Motatapu Ultra 2018

Anyone can run well at the start of an ultra. The real challenge is to set yourself up to do so at the end.

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The Motatapu Valley, looking North

My target race this season was the Motatapu Ultra, a 51km mountain run from Glendhu Bay, Wanaka to Arrowtown. It covers four mountain passes above 1200m, and passes briefly through the Motatapu valley about halfway through the course.  The high alpine tussock, sweeping views, beech forest and punishing gradients made this race especially alluring. I’ve mentioned before that mountain runs are not necessarily my forte, but I’m drawn to them for the soaring landscapes and vigorous challenge.

The summer training plan was built upon logging some big climbs and getting as much vertical gain/loss possible. I didn’t include many really long runs (>4hrs) to minimise disruption to family. The final hard session was the Tarawera relay 4 weeks prior which gave a good race effort over 4 hours in the forest. I then switched to doing more hiking to prepare for the steep alpine climbs. My race strategy was to preserve myself, finish strong and to make the most of the runnable terrain.

It was  set to be a perfect day weather wise – sunny, no cloud and low winds. It was actually very cold at the start, like 5 degrees with a slight breeze. I was glad to have switched to a merino T shirt (sorry MEC singlet), and had added arm warmers and gloves. I planned on running comfortably on the first few kms of gravel road – nothing silly but no point sandbagging at this early stage. I was surprised to find myself back in about 30th position despite running 5 minute kms into a slight climb. My headlamp, unused (and now loose) since last winter bounced up and down on the back of my head and I failed in my attempts to tighten it on the go. But it pointed where I needed to go so I just got on with it.
Into the farm tracks the group of 30 pulled away as my speed dropped marginally as I picked my way through the loose rocks. After ten minutes or so were went into the beech forest and it was proper dark. I thought my lamp was decent, but I struggled at times to find the orange arrows. I was caught by a good half dozen people, but had prepped myself to go easy and not fight through this slow section.

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Headlamps winding up toward Fernbern Hut

It didn’t take long and we were out in the open, heading up the single track toward the Fernburn Hut. The daylight dawned and we could turn the lamps off and appreciate the beauty of the tussock filled valley. I felt good, and was taking it steady, walking any climb that was steep or long. We dropped into the hut at 75 minutes, and I was pleased to be ahead of my predicted time. I filled my bottles, put the headlamp in the back and used the facilities before heading up the valley again.

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Looking back to Wanaka as we approach Jack Hall’s saddle

The next section was a bit slower than planned (and hoped). I think the climb up to Jack Hall’s saddle was about right, but I hadn’t appreciated how slow the descent would be. We dropped 400m in less than 1200m. I shuffled down this slope, aiming to save my quads for later. It was hard, as I got caught by several more folk but bit my lip and stuck with the plan. I pulled into Highland Creek Hut, 16k done in 2:40 elapsed which was about 10 minutes off my goal time (i.e. split 15 mins slower than target). Still, I was eating regularly, feeling goood on any runnable section and felt optimistic as I went into the third leg to Roses Hut.

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Highland Creek Hut

The 11k section here had two of our ‘Big 4’ climbs. It was warming up, and the arm warmers were off and we at last came into direct sunlight sometime after 9. Fortunately it wasn’t too hot and the sun was largely at our back. I kept pace with my competitors on the climbs, and usually caught one or two, but was again left behind quickly on the descent as I nanna-ed my way down again. I supplemented my gel diet with a good ol’ one square meal as I started the next climb out of the beech forest.IMG_5231

On this third climb I started to notice the first signs that people were breaking under the load of continual steep hiking. Unscheduled rests were apparent. By the top of this climb I had caught back up to Dr Andy, a British expat doing his first ultra. We chatted as we sidled our way around the contours, then as we started to come down I played the familiar game of drifting off the back. This pattern saw me in about 50th position as we got to the bottom of the Motatapu valley. It was a formidable sight as you descended – you could see the hut 400m beneath you and behind it the towering ridge 700m above, cut through with tight switchbacks just waiting for you.

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Climb 3: Looking Down to Motatapu Valley
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Climb 3: Looking up

It was a nice jog through the stream and across the valley to Roses Hut at 27k. I checked in about 11:15 (5:07 elapsed), filled my soft flasks, grabbed a couple of pikelets and moved on. I left ahead of a number of others who were less keen to move out swiftly. Andy was there and we reconnected and power hiked this last climb. I noted my HR was a bit lower than previous hikes, revealing that my fatiguing muscles were no longer able to push as hard.

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The ominous view over the valley to Rose’s Hut and Climb 4

The climb was as brutal as it appeared. The sun was hot, winds were low and the 20% gradient pitched up to over 40% as we got near the top. It was welcome relief to hit the top, and realise that the big climbs were done. This time I was not left behind on the downhill. I had more latitude to let the brakes off, plus this descent was less steep so I had some good fun rolling the wheels down.

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Approaching the top

I got to the Arrow river, 32.5k at 6:15 on the clock. I was ready to open up the engines and burn along this flat section. But it was hardly as runnable as I expected. The river was shin deep, and wading was slow. The RD had marked the sheep tracks that cut through some braids with little pink ribbon. With eyes peeled I tried to follows these shortcuts, but regularly had to backtrack or virtually crawl underneath sharp matagouri bushes. It took 40 minutes to go the 4.5km to Macetown, but remarkably I pulled ahead of several others, including Dr Andy who had taken a wrong turn.

It started becoming runnable as we approached Macetown and I was beginning to have some real fun, running strong through the river trail. Every bend in the river I looked ahead for another shirt to chase down. I had a quick bottle refill and cup of coke in the Aid station and sped off. My cruising pace was low 5 min kms, interrupted only by the very regular river crossings. I got faster still, but annoyingly the people to catch seemed to dry up. I felt good, and would have loved to know how far ahead the next person was – would pushing that extra 2% be worth the risk of sending my legs into withering cramps?

We joined the other races at the Soho river (6k to go), and I was now speeding along, passing the bikes and marathoners as I let it out downhill. I ran it strong right into the finish, stopping the clock in 8:14:35, 15th male (18th overall).

Reflections: Mission accomplished – I saved my legs and hauled myself back more than 30 positions in the last 2 hours or so. My hiking has improved, but is still the area that would need the most work to improve my position in this type of race. I ate, drank and paced very well. I feel really satisfied with this effort and it has been a great race to savour. I think last year my time would have placed me 5th overall!

Big thanks to my family for letting me indulge in such joyous endurance, and to me MEC crew for the shared times on the trails, car rides and spare beds. I’m a lucky man.

Now, time to drop the climbs and see if I can bring some stamina out of the strength.

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BTW: Burts and Ev also had cracking races, I will leave it to them to tell their stories.
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Tarawera 87k Relay 2018

MEC involvement with the Tarawera Ultra has been a constant over the last 9 years. It’s a great event and a great time, so I love to be a part of it. I didn’t have the right appetite to race it solo last year, and again this year wanted to focus my summer campaign on something more wild and enticing (stay tuned for Motatapu reports). That seemed to be the mood of a few others at MEC so we set about creating relay teams that would allow us to be involved, have a great duel and get an excellent workout prior to the big one in the South Island.

So the teams were set, Evan Atkinson and I would face off against Thom Shanks and James Spence. The MEC Thinkers vs the Feelers. It was a pretty even match with two legs for each player. Unlike last year, we couldn’t alternate legs as the no vehicle policy for the Tarawera Forest plus the new changeover spots meant it was a logistical impossibility. So it was a 1/4 and 2/3 split. Leg 1 (26k) is the most runnable, leg 2/3 (40k) the most technical with significant climb, Leg 4 (21k) a good climb and fast flat finish (if you are ready for it). Thom and Evan elected to do the 1-4, giving me and James the 40k middle section.ojohabkwiv_tum_2018_005584

Players. On paper it was very close as mentioned. James would be my mark and he had just come off a stirling 2:55 at Auckland Marathon. Adding to this stamina base he also had posted some of the quickest hill climb and 5k times in recent MEC workouts. Thom and Evan’s face-off was also tight. Thom had come off a great Auckland Marathon too, posting a 3:24 and beating Evan’s PB there. He was looking like the favorite until a summer of lethargy and injury meant he had a patchy buildup. Evan had worked consistently, balancing family and work commitments to fit in some good sessions in his full weekly schedule.

Tactics. The Thinkers reviewed this information and came up with the game plan. With Evan now the better prepared athlete, and Michael likely to shed some time to James in a straight race, the tactic was to make Thom hurt from the start. A fast start, hopefully leading to a few minute buffer for me to have over James. Then, with James chasing hard, he may make some errors giving me the opportunity to run smart and hand over to Evan to dig deep and bring it home (hopefully having inflicted more damage on Thom than he had on himself).

The duel. On the wet and warm race morning Evan took off as planned. He ran 4:40 min/ks on the flat, raising Thom’s eyebrows but good old Shanks was playing smart and held to his mark. Evan blazed through the first aid station, and Thom was forced to grab just a quick hand of jellybeans as he tried to hold on. They ran alongside the Brother’s in Arms team for a bit, just back of the front runners. Evan eventually worked his way ahead to a 50 metre lead. Substantial, but not long enough to be out of sight on the long fire roads in Tarawera forest. Thom could see his man, and would do all he good to limit the damage.

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Evan took a gel, and missed a corner. He was wondering why the trail markers were missing when he heard Thom call from inside the forest. Disaster! He quickly about-turned but the 50m lead was now in Thom’s favour. Ev doubled down on his workrate to now catch Thom. They came out at the Falls Aid station with Thom still ahead. He can be viewed here looking suspicious (watch from 2:40-3:10) in the aid station before de-fouling our pristine natural environment with a watermelon skin.

Evan poured it out over the last 5k to the Outlet aid station, slowly bridging the gap. In a gesture of goodwill Thom paused briefly and they ran into the changeover together, both exhausted having covered the ground well faster than expectations.

I got out of the changeover a little ahead with James quickly right behind me. I had the lead for the first few kilometres. It wasn’t the situation the Thinkers had hoped for, it was gonna be a straight duel. We shared some fun times on the trail before James offered to take a turn at the front. The pace increased and I was quickly faced with running myself into a hole with more than three and a half hours to go, or backing off. I chose the latter and James moved out of sight on the tight windy trails toward Humphries Bay.hhqjbhrnpy_tum_2018_004037

I got to Humphries but James had already cleared out, the volunteers saying he was just ahead. No point blowing up catching him this early, so I just ran at the fastest pace I felt I could maintain. The trail was pretty chewed up and the muddiest I had seen it over this section. I pitied the 100 Milers who would face this in a much worse way later as I passed throngs of 60k walkers and joggers who were generally very obliging to let us through.jjphruibzv_tum_2018_020154

I got to Okataina Aid ahead of schedule and saw Dave Robbo. He hadn’t seen James so I just stuck with the game plan as I power-hiked up the mighty climb to the course high point. I let it out on the bomb down the other side, big toes screaming as they mashed against the front of my shoes over the greasy clay track. Every singlet I spotted I looked for James, but despite passing plenty of people I never saw him. I kept up hammering down the road after Miller Road Aid, until slightly coming unstuck on the last 2 k, slowing as we wound back up Tennants track in a mix of exhaustion and oncoming cramp. I got to the Blue Lake and heard the bad news, James was already 10 minutes up on me. Dang.

Evan’s face at the changeover revealed the futility of our position. This gap wasn’t going to be clawed back, barring disaster for Shanks. The game plan had indeed dug a hole, but for both Thom and Evan. James’ demolition of the leg 2/3 section (fastest in category) meant we were out of the game. Thom and Ev dug deep and pushed home. The Feelers crossing the line in 8:32:20 and the Thinkers in 8:44:00.dwtkfedfiy_tum_2018_011783

Another great day, a great race (well done and well deserved to the Feelers who won the 2 person section with Thinkers second). Full credit to all the MEC racers: Ev ran a bold race, James absolutely smashed his section, and Thom showed what a competitor he is, fighting hard and drawing from the well he has dug deep over years of training. I was happy with my performance too, hitting my goal splits for all but the last few k.

Relay pace curve 2018
Leg paces for Thinkers (pink), Feelers (orange), Solo race winner (blue)

Mission accomplished – a great event, weekend away and training set in the bag, now bring on the goal race: Motatapu Adventure beckons.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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Evan bringing it home for Team Rua
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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.