Westcoaster 2015

The last bite of the 2015 cherry for me. I was wondering if after a long Spring season whether I might be a bit fatigued, so contemplated skipping this race to focus on Tarawera 2016. But after a couple of weeks post SkyRockNRun, I was feeling way better and I do love this course so it wasn’t really a surprise that I took my place at the start on Dec 12.

You can read previous reports for more course info, this one is a brief bit of race coverage.

I knew it was going to be warm (not crazy hot like 2013) and humid so wasn’t gunning on any PB attempts. Was great to join Sean Falconer at the start line – he had been spanking out the runs in his local southern end of the Waitaks and was fit and ready for his first off road marathon. Without pushing I briefly found myself leading at the start then ended up trading places in the top 4 over leg 1, completing the private farm loop in 2nd place in 1:05:27. First gear mistake of the day – bringing the wrong HR monitor strap and so no data there. Had to rely on perceived effort to guide me ie “using the force”, which is a critical race skill anyway so a good opportunity to test my internal guide.

Razor ridge stoke
Stoking along Razorback ridge

Leg 2 going North on Te Henga felt good, I had dropped behind the first fellow when filling my bottles at aid 1, but was content to pace reasonably. I got caught by 2 more chaps, which made me double check my pace, but I felt I was on track, so kept it steady. Completed this one in 1:11:59 a touch quicker than last year so all going to plan.

Leg 3 To Horseman. Felt good coming out of the aid and ran strong down Constable, into the Goldies Bush section and then hit the steep stairs which dropped me to a walk. No worries, pretty quickly saw one dude ahead once we got off the stairs again as we climbed up. Got passed by Anthony “Little Brown Runner” Hancy here as he blew by. I had a quick stop in the aid, about 26k done and ready for the real race to begin. This year they had moved the aid station down to the track junction, saving 500m or so by eliminating the out and back.Chasing Alec

I took off down the hill toward the river, catching both guys who had overtaken me on Te Henga. Ha! This felt good. Hit the river and noted my second gear mistake of the day – the Salomon Fellraisers were useless on wet rock and I had to gingerly trot across the dozen plus river crossings to avoid a full immersion. In doing so, I got re-passed by one of the dudes, but had to let it slide as this was not the place to try for a show down.

Up out of the river and climbing back up the kauri grove to Constable Road. Here was a pleasant surprise – I caught the guy who had been in front since leg 1. He was walking and looking well spent, so didn’t need to worry about him anymore. Then I caught my river-buddy once again and put in some pace on the stairs to build a gap.

I got to the final Aid at the top of Constable and was told I was 4 minutes down on Anthony who was in first. I figured that unless he fell apart I wouldn’t catch him over the last 10k but set off to keep it an honest race. And honest it was. I did fine until the last 4k, whereupon the effort of the day caught up (my internal guide may have been just slightly over-ambitious). I was teetering on cramp in multiple lower leg locations, and had to button off the gas and take a salt tab. I managed to grind it home, but was really in damage control and terrified of being caught as I had little more to give. Fortunately no pursers showed up and I crossed the line in 4:43:59, a new PB for me and in second place.

Sean had a well-paced cracker himself to go sub 5hrs and nab 5th spot – another great result from the MEC.

That’s it for me for 2015 – looking forward to another great year of running in 2016!

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SkyRockNRun Mountain Marathon 2015

I had the pleasure of trail running in the South Island for the first time last week (I know – crazy that it’s taken this long!). I popped the cherry with a crack at the SkyRockNRun Mountain Marathon, held in the Mt Oxford Conservation Area about 1 hour North West of Christchurch.

This was the Australasian Skyrunning final for 2015, which meant I was expecting the course to be brutally steep, and there would be some real speedsters in the mix. True on both counts.

The charismatic race director, Adrian Bailey set us off at 6:30am on a perfect race morning with a little bit of cloud and low winds. I was planning on being quite conservative until we hit the turn around (out and back course). So I was happy trundling along just inside the top 20 as we took in the flat-ish first km.image1

We crossed the river and the hill climb started. We were at 400m elevation and I knew that I had to climb 1000m in the next 6km of running/hiking. Hiking hasn’t really been a strength of mine, but I was glad to see that I could hold onto my position without compromising myself with too much effort. We popped out of the cloud at about the same time we popped above the tree line and the view was spectacular. The sun was out and you could see alpine tundra lining the ridges and the Canterbury Plains beneath, still green from the Spring rains.

I hit the summit of Mt Oxford in 1:11 and after stopping for a pic (tourist!) I kept moving as the wind was rather bracing up there. On the way down the other side I had dropped behind two fullas who had been company on the climb, and managed to miss the poled route for a minute or two while I got lost. Back on track, I navigated the equally steep and gravelly descent off Mt Oxford. The X-talons weren’t really necessary for this course. It was dry, and a less intense trail shoe would give sufficient grip but more comfort I reckon.image3

The course is three massive climbs, and three massive descents. That’s it. This first descent ended with a super steep and twisty final couple of ks down to the river. I was overtaken by a speedy senior dude here, which I must say came as some surprise to me.

The flat trail along the river felt great, finally a chance to run! It took us over to the bridge at 14k and the only aid station on the course. I survived just fine with 1L (2 x 500ml bottles) but if you like to guzzle a bit more, than be prepared.

Leaving the aid, you re-cross the river (a bit more mucking around with difficult to find trail again here) and then go straight up the Black Hill track. This is another steep, rooty trail through Beech Forest. I saw the front runner barreling down the hill ages before I reached the turn around (63 minutes it took me). The turnaround came as a relief – 2nd big climb done! Legs a bit tired but not too bad. I was able to pass the speedy old dude down this hill and got back to the bridge and aid station in 37 minutes. Took on some more water and then enjoyed the river running section again.

The enjoyment ended as we turned back up Mt Oxford. It was about 24k by now, but the real killer was that we had another 1000m to climb over the next 6-7k and that is hard to comprehend when your legs are feeling like they have done more than a week’s worth of climbing already. The next 1.5k or so of climb was absolutely grueling. I was hands on knees the whole way, gradient between 25-45%, tiny switchbacks with no view of how far to go. It was real mind-battle time. I had kept lots of energy for a strong finish, but now my leg strength was being sorely tested and it made  me feel like giving up on that plan – and instead just take a few rests and mope home. I was sure I would be passed. Its hard not to feel this way when you knock out a 21 minute km. However, I disciplined myself to not think of anyone else and just give my own best effort.

I was so glad to leave that miserable hill climb behind. It was now more of the twisty beech forest, but at least punctuated with runnable sections as we made our way back up Mt Oxford.image2

Finally, I broke out above the tree line and it was like a tonic. I could see how far to go now (250m climb and a couple of km to the top) – and I could see there were people ahead! Invigorated, I ran more and more of the trail, working closer to the targets up ahead. It felt great to catch a pair of them right on top of Mt Oxford!

Time for a quick lace tighten to protect the toes over the punishing 6k descent and then I went for it, as best my legs could go. It wasn’t anything outstanding, but I was glad to pull away from the guys I had just caught. I hoped to see the Matt the pole-carrying Otago local I had met early in the day, but he was long gone. I enjoyed the run down and felt sweet relief as I finished in 6:18:31 for 10th place.

You will earn your supper on this one – I logged it as 39k and 3000m climb.  Well organized (hot chips and soup for me at the finish – top marks!), glorious vistas, and savage trails are yours to be had.

Interview with a machine (Mike Lichtwark)

Mike Lichtwark is a machine. He left NZ a few years back when he was a quick runner and triathlete. We’ve been known to have some good battles between us at Xterra Offroad and Stroke n Stride events. Having settled in Sydney, he has now transformed into an absolute beast of a runner. He ran a 2:42 at Gold Coast Marathon last year and his report made it sound easy. So I asked the man/machine Mike if he would mind sharing some of his success with us here. Enjoy…

M Sydney

MH: What’s the deal with Sydney?

ML: Sydney has been great for my running.  When I moved over here I didn’t know many people so I had plenty of time to run and it was a great way to meet people.  Obviously, I was really into it back in NZ but I’ve really picked up the intensity since moving over here.

There are a few really good groups over here that I run with.  Some fast guys who do intervals and tempos on Tuesdays and Thursdays at lunch time.  They tend to range from 70min to 90min half marathoners so there is always someone to push you along.

Then there are also a few social groups that I am involved with full of keen cool people.

The weather in Sydney is great for running, particularly in winter when it’s cool and clear a lot of the time.  I work in the city and there are some great trails around the water and through the parks where you can run without hitting traffic lights.  It’s very popular to run at lunch time in Sydney and on a nice day there are heaps of people out.  I took some photos on my run on Monday to give you an idea – winter is great.  Aussies aren’t used to the rain though so if the weather is ever bad then I mostly get the paths to myself and can enjoy some Kiwi style running in the wet.

It’s an awesome place so if anyone is ever over here they should hit me up and we can sight see on foot!

MH: Tell us about your build up for the Gold Coast marathon and your target

ML: Gold Coast marathon is a big focus for me this year.  I felt like I had a bit of a breakthrough race last year and surprised myself with how I went.  Looking back at my training I did a pretty good job so there weren’t any obvious areas to improve this year so hopefully it is more about incremental gains.

I’m into the taper now and feel like I have had a good build up.  I haven’t been injured and have been pretty consistent with the training.  I managed to do more kms this year which I mostly achieved by running twice a day to work and home again which is about 6-8km depending which way I go.  I actually have really enjoyed the run commuting as it is quicker than taking the ferry or train and it is an unobtrusive way to get some running in without taking too much time out of the day.

I’m targeting a sub 2.40 marathon which is scary to put on paper in case I miss it!  I’ve run three marathons before and my progression has been 3.03 (Akl 2011), 2.54 (Syd 2013) and 2.42 (GC 2014) so it would be nice to get into the 2.30s (and then the 2.20s in 2016?!).  It is quite a daunting thought realising how fast you have to run – an average of 3.47 mins per k.  However, I actually ran the second half of last year’s marathon in under 80 mins, so I just have to do that in the first half as well this year.  I definitely had a great run last year – I think it was one of those days where I caught something magic and really surprised myself.  Hopefully I can find some magic again but will need everything to go well including nutrition, pacing, body, weather etc.  Some of those are in my control and some aren’t, so will just have to give it a good nudge and see what happens on the day.  I’m pretty convinced that a negative split is the best way to run a marathon so will be looking to go through the half in bang on 80 and then hopefully lift the pace from 30k if I can.

MH: What are the three most important things you have found to improve as runner over the last 24 months?

ML: I think the main thing is that I enjoy racing and running well and I enjoy the process of trying to improve.  The training is good fun for me so it’s never much of an effort to get out the door.  I look forward to the long run on Sunday and try to plan out interesting routes or missions into the mountains.  So it gives me joy which makes it easy to improve.

Another thing is being consistent.  I have a bit of structure as to when I am going to get my runs in, so I am just ticking them off every week and that’s helped me build up.

The final thing is not getting injured.  I think I’ve been pretty lucky (touch wood) to be pretty durable.  Also, I have never really tried to drastically increase the volume and intensity of the training I’m doing, it’s just naturally increased over time so my body has gotten used to it.

MH: What have you NOT got sorted yet?

ML: I should probably do some more stretching (more than none), although I love reading any article which recommends not stretching because that is my natural inclination.  I think I could also do some work on my top end speed and I’d like to set some good times at the shorter distances later in the year.  I think I can continue to improve if I stay consistent and keep doing what I’m doing.

MH: Tell us about any future goals

ML: I don’t think I have reached my limit yet so will keep striving for PBs and good races.  I think they will come as long as I’m enjoying the running.  I’m also keen to smash out some trail races and some good missions out in the mountains.  I’m thinking about entering Kepler Challenge which is later this year and having another go at Six Foot Track next which is a pretty awesome trail race here in the Blue Mountains.

PS This interview was before he once again blitzed the GC marathon, this time going sub 2:40! Can’t wait to read about that (nudge nudge Mike!)

Like I said, a machine!

Westcoaster 2014 – Report from the Rev

Back to one of my faves. Love this race, the hills, the windy single-track, the river, the dunes, the ocean. This race has been very successful for me over the years and this time I had my sights set on Reece’s 2011 CR (4:45) and a win. I knew I was in better shape than last year so why not go for gold?IMG_1091

Thom, Dave and I ventured out for this year’s Westcoaster marathon, with James having a crack at the half marathon (his first). The wind was gusty from the West, with the odd shower coming through – moderate temps made for a much more pleasant running experience than last year’s race.

IMG_1096
The only time I was in front of Andrius

The start was relaxed and it was easy to get to the front. I didn’t notice any familiar faces. A lithe runner who looked decidedly European took off as we went up toward Razorback ridge. A few others trotted past me as I was content with my early pace which held me in 5th. Onto the ridge I marvelled at the view and found the others came back to me on the downhills. All except ‘the foreigner’. He was off and gone. You knock off a good 600m of climb in that first 12k section, and most of that in the first 8k. I rolled into aid station number 1 in 3rd equal. 1 min behind 2nd and 8 minutes behind 1st. That was that then. I was in a race for 2nd place.

Leg 2 is the beautiful coastal single track of Te Henga Trail. A real delight to run. It wasn’t yet hot and I enjoyed my pace through the rolling hills between Oneill’s Bay and Constable Rd. I marched up the stairs to the second aid station and caught the 2nd place chap (who was in a team) at the top. A quick refill of the bottles from supporter Stu and I was away. Time deficit now 15 minutes to the front.

Up the mean stairs to Constable
Up the mean stairs to Constable

The order of the next leg had been switched from previous years. I have to say I enjoyed it. It meant for more room to pass the 21 and 30k runners on the way up to Horseman Rd aid. I kept running as much of that hill as I could 0 a strategy that I used this race – less hike, more baby-step running. It served me well.

Wet feet
Wet feet

It was a great downhill bomb from Horseman Rd to the Mokoroa Falls. I think I hit faster than 3min k pace at times. The toes were hurting but I was grinning. Then down the river I went, loving the criss-cross canyoning and relishing in the cool of the river. One helpful chap found a big hole right where I was about to walk across. As he floundered about and asked for a rescue, I thanked him for his discovery from which I benefited. I pulled him out and moved along quick.

Race winner: Andrius Ramonas from Lithuania (very fast!)
Race winner: Andrius Ramonas from Lithuania (very fast!)

Up onto Constable Rd and back to the Aid station marked the end of Leg 3. I had just done my best split for this section ever and I was feeling pretty good for the leg home back over Te Henga. I topped up my water supply, and charged down the stairs toward the Tasman sea. Glorious.

Things got a wee bit hard here, but nothing bad. Just the fatigue in the legs meant a bit more slow hiking than I would have liked, but I kept pacing. I had plenty of water to avoid last year’s dehydration/overheating fiasco. I noticed that the course was going to be long at about the 36k point.  It was clear then that this would be at least 44k on my watch. And with the new finish across the dunes, those extra km would be juicy.

I counted the big hills down, made my way into O’neills and then around the last climb to Bethells. Aha! No disaster for me. Up the river and over the dunes. I caught James sneaking a quick break in the 21k and told him to start running with me. My PB was 4:51 and it was going to be close. I picked it up for those last flat kms and made it home in 4:50:33. My best time, on a course that was somewhere around 1 mile longer than previous. I reflected on a successful day – A race plan that was spot on for my fitness – and executed to within the minute. Happy with that.

I refuelled, caught up with the winner (Andrius Ramonas who absolutely SMASHED it in 4:15) and cheered on the boys as they did MEC proud. Dave and Thom crossing together in 6:02 for top 20, and James in 2:45 for top 20 in the half too. Such a privilege to push yourself with the support of an amazing crew (Dad) and knowing you’re doing it with your great mates. Bliss.

PS Andrius has been in NZ for just a month and this is his second big trail run win. Watch out for him.

All photos – Stu Hale

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.

Auckland Marathon 2014 – Revrun report

Walk Run the line

The start of the 2014 Auckland marathon was easy, and the finish was hard. Trite but true. It was mild and overcast at 6am and as Ron and I ran together our pace goal of 4:10 min/ks felt very comfortable. That was a good sign, and meant that the hoped for 2:55 and PR was a possibility. I found myself wanting to speed up the race ie fast forward time so I could arrive at the St Heliers turnaround, where I felt the race proper would begin. But we were diligent in our pace setting – not overly structured or dominated by the watch, just holding a very constant effort. It meant that uphill we seemed to get overtaken by our bunch, who we would then fly past on the downhill.
Running down the bridge is so fun. It’s a lovely gradient, and the cityscape on our left was a real treat to take in. Through halfway in 1:27 something – about predicted, feeling good. Check. The conversation flowed as we made our way westward along the waterfront. By the time we pulled into St Heliers, chatter was a bit less frequent, but still there. It had been like a training run with extra tempo.
We saw Ron’s entourage at the turnaround and gave them a smile and wave. I pulled out the ipod and turned on my beats. “Lets do this, Ron!” I called as we started to pick up the tempo. I drew some satisfaction as a runner (probably a good guy) who had tail-gated us for the last half hour dropped off. I think I got carried away though because I went to running 3:45s, which was well above the target pace. The plan was to increase pace at St Heliers, but I think i should have turned it up a half notch instead of a full because although I cleared out on my own and caught all of our original bunch, within a couple of ks I was feeling tight and tiring. I was now back at the same 4:10s but my heart rate was a good 10 beats higher as I worked hard to maintain what previously was easy. Oh well, the dice had rolled and now I had to play. So I dug in, and counted down the remaining kilometres to Victoria Park.

Great family support at Mission Bay
Great family support at Mission Bay

Despite the increasing effort I maintained the pace, albeit for periods where I would falter a bit, and then recorrect. These were getting more and more frequent and by the time I hit Quay Street I lost the battle for even pace. I had picked up another tail-gater courtesy of my swinging pace and when he pulled away at the Ferry Building I had nothing to give. My elapsed time still gave me hope that I could make low 2:55s and so I kept working as best I could. I saw Todd and Jaz outside the PWC building which was a great lift (although puzzling to see Todd who I thought was running behind me). Their video shows me looking a bit grey as my short strides move me along at that point. A few checks over my shoulder reassured me that I wasn’t going to be swallowed, and I ground out the last k, crossing officially in 2:56:44 – my second best time (and best for 10 years). For me: a good result, and nearly a great one.
First Half 1:27:48 Second Half 1:28:53 Net time 2:56:41

Auckland Marathon 2014 Race Report – beast

I got some new respect for the marathon, she’s a beast.

Being my 6th marathon, and also completing the ultra earlier this year, the distance wasn’t intimidating and feeling fitter that I have ever been – confidence was high. Lesson 1: Never underestimate the marathon.

Training. Buildup for this event has been my best to date. No injuries. Consistent. Good intensity. More targeted/specific training. Some great MEC runs. New 5km / 10km / half-marathon PB’s. The fittest and fastest I have been with my running to date.

Race plan. I have had a goal to get sub-3 for some time, and was committed to having a crack. Planned to run pace of 4:15 min/kms for the entire race, finishing down the chute with 2:59:.. on the clock to the cheers of the crowds…  I was committed to this time, I was going to have a crack and blow up before tapering off my pace. For the first time, I had also made it pretty public what my goal was. My normal approach has been conservative in my goal when telling others, to allow for the unknown, share my B goal. Not this time. Cards on the table.

Execution. Settled in to pace. Beautiful day. The first half flew by – feeling good. Great running with Sam Thom for the company, positivity, pacing, and harbour bridge selfies. Mission Bay on the way out – started feeling a little rough. My responses to Sam talking slowed down and eventually stopped. From the turnaround – thoughts turned for the worse. I realised I wasn’t going to hit sub-3, decided to hold the pace for as long as possible for the sliver of possibility I could, but really just to get closer to the end – my mind was struggling. My stomach hadn’t been right and eventually hit spilling point, literally. At 37km I pulled over to the bushes and threw up all the water and powerade in my stomach. The last 5km was a battle, body was ready to lie down, hitting a new PB kept me going and I battled to the finish line averaging around 5 min/kms for the duration. Finishing in 3:06:14. Lesson 2: You can drink too much.

Reflection. My goal was to have a crack at sub-3 and glad I tried. No regrets. Realised how hard this is and a lot more respect for those who can run this pace for this distance, and all who run a marathon. Running with MEC and with Sam during the race made it much more enjoyable, great to have the encouragements and seeing people out there supporting on race day and during the buildup. Lesson 3: Sub-3 hours is a bloody fast time. Well done Mike, Ron and Sam – killed it!

marathon finish line