Hello Dad and Mike and interweb denizens, yes it’s been a while since I posted anything about running.
Soon after the last event I entered in February this year (the Tarawera relay with Mike) I suffered a rude reminder of middle age with what turned out to be a herniated disc. Unlike previous lower back spasm type incidents this also came with sciatica (nerve pain). Luckily being in my mid-forties I had sense enough to seek treatment. Not so luckily, this did sweet nothing after 3-4 months after following professional advice. Plan-B, Google my way out of it (and listen to my wife).
Solution was some McKenzie exercises and completely giving up the bike, any bike, all bikes. Though turns out running was a non-issue. Just to be sure I adjusted my running pose a little and made sure even slow runs were +180 cadence to keep it super low impact. Increasing running volume week on week had nil effect. Pain diminishing, mobility increasing. Runner reborn.
Those long, long days of not running gave some reflection of what I really wanted to do. Run fast or run long? Long won out, but with some concessions (PB’s in 5, 10, 21, 42, 50, 160km – lacking road stuff I’ve got a pretty soft history). So I entered Northburn again with the option of the TUM 100M when it opens. Turns out the TUM 100M requires a +50km trail qualifying criteria. Hence the Taniwha, a proper distance back recovery test and a TUM qualifier (the Italy sojourn put all my official trail stuff outside the time frame).
All I knew about the Taniwha was that it was a Total Sport event (good vibes and beer at the end) and the Waikato River trails were part of a MTB route. Figured my training was getting back on track and the course didn’t look so difficult as to target a 5:30 race pace. Turns out I’d mistaken the Waikato River trails for a more general family ‘bike trail’ which they are not. Instead they are sections of fantastic MTB single-track linked by forestry tracks and the odd road section.
The weather forecast in the lead-up was consistent – intermittent hosing rain but warm. Having bought a ticket to camp at the finish line, I opted not to have to get up 4:30am and pack up a wet tent in the dark and instead borrowed a friend’s car and slept in the boot (station wagon). Love that car’s window awnings. And my goodness, the location of that campground at the finish is spectacular and needs a post-event overnight stay with friends next time.
I’ve been fooling round with a power running meter for the last month or so and decided on a full experimental approach to the Taniwha. Calculate what pace I reckon I can sustain on the flat for ~6hrs translate that to power and let that guide my efforts irrespective of terrain. So I chose a pace of 5:30min/km looking at the course profile and previous finishing times. I made power adjustments for pack weight (water, food, and walk-out clothing options), but didn’t fully comprehend the running conditions. The Stryd power meter estimates running power via weight, gradient, and a fancy accelerometer. External resistance like mud and wind don’t factor at all. And there was a lot of mud.
Haven’t really delved into the details but figure the power readings I was following were underestimating my true output. Given that I was only looking at power, not pace, not heart rate, and actively suppressing perceived exertion guidance, there was a bit of chance at play. No better way to learn than an opportunity to fail I figure.
The Taniwha itself was great. The finish-line campsite and bus options meant I just had to get up at 0500 get changed, eat, drive 700 metres to the bus and then get ferried to the start line. Given the wet and warm conditions I opted to get wet in light merino without a rain jacket. Worked well, I may as well have been swimming at times, soaked as I was, but having applied antichafe everywhere so no worries.
Given my slavish commitment to following power numbers alone I found myself out front at the get go. I hate being in front. Fortunately I soon had company with Anthony Hancy (Ants), who was great. Chatting about family, house maintenance, training (and lack of), we were wizzing along. The pattern soon became established, I’d keep an even effort up the hills (ie. slow) and he’d pull away, then I’d catch him on the downs. The first down was a doozy, endless swtichbacks in sketchy mud.
The first 30km felt pretty effortless, though I was noting the sections of mud and snaking MTB singletrack weren’t quite what I was expecting (I’m thinking sections of Riverhead Xterra here). And the hills were a bit more biting given a lack of hill training. I was loving the muddy downhill’s doing my best flowing single speeder impression without a bike. Ants and I disconnected at some point round the 25km(?) mark so I was by myself again… though I did have a stick insect drop in for a bit. I carefully placed him/her on colour matched foliage before moving on.
The mud went on and on and on, fun but sapping. Energy levels were still excellent though my right hammy was starting to complain, given that’s my sciatica side I initially had concerns it was connected. It wasn’t, though I had to ease up all the same. Hit the road section that signaled the end of the bigger climbs of the day so just had to cruise out for the last 20km. Then the wheels came off. Energy crashed, cramp management engaged. Left leg in solidarity with right. Super-cruise button didn’t work.
Got passed by the huge smile of Cecilia Flori around the 42km mark who’d been the shadow I’d been feeling all day. Given her form I’m guessing she could have passed us anytime she pleased, though it turns out Ants is the [solid] course record holder so she was in observation mode till he dropped off (fortunately for us his training schedule got replaced by new house fencing and maintenance). I didn’t try to latch on or keep in contact, it was pure damage control from thereon.
Pity I was internally focused for that last 20km cos they really seemed rather nice, flowing scenic trail and all. However cramp spasms left & right quads/hammies/calves were a bit distracting. After the last 6km of stupendous sketchy mud a slight climb into the carpark ~500m from the finish I came to a complete stop in a pseudo-Half Foster (Crawling to the finish line: why do endurance runners collapse?). Luckily it was only a temporary seizure, and the hobble turned walk, turned gammy jog. Thanks for the pick-up Steve.
And the result? I ran the event at precisely my estimated pace of 5:30min/km, qualified for the TUM (volunteering aside), and came in first male finisher. A mere 17min behind an in-form-quality-runner. While I came in at exactly the target pace without ever looking at pace on the watch, it wasn’t the even-Stevens result I was looking for. Though I did run the climbs slower that I might have otherwise, the overall energy output must have been way high to collapse and still get the desired finish time. Excellent learning from a successful failure I’d say.
Yes I underestimated the Taniwha in the glorious mud. Is it a fast trail 60km? It can be. Will it be easy? Nope. Would I do it again? Absolutely. Am I going to bring company? Yep.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
This 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.
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
This 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.
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.
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
I 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.
Event 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
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.
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 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.
We 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.
My 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.
Can’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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
The parts of the course I wanted to check out (Pisa range) cross private land, requiring difficult logistics to organise your own way.
I didn’t want to get weary before the big day
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…
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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