World Masters Games 2017 – An Athletic Odyssey

WMG 5000 startThe World Masters Games 2017 have been on my radar for a couple of years. A unique opportunity to compete against your peers from around the world. Hopefully finding that ‘sweet spot’ of similar competition that brings the best out of you and gives you amazing mid-race battles. The entry fee is steep, but you get a road run, a cross country and up to six track and field events all for entering the “athletics” section. My approach was to get my $ worth by entering any running event over 400m.

Event 1: 10k Road Race, Saturday 22nd April.

WMG 10k startThis was a target event – I wanted to set a PB (basically anything sub 36 would do it). The plan was to run evenly (no costly surges) and hope to hold 3:30 – 3:35 min/k. We had the most spectacular and perfect Auckland Waterfront morning. Still and mild, it was made for running fast. Unfortunately something didn’t fire fully for me and I was never on goal pace. I gave it a good race effort though and split 18:31 for the first half and 19:11 for the second to give 37:42. A fine result, made sweeter by coming in 3rd in the M35 AG and getting a bronze medal! Caleb stormed to a PB and Evan paced like a metronome to smash his as well.

10k thumbs WMG

Too young and fast for the camera (or how being caught at 7k can shake you out of a slow burn to the finish)

Event 2: 5000m, Sunday 23rd April

WMG 5000 startThis was a mean schedule. Backing up with 5000m after yesterday’s 10k. So the plan was to not focus on time, but try to race as smart as possible. Looking at the field, I thought I was about 7th seed in my division, so a top 5 would be the goal. There were two no-shows, making this easier. But what was also easier was how my legs felt vs the expectation of pain and stiffness. They were feeling nearly as good as the day before, with only a hint of tiredness evident in the 4/5th km. I ended up running at the front of the chase pack and taking the wind, but was happy to be running faster than expected at 3:25 min/ks so just kept going. I got passed by the 3rd guy in my AG with 600m to go. He accelerated away and I had no response, but I finished in 4th place (7th overall) in 17:36.

WMG 5000 shoulder check
Into the wind, who else wants a turn?

Event 3: 1500m, Tuesday 26th April

It was nice to get a day off on Monday, as my legs were way more smashed (tight-sore calves and tired quads) after the 5000m than after the 10k. I had a day of easy running, plus continued my nightly routine of getting on the foam roller to help hasten recovery along.

Seems to have done the trick because I was feeling pretty good as I warmed up for my midday 1500m on ANZAC day. The 30-34M went first and it was great to watch Caleb running super strong to get his third medal of the games.

WMG Caleb lead 1500
Caleb leads the M30 1500m

I was 5th fastest M35 going into my race and was hoping to PB with a 4:37. My plan was to let the fastest two go (they were another level altogether) and then work hard to keep in contention with the next two guys Andrew and Eric. Andrew got away after a fast start, but I stuck with Eric the Frenchman (he was the guy who stuck behind me in the 5000m).

WMG 1500 lap 1
Lap 1, me well positioned in sixth.

The first 800m was 2:29 and we hit the bell lap at 3:23 (bang on schedule), me right behind Eric, and both about 30m back of Andrew. The race had hurt from about 600m into it, but I was glad with how I pushed through. Now in the last lap I really dug deep as Eric surged, somehow managing to hold close. We hit the final straight now only 10m down on Andrew. I gave it everything and closed the gap, but wasn’t able to pass. We all finished within 1.2s of each other.

WMG 1500 sprint
Final straight fever

This placed me 5th, in 4:31.25, a massive new PB, and exceeded my expectations. The last 800m was 2:21, with a final lap of 67s.

 

Event 4: 10,000m Thursday 27 April

WMG 10k front bunch
Early days in the front chase group

Another day off proceeded the toughest day of the games for me. I had the 10k and 800 on the track. But I could tell that these also offered the best medal chances so I needed to hit them hard.

WMG 10k pacing
My M45 pacers, duking it out while I hang on.

The 10,000 was hot. 11am in the sun. I started quick, but felt very comfortable. I kept pace behind two 45-49 year old guys in 5th place for the first 4k. The legs started to tire a bit though and through my 5th km I started to slow. It just felt like plain fatigue, my start was at the top end of what I can do, but felt controlled. I now had a 5k grind of endurance – holding on to see if I could stay ahead of the others and what time I would make.

WMG 10k sprintI wasn’t caught, but man it was gruelling. I finished in 5th, 2nd M35 in 37:35. My 5k split was 17:25, which was faster than Sunday’s 5000m. Silver medal!

Event 5: 800m, Thursday 27 April

I did what I could to recover before the 800m. I guessed I was 3rd seed with two real speedsters ahead, so my goal was 3rd and a time around 2:14. I went out strong, going through halfway in 65s, the second half was as hard as expected but I held on for 3rd and 2:15 – my 2nd fastest time for the event. Two races, two medals, today.

WMG 10k Heidi hugEvent 6: 3000m Steeplechase, Friday 28 April

Oh how weary I felt! The double effort the day prior meant my legs were both tight, sore and fatigued. But I made it to the start line OK. And when we got to the TIC I found two of the top seeds (as well as most of the field) hadn’t turned up. So it was game on for an unexpected possible medal chance.

Maybe those no shows knew something about this event. It was my first time so I didn’t. Let me tell you what I found about steeplechase: It’s hard, requiring lots of strength and a good bit of technique and flexibility too. My water jump is not something to admire (yet). I dropped into the water pit and fought my way out again like an old dog shaking off after a sea swim. It was also rough on the left achilles which took the impact all seven laps (as a side note the Achilles had been best it has for months up to then). The other thing I found is that it is compelling, and I want to have another crack at it, and I’m sure some technique practice would do wonders.

Evan and Caleb went hard from the start and I only caught Evan with 600m to go. So we got silver M30, and silver and bronze M35. MEC represent!

Event 7: 8k Cross Country, Sunday 30 April

Holeshot XC
The early leaders enter the first corner

Last event. It was so good to get the Saturday to rest up first, I came to the start line feeling much improved on Friday. I knew I wouldn’t be fresh, but I wasn’t feeling like lying down at the start. The Domain course was better than expected, despite the lack of real hills there was enough variability to make it feel different to a road race or track event. It was very warm, the sun had come out after the storm and there was a good gusty wind blowing too. I paced myself sensibly and worked my way up the field over the first two and half 2k laps. The guys I passed reformed as a group and I had to work to hold them off on the fourth and final lap.  I came 18th, 7th in M35 in 31:32, lap times: 7:35, 7:55, 8:05, 7:57. Full field XC

Reflections on the series:

My speed increased over the first five days or so, while the fatigue increased throughout. I noted the fatigue would slow my legs in the later stages of an event. My HR would actually dip as the legs were unable to move fast enough to merit that level of cardiac output. Dropping a couple of events would have made my times a bit faster overall, but my schedule was more for the experience than for the strategy.

I think I may have been fighting something at the start of the Games as I was genuinely surprised at my speed in the 10k and 5000m. I had done a 17:06 5k in the rain a fortnight before and felt that my preparations had gone very well. My first couple of races were a little disappointing as I don’t think my efforts reflect my true fitness/potential at that time. I reckon I am in sub-17 5k and sub-37 10k shape for sure. I will hopefully get a chance to show that later on this year.

The 1500m was my highlight, I got a big PB and had an amazing racing experience which took me right to the edge. The whole track experience has been really exciting, and I have got a bit of a taste for it. you really get to experience the pure thrill of racing when you take to the track with good competition. I will keep an eye out for opportunities to run against similar competition on the track in the future.

My body held out better than expected too. I was tired, and I got a bit sore a couple of times, but thinking back even 12 months, I would struggle to run the day after a hard race. Back then I couldn’t even comprehend running hard for several days in a row. So the good functioning of my body has been another positive to take away. I look forward to seeing if I get any notable fitness kick out of all that racing stimulus.

The next World Masters Games is in Kansai, Japan in 2021. There are also NZ Masters Games, Pan-Pacific Masters Games, Asia-Pacific Masters Games etc etc… get ready to race some track soon!

Endless (End of) Summer Writeup

Tumeke Waewae at Tarawera 2017

The follow-up to the Ultra Easy 100 was the 2017 Tarawera Ultra. This has become a feature of my calendar for nearly a decade – it’s such a cool event, I just love to come back. However, last year’s race showed me that my motivation was a bit tepid for the 100k. So doing the two-man relay was a perfect way of scratching the Tarawera itch and not being silly doing two massive events in a fortnight.

Ron and I combined our powers like a trail-running Captain Planet to make team Tumeke Waewae. We were joined by another couple of MEC teams – Brent and Burton facing off against Evan and Thom. There was a fierce rivalry between those two, while Ron and I eyed up some well-fancied opposition from the Sportslab crew.

TUM_2017_010021We applied the self-annihilation attack strategy to this race. It would be a unique opportunity to run with the big boys – they were doing 100k solo and we were just knocking off a couple of 20k-ish legs. So could we stay in touch and learn a thing or two from the pros.
Ron had the first leg, and claimed to be still finding his running fitness after his Italian sojourn. But he still managed to redline it from the gun and come around the Blue Lake just outside of the top 10.

TUM_2017_020356My turn. I noted that Aaron Jackson, first team member for our main opposition was ahead, and  (legendary ultra runner) Mike Wardian behind, so I got into my own over-zealous pacing to see what I could do. Wardian caught me within a quarter of an hour and blasted past up the new trail around Lake Okareka. I then held my own, catching several bods over the Western Okataina leg. It felt good running it with more intensity then usual. I came in to the Okataina changeover and we were just behind our marks – the Labrats, and keeping right on our schedule.

TUM_2017_002980TUM_2017_002984Can’t tell you much about leg 3, except that we had vastly overestimated how long it would take Ron ‘unfit’ on ‘tired legs’. By the time I had driven through Kawerau and arrived at the Falls carpark, Ron had been waiting of me for nearly 15 minutes. Im gonna be the bigger man and say that it was his scheduling that cost us that, not my yarns with the other MEC lads while eating at the aid station buffet.So the final quarter had a shambolic start, but Ron through me his water bottle and I put my tunes in on the go and got into it. What a great leg it is to Titoki when you don’t feel like rubbish! That long downhill is dreamy, legs spinning at sub 4s and life is good! There were a few more technical bits afterward and some inevitable discomfort (NB nothing like 100k pain though, not a bit). We had got solidly into the lead of the two person division and it was a gratifying  final few run for the final few kms to take the win for Tumeke Waewae.

TUM_2017_002988Lessons:

Logistics in two person team events are actually rather challenging. You have to know quite precisely how long you will run each leg and how long the drive will take. I have never had to get around the course in a car before – its harder than I realised!

But the relay is a great option – you can run hard, you can share the day with mates and it doesn’t have to shatter you like a massive ultra tends to. I’d be keen to repeat, but I think Ron misses the 100, so we’ll see what 2018 brings.

TUM_2017_016367

Coastal Challenge 2017

The bravest race director award of 2017 goes to Aaron Carter and the TS crew for holding this event which has plenty of ocean interaction during the tail-end of a cyclone. I couldn’t believe it was going ahead, but it did, and it was epic as usual. Thom Shanks and I decided that mother nature wouldn’t hold us back, and drove North to Arkles Bay with the mighty Stu Hale as team photog and crew.IMG_4569

The course changed a bit – it was lengthened to help reduce the length of the swim across the Okura estuary and we ran over the Long Bay headland track rather than risk rockfall around the coast up there. Otherwise it was the same juicy wet goodness it always is.

I got stuck a little further back then I would have liked at the start, about 20th at corner one. I worked my way up and was in top 10 by the Wade River swim, and top 5 by Okura swim. A few kms after Long Bay I moved into 2nd when one of the leaders dropped with an injury. The gap to the front runner Nick Berry varied between 5 and 9 minutes, but I wasn’t able to catch him in the end. I was pretty bushed from Takapuna onwards and held on for (another) 2nd place here. Nick is a beast Surf Lifesaver / sub 9 min 3000m runner so not a bad guy to be beaten by!

Onward to the World Masters Games… time to add some speed to the stamina!

2017 Ultra Easy 100k

Ahh the goal race for the season. Worthy of a full race report, this one. Make your self a cuppa and sit down, this could take a while:

This race is a beautiful beast.

Vital stats: 100k, 4700m climb/descent, anticlockwise loop in Wanaka, with elevation between 270-2000m.

I saw it online when looking for a new ultra challenge to replace the Tarawera Ultra. As I said in my 2016 report, I love that race, but need to get away to be able to come back with the true hunger to race that. So, when I saw the course map, with its three massive climbs and natural loops in one of NZs most pristine alpine areas, I was in.

And my training over the summer has been focused on this one race. The goal was to log regular 65-75 km/week and try to get about 2000m of vertical each week as well. Of course it would be better to get more, but I have worked out that those numbers are about what my schedule can accommodate without displacing family, friends or work commitments. And I have to say I did well, more or less hitting those numbers for a good 10 weeks following my recovery from the Auckland Marathon.

I had a week down in Wanaka with the family to holiday and check out bits of the course. I ended up only running twice down there for several reasons:

  1. The parts of the course I wanted to check out (Pisa range) cross private land, requiring difficult logistics to organise your own way.
  2. I didn’t want to get weary before the big day
  3. Holidaying is fun, so I was happy holidaying.

I caught up with Burton and we did a brief shakeout up Mt Iron, and Myles came down for the 42k as well, so we had a good MEC crew lining up.

I have to mention the weather: It was meant to be Central Otago in summer – think blue skies, low winds, hot days and cool crisp nights. Instead we had a week of significant wind and on the Saturday prior to the race, a blizzard came through and it snowed on Mts Roy, Alpha and Pisa. Interesting. So that’s why you have to take all this compulsory gear…

img_44371
3am and we are off!

But on  race day (the 28th) we had perfect weather. The 50 or so solo runners plus another 50 teams were sent off from the Albert Town Tavern at 0300, heading up Mt Iron, then along the Wanaka waterfront to the base of Roy’s Peak. There was a bit of a breeze blowing in from the West, and at that time of the morning it makes it kinda cold, but within a few minutes I was comfortable with my chosen outfit of merino T shirt with arm warmers plus extra merino T over the top (to be ditched once things warmed up). My bottom was covered with running shorts, my calves with compression socks and my feet with inov8 trail roc 255s.

The game plan was straight-forward: Get to the highest point (Mt Pisa) at 68km in decent shape, then use whatever is left to run the long downhill and flat section home to glory. I’ve done a few Tarawera 100s, but have limited experience in the mountains, and so wanted to make sure I wasn’t exposing myself (if you will) in the high altitude.

Leg 1 to Roy’s carpark was smooth sailing. I ate and drank to schedule, and found myself moving comfortably at about 5:15 min/k on the flats. It was interesting how fast others seemed to go at the start, I was initially left in the back half of the field. I came to Aid 1 (15k) right on schedule at 1:30 and struck my first hurdle: My drop bag was no where to be seen. No drop bag. Dang. That one had my gels, my bumbag and 600mL bottle and most importantly, my trekking poles.

This took me aback and I wandered anxiously, searching for the missing bag. The RD Terry was at the station and so the aid crew summoned him. He quickly helped me find the Aid 2 drop bags and we looked for the missing bag in there. Negative. Oh no. Suddenly, I remembered that I had dropped this bag off at the last minute, after having returned home to add my poles to it. I had absent-mindedly put it in the container on the far right, which meant I had sent it to Lake McKay Aid at 88k! Terry (what a legend) said he would see if someone could get it for me and bring it to Aid 2 at Cardrona Valley Rd.  I thanked him, nervously filled my bottles and grabbed a handful of the gels available and headed up the climb. I spent 10 minutes in that Aid and really should have only spent 2. But that was my fault, so there you go. What this incident did get me to do though was flick from a ‘I need to race this thing’ mindset to a ‘this thing is a mighty challenge and I need to do whatever I can to make it through to the finish’ mindset. That was a good thing, methinks.

img_44421
Great view? Yes. Great photo? Not so much.

A word on trekking poles: these things are wondrous for mountain running (hiking). They take pressure off your legs and keep you feeling stronger for longer. Its like having someone behind pushing your sorry ass up the hills. They don’t work on tight single track or overgrown grass/foliage or over boardwalks where they get stuck, but they lap up wide open dirt roads. I got mine on Dec 31 and had worked on my pole conditioning and coordination (my ‘pole dancing’ technique) so I would be ready to race with them on Jan 28.

Climbing up Roys Peak was fun. Through switchback after switchback we gained 1000m of elevation as the sun slowly rose over Wanaka town to our East. I calmed myself down and chatted to a few folk, most of whom were faster at hiking than me and steadily moved ahead. Brad was one of these people and he kindly gave me some of his fruit Danish as we told each other of our build up to this race. By the time we hit the final ridgeline (somewhat precarious) to the summit it was light enough to turn the headlamps off. I had warmed up, and paradoxically, the wind had dropped now that we were at 1500m too. There were plenty of tourists at the top, as the conditions were perfect to witness the sunrise. It was truly spectacular to have beautiful landscapes in 360 degrees as the sun peaked over the hill and I was feeling good!

img_44451
I don’t always watch the sunrise, but when I do I wear my butcher’s boots.

I took a pic or two and headed along the skyline singletrack to Mt Alpha, marvelling at the view of Mount Aspiring and the Southern Alps to the North West. The great reputation of this trail totally matched my experience and I felt filled up by the rich visuals surrounding me.

Happiness on the ridgeline
Happiness on the ridgeline

The ridgeline to Mt Alpha was great fun, and I started to catch back up to a few of the fast hikers. We summited and then started our descent, running swiftly to the amazing Alpha Aid Station. Co -RD Ed (co-legend) had driven his 4WD up and he was there with his missus dishing out water, chips and hot pies. Yep, they had a diesel generator at 1500m and a pie warmer. I gushed, and promptly downed two mince pasties. Then, with bottles filled, I continued my descent. It was 12k downhill to the Cardrona Valley and I steadily caught runners despite taking it easy on my legs. Again, this part of the trail was truly gorgeous and I arrived in Cardrona with the body feeling good and the mind at peace.

img_44541
Alpha Aid Station. Yes, that’s a pie warmer. Best. Alpine. Aid. Ever.

It was great to see the family at this point. We had been going nearly 40k and taken a good 5 and 1/4 hours. It was also great to see my drop bag had made it with my poles! I took my time to swap clothes, and top up supplies before chasing back after Brad who had already made his way toward the big climb up the Criffle Range.

We crossed the Cardona River (chilly but nice at mid shin level) and I cranked out the poles as our second 1000m+ ascent began. This one differed from the first in that you couldn’t see right to the top as it had several false summits, but you could see North to Wanaka and South to the Alps so we enjoyed some terrific views as the sun continued to rise. It wasn’t too hot though, I was fine in a t-shirt merino with the gloves and arm warmers well and truly stowed now.

img_44571
View from Criffle range to Wanaka.

I was a bit more on pace with my contemporaries on this climb, but again Brad pulled away. It sure felt nice having the poles to assist though. I got to the top of Little Criffle in just under 2 hours. At this minor aid station there was a lonely looking dude sitting on the back of a quad bike loaded with water and a bag or two of chips. I topped up the bottles, took a selfie and said a hearty thanks as I left.

The 12k section south to Bob Lee Hut was rather bland. You follow a 4WD track along the top of the range, but often so far inland that there are no views. The only vegetation is tussock, so although your first 5k of this is rather pretty, it is nothing on the visual symphony of Roys Peak and the skyline trail.

img_44601
Top o Little Criffle Selfie

Coming into and out of Bob Lee Hut Aid I made a couple of errors – I lost the trail twice in a short period of time. The first time was my fault, I saw a crushed red cone ahead and missed the massive row of intact cones on the left hairpin when I passed through a fence. The second one could have been avoided with better markings. As I left the Hut, I was told to follow the fence line down to the track. I ran down the fenceline for 100m where the track departed from it to the right, which I took and ran downhill for half a km. Then I realised I hadn’t seen any markers and had to walk back up the hill to the station where I had departed the ‘track’. I was surprised how buoyant I was when faced with these wasted efforts. I think pacing my run to finish strong meant I had a good reserve and that helped keep me going when these things went astray.

We were now 60k in, 9 hours down. I was feeling weary but not really sore. My nutrition and fluid regime was working well (gels and water only on the go, topped up by real food PRN at the aid stations). The real milestone though was getting to the top of Mt Pisa. I remembered it being about 10k from the Hut, but the advice we got as we left was that it was 12 or so. In any case, I was keen to get there in good shape. For me, being 2000m high and 12+k to the nearest vehicle was not a place I wanted to run myself into the ground at. So I was really happy to pull up alongside Andy from Dunedin, and I took it easy while we ascended and chatted together. We made the top in 1:36, meaning it was nearly 2pm. It was still sunny but it was pretty cold with gusts from the West. My arm warmers were back on when we hit the aid station. Some poor soul had been abandoned to serve water to sweaty runners on this desolate mountain top in the wind. Lucky guy. If I thought the section to Bob Lee was a bit barren, this leg was just plain stark desert. Few tussock remained and we traversed long straights with nothing but dry rocks at our side. This was not the Southern Alps that make us romantic and misty eyed. Having run through the Rangipo desert a couple of times, I can tell you I would far prefer that environment, because you have a view. I guess what I became aware of on this run is that I like running in the mountains, but more accurately I love running where there are great views and interesting features. I want a visual feast if I am to don the ultrarunning robes. I want to at least get a buzz on if I am to drink the cup of suffering.

So no, you will not find me entering any of the masochistic ultras anytime soon. I am a trail runner, who runs ultras on occasion, but there must be a payoff. You may not care where you run, I do and I’m OK with that. Runner, know thyself!

img_44621
Top o Pisa Aid. Misery loves company.

Where were we, oh yes, top of Mt Pisa. Well, now the fun begins: a 20k downhill where we drop from 2000m to 300m ASL. It would certainly be amazing on a MTB – that Big Easy ride would be all time! Its not such a picnic running down however, especially on legs that have run for 11hrs+ and 4000M+ climb. So I changed plans and kept my poles out, hoping that they would take a bit of the bashing my legs were gonna receive over the next 2 hours.  I turned the music on and started to let the legs roll. After a while, people I hadn’t seen since before I lost the trail came back to view. I was making ground! Then the view appeared as we moved out of the centre of the range and all of a sudden I was hit with the magnificent scene of Lake Hawea, the Clutha River, Mount Iron and Wanaka. The grin appeared, the arms went up. I began to hoot and cheer. This was great. The hill high carried me down to the farm at the bottom, somewhat tempered by the increase in gradient as we finished the descent. The knees were letting me know they had been abused, but there was no catastrophic damage and I was a happy man rolling into Lake McKay Aid to see my family once again.

12 k to go to the finish. I put on the MEC singlet for the heat (and to represent!). I keep the poles, as I have a hunch they will help me start up every time a stop threatens to seize my legs like rust. I pass more people and although I am well achey, I am in good spirits as my race plan seems to have been a smart one. But somewhere just before Stevenson Road Aid my knees become more than sore, and I stop running freely. Have I eaten lately? Not really, I thought I could cut back now we have just 7k remaining. Those caffeine gels are tasting gross and I’d rather not have another thanks. I will myself to the Aid and realise that I will be caught if I don’t shake this shutdown. So I smash some fluids. They don’t taste sugary enough (who makes that non-sugar electrolyte rubbish, what absolute homeopathic codswallop… rant over), and I know I need energy. So I have a half banana, and then another half. Then I make myself leave the Aid, despite the chair looking so appealing. It hurts so much to start running. The flats are the worst. I can walk hills guilt-free. I can run down hills. But flat running is not working for me right now.

And then I get caught, first by a team runner, then a guy with mini polls I haven’t seen for ages. Then Victoria, a Chilean runner who has yo-yoed ahead and behind me since Mt Alpha. She tells me to stick with her to get to the finish. I rally somewhat and start running a bit more, but she moves steadily ahead as we cover the last few km. We hit the road at Albert Town and I look back, no one behind me, and nothing left in the legs. I walk-run to the final bridge, see Heidi waiting for me and greet her and Heather gladly as the kids join me for the final walk to the finish (I would run but Beau decides that walking is what he would like and I’m a very selfless guy). So I finish, exhausted and full of running in 14:40:48, 18th place.

On reflection I’m very pleased with this run. It was by far the hardest course I have tackled, and I measured my effort 95% spot-on. Lessons include better attention to drop bags, and making sure to eat right to the end. I fully recommend this event, its got a great team behind it and the first 40 and last 32k are just sublime to spectacular.

One more thing – We used these great GPS trackers called Yacht-Bots, which enabled friends and family to follow along at home – this was awesome! I hoped you enjoyed it – I certainly loved reading up on the FB comments from those who were following live. More (all!) races should do this. Review the race

Results

Strava

 

 

 

Raglan Karioi Trail 2016

After having a blast at this course back at the inaugural 2013 event, I have been looking for an opportunity to run it again. 2016 handed me the opportunity as it makes a perfect hilly build up race for my summer alpine adventure.img_4300

Myles joined me for this one, and we headed down to Raglan in the pre-dawn cloud. This year’s race  water contrasted greatly with 2013 – instead of relentless sun we had the whole mountain enveloped in mist and occasional squalls passing over form the South West.

The race has obviously gone from strength to strength under the passionate RD’ing of Francois. You know a guy puts his all into a race when he hikes a 50L water can up 40 degree slopes so you can have an aid on the summit ridge. This year there was a real host of post race goodies to indulge in – a great BBQ, local fruit and veg and popcorn and a couple of kegs to sample curtesy of the good guys at Pilot Brewery just up the road.img_4302

After the dawn karakia Francois set us off up the grassy slopes, heading to wards the bush line and the obscured mountain top. I was in about 10th place and comfortable as we entered the forest canopy. I had bought my trail roc 255s, somehow imaging/remembering this race as a drier affair than it was.  Should have taken the talons. It was mushy deep mud at the top, and I struggled for grip.img_4301

Pacific views on the descent to Te Toko Gorge

I made it to the top in about the same split as 2013, but took a bit longer going along the muddy ridge and down to Te Toko Gorge and the first aid station. I think this can be attributed to my lack of grip and not that I have lost my descending ability. Once again, I felt best on the Whaanga Road section – even with the hill training being my focus lately, the gruelling nature of these climbs was more than a match for me.

I caught up a bit on my 2013 split on the Whaanga Road and farm loop section. As I passed the start of the keen 10k people I knew the biggest climb was coming. And it proved once again that it was able to smack me down. I gave it my best but was unable to get a quicker split this year. I then slid my way back across the ridge before the enjoyable bomb downhill back to HQ. I stopped the clock in 2:51, 11th place (7th male), about 4 minutes faster than 2013.

So a great fun time, but not quite the demonstration of strength gains I had hoped for. A great and gruelling course. I was very impressed with the four mighty wahine ahead of me, and Chris Morrissey who showed his class by taking the race out for the 4th time, coming in just under 3 hours.

Definitely a race to recommend, I hope to be back in less than 3 years this time!

Xterra Waharau 2016

The 2016 Xterra Waharau was held on the final day of the track competition at the Rio Olympics, so I took out the iPad and we were able to both compete and take in Nick Willis second Olympic medal in the 1500m and Mo Farah’s repeat 5000m gold.
A magic day, clear and dry: there hadn’t been much rain in the lead up either so there wasn’t much mud except at the top ridge. The start and finish had moved back towards the road this year, which added a good 1k to the total distance.
This was to be my only Xterra race of the 2016 season – my other planned option at Xterra Waihi not being possible this year due to my roster. So I wanted to have a good hard race, and felt confident that I was in even better shape than last year, so had every chance of delivering.

Warming up on Puriri Grove Track

We took off fast into the climb and I pushed a little harder this year. Still, these climbs are like none on the city cones that we train on. Waharau hills are steeper and much much longer. So I found myself sitting in around 10th place, despite the extra effort.

Again, I found the downhills easy and would catch up without effort on the two patches of drop in the 9k stretch to the top of Auckland at Kohukohunui. But the last stretch of the climb – the most rugged and steep, saw me lose some time and a couple of guys caught me and I was sure I could hear more voices coming up behind. So it was a welcome relief to get back into the downhill, and I made an effort to run strong on the regular ups that punctuated the fall. I caught the two chaps again, plus a couple of others who had let me on the climbs.

You rejoin the other races on the Waharau Ridge Track. It was here that I saw another SL runner tying his shoes. Turns out he was Felix Geller, a speedster on both trail and road. All I knew was that there was now another target and so I shadowed him down the trail. We let rip down the big drops, notching some low 3:20 min/kms. I wasn’t fast enough to pass, but could maintain contact and we hooned it all the way down to the river, where we also caught and other SL runner. I charged through the river and blasted back up the hill trying to get a break from them both. Heart rate through the roof, my right hip flexors started to cramp up too. I had reached the limit, and backed off as Felix speed by. He was off, and not to be caught by me, so it was damage control on the last mile to the finish on Puriri Grove Track. I pushed as much as I could, and was grateful that the other chap was not in view behind. I finished exhausted in 2:16, 10th place.

2016 vs 2015?

Bit quicker up the hill (45 sec faster to the top, if you take out the extra bit at the start)

Equivalent on the first downhill

Faster on the Waharau Ridge Track downhill

Slower on the last km

Seconds faster overall, but further back the field.

Both years run at my limit and well executed.
MEC Results

Mid course:

Lucy Horne 1:20:33

Super Long Course:

Michael Hale 2:16:04

Sean Falconer 2:20:16

Connor Aldridge 2:39:35

Luke Strom 3:06:24

NZ Road Relays 2016

Prep
Pre event preps

The NZ Road Relays were held this last Saturday in Rotorua. The course followed the lake circumference clockwise, adding and embellishing upon the famous Marathon loop.

For the 2016 short course, there were six legs of 8.3k, 8.2k, 4.1k, 6.0k, 8.4k and a final 10.3k.
We formed two evenly matched teams and contested the social/corporate division.
MEC Tahi (in order of leg)
Sean, Jake, Connor, Megan, Sean, Connor
MEC Rua (in order of leg)

Michael, James, Michael, Lucy, Myles, Evan

Team Rua ready!
Team Rua ready!

Leg 1

The short course was also contested by the Junior Men and Women, and Masters >60. So after a short burst at the start (all social teams were seeded at the very back), Sean and Michael made their way through the field to sit behind the junior men, who were running ahead in a tight swarm. Michael was briefly ahead of Sean around the 3k mark, but was unable to make a gap and Sean caught up, then took the lead as they went into the final 2k. The first 6k were flat with some small short hills, but the last 2 saw the rural road wind up to gain 130m of elevation. Sean dominated the climb to put team Tahi into the MEC lead and social team lead at the end of leg 1.

Sean 31:37 Michael 31:53

Leg 2

Jake took the reins from Sean and made his way along the steady climb. His legs were beat from a hard run at last weekends Bay to Breakers 12k in Tauranga. James, himself recovering from a broken arm did his best to maintain contact. But in only his second run back from injury, he wasn’t able to keep Jake in his sights and he trailed off in the second half.

Jake 34:44 James 36:49

Changeover at the start of leg 3
Leg 2/3 changeover

Tahi 1:06:21 Rua 1:08:42

Leg 3

Connor got his first taste of the competition on the short third leg. It basically drops runners straight back to lake level, losing all accumulated elevation in a scant 4.1k. So it is fast and hard on the legs. Michael was backing up after leg 1, and despite the hard work less than 40 minutes previous, the legs were ready for speeding downhill. He re-caught a number of the masters and junior teams on his flight downhill.

Downhill time
Downhill time

Connor 14:44 Michael 13:07

Tahi 1:21:05  Rua 1:21:49

Leg 4

Leg 4 was for the femmes. For the 6km lap, the course joins the Rotorua Marathon course in the scenic Hamurana hills. Megan took off with a slight lead, but Lucy put in a PB-equivalent run of to pull ahead for Team Rua. Megan ran strong to limit the gap over the 6k and it was race on!p1060970

Megan 32:12 Lucy 28:48

Tahi 1:53:17 Rua 1:50:37

Leg 5

20161001-nz-road-relay-rotorua
The final changeover

The 8.4k fifth leg saw Sean return for a second go. He was head to head with Myles, who started with a headstart, but knew that Sean would be lining him up. Sean paced it to perfection, building into his run and setting the second fastest lap split for the social grade as he took Team Tahi back into the front.

Sean 32:45 Myles 40:02

Tahi 2:26:02 Rua 2:30:39

Leg 6

img_4194
Evan bringing it home for Team Rua
img_4195
Connor with 2k to go

Sean came into the final transition well ahead, and many would have thought it was game over for Team Rua. But Evan had his game face on, and set about running a new PB for 10k as he did his part to bring the teams even. Connor started strong, but was feeling the leg-shaking effects of his earlier lap and had to gut out a tough finish. And so after three hours of racing, 45km covered, the MEC teams were separated by less than 3 minutes at the finish. A galant effort from all runners and some great times too.

Connor 45:38 Evan 43:49

Tahi 3:11:42 (3rd Social) Rua 3:14:30 (4th Social)

 

Congrats to MEC Team Tahi!

PS Many thanks to Ev for the accommodation!

Running in the mountains with my mates makes me feel very alive. So I thought an international trip to the Italian Dolomites could be something to aim to for a 40th birthday celebration with the lads. Then Ron went to Bologna for a sabbatical, and the PHE conference lined up and suddenly serendipity happened in 2016.

RON’s editorial notes: This run was entirely Mike’s idea, as was this write-up. I’ll leave Mike’s work largely untouched and merely add a note here and there when he shows signs of senility or delusion (he is approaching 40 you know).

So there we were, Ron and I getting off the train at Porretta ready for 3 days of running in the Italian Apennines. The Apennines are not as famous as their Northern counterparts the Dolomites [RON: earthquakes aside], but the tight timeframes we were working to meant that the much closer location (and ready access by train) meant the Apennines were the way to go.

dsc_0568
The far left ridge was our destination (pic taken on a day we could actually see it)

Somehow I managed to break the Indian Summer, and my arrival in Italia marked the end of the Golden weather. But we started up the hill, running alongside the river in a baking hot Emilia-Romagna day.The trails in Italy are marked by a white and red stripe sign, which is great because you often get a reminder of what trail you are on mid-run (when they bother to include the trail code). The downside of this system is that it is often hard to appreciate degraded red and white paint on a weathered, rough surface (Italy has a few) and they aren’t reflective so low light makes the visualisation task harder. But it does mean you get to play spot the marker as you run though rocky trails, and holiday villages.[RON: Now before we get started, by the time Mike actually turned up fit and fresh off the plane I’d gone through a good 15+ iterations of a possible 3 day mountain run. The original criteria of keeping to high alpine ridges had somewhat diminished as serviced lodging and lunch re-supply options disappeared following the end of the Italian vacation/trekking season. Aside from lunch and lodging requirements the route needed quick evac (as we were travelling v.light) and bad weather re-routing options. And it needed to be relatively easy to navigate in all conditions (the network of marked and unmarked trails can get overwhelming in places). So we headed for some loosely defined loops in the regional park Corno alle Scale.]

Day 1: River to Lake to Village to Mountain.

We had a bit of trouble following the marked paths on our way to Lago di Suviana and ended up on some of the local roads. Not ideal, but these roads are about as pleasant as you will ever encounter – low traffic volumes and amazing scenes of old-Italiana life as you run past small farms and orchards. The heart rate would rise with the barking dogs approaching, but only once were they not contained by a fence. Saw some wild deer in the forest once we re-found the trail which was pretty cool.

img_4094

 

We had a late start so by the time we dropped down to the Lake we were ready for a lunch stop. This happened to be at a local restaurant, who were gracious and happy to host us sweaty runners inside [RON: nothing ‘happened’ here – this was a planned eating location]. We enjoyed a pasta [RON: I had a wild hare ragu and tagliatelle, think Mike had gnocchi in a simple tomato sauce] and beer and made our way onward.

dsc_0417
Day 1: Starting light with talgiatelle con wild hare ragu 

The lake was obviously feeling the effects of a dry summer so the views at waters-edge were not spectacular. We retraced our steps up to the ridge, then onto a new track as we headed down toward the river crossing at Pavana. This was a neat piece of trail with wild berries in the open and the shade from the pine forest a welcome relief from the 25+C temps we were facing.img_4107Across the river we traversed around the face of a steep escarpment and staying on the contour, made our way from one ancient village/holiday spot to the next. This was a similar running experience to the Eastern Okataina walk away – lots of leaf litter and variations in gradient without any significant hills. Trail finding (marker finding) was an issue, but we made steady progress. This took us back to the river at Moline del Pallone and we were ready for the final run for the day – the climb to Mount Cavallo and its namesake rifugio.

This was a rugged climb, initially past some more beautiful towns, and then through more pine forest. 25+ degrees of both temperature and gradient for hours is a good recipe for weariness. Add to this the nasty horseflies who buzzed around your head and then landed to bite you (hateful hateful creatures) and it was a good bit of running slog. And we spotted more wildlife – wild boar.

dsc_0441

[RON: it wasn’t until about lunchtime we were actually sure that the rifugio was actually open and expecting us – I had left some unanswered messages and we had our fingers crossed when we set off.]

But we made it up to our rifugio and rest point just before 7pm. Our host Maria was a character. A bit hard on the exterior (not happy with our later than guessed arrival), she was very proud of the rifugio and the region and was soon won over by Ron’s Italian [RON: I think it was more my charm than my Italian Mike] and our obvious delight and wonder for the trail in the area. So a hot shower, and cooked dinner of local delights (including locally harvested chestnut pappardelle, tortelloni, porchetta, oven potatoes, and vegetables) and a half litre of wine was just the thing for weary runners to make our sleep super sound that night. [RON: I should also note that Mike got scolded by Maria for eating the bread she left as a trap before she started serving food]

dsc_0447
Finishing day 2 with a second course of porchetta and roast potatoes

Day 2: The Weather Wins

We woke up bright and early (well I did, thanks jet lag) and had a typical Italian breakfast of cookies, cake and coffee. Then it was out into the moody grey clouds for our attempt along the ridge and into the high alpine region of the park. The clouds thickened in that first hour, and the rain started, a little drizzle becoming proper rain. But the temperature was good, we began at 1287m and climbed up to 1500m or so, but the temperature was probably in the low teens, very pleasant for rain on the mountains. Then the thunder started. Distant at first. We were taking stock underneath a hut on the ridge when the sky lit up and within 3 seconds an earth-shaking long roll of thunder made us take notice.

dsc_0457
That’s rain not mist folks

It’s fair to say that Ron was less bothered than I, his eyes alight at the drama around us. I was more aware of the potential for death (low odds, but still real). Our original plan was to stay on this ridge for hours and work our way up above the treeline at around 2000m. This was not such a good idea anymore so we made quick plans for a new route. We would swing down the hill to Piannaccio village for lunch before climbing back to our rifugio for the night at Segavecchia [RON: Good call Mike, I’m attacted to lightning, not sure if it’s mutual].

dsc_0466
Sweet sweet switchbacks

The run downhill in sometimes torrential rain was one of the best rain-runs of my life. The trail was gorgeous, very runnable and we were warm so it was super fun cruising along (except when the thunder would freak me again on occasion). Spotted a few fire salamanders on the way down too [RON: Despite my encouragement for Mike to give them a lick, he refused. Turns out to be a good call as they can as cause strong muscle convulsions, hypertension/hyperventilation, death, etc.].We wound our way down and arrived at the beautiful little village ready for a feed. Once again, the Italian welcome was very generous. Ron would get a good conversation going while I smiled and nodded like a simple but good tempered cousin. Some of the laughs surely came at my expense, but if that built rapport with the locals, then I would happily wear that.

dsc_0473
Go on, lick it!

We were more than happy to sit outside for our meals, saturated as we were. But Marco, the owner, got a coat rack out for all our wet gear and kindly ushered us inside by the fire. We were then treated to a glorious two course (three if you count Ron’s gelato) meal [RON: today we order a local bottle of red (premium sangiovese), I don’t recall Mike’s primo but I had a bean, ham and pasta soup, and we followed it up with crescintine (a lard fried hot bread served with cured meats, cheese), and finished with espresso]. We even had wifi (especially nice when roaming data is $10/Mb). Marco then sent us on our way with a glass of his home made mint liquor. What a guy!

dsc_0478
Weather outside
dsc_0476
Lunch inside (first course)

The road climbed up for about 3k to the rifugio, and we were there a bit earlier than expected with our reduced course. So we did a little loop before coming back down to Segavecchia, notching up a few extra kms and some serious vertical meters as nearly everywhere went up from our valley.img_4134Another hot shower [RON: Well one of us did, you used up all the hot water] another great welcome from the proprietors. We were joined at this establishment by a group of 6 Italian hikers in their 60s. This made for a more boisterous atmosphere than the night before where we were Maria’s only guests. Another amazing meal sourced from local ingredients, three courses of bliss, red wine and noccino [RON: we had a half litre of house red pre-dinner, some local lentil and grain dish to start, tagliatelle al ragu for primi, and for secondi Mike went for the pan fried scarmorza cheese with grilled vegetables while I went with the grilled sausage and vegetables, with another half litre of house red. I don’t remember if we had dessert – suspect we did]- this is how you run in the mountains people! After a less-than-excellent sleep (sharing a room with 6 old men is rather noisy with the continual toilet stops, farting and snoring), we got up early to give ourselves time to make the most of the final day.

dsc_0483
Mike’s secondo (pan fried cheese and grilled veges)

Day 3: Alpine Redemption

The weather was forecast to improve on our last day, and we had just one shot to try to get above the treeline and into some real alpine stuff. We awoke to blue skies with clouds whistling by in the strong breeze. It was game on. Segavecchia is at 980m and the high point in this part of the range is Corna alle Scale at 1980m. You climb straight up the valley and get there in 3.5k. You do the math, there is some grunty gradient at the end there for sure. It soon got warm as we climbed, then cold again as we got higher. Just before the trees ended at 1600m we donned warmer layers still.

dsc_0490

And then we were out, in the high mountain tussock, climbing hand over foot as the clouds moved in and out, sometimes giving us a glimpse of the glorious valley below. I’m still new at the alpine stuff and it was a thrill but I was keenly aware of my lack of knowledge, so the stoke was mixed with fear. Ron was forging ahead, and his experience was reassuring, though the more precarious spots of our climb sent his heart racing too [RON: I’m not one for heights and the wire-rope rock sections had me in a fearful state]. We summitted around 100 minutes after setting off. The wind was howling and clouds were rolling right across the top, but Ron had the sense to grab a photo before we scurried out off the cold.

dsc_0491

Then we followed the ridgeline path back towards where we had got to on day two. A few km in, high up on the ridge track we found red and white striped tape across the path along with some high vis ‘do not remove’ flags. As this was our only sensible way off the mountain we were obliged to cross, though crossing tape across the track was something that caused another anxious few minutes. Still not sure what it indicated, there were no rockslides or washouts to be seen.

The conditions didn’t improve, but we got to be on the leeward side of the mountain at times, including at a mountain spring of rememberance on top. I grabbed a photo and had a swig of the cool water, thinking of Bumpa, who would enjoy this tale of mountain adventure. Till then.

dsc_0492

We re-entered the forest after an hour and a half and were treated to some really lovely smooth single track. One of the cool features of this forest was the number of different environments you pass through: baking tussock with centuries-old houses (think of a classic picture of Italy), pine forest, beech forest, alpine meadows, river wetlands… So much variety.

dsc_0495

We took a steady descending route into the town of Casteluccio for our final lunch stop. The meals had been getting bigger and here they reached a climax [RON: this last meal was always going to be epic. I’d already done a reccie here and started a rapport with the proprietor Daniela. We had local beer, a starter of bread hot from the oven, olives, oil, and a caper/olive/tomato paste, for primi I had a Sicilian pasta I don’t recall the name of with cima di rapa, and Mike amused Daniela with his pasta sauce combo (you order them independently) which she then kindly corrected so he ended up with a pumpkin gnocchi with sage and butter. Sadly I don’t recall secondi, but we finished with torta di cioccolato].

Three courses, when one alone had me satisfied. We just about rolled out, and the Grappa certainly helped [RON: Daniela tried to dissuade me out of the grappa here for a more refined drink, no chance!]. Not the smartest idea to eat to popping point when you have a 5k, 300m descent to do immediately after [RON: it took me a good few hundred metres before I could actually break into a run]. There was some discomfort as we bounced down the semi-urban trail back to Poretta and the train.

dsc_0515
Mike’s gnocchi di zucca with sage and butter, and my cima di rapa (pasta type not recorded)

3 days. 75km, 5500m climb.

An amazing trip, and one I would gladly do again. However, that would require an Italian translator. Ron’s language and planning skills were both essential for this mission. Many of our initial plans were changed when rifugio owners said they weren’t actually open [RON: despite indications to the contrary a week or two before]. The ones we did manage to get to (which were great) said we were the first Kiwis to visit that they were aware of. So, my appreciation to Mr King and his planning and persuasion for getting this adventure off the ground.

I think we did a great job of making the best of the opportunities we had, and feel we were also sensible in changing our plans to accommodate the conditions. We played our hand well, and the memories will fuel me for a long time. Grazie amici, arrivederci!

[RON: If there’s ever a race that requires running after a 3 course meal with wine/beer/grappa I reckon we’re in with a shot Mike.]

img_4165
Run nicely followed by a jazz festival in Bologna