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.

ujcabgvrtb_tum_2018_001865

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.

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MEC Midwinter Mountain Mission

Day 1

Fernhill Loop and Ben Lomond Saddle

Distance 15.7km

Elevation Gain 1,328m, Max 1322m

Elapsed Time 3:14:34

Flying into Queenstown first thing proved to be a great way to start – a good night sleep and a reasonable wake-up time coupled with getting to the destination quickly. No one misses a long car drive or starting at 4 am! We were at the Ben Lomond trailhead before 11. We whipped off our travel gears and put on our tights and thermals on the side of the road and headed up into the hills.

The weather was very mild, temps 6-16 C in town, good bursts of sunshine poking through the overcast sky and mild Northerlies to keep things crisp. We powered up the smooth Fernhill climb under cover of pine trees, and marvelled at the view from the top before relishing the beech tree forest with roots and occasional bermed corners as we dropped back down.

Descending through the beech forest at Fernhill

We then climbed straight up the Ben Lomond track, again very steep but well graded and under tree cover. It quickly got very hot as we burst above the tree line into the open sun that was melting the snow and making the track quite muddy. We made great progress to get to the saddle (1322m) where the wind was really strong. A quick calculation revealed that if we kept going to the top we would have no time for a second run that day. We opted to ‘cut and run’ and so we enjoyed a second downhill drop back to the carpark.

Ben Lomond looms… we’ll be back

Burgers and beer refuelled us in Queenstown, and then we were on our way toward Mt Dewar (head towards Coronet Peak, its on your left).

Mountain run fuel

Devil’s Creek Track and Mt Dewar

Distance
 14.4km

Elevation Gain 994m, Max 1304m

Elapsed Time 2:35:52

Out of the car by 3pm, we knew the sun would set at 6, so we had to make good speed and check our progress before deciding if we had time for the summit. The track was open 4WD in some grassland/tussock. It rises up from the road and then drops down as you head towards skippers Canyon.
A quick jump across the river and you are brought over through grassland to the nose of the climb that takes you up to the Mt Dewar summit. We could see the snow on the summit, and it got cold as the clouds moved in as we neared the top.

Approaching Mt Dewar

Our steady effort was rewarded as we made the top well before sundown, took some quick pics and then sped down the gravel access road on the north side.

‘Skiing’ back down Mt Dewar

An MTB single-track took us back to Coronet Peak road and the car, a few minutes before sundown. We enjoyed a tasty Indian meal, caught the last half of the Bledisloe Cup match and then showered and slept at Burton and Mel’s place (cheers guys you are terrific).

 

Day 2

Isthmus Peak

Distance
 16.0km


Elevation Gain 1,244m Max 1386m

Elapsed Time 3:15:19

Following a well earned rest, we started Sunday morning’s run at quite a gentlemanly hour. We were taking on the Isthmus peak track, located on the West of Lake Hawea. It’s the small range that separates Hawea from Wanaka. We climbed up from the road carpark on another 4WD farm track, but this was more grassy and less tussock as we followed the switchbacks up. There was a bit more wind than Saturday and the sun was behind the clouds so it got a tad nippy as we crossed over 1000m elevation. We could see the snow on the final ridge run to the peak, so the boys stuck on their micro/nano spikes and I clung to my poles for grip. Although moderately thick, It wasn’t too icy so not bad going and no steep runoffs so we were safe. We hit the 1386m peak, and then blatted back down again.

The cumulative toll of plunging descents struck James’ quads and he was in a bit of pain going down. As was usual for this trip, it took us about half as long to get down as it did to get up, and we were back at the car ready to hit another cafe for fuel before our afternoon mission.

 

Motatapu Track taster

Distance 11.3km


Elevation Gain 537m Max 709m

Elapsed Time 2:03:31

We moved to a non-peak option to give the legs a bit of a rest from the punishment of steep, unrelenting descents. We thought the Motatapu track would be nice and gradual as it winds up from Glendhu Bay to the Fernbern Hut. It looks gradual on the thumbnail elevation chart and it does start off with a gradual climb beside the river on pasture land. However, once it enters the conservation area, it becomes a technical and fiercely undulating track skirting the steep valley edges. The setting was beautiful with cascading waterfalls, leaf litter padding out the trail and little piwakawaka chirping and dancing around you. We had given ourselves a one hour out limit to get to the hut, and with the slow going probably got within less than a km of it but had to turn to get back in good light. A very different trail and an excellent addition.

Day 3

Roy’s Peak

Distance
 15.7km

Elevation Gain 1,275m Max 1586m

Elapsed Time 2:48:26

On the final morning we got up with a bit more haste, as we needed to be done in time to get back to the airport. We gave ourselves 3 hours, expecting about 2 up, 1 down. James was giving his legs a different kind of workout on a MTB track around the Lake Wanaka and the Clutha river. Meanwhile, Sean and I were the second vehicle at the trailhead carpark and we took off up the grassy 4WD tracks. There was hardly a breath of wind at the lower reaches, but again after 1000m this picked up, though not as gusty as the day before. Cloud moved in at the 1300m+ range so our last kms were without views, and across melting snow, thankfully without steep drop-offs (we’re runners not alpinists!). For the final stretch you cross the ridge to approach the summit from the Northwest. This section was in deep snow and it was necessary to follow the previous tracks to avoid dropping to upper calf level. But it wasn’t very long (500m) and we were at the top – success! Our last destination reached, we grabbed some pics, turned around and cut loose on the descent. We alternated running at speed with taking photos and stopping to shed the layers of warmth as we emerged from the cloud into open sunshine without any wind – a scorcher! Sean showed his downhill mastery notching up several sub-4 min/ks and we arrived at the carpark in under 3hrs.

 

Summary:

5 runs, 73km distance, 5350m climbed.

A fantastic trip, outdoor adventures, amazing comradery with great food and drink and comfortable beds – what more could you ask for? This format had its genesis in the Apennine adventure and I only like it more and more! Bring on the next one.

GPS tracks routes available at https://www.gpsies.com/mapUser.do?username=doctamike

Dublin Marathon 2014 – The Journeyman explodes

A guest post from our MEC brother in Brussels, James Spence. Enjoy.

I had such a battle… Speed pacers are a huge thing in Europe.  The have them in Europe, three per time starting at the hallmark, 2 hours 59 minutes.  I don’t have the 3 hour body, instead I have a weakness.  Belgium is the home of the golden juice..  The worlds greatest beers.  People don’t understand the relevance nor the impact of being a drinker with a running problem, and an outsider living in this country.  It’s so misunderstood that I once had a visitor from nz and he bought a kiwi beer with him for us to drink.  A travesty. I hate nz beers.  Hate them.  They make you bounce waaay to much.  It makes sense in a country that drinks a lot of the worlds worst beer:  Heineken.  All that to say that it is way harder for me to beat 3 hours in this country of craftsmen.  I am forced to drink a lot.  A leffe beer in a bar in nz costs 12 dollars,  in brussels you can buy the same beer for 50 cents.

I am lucky though, brussels is a city of runners, and was made for them.  It’s known as europes greenest city, there are so many parks and forests in the. City, it’s an athletes dream.

So the result?  A real lean set of legs (which are meticulously shaven) and a wobbly gut which weighs 30 beers.  30 beers.  A runner with my legs would normally weigh 70kgs, instead I weigh 80.

I had run the antwerp marathon in 3.06 two years prior and the brussels in 3.08 three weeks prior.  I was coming to Dublin with no long runs under my belt apart from brussels. I had never been in a race where I believed it could be possible for to break 3 hours.  Brussels three weeks earlier is a very hilly course and I had recovered fairly well from that race, treating it like my long hard final training run.  In both the other races I has set out with the 315 pacers, often trying to run a negative split.  My goal this time was to stay with the three hour pacers and see where it got me.  I have huge problems running in the heat.  I have become a cold weather guy.  Reading up about it before the race, the perfect temperature for a marathon is degrees.  It was going to be 11.

I keep with pacers until 35k.  All the way thinking this was my day.  Problem is they don’t stop for a drink or a piss.  They keep on smashing it.  I stopped to get a drink at 35k and tried to start again but couldn’t.  Try as I might.  I couldn’t.  After a couple of stumbles and falls, I walked the rest of the way.  Trying to describe what happened was like being winded in the legs.  It took a month for the breathing to start again.  It’s such a battle.  Next marathon is April in antwerp. Gonna smash that one.

What I love and truly believe about running is you keep getting better.  Even if you don’t train consistently.  If you have a good stint of training for a half or a full each year,  which I have done for the last 5 or 6 years I really believe you get stronger and it comes back quicker each time.

Antwerp Marathon Report

A post here form one of our athletes abroad – James Spence at the recent Antwerp Marathon, enjoy.
 
After a long run in the snow froze my kneecaps solid, I couldn’t get back on the horse.  I still had 4 weeks to go until the Antwerp marathon and had been training harder than ever before.  I was spent.  In order to keep myself mentally sane I decided to start tapering a month out.  Thinking this would destroy any chance of beating by Berlin time of 3.24, I entered the race with the attitude of getting something around this time.  To get sharper, would enthuse me to continue with the training. 
 
At the start line, I couldn’t decide which pacemaker to follow, whether that should be the 3.30 balloon and try to beat him in the last ten, or the 3.15 and allow myself to fall away a bit.  I decided on the 3.15 because I know what the last 10 can be like, you always want something up your sleeve, not the other way around. 
 
As the race got underway, I ran the first 10km with the 3.15 pacemaker, and ran past Sarah at the 4km mark.  I met a guy on the road who was also with the 3.15 balloon, who I had raced a month earlier and I had beaten at the end.  He started to move away from the 3.15 balloon and pick up the pace.  I decided to go with him and follow about a 100m back.  I felt whatever he could do, I could also. 
 
We ran through the first 20km in 1.29, 10 mins faster than my pace at Berlin.  I was feeling good but had the disaster feeling.  My knees were starting to go, so I started to pop some painkillers. (Bad huh?)  Still, I felt there was no way I could keep up this pace. 
 
At 24km, I meet up with some Belgian friends who rode and ran next to me, spurring me on, making me feel good.  The wall never came, apart from a 5 second walk at 37km where I looked back along a long stretch of the road to see whether the 3.15 balloon was ever in sight.  It wasn’t.  I crossed the line, Sarah there, in 3.06.  My PB by 18 mins.  I am stoked!  And the passion has come flooding back.