World Masters Games 2017 – An Athletic Odyssey

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

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

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

10k thumbs WMG

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

Event 2: 5000m, Sunday 23rd April

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

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

Event 3: 1500m, Tuesday 26th April

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

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

WMG Caleb lead 1500
Caleb leads the M30 1500m

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

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

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

WMG 1500 sprint
Final straight fever

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

 

Event 4: 10,000m Thursday 27 April

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

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

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

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

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

Event 5: 800m, Thursday 27 April

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

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

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

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

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

Event 7: 8k Cross Country, Sunday 30 April

Holeshot XC
The early leaders enter the first corner

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

Reflections on the series:

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

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

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

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

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

NZ Road Relays 2016

Prep
Pre event preps

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

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

Michael, James, Michael, Lucy, Myles, Evan

Team Rua ready!
Team Rua ready!

Leg 1

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

Sean 31:37 Michael 31:53

Leg 2

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

Jake 34:44 James 36:49

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

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

Leg 3

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

Downhill time
Downhill time

Connor 14:44 Michael 13:07

Tahi 1:21:05  Rua 1:21:49

Leg 4

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

Megan 32:12 Lucy 28:48

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

Leg 5

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

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

Sean 32:45 Myles 40:02

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

Leg 6

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

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

Connor 45:38 Evan 43:49

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

 

Congrats to MEC Team Tahi!

PS Many thanks to Ev for the accommodation!

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.

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

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.