The Great Kauri Cranleigh Run – 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full results here.
Strava link here.

Tarawera Ultra 102.8km – a year in the making

The BHAG – (Big Hairy Achievable Goal)

The Tarawera Ultra Marathon (TUM) for the last 12-18 months has been my BHAG. The goal out in the distance that you dare to tackle, that motivates you to go for that run when you are too busy, or when you’d rather sleep. For most of that time it wasn’t spoken of directly, as this would put yourself out there for critique, but bubbling under the surface was a desire to knock this outrageous distance off. Big… Tick. Hairy… Tick. Achievable…. Well that is the real question, and the one that motivated me. The thought it was achievable entered the realms of possibility @TUM2015 when as pacer I saw first-hand my brother and Thom Shanks successfully knock it off. Wow what an amazing event and even more so, something that weekend warrior athletes like us could achieve with training and guts!

TuM_Allan_007287
Having paced him through the dark moments, So proud of Dave as he finished in 2015

First though, before I dared to fully believe, I would have to prove to myself (and others) that my cricket battered body could sustain the long efforts. This would come by way of the Auckland Marathon and Kepler Challenge.

Cramps

Having played premier Auckland club cricket for more than 10 years as an opening bowler, I am good with endurance. Every season I would have long days of bowling up to 30 overs in a day, and the recovery would take most of the next week. However, this also lead to a lot of injuries and numerous coping adaptations in my physiology. These would become evident when pushing into endurance events. The primary symptoms being knee issues and cramps. These cramps are my primary competition when racing. Sometimes I am in front and beat them, at other times, they get the better of me. The best way to describe it is like a vice that mid-race has been attached across your thighs with someone slowly tightening it until you stop and walk at which point it slowly retreats again. Push hard and you will be forced to stop completely. So instead, a fine balancing act is required to hit a pace that can sustain semi-cramp without tipping over the edge.

These cramps first appeared when training for the Routeburn classic. Training runs >25km would end with cramps >>> Cue a trial and error process of looking into all possible causes: Salts / Hydration / Nutrition / Compression clothing (or not) / then technique and conditioning. Still no obvious cause or solution was found.

IMG_8059
Routeburn Classic 2014. My first taste of trail running and I liked it!

The 32km Routeburn Classic in 2014 (do it!) was finished nursing these cramps. The Rotorua Marathon likewise. Then in 2014, knee issues caused a withdrawal from the Auckland Marathon and I sought the advice of a new Physio. At the advice of the MEC boys I visited Vaughan @ Sportslab.

2015 – Rehabilitation and Conditioning

2015 was a good year for running. I steadily increased my km’s from 15km to 20 to 30 or even 50km/week as my knee got more reliable and Vaughan made progress unwinding many unhelpful adaptations from years of cricket. Running with the MEC guys provided ample motivation, inspiration and camaraderie to push on. A disappointing Millwater 10km was appeased by a perfect race strategy and PB at the Onehunga Half Marathon.

Distance was put to the test with the Auckland Marathon. As I approached St Heliers with 12km to go, I was just waiting for the cramps to set in. It wasn’t too long till they arrived at Mission Bay. Fearing the worst, I settled into ‘managing the vice across my knees’. However this time around, by taking regular short walks and managing the cramps, I made it to the finish in a big PB, losing only 5 minutes on the return leg from St Heliers. Perhaps I had a strategy for managing this after all…

Kepler Challenge (60k & 2000+m climb)

2015 built to a crescendo with the Kepler Challenge. Such an amazing race, and a must do for everyone who enjoys trail running. The Kepler was my BHAG before I learned about TUM. It is a fantastic event in sublime landscapes. Even better we mustered 4 entries from MEC boys and the scene was set for a great adventure. (See Thom’s Kepler Report). Heading into the great unknown of a >42km run, this is pretty much how I approached the race:

  • Have a good time with the boys enjoying the adventure
  • Walk all the hills
  • Plan to be in running shape once we are off the mountain at halfway,
  • then see what happens.
IMG_1365
Loving the Ridge-back Running of the Kepler Challenge

All started well, it is such an amazing part of the world, what a privilege to be able to do this. Unexpectedly, I was also consistently finding the pace comfortable. I smashed the downhill (as this is my forte and free-wheeling is actually easier for my knee), then had a long aid station stop as the boys caught up. I was still feeling fresh and pushed the boys pace on the flat track, but decided to essentially stay together as I was entering unknown territory and I figured it was wiser to stay with the experienced group, and save it for the end. Eventually I felt I wasn’t being efficient and set off at my own pace. Much to my disappointment despite my best efforts, the cramps arrived with ~ 10km to go. I walk-runned toward the finish the best I could, but was passed by a fast finishing Thom Shanks (big respect) with only a precious few km’s to go.

Not to worry, I got the amazing experience that I wanted, and along the way learned a few things:

  • I could run more than 42 km !!!
  • By walking the hills and pacing well I held off cramps till 50km.
  • When absolutely shagged and battling cramps, I could still walk/run at 7.5min kms.
  • Running with a backpack for 8+ hours (with a dodgy neck like mine) is rubbish, avoid it if you can.
  • If you care about your finishing time (or beating your mates), then run your own race!

I was stoked with my race and it was really good fun knocking out an ultra with the boys. But afterwards I wondered what would have happened if I had not waited at aid stations, been more goal focused, and set my own pace…

Final Prep

The recovery from the Kepler was not straight forward. I had dug deep into the well to finish that one and my knee was now protesting. This became clear when (perhaps a little too soon after the Kepler) pacing Ron on the starting 32km of this Auckland Traverse. I came to realise that my body needed longer to recover from long efforts than I had been allowing. I developed a new appreciation for recovery runs and learned I would need to leave a good month between long efforts heading towards TUM. On Mike and Vaughan’s advice the focus went on maximising training without aggravation. This meant a diet of ~10km runs, stopping before knee pain set in, trading distance with hitting as many hills as possible. (My Strava heat map of Mt Eden is pretty concentrated). This worked well enough but didn’t build confidence. I still needed to prove to myself that I would have a shot at making it to 100km.

This came by way of the mid-summer double header. A morning Marathon on the Hillary Trail with Caleb, followed by a half marathon in the evening. I think that second run in the evening was mentally and physically the hardest run I have ever done (dropped 3kg that day). My knee was aggravating me consistently, and I was totally spent. However, for the second time now, when totally shagged and sore, I could still chip away and walk/run @ 7.5min kms. Despite the pain on the day, I recovered well (under the new regime) and had a new found confidence that whatever shape I was in, I would make it to the finish!

IMG_1541
Sunrise on the Te Henga walkway Marathon with Caleb.

The TUM Plan

Applying lessons learned from the Kepler, I set a race strategy as follows:

  • Fast hike the hills.
  • Every 1km of consistent running, walk a 100m to let the knee recover.
  • Run with company if possible, but run my own race (and don’t wait at aid stations for anyone).
  • Above all else, my only real goal was to reach the finish line. That was the prize I was after, anything more would be an added bonus.

Using Ron’s time predictor, I loaded up for a steady race, with a fade factor equivalent to finishing the race walk-running those 7.5min/kms. This came out predicting 14.5 hours. A good goal I figured, as this was about Thom’s time from last year. I printed out for Kristy timing charts for each aid station based on three scenarios; Expected (14.5 hrs) / Blow-out (15.5 hrs), and if the stars aligned, an Optimistic schedule for 13.5hrs.

Final preparation was good. Down in Rotorua early soaking it up, we shared a great night-before dinner with the MEC guys. I was particularly happy to figure a way to attach my seam sealed jacket to my racing belt. So if I could manage a handheld drink bottle (I had used only once before), then I would have my goal of avoiding the dreaded back-pack.

Race Day

Heading out at the start with Thom, I found it surprisingly tough going in the slippery conditions. Matching Thom’s pace also had me working harder than expected, but we arrived at Blue Lake pretty much right on schedule, to our adoring fans.

IMG_1582
Supporters are the best. Out all day with the kids in the rain for a brief moment of encouragement.

The next leg set in play the major dynamic of the run. With all my hill work, I was consistently pushing the pace going up and down the hills. On the flat however my sparring partner Thom, was quicker, with my regular walking breaks (to let my knee recover) causing me to regularly play catch up. At the same time we looked to run together and in our competitive yet supportive approach, whenever someone needed to stop to pee (or walk) the other would forge ahead, but at an easy pace. Neither of us wanted to drop behind and a serious effort was put in each time to link up again.

As I headed over the hills to Okataina, I noticed I was stretching Thom, and with the experience of the Kepler fresh in my mind, if I was going to put a move on, I would have to put some serious distance on Thom knowing he is a very strong finisher.

The leg from Okataina to the Outlet is where I made my move. Having caught and commiserated with a brave battling Brent Kelly, I was moving freely and at my own pace stretched away from the comrades. That middle section is very tough going and at 55km I first heard the familiar voice of those cramps starting to taunt me with whispers of ‘I’m not far away, here I come’. While walking it off, I got a timely ‘pep talk’ from fellow competitor Fran, a school teacher who told me in no uncertain terms ‘Don’t be a pussy, you are going to finish this 100km! I will check the board at the end and make sure you weren’t a pussy!’ OK, Yes Maam!

Coming into the Falls, I was stoked to have made 62km right on schedule and in such good shape, much better than when I finished the Kepler. I was at the food table looking forward to my change into running shoes when Thom appeared at my side. It was good to have my sparring partner back for the second half, but to be honest I was a bit disappointed. I thought I would have been a good distance ahead. I should have known better, Thom is tenacious and to get line honours, I would need to finish strong.

The 2nd Half (The Business End of the race)

In our new slippers we set off at a good clip on the leg to Titoki. Running pace was good, but my knee was requiring regular walks. It was quite a funny scene, I’d pull ahead then with each walk, Thom would go past. Back running I would set sights on Thom before walking again. This to and fro fun came to an end when the dreaded cramps hit me head on at 67km. Still 35km to go…. Thom sympathised with my misfortune and forged ahead. I was left to contemplate how I would walk out the last 35km. I am not an overly emotional person, and my rational brain kicked into solving how am I going to do this. System Check: I’m feeling good, my nutrition is good, my fluids are good, if I can manage these cramps I will still do it. So the plan was: Salts, more gels, walking and… a little ‘potion’. The week before the race, I picked up some ‘Cramp Stop’ homeopathic spray. With nothing to lose (hell I’ll take placebo effect if it works!), I took the 3 x 5 sprays over the next 5 minutes walking and to my great relief, my legs loosened up and I could get back to having both feet off the ground at the same time!

P1040510-001

With Thom well out of sight, I focused on keeping moving, managing the tightness of the vice across my thighs with regular walks, magic spray and salts. My conditioning was good and I was regularly passing people on the hills and my natural pace was good when able to run. Awaroa arrived after an age, and the loop of despair turned out to be the loop of passing people. It was actually harder going down than up.

MEC SEGMENT CHAMPION

As a member of the 2nd Tier @ MEC, I would like to take a minute to highlight my first MEC victory. At the 2016 TUM I was the fastest entrant in the Awaroa to Fisherman’s Bridge Race. I was onto something, I stopped walking for the sake of knee pain and just dug in for the last 20km. I arrived at Fisherman’s Bridge to find that my loyal supporters out in the rain had been wrong footed by my pace and were nowhere to be seen. Between Titoki and Fisherman’s Bridge, I had moved from the ‘Expected’ timetable onto the ‘Optimistic’ timetable. But I wasn’t the only one, and l had to let Elysia know that Thom was not behind, but in front of me, and she better haul it to River Road asap! (See Strava FlyBy)

StravaFlyBy
In hot pursuit of Thom, Brent rolling down the loop of despair, Ron and Caleb coasting to the finish

Ploughing ahead in the pouring rain and splashing my way along the river, I arrived into River Road to a very enthused family who simply gave me a kick in the pants and said THOM IS ONLY 3 MINTUES AHEAD, GET MOVING!!!! That was just the elixir I needed and with target acquired I peeled off my fastest km of the race. At the start of every straight I scanned ahead for green shirts. There’s Thom, nope that green shirt has sleeves, it must be a TUM race shirt. I was pulling out the stops, but with 2km to go, that vice closed up again and I realised I had pushed it too hard. In the last couple of km, I had to give up the chase and just get to the finish. With 500m to go, a multiple cramp lockup of the quads, hammies and calves halted me to a static stretch. The Kawerau locals hollered from the side of the road ‘JUST GET MOVING’!

Finally the home straight and my two biggest fans literally ran straight into my legs. Hand in hand we ran over the line and to my astonishment I was the best part of an hour ahead of my target in a time of 13hrs 34mins. With all systems cramping I picked up the boys and ‘smiled’ for the post-race photo. Job done. 

In terms of numbers: Of the 623 brave souls that entered, 316 completed the challenge and quite respectably I was 116th over the line.

TUM_2016_025156

Reflections – If you are still with me 😉

  • Completing Tarawera, was a massive achievement of determination, not just on the day, but in getting to the start line. That is something I am very proud of.
  • I succeeded at the BHAG. Something that was intimidating with no guarantee that I would be able to do it, and I managed to surprise myself in beating my challenges to do so.
  • Thom was a great partner in crime and I have no doubt that the competitive element of our race drove us both faster than we would have on our own. In point of fact, this rivalry dynamic is no doubt the reason why Thom and I (perennial MEC chasers) put in the fastest MEC times on the 40km’s from the Falls to the finish this year. (Of note: despite not seeing each other, only 1sec separated our times over the last 20km) Congrats on your race Thom you are an amazing competitor and I hope to line up with you again soon.(See Thom’s Report)
  • This was the perfect culmination of all the lessons I have learned in trail running. Right Shoes / Clothing / Gear / Nutrition / Hydration / Race Management all came together so so well.
  • The weather was tough, and the course slow, but I really enjoyed not being too hot. Once you are wet, you are wet aren’t you…
  • Expectations are a funny thing. The day after, I think I was the most stoked of the MEC runners despite finishing 90+ minute behind the MEC lead pack. (See Ron’s Report)
  • Mike, I have a lot of respect for a tough runner who still has the wisdom to know when to fight another day. (See Mike’s Report)
  • Brent, what a legend. To grind out a finish in such a state as you clearly were, having already completed TUM before, demonstrates what a tough determined competitor you are.(See Brent’s Report)
  • Cramp Stop spray works !!!!
P1040518
Get up Dad! … I Caaaannnn’ttt Craaaaamppp

Many thanks to Mike, Ron and all the MEC guys for your advice and to Vaughan @ Sportslab for keeping me able to run all year. Dave, for being my running buddy and for showing me that Aky’s can do this endurance thing. Gutted I couldn’t do it with you this time, but no doubt we will have many more adventures. Most of all, thank you to my lovely wife for supporting me in my hours out training when you’d rather have your husband at home sharing the load. Time for the next challenge… Baby number 3.

But I’ll be back.

Tarawera Ultra C̶h̶u̶n̶d̶e̶r̶t̶h̶o̶n̶ Marathon 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Game On!
Game On!

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

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

Feeling Good @ Okereka
Feeling Good @ Okereka

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

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

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

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

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

I lied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strava link here.

Auckland Marathon 2015 – 11 years to a PB

In all honesty it wasn’t until 4pm the day before that I committed to really race the marathon. My hesitancy had started back in Autumn, when we found out that the event was going to be held at the same time as the Rugby World Cup final. I initially wrote off the idea of competing and missing the game.

As time went on though, I could just tell that despite that decision, I really wanted to run. I’d had a great Winter season, started Spring with a new 21.1k PB and so decided to go with my passion and run the marathon. With the Xterra Waihi and a few niggles though, I didn’t get any specific road marathon work done in the last 5 weeks.

Also, my big goal for Spring is the upcoming SkyRockNRun mountain marathon down in Canterbury. With only 3 weeks between the Auckland Marathon and that one, I thought it would be smarter to just enter the Auckland run for a good long training run, but not race.

I even made a great plan for a glorious 42k of eating and drinking – a “Calorie Positive Marathon” (this idea will have to do be done some other time). But once again, as I sat down to plan the next day’s run, I could hear my running legs (as Heidi says) calling – they wanted at least a chance to go fast.

So a new plan: run at what would be marathon PB pace until halfway – then reassess if it’s worth continuing at that effort (and thrashing the body), or just toning down and jogging the rest for a good long run with a bit of tempo to start. Brent was keen to join, and Ron would meet us at O’Hagan’s for the second half.

We watched the first half of the RWC in a cool SW breeze, before making our way down to the line. My lapse in preparation was not going to pee before the start, and not bringing enough gear for sitting still and watching a match in a light gale. But the pace from the start felt sweet, and Brent and I chugged along – me listening to the rugby and updating our group of the All Black’s progress.

I don't always run marathons... But when I do I like to strap innersoles to my race belt.
I don’t always run marathons… But when I do I like to strap innersoles to my race belt.

 

Getting onto the Northern Motorway we really noticed that breeze in our face so we tucked into a small group as much as possible, and were somewhat concerned that it could take away our chance at a best time. Over the harbour bridge and round to Curran St I was still feeling sweet but needed to duck into the bushes for a mimi. Brent and the other four were up the road after that, but I felt great and made it my goal to slowly/steadily reattach to the group.

It took longer than I thought, and I noticed I was surging a little at times through Wynyard Quarter with this goal driving me on. I told myself to take it easy as no good could come of expending that effort before half way. Brent told me afterward that they had all lifted the pace at this point – so no wonder I was struggling to catch up.

I went through the half in 1:27 plus change. On target, and within 30 sec of last year’s split. Brent was only 50m ahead and Ron cheered us from the sidelines. As did a myriad of cheery, boozy punters emerging from the bars. I’ve never had so much support through the viaduct before!

Running out along the waterfront, I was feeling very good. Still running within myself, the pace was spot on, and the effort and heart rate were sustainable. I caught Brent at the Ngapipi Road bridge, where Dad began supporting us on his bike.

As we got into Okahu Bay, Brent started to slow as he felt cramps start to settle in. I stayed on pace, and shouted some encouragement as he drifted back. I got a huge lift from Sam Thom plus whanau who were out in force at Kohimarama beach. Hit the turn at St Heliers, and unlike last year I just kept the pace constant. Runners kept coming to me as I stayed steady and I knew I would need to finish stronger than last time to get the best time.

Going past Kelly Tarlton's
Going past Kelly Tarlton’s

Good call, as the race just seems to come to you in the marathon. You don’t need to go seeking the hurt – if you are giving an honest effort, it will find you. The effort to hold my pace steadily increased, but I was able to rise to it as I had been reasonable from the start. The SW winds weren’t too much a problem – it felt like you got gusts in both directions as you round the headlands so going back into town was similar to coming out, wind-wise.

Brent battling the MEC-lookalike in Mission Bay.
Brent battling the MEC-lookalike in Mission Bay.

I managed to have a little bit more to give for the last 4 or 5 km. Just a few seconds per km, but that felt like a heck of a lot at that stage in the game. I rallied for a fast finish, but was actually very spent so it wasn’t a blistering final 200. Still – I crossed in 2:54:41 – beating my 2004 time by almost a minute!

Another great day with some great results all round from the MEC – all 5 of us finished (yay) and got best times.

Thanks to all the cheering entourage, especially Stu for the steady support and photos you see here.

Onehunga Half Marathon 2015

Gonna try something a bit different here – a wiki-report. I have uploaded some pics and stats and now I invite you, the MEC team to give us your story in the comments section.

A perfect day. Still, sunny and cold. Ideal for racing on the fast, flat waterfront course of the Onehunga Half Marathon.

The MEC was well represented with a crew of eight runners (plus a few mates as well) taking part.

Sam Thom took first place in 1:19:29 with Caleb Pearson completing the MEC quinella in 1:19:51.

Paul OHM MEC OHM Dave OSM Caleb OSM ME H OSM

Personal Bests:

Sam Thom: 1:19:29

Caleb Pearson 1:19:51

Michael Hale 1:22:16

Brent Kelly 1:23:19

Evan Atkinson 1:38:44

A Winter 3 in 1 Report

A tasty triumvirate of race reports here – covering the local MEC action for the last 6 weeks.

MEC Maunga ManMaunga Goat down

The inaugural Maunga Man was held on a true winter’s day on July 4th at Mt Mangere Domain. A hardy crew took on the challenging course amidst torrents of rain and swirling low cloud. The format was simple: complete as many loops of the course in 60 minutes. At 60 minutes, the horn blew and you finished the lap you were on. Most laps wins.

Ron King (we use his real name in the results on this site) was crowned the first Maunga Man, with a complete display of climbing strength, solid pace judgement and technical descending skills.

Its great course for spectator viewing (when its not pouring with rain) and makes for a solid hill session. Lots of positive feedback from the attendees, and its right on our doorstep, so an event to be repeated methinks!

Millwater 10k

A fortnight later was the fast road 10k around the Orewa basin. Another wet and windy day greeted Team Green for this one too. The Atkinson Bros were targeting a sub 45. Evan hit the early splits no problem but it wasn’t feeling right and he came unstuck into the headwind on the north side of the Estuary. Just as he was struggling, his brother Dave struck him a further blow, catching him and pulling ahead. They came in 16th and 18th with Dave getting 44:21 and Evan 45:01.

I was involved in a three-way (haven’t written that sentence before) battle with Ron and Brent. We stuck together from the start, pacing it out in a conservative manner for the first 3k, before Ron snuck ahead and I made break to catch him. I had closed the gap by 5k and Brent was back a further 30 metres, but Ron held his pace into the headwind as I faded. The challenge was now to try to keep ahead of Brent. Fortunately we had a couple of other guys ahead who were tiring more than us which made for some good targets. The gap grew to Ron ahead until he was over a 100m ahead, however Brent would never get further than 50 metres behind, and I was very wary of the local speedster taking me out on his home turf. The promised lap around the sports field at the end was never delivered, and we finished what we all felt was a slightly short course. Ron was second in 36:22, I was 5th in 36:58 and Brent 6th in 37:12.

Xterra Waharau

The closest I got to the KingI had been wanting to race this one for the last couple of years and finally got it together for 2015. The super long course has probably the longest single climb of any event in Auckland. You start at 20m above sea level, and climb through forest roads into lovely single track all the way to Kohokohunui, the highest point in Auckland at 688m. This is done in 9km, with a 1km break at the halfway point where you lose a good 150m of elevation. So a truly juicy climb.

I was feeling good, but didn’t feel comfortable to stay with Ron and started to drift back slowly after 1500m or so. I was in about 10th spot and wanted to find a rhythm and be sensible, knowing I had an hour of running uphill before I would get to the top. I felt good on the downhill break and caught a couple of guys who had passed me. This gave me hope for the second half of the course – what goes up must come down! I summited a few seconds after 70 minutes elapsed and relished the delightful single track on the ridge top there, quickly catching 3 guys ahead.

I saw one other fellow just ahead and worked alongside him. He then took off like a stung pig and I merrily followed behind. He was quite the descender, but I always managed to hold close. The downhill leg started off slippery and technical, punctuated with short climbs. It then became longer steep-but-runnable 4WD tracks, not too rutted but with low traction. I careened along behind this chap for a good 5k before making a move on a climb and dropping him.

I had no idea how far ahead anyone else was, but I still had about 5k to go and pushed along. Although I sped down the big Puriri Track downhill, the only people I was able to catch were from other events. Still, it was a good second half for me and I was happy with my 2:12:01 for 20k with 1000m climb and 6th place overall. A great course and one I look forward to having another crack at!

Kudos to Ron for his 2:09:43 5th place and Luke Strom who was top 10 in the long course with a super well paced 1:49:59 17k with 1000m climb.

Xterra Shakespear 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

M.E.C results:

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

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