Endless (End of) Summer Writeup

Tumeke Waewae at Tarawera 2017

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

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

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

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

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

TUM_2017_002988Lessons:

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

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

TUM_2017_016367

Coastal Challenge 2017

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

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

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

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

Tawharanui Coastal Challenge 2015

Takatu focusTo run like a kid over the rocks and the reef, what a feeling! My love for running these coastal events stems very much from memories of my childhood – scampering around headlands, jumping rock to rock, trying to avoid the tide from splashing my feet. This began for me at Brick Bay, just one bay North of Snells Beach. So the race from Snells – Sandspit – Campbells – Tawharanui – Omaha was really taking me back to the beginning. Would my feet remember?

James Sievers and I took part in the 30k “Full Monty” with Dave and Evan Atkinson opting for the 23k, which began at Campbells Bay. It was a low key start at Snells, with a rather small field lining up. Dave Franks, the RD said that approximately half the field had dropped out due to the postponement from May 9 (due to risk of storm swells).

Ready for your longest run ever James? You betcha
Ready for your longest run ever James? You betcha

The day was perfect though, a bit overcast, with a breeze and some gasps of late Autumn sun making it through. I stuck with my plan of starting conservatively and was very happy to see this still kept me in the top 5 as we made our way past Brick Bay and towards Sandspit. At the point we were picked up by inflatable boats and sped across the opening of the river and around the corner to Buckletons Bay (I think). Although I was disappointed not to get a good proper swim in unlike the North Shore edition, RD Dave explained that as well as being a highly trafficked section of waterway, the river mouth also leads to about 3k of mangrove bashing around the coast. Missing that was a good reason to have a ride!

The course: lots of trees and branches in the water. These were very slippery. The rocks were generally not too slippery (unlike the green slime section of NSCC). The technicality of the rocks peaked in the middle third of the race. However, the rocks are more aesthetically enjoyable than running round the headland at Shakespeare. So all in all: tough and technical but good underfoot and enjoyable.

Leaving Aid Station 1 (Campbells Bay)
Leaving Aid Station 1 (Campbells Bay)

I noticed that I was pulling away from the pack on the beach sections, and still holding my own on the rocks without having to get all breathless and force it. This boded well. I was sitting in 5th position (2 team runners included ahead) when we had a short little swim across an estuary into Baddeley’s Beach. I emerged first from this and ran the beach and short reef section into T1 at Cambells Bay. A quick refuel and another estuary to swim as we left. I again emerged first, having caught another full in the swim. We got into a nice flat rock section and the pace was flowing well. I looked back to see that I had made a decent gap back to second place. That was the last time the racing was tight, and it was only 45 minutes in.

I kept the steady pace along the rocky sections as I made my way toward Christian Bay. As mentioned, these rocks were pretty challenging to negotiate with any speed. Since I had no company and was aiming to protect my calf, I didn’t push it. I kept my steady rhythm and enjoyed the experience – running without pain and in a glorious location. What a blast!

Happy selfie
Happy selfie

After the long-awaited aid station at Tawharanui (17k), we had a final bash along the Kowhai coast. I was getting weary – mainly mentally weary of picking my way through the mass of loose rocks and kelp, so it was welcome relief to finally climb the stairs unto the Takatu peninsula after 20k of technical coastal running. Running some of my favourite trails around the headland, with views to Little Barrier and the sun shining, I was definitely in my happy place.

Still no sign of any competition so I thought I should finish strong but not flog myself, and save a bit for next weekend. I noted how much further the reef around to Omaha Bay was than what I predicted. I pick up the pace for a final tempo along the beach and made my way up to the surf club to finish – first place in the inaugural event! A great feeling.Not fast. Fun.

Coastal Challenge 10 (2012)

For a race without any hills, the Coastal sure takes it out of you. I guess it’s the constant strength-sapping lunges you make from rock to rock or the wading through thigh deep water. In any case, it feels a lot longer than its 33k.

But I knew that, this being my eighth attack on the course, and so I paced myself accordingly. I took it easy from the start, and by the first rocky corner was in about 40th place. The rocks at high tide force a single-file snake of guys running the slippery trail, and this effectively sealed me in my position for the next 2o minutes. This gave me cause for concern as I could see the front runners already over a minute ahead after just five minutes of running. On the flipside, being sandwiched in made it easier to ensure I took it easy on these rocks. You can ramp your effort right up, but it only serves to increase your pace marginally on these slippery surfaces – better to hold it in the tank for when you can really unleash.

I made the most of the two swims – choosing a good line and pulling away from several others across the Wade River. Then on the Okura Estuary, I lined up the other side, 500-600 meters away and went for it. It was quite a trip. The tide had turned and with a strong SW wind as well, there was a constant chop to contend with. It’s easy to feel a bit insecure on these swims – your legs heavy with shoes, often with no one else around you. So the chop made it feel all the more hairy.

But that suited me and again I pulled through the field. Not quite as much as our man Chris Blake who overtook about 30 guys on this section. He was having a great day on his first ever coastal run. I got out of the water just behind James Kuegler, who had been part of the front bunch, so that was encouraging. I set off on the run around the point to Long Bay and found a rhythm over the rugged terrain. James took off ahead, but he took a spill and I caught him shortly after that. I ran into Long Bay, the first third done in 1:18 – around four minutes slower than last year and in about 9th position. With a 3.2m tide about 40 minutes after the start, this was about bang on schedule.

It was real pleasant to run through Long Bay and not have to shimmy through the throngs of runners and walkers starting there. I was running comfortably with Chris Wharam, and we see-sawed back and forth, sharing the lead. This second third is super fun – less people, but just as much carnage. There were some decent waves crashing in as we rounded the points into Torbay and Browns Bay and I couldn’t help but hoot with delight as I got thrown around in the waves. I was feeling good, and keeping my pace constant on the beach sections, while allowing a bit of a break over the rocks. I moved ahead of Chris and some other guy and pulled into Milford with a split of 1:15 or so – a couple mins faster than last year.

The hordes were released at Milford – just before I got there! I arrived to chase down these 11k runners. This was easy on the beaches but I had to walk a bit on the rocky paths around the points. I wrote these off as ‘enforced rests’ and took off when the opportunity arose. The tide was much lower by then and I knew that this last third was very runable. It’s also where the wheels can really come off as people succumb to the cumulative effects of 3 hours at pace over gnarly terrain.

I was still hauling along, although the right knee was aching and I was a bit tired. At this stage in the game, I felt that I was better than average. Around one of the last points a guy asked if I was in the 22 or 33k. He told me I was coming 6th. Excellent. “How far ahead is the next guy?” “Just over there”.  I looked up and saw ‘Big’ Ed Hyde only 50m away, working his way toward Cheltenham Beach. I yelled “It’s on then!” and took off in pursuit.

Cheltenham beach is the last section of beach before a 1 mile road run to the finish. I noticed that Ed was running with another familiar character, speedy Sam Manson – and Sam wasn’t looking good. I drew even with Sam on the sand, he made an effort to stick but couldn’t hold it. Then I lined up Ed and caught him as we made our way over the soft dry sand to the road. This was thrilling – a three way battle at the finish of a three hour race! I was pumped and attacked the short climb out of Cheltenham, hoping to put some distance on Ed. As I dropped back down to the Devonport side, I could see that Ed was 50m back, but another figure was just 10-20m behind me. I just kept the pace as sharp as I could, as I hung on toward the finish. A few desperate checks revealed that the dude was not in the 33 race, so I let him draft behind me as we ploughed straight into the headwind. He unleashed the inevitable sprint to the finish, but I was glad to just be sure that Sam and Ed were well back.

I crossed in 3:25:20, in fourth place.

It was a great run. I’m really happy with how I paced myself. It’s hard to hold back in the field when you think you will be top 10, but the patient approach paid off.  I would say this race was probably my best ever at the Coastal. I have been higher up (2nd, 3rd) but this field (like 2011) was much stronger than those early events. So, a very successful late entry – making the most out of the endurance I am carrying as I head toward Tarawera 100.

And I’ve got to mention the prowess of the MEC:

Chris Blake, in his first Coastal, his longest run ever, lays it down with a 3:51 and comes 12th! Amazing effort.

Alan Lichtwark returns to the event and shows us how it’s done. His 3:54 placed him 15th overall, and a clear first in the Legend (>60yrs) division. No one over 40 was able to beat him either. Wow.