better chance!

My strengths lie in the more technical stuff & downhills, so my race plan was to try hang around the top 10-15 from the start for the first couple of k’s to the top of the hill – without blowing out my heart rate. I figured for some small gains through the kauri forest and from there, hold on the flats & beaches, make good gains on the more technical coastline, and save something for the hills at the end.

The start line was very busy as it tends to be, with 325 runners eventually finishing (141 in the super long). After edging my way to the front, a few customary jokes from Dave Franks and a hooter, it was game on. The race started pretty predictably. One guy gunned it from the start, doing what I would pick to be 3-minute-something’s up the hill. Screw chasing that. Didn’t see him for the rest of the race. He’d probably had a 20 minute warm down, sausage & beer & was half way home by the time 2nd place came in.

I settled in as planned near the front of the pack & kept pretty easy pace with them to the top of the first hill. The descent into the kauri forest offered a slight opportunity to recover from the climb, although the runners around me were definitely moving along. I picked up 1 position through here & figured I was somewhere toward the back of the top 10. How many of them were in my race I wasn’t sure. I was having to watch my pace as I was pushing a little harder than I would have liked with the pressure of multiple sets of feet pounding close behind.

Moving out onto the coast didn’t slow things down as much as I’d hoped. The first few km here is reasonably sandy and an easy run from a technical perspective. My fellow competitors didn’t seem to be having too much trouble continuing to push the pace and my heart rate was pushing 200 which is getting up near spew territory, so I knew I had to dial it back for a bit. I managed to recover a little without losing too much position by running slightly slower, but picking better lines – trying to make sure I didn’t burn myself out before we got into the fun stuff.

As we progressed around the coast I began to push a little harder. This was the area I had planned to make my gains & I found I could haul a few people in, but then found them hard to drop as they slipped in behind & followed on my heels. As things started to get a lot more technical with lots of boulder hopping near the end of the coastal section, I finally made some really strong gains. My hugely advanced ‘technique’ was basically just “don’t slow down”. Scan ahead to find good lines & go full speed, relying on figuring somewhere to put your foot while it’s in midair. Probably a recipe for a twisted ankle or some missing chunks of knee, but as it did last year it seemed to work ok for me, and without too many close calls I quickly ditched the guys behind me, moving through a chunk of the next pack just as we came out onto the beach.

This section was relatively uneventful with the biggest decision choosing between running a more direct line through the shallows, or going a little wider on the sand. As we moved back onto the rocks we got some good pelting rain. I was all for it – the slipperier the better. There is a small section through here you have to swim. One guy in front of me chose a brilliant line & managed to wade a lot of it, ultimately gaining a good 30-40m over the guys in front of us. I altered my line to follow, temporarily picking up a few positions too.

I was still having to push my pace harder on the beaches than I would have liked in order to keep up, and as we moved back onto the trails I was a little worried I had gassed myself. The steeper hills proved me correct as I was reduced to a hike, still pushing hard so as to not lose too much ground, but desperately trying to avoid being cooked by the top & having to dial it back to recover on the downs & flats. This took its toll on ‘the big UP’ from the carpark and I shed 3-4 places through the steep climb.

Determined to give it everything to the end I pushed hard once the gradient backed off, and ‘let the wheels turn’ as fast as possible down the steep downhill’s through this section. Coming into the last hill of the day I climbed hard, managing to catch back up to a couple who had passed me earlier.

Knowing there wasn’t much over a KM to go, I tried to pick up the pace only to have a cramp fire off in my calf. Great. I kept the pace on anyway & ran with a half-straight left leg – must’ve looked ridiculous but what ya gonna do. It seemed to back off as the downhill steepened and I put the foot down, descending through the winding bush path onto the beach, picking off a couple of guys along the way (though possibly from the long course – who knows).

Coming onto the beach I was feeling a bit fatigued & a little light headed after the fast descent, but seeing Ben Firth & James Keugler (who had recently passed me) only about 100m ahead I pushed hard trying to close the gap. I was hauling them in and, just for a second, thought I may just be able to catch them. I closed the gap to about 30m but the chance to gain a couple of sneaky positions was slipping away with the finish line approaching fast. I knew I was redlining & couldn’t push it much further – if my HRM is anything to believe, I topped out at 208bpm which is a couple higher than I’ve ever seen it before. I managed to push into a sprint finish anyway, pipping some longie at the post & crossed in 9th place at 1:31:34.

Overall I’m pretty happy with accomplishing my top 10 goal, as well as the 13 minutes I shed off last year’s result – although also a bit disappointed to have bottomed out in that 2km section of course coming off the beaches and shedding so many places. I think I need to put in a lot more KM’s/wk to be able to hold pace with some of these guys over a whole course!

A random observation to finish up with: my inov8 trailroc’s were the perfect shoe of this course. At no point did I feel a lack of control whether it be wet rocks & weeds, storming down a steep pasture hill or on the wooden boardwalks. Good times!

Strava link

0 to 1̶0̶0̶k̶m̶ 72km in … 10 months.

Tick.

The last 12 months have been a little bit crazy.

Justin Cheyne told me about 18 months ago how he runs these things called ultra’s. I’d never heard of them & thought he must be a little bonkers. He is .. but that’s besides the point. I sure as hell was never going to do one.

In April 2013 I got myself invited along to my first MEC run. I was pretty green as far as training or running with others goes. Mr Cheyne had got me back into running 6 months earlier by helping me fix my ‘knee problem’ (ITB + roller can make any man cry – at least that’s what I tell myself). I’d never run a race as an adult – I’d barely even run with other people full stop.

Within a year I find myself crossing something off my bucket list that was never actually on it in the first place. This is the effect these guys have on you. A group of guys who are so infectiously passionate about running that you can’t help but get caught up in it all.

My racing experience began with the winter Xterra series – a series that introduced me to something that would instantly captivate me – trail running. I’d done one once before & thought I’d invented it. Seriously. It’s called ‘Bush running’ & it’s a novel idea I came up with where instead of walking a bush walk, you run it! That’s how I came up with the name. Bush walk run. Legend … anyway I digress.

In fact while I’m digressing, here’s another interesting side note: my first race was Xterra Shakespeare, May 2013. Despite shaking a few hands at the start line, the only guy I knew there was Mike … check out who ran it. Woah! Coincidence? I think not.

A month or so out from my first marathon in November (wasn’t to be with a pulled hammy two weeks out) Mike, and then Ron started making murmurs about joining them in the Tarawera Ultra. Convinced they were bat crazy I wrote it off. I’m not quite sure how it happened, but a few weeks later I found myself a few hundy poorer, an entry to the 100km richer & wondering what on earth I had gotten myself into. Filling out the entry form was ‘interesting’: How many ultramarathons have you run before? “Thank goodness they didn’t ask how many marathons you’d run” I thought as I entered 0.

Mangawhai from the Bynderwyns
Checking out the homeward leg back to Mangawhai from the top of the Brynderwyns.

Having completed the Speights West Coaster marathon late November followed by Karioi in Raglan, I launched into my training plan of “Do whatever Mike tells you to do”, which began nicely with a number of beautiful 20-30km trail runs around Mangawhai & the Brynderwyn’s. My first long run with Mike back in Auckland was a real key moment in my training – 5hrs, 50km of non stop Q&A and by the end I still felt great. I began to really believe I could actually do this & wouldn’t end in the ball of pain that was the West Coaster. A foot injury slowed things a lot but I still managed to fit in one painful Te Araroa 50ker and a few good solid hike/runs. Despite a few nagging ‘phantom’ foot pains, I was feeling pretty good by the time of the race.

The news of the shortened race arrived the night before courtesy of Cyclone Luci and like all involved I was pretty gutted (although I can only imagine how the organisers & volunteers felt!). I felt physically prepared, mentally ready to endure the pain, and had been looking forward to crossing off the 100km in one foul swoop. Shortening to the reported 65km (it ended up 72km) also suddenly introduced a factor I hadn’t bothered considering for the 100km – pace.

Pre start tension!
Awesome this pic contains everyone I knew in the race. Justin Cheyne bottom right, Steve Neary dead centre, Ron & Mike poking their heads up like meercats just above him, and Caleb & myself.

The race kicked off & I felt calm and relaxed. My #1 aim was to not prove myself the ultra-newbie I was and go out too fast and end up crashing. This translated into a rough plan to walk anything remotely steep, let myself go a bit on the downhills, and nothing under 4:30’s on the flats – at least until after Okeraka. If I could get to Okataina without major cramp, then I felt I would be well positioned to finish strong which was a key goal.

Caleb & I seemed to have roughly similar race plans and goals, so teamed up as Ron & Mike predictably disappeared toward the front of the pack over the first few km. I felt we worked well as a team, neither knowing who’s approach was best but with Caleb pushing the pace a little, and me being a little more reserved – wary from the beat down I had received from the Te Henga trail.

Caleb rolling with style over substance!

Team duties were split: mine being to keep the both of us appraised of the GPS readings, nutrition timetables, and keeping an eye on what hills were approaching – thanks to my wife’s accurate vivid work ‘tattooing’ the elevation chart on my arm. Caleb of course had had a bit of a watch fail (leaving his gps at home) and his mother’s watch around his wrist, whilst looking very elegant and dainty … well let’s just say I didn’t see a lot of other runners wearing one – even the girls. Caleb’s team contribution was making sure he looked he’d barely broken a sweat, while ensuring we got well more than our fair share of cheering, with a regular “Hey aren’t you that Caleb guy from The Block?!?” every few km.

As we passed back through the start and headed off on the next leg we continued quite a restrained, comfortable pace, slipping back in the field a little as we headed up the hills while regaining a few places on each of the downs. A few km out from the Blue Lakes aid station Caleb really started to pick up his pace, reasoning that a lot of hills would soon be arriving and the pace would likely pull back to a walk. Knowing Caleb was a strong runner made me a little nervous at pushing beyond my conservative plan, but I chose to stick with him and use the opportunity to push myself a little harder than I otherwise would.

Continuing to push the pace, we started to work our way up the field a bit, pulling in 14 places in the 4km from Blue Lakes to Okeraka before stopping to load up on water, ready for the long hilly leg through to Okataina.

Epic trails

I found the rise up to Millar Road a bit of a drag & struggled to keep Caleb’s pace through this section. I must confess to a bit of sneaky slipstreaming as we pushed into the wind & up on to the Western Okataina trail.

I progressed nicely along this leg, trying to keep pace until we started to ascend the big hill when my stomach, with about 3 steps notice, decided to evacuate all contents. Between powerchucks I told Caleb (who was very kindly waiting round for me) it was time for him to push on. After the race I concluded the most likely cause was a bit of an OD on sugar/carbs. I had added carb-rich electrolytes to my usual water-only hydration at Okeraka. Having been treating them as water & still consuming my regular gels, I figure my stomach decided enough was enough with the double-up.

Post-purge I felt surprisingly good and, fearing the potential cramp repercussions, decided I needed to quickly replace some of what I had just lost and knocked back a gel & a good dose of water. Feeling great, I finally cleared the summit & really pushed the pace on the down the hill into Okataina, overtaking a steady stream of careful descenders. It was great to briefly see an ascending Mike, Todd & Ron on the way, all looking strong and focused.

Cruisin with the tunes

I saw the wifey at the aid station, gave baby Sam a quick fist pump for hanging out in the rain and completed the out & back relatively uneventfully (aside from nearly falling off a few cliffs on the narrow trails!). A quick top up and I was homeward bound from Okataina having gained 21 places since leaving Okareka.

Despite knowing I had the biggest climb of the race ahead of me, I was feeling OK & in pretty good spirits. A bit of music helped keep the mind occupied as I tried to hike strong up the hill. Cramp was starting to hit in the calves & hammies, but I decided to keep a watchful eye and press on, whilst ensuring it didn’t get so bad as to start affecting my flats & downhill’s which I really wanted to push hard on.

I was really happy with this leg and although staving off cramp with S-Caps & electrolytes was a continual battle, I continued to push harder & faster the further I went. Being a lover of the technical stuff, the muddy, slippery track was playing into my favour and aside from one good wipeout (resulting in full leg cramp) while trying to pass a couple of runners (shame), I continued to make good progress and regularly catch & overtake people on the downs.

Finishing hard!

About 10km out I decided it was “Rage Against the Machine” time. Trying to absorb a good dose of aggression from the music I pushed myself to run the majority of the last big hill and really smash it from there out onto Millar Rd.

A kind soul coming the other way encouraged me on: “under 2km to Millar Rd!”. 2.5km later as the forest trail continued my thoughts were turning a little dark on him. How dare he be so bloody inaccurate! It’s funny how big a deal something can seem when you’ve been slaughtering your body and been left with your thoughts for a long time :).

Finally emerging at the Millar Rd aid station I blasted straight through & decided it was all on to the finish. “Leave it all out on the trail”. I charged down the hill, surprised at how quickly I could pull tired & spent people in.

Full noise to the finish!

The last KM or so along the flat took a lot of self-control not to slow up, but hearing the announcer & crowd while seeing a group of 6 runners 1-200m ahead of me was enough to push me into a ‘sprint’ finish & I was stoked to catch & pass 2 of them (think they were in the other race but it sure still felt great!) before reaching the finish line – absolutely spent.

Total time: 8hr15, Final position: 62 having gained 6 places on the last return leg (apparently the majority of overtakes were people in the other divisions/race! :)). Stoked to finish in the top 20% of the 346 runners in my first ultra and a big congrats to Mike (27th), “King Ron” (35th), and Caleb who came in 54th in his first ultra! Shot!

Post-race learnings / thoughts? It’s funny how if you crash in a race you think “if only I had’ve taken it easier” and then when you finish strong it’s so easy to think “I wonder if I pressed GO early enough?”. I would have loved to hit below the 8hr mark (those who know me know I love round numbers!) so while I’m totally stoked with how the race went and how I finished, now that I have one under my belt I think for me the next few races are about starting to push myself a bit faster and earlier to see if I can’t handle getting a bit further up the field!

Thanks heaps to my wife Lysette for supporting me with all the training, not to mention standing around with an 8 month old baby in Cyclone Luci for half the day! Caleb if you need any tips for convincing a brand new mother to let you commit to an ultra, just give me a bell ;). Cheers Justin Cheyne for the tips & S-Caps which worked well! Also a big thanks to the guys in the club and in particular Mike for all the training, tips, advice and encouragement you’ve given over the past year.

Bring on 100km TuM 2015!