Apennine Adventure

Running in the mountains with my mates makes me feel very alive. So I thought an international trip to the Italian Dolomites could be something to aim to for a 40th birthday celebration with the lads. Then Ron went to Bologna for a sabbatical, and the PHE conference lined up and suddenly serendipity happened in 2016.

RON’s editorial notes: This run was entirely Mike’s idea, as was this write-up. I’ll leave Mike’s work largely untouched and merely add a note here and there when he shows signs of senility or delusion (he is approaching 40 you know).

So there we were, Ron and I getting off the train at Porretta ready for 3 days of running in the Italian Apennines. The Apennines are not as famous as their Eastern counterparts the Dolomites [RON: earthquakes aside], but the tight timeframes we were working to meant that the much closer location (and ready access by train) meant the Apennines were the way to go.

dsc_0568
The far left ridge was our destination (pic taken on a day we could actually see it)
Somehow I managed to break the Indian Summer, and my arrival in Italia marked the end of the Golden weather. But we started up the hill, running alongside the river in a baking hot Emilia-Romagna day.The trails in Italy are marked by a white and red stripe sign, which is great because you often get a reminder of what trail you are on mid-run (when they bother to include the trail code). The downside of this system is that it is often hard to appreciate degraded red and white paint on a weathered, rough surface (Italy has a few) and they aren’t reflective so low light makes the visualisation task harder. But it does mean you get to play spot the marker as you run though rocky trails, and holiday villages.

[RON: Now before we get started, by the time Mike actually turned up fit and fresh off the plane I’d gone through a good 15+ iterations of a possible 3 day mountain run. The original criteria of keeping to high alpine ridges had somewhat diminished as serviced lodging and lunch re-supply options disappeared following the end of the Italian vacation/trekking season. Aside from lunch and lodging requirements the route needed quick evac (as we were travelling v.light) and bad weather re-routing options. And it needed to be relatively easy to navigate in all conditions (the network of marked and unmarked trails can get overwhelming in places). So we headed for some loosely defined loops in the regional park Corno alle Scale.]

Day 1: River to Lake to Village to Mountain.

We had a bit of trouble following the marked paths on our way to Lago di Suviana and ended up on some of the local roads. Not ideal, but these roads are about as pleasant as you will ever encounter – low traffic volumes and amazing scenes of old-Italiana life as you run past small farms and orchards. The heart rate would rise with the barking dogs approaching, but only once were they not contained by a fence. Saw some wild deer in the forest once we re-found the trail which was pretty cool.

img_4094

 

We had a late start so by the time we dropped down to the Lake we were ready for a lunch stop. This happened to be at a local restaurant, who were gracious and happy to host us sweaty runners inside [RON: nothing ‘happened’ here – this was a planned eating location]. We enjoyed a pasta [RON: I had a wild hare ragu and tagliatelle, think Mike had gnocchi in a simple tomato sauce] and beer and made our way onward.

dsc_0417
Day 1: Starting light with talgiatelle con wild hare ragu 
The lake was obviously feeling the effects of a dry summer so the views at waters-edge were not spectacular. We retraced our steps up to the ridge, then onto a new track as we headed down toward the river crossing at Pavana. This was a neat piece of trail with wild berries in the open and the shade from the pine forest a welcome relief from the 25+C temps we were facing.img_4107

Across the river we traversed around the face of a steep escarpment and staying on the contour, made our way from one ancient village/holiday spot to the next. This was a similar running experience to the Eastern Okataina walk away – lots of leaf litter and variations in gradient without any significant hills. Trail finding (marker finding) was an issue, but we made steady progress. This took us back to the river at Moline del Pallone and we were ready for the final run for the day – the climb to Mount Cavallo and its namesake rifugio.

This was a rugged climb, initially past some more beautiful towns, and then through more pine forest. 25+ degrees of both temperature and gradient for hours is a good recipe for weariness. Add to this the nasty horseflies who buzzed around your head and then landed to bite you (hateful hateful creatures) and it was a good bit of running slog. And we spotted more wildlife – wild boar.

dsc_0441

[RON: it wasn’t until about lunchtime we were actually sure that the rifugio was actually open and expecting us – I had left some unanswered messages and we had our fingers crossed when we set off.]

But we made it up to our rifugio and rest point just before 7pm. Our host Maria was a character. A bit hard on the exterior (not happy with our later than guessed arrival), she was very proud of the rifugio and the region and was soon won over by Ron’s Italian [RON: I think it was more my charm than my Italian Mike] and our obvious delight and wonder for the trail in the area. So a hot shower, and cooked dinner of local delights (including locally harvested chestnut pappardelle, tortelloni, porchetta, oven potatoes, and vegetables) and a half litre of wine was just the thing for weary runners to make our sleep super sound that night. [RON: I should also note that Mike got scolded by Maria for eating the bread she left as a trap before she started serving food]

dsc_0447
Finishing day 2 with a second course of porchetta and roast potatoes

Day 2: The Weather Wins

We woke up bright and early (well I did, thanks jet lag) and had a typical Italian breakfast of cookies, cake and coffee. Then it was out into the moody grey clouds for our attempt along the ridge and into the high alpine region of the park. The clouds thickened in that first hour, and the rain started, a little drizzle becoming proper rain. But the temperature was good, we began at 1287m and climbed up to 1500m or so, but the temperature was probably in the low teens, very pleasant for rain on the mountains. Then the thunder started. Distant at first. We were taking stock underneath a hut on the ridge when the sky lit up and within 3 seconds an earth-shaking long roll of thunder made us take notice.

dsc_0457
That’s rain not mist folks
It’s fair to say that Ron was less bothered than I, his eyes alight at the drama around us. I was more aware of the potential for death (low odds, but still real). Our original plan was to stay on this ridge for hours and work our way up above the treeline at around 2000m. This was not such a good idea anymore so we made quick plans for a new route. We would swing down the hill to Piannaccio village for lunch before climbing back to our rifugio for the night at Segavecchia [RON: Good call Mike, I’m attacted to lightning, not sure if it’s mutual].

dsc_0466
Sweet sweet switchbacks
The run downhill in sometimes torrential rain was one of the best rain-runs of my life. The trail was gorgeous, very runnable and we were warm so it was super fun cruising along (except when the thunder would freak me again on occasion). Spotted a few fire salamanders on the way down too [RON: Despite my encouragement for Mike to give them a lick, he refused. Turns out to be a good call as they can as cause strong muscle convulsions, hypertension/hyperventilation, death, etc.].We wound our way down and arrived at the beautiful little village ready for a feed. Once again, the Italian welcome was very generous. Ron would get a good conversation going while I smiled and nodded like a simple but good tempered cousin. Some of the laughs surely came at my expense, but if that built rapport with the locals, then I would happily wear that.

dsc_0473
Go on, lick it!
We were more than happy to sit outside for our meals, saturated as we were. But Marco, the owner, got a coat rack out for all our wet gear and kindly ushered us inside by the fire. We were then treated to a glorious two course (three if you count Ron’s gelato) meal [RON: today we order a local bottle of red (premium sangiovese), I don’t recall Mike’s primo but I had a bean, ham and pasta soup, and we followed it up with crescintine (a lard fried hot bread served with cured meats, cheese), and finished with espresso]. We even had wifi (especially nice when roaming data is $10/Mb). Marco then sent us on our way with a glass of his home made mint liquor. What a guy!

dsc_0478
Weather outside

dsc_0476
Lunch inside (first course)
The road climbed up for about 3k to the rifugio, and we were there a bit earlier than expected with our reduced course. So we did a little loop before coming back down to Segavecchia, notching up a few extra kms and some serious vertical meters as nearly everywhere went up from our valley.img_4134

Another hot shower [RON: Well one of us did, you used up all the hot water] another great welcome from the proprietors. We were joined at this establishment by a group of 6 Italian hikers in their 60s. This made for a more boisterous atmosphere than the night before where we were Maria’s only guests. Another amazing meal sourced from local ingredients, three courses of bliss, red wine and noccino [RON: we had a half litre of house red pre-dinner, some local lentil and grain dish to start, tagliatelle al ragu for primi, and for secondi Mike went for the pan fried scarmorza cheese with grilled vegetables while I went with the grilled sausage and vegetables, with another half litre of house red. I don’t remember if we had dessert – suspect we did]- this is how you run in the mountains people! After a less-than-excellent sleep (sharing a room with 6 old men is rather noisy with the continual toilet stops, farting and snoring), we got up early to give ourselves time to make the most of the final day.

dsc_0483
Mike’s secondo (pan fried cheese and grilled veges)

Day 3: Alpine Redemption

The weather was forecast to improve on our last day, and we had just one shot to try to get above the treeline and into some real alpine stuff. We awoke to blue skies with clouds whistling by in the strong breeze. It was game on. Segavecchia is at 980m and the high point in this part of the range is Corna alle Scale at 1980m. You climb straight up the valley and get there in 3.5k. You do the math, there is some grunty gradient at the end there for sure. It soon got warm as we climbed, then cold again as we got higher. Just before the trees ended at 1600m we donned warmer layers still.

dsc_0490

And then we were out, in the high mountain tussock, climbing hand over foot as the clouds moved in and out, sometimes giving us a glimpse of the glorious valley below. I’m still new at the alpine stuff and it was a thrill but I was keenly aware of my lack of knowledge, so the stoke was mixed with fear. Ron was forging ahead, and his experience was reassuring, though the more precarious spots of our climb sent his heart racing too [RON: I’m not one for heights and the wire-rope rock sections had me in a fearful state]. We summitted around 100 minutes after setting off. The wind was howling and clouds were rolling right across the top, but Ron had the sense to grab a photo before we scurried out off the cold.

dsc_0491

Then we followed the ridgeline path back towards where we had got to on day two. A few km in, high up on the ridge track we found red and white striped tape across the path along with some high vis ‘do not remove’ flags. As this was our only sensible way off the mountain we were obliged to cross, though crossing tape across the track was something that caused another anxious few minutes. Still not sure what it indicated, there were no rockslides or washouts to be seen.

The conditions didn’t improve, but we got to be on the leeward side of the mountain at times, including at a mountain spring of rememberance on top. I grabbed a photo and had a swig of the cool water, thinking of Bumpa, who would enjoy this tale of mountain adventure. Till then.

dsc_0492

We re-entered the forest after an hour and a half and were treated to some really lovely smooth single track. One of the cool features of this forest was the number of different environments you pass through: baking tussock with centuries-old houses (think of a classic picture of Italy), pine forest, beech forest, alpine meadows, river wetlands… So much variety.

dsc_0495

We took a steady descending route into the town of Casteluccio for our final lunch stop. The meals had been getting bigger and here they reached a climax [RON: this last meal was always going to be epic. I’d already done a reccie here and started a rapport with the proprietor Daniela. We had local beer, a starter of bread hot from the oven, olives, oil, and a caper/olive/tomato paste, for primi I had a Sicilian pasta I don’t recall the name of with cima di rapa, and Mike amused Daniela with his pasta sauce combo (you order them independently) which she then kindly corrected so he ended up with a pumpkin gnocchi with sage and butter. Sadly I don’t recall secondi, but we finished with torta di cioccolato].

Three courses, when one alone had me satisfied. We just about rolled out, and the Grappa certainly helped [RON: Daniela tried to dissuade me out of the grappa here for a more refined drink, no chance!]. Not the smartest idea to eat to popping point when you have a 5k, 300m descent to do immediately after [RON: it took me a good few hundred metres before I could actually break into a run]. There was some discomfort as we bounced down the semi-urban trail back to Poretta and the train.

dsc_0515
Mike’s gnocchi di zucca with sage and butter, and my cima di rapa (pasta type not recorded)

3 days. 75km, 5500m climb.

An amazing trip, and one I would gladly do again. However, that would require an Italian translator. Ron’s language and planning skills were both essential for this mission. Many of our initial plans were changed when rifugio owners said they weren’t actually open [RON: despite indications to the contrary a week or two before]. The ones we did manage to get to (which were great) said we were the first Kiwis to visit that they were aware of. So, my appreciation to Mr King and his planning and persuasion for getting this adventure off the ground.

I think we did a great job of making the best of the opportunities we had, and feel we were also sensible in changing our plans to accommodate the conditions. We played our hand well, and the memories will fuel me for a long time. Grazie amici, arrivederci!

[RON: If there’s ever a race that requires running after a 3 course meal with wine/beer/grappa I reckon we’re in with a shot Mike.]

img_4165
Run nicely followed by a jazz festival in Bologna

3 months, 3 races

A compendium post-TuM  update:

I was ready to get stuck into some hard training following my disappointment at TuM 2016. However, I ended up being laid low, not with a running injury but with a pneumothorax. A weekend in hospital and a chest drain sorted me out, and once I had recovered I got back into the miles. It’s been great having 8 weeks in a row of 60-70k, and no calf injury for nearly a year. I can feel my body responding better to training and taking less time to recover which is encouraging.

First race back was the Tawharanui Coastal Challenge in early April.

There was a last minute course change, which saw the 30k become just an out and back addition to the 23k. That, and the extra sleep made the 23k the attractive option and I joined Laura, Dave, Sean and Brent who made up our MEC crew. The other difference from last year was the tide was out. Like nearly all the way – hence the times we ran were way faster, not having to scramble on the loose rocks at the high tide line so much.

Not fast. Fun.It was an MEC lead-out at the start on Campbell’s Bay. I was running just behind Brent and Sean who set a strong pace. They had an edge on me on the rocks, but I maintained contact as best I could. Then on the beach sections I would regain the distance. This lasted to about 35 minutes in, where I caught them and then Brent dropped back, looking a bit ill. So it became Sean and I duking it out, with Brent maintaining contact until we left the rocks at Tawharanui and climbed up to the point. I had a bit of catching up to do here, but felt strong and caught Sean at the Trig. I decided to keep the intensity up as we went back downhill and opened up a gap. But it wasn’t a big one. Sean upped his speed too and kept me close as we sped down to Anchor Bay and the second to last aid station.

I kept the pressure on for the beach section – knowing that there was a 3k reef to traverse before the end I had to make the most of my strengths. I got away to about 200m ahead as I entered the Northern Tawharanui reef. I made myself keep at it, but the occasional check back revealed Sean closing in.

I hit the base of Omaha beach – 1 Mile of flat sand to the finish. Sean was only 80m back and I turned on the boosters. I got a bit of a break, and then just clung on to the finish. I was stoked with the win, and elated at having a good battle with a bro – Sean was relentless (I just wanted to him to fold!). So we had an MEC 1-2 in the men’s race. Brent came in for 5th, Laura showed her 3rd at the North Shore Coastal was no fluke, running away with the women’s 23k and Dave came in shortly afterwards. Green singlet domination!

Next race was the Orewa Beach 10k

Orewa halfThis one fell apart. Initial interest was high, but for one reason or another I was the only MEC starter. It was a howling ESE wind with rain ripping up the beach. I neglected to take the conditions into consideration and ran my ‘perfect day’ race plan. I still got 2nd place, but it was with a huge second half slow down, so the execution felt rather poor. Kudos to Brent who braved the conditions to cheer me on – it definitely lifted me. I thought the course would suit a PB, but I’d recommend looking elsewhere – although the start and finish are on the beach, the course has lots of sharp turns and two decent hills which slow you down. And being an out and back – there was huge congestion on the bush track which slowed you as well.

The bonus race was the Waiheke Half Marathon

2158125_origRon and I got some tickets to this and our solid workouts in the weeks leading up gave me two thoughts: 1 – we were going to be very evenly matched and 2 – we were in good form and could be contending with the front runners (especially since the Rotorua marathon 1 week earlier had taken out some of the likely competition).

It was a gorgeous day on the island. We positioned ourselves at the front for the start and enjoyed the downhill spin to Matiatia wharf. On the climb back up we dropped a few of the pretenders leaving us in a group of 4. On the next big downhill to Owhanake we let the legs spin and pulled away. Trail running descending pays dividends in road racing!

It felt like a good pace – manageable but obviously quick. Coming back up from Oneroa beach we were being hounded by a silver fox. We just stuck with the game plan. He caught us around 6k, but once again we would drop him on every downhill, making him work hard to catch us again on the flat. The course is a rollercoaster (300m gain/descent) and this approach worked well. By 8k he had fallen off the group.

So Ron and I sped along, enjoying the amazingly scenic course, steadily pulling away. Te course is not a find-your-pace-and-stick-at-it kind of course. At times we would be in the low 3min/ks downhill then we would be grunting up a climb at close to 4:40 pace. It was well marked and well marshalled- a great effort for a first time event. The only error I saw was the out and back onto Kennedy Point, the marshals helped you cross the road, but evidently didn’t point people left as we came across a bunch of guys who had bypassed this section and were turned back by the lead scooter.

20x30-WHMC1292
The King of Waiheke

This was at the 16k point. It was getting hard now, but I knew I had to maintain contact with Ron to remain competitive. So I gritted my teeth and hung on. It was really nice getting all the encouragement from the 21k runners still heading out on the other side of the road. The cheering intensified as we came back into the 10k runners at Blackpool. I was feeling the pace but got such a lift that we sped up! We were at about 3:45 pace winding through the streets, 1.5k to go. The last challenge would be the 40 metre climb in the last kilometre. We hit the climb and my ability to stay with Ron was eclipsed. He launched into it and I could not match his pace. He crossed in 1:23:18, me 12 seconds back. Another MEC 1-2!

The experience of digging deep, and of running strong the whole way made this my best half marathon performance to date. On a flatter course, it would have been a PB for sure. It was a real thrill having such a great battle, and drawing out of yourself something extra to meet the challenge. I am looking forward to the rematch!20x30-WHMC1315

Tarawera Ultra 102.8km – a year in the making

The BHAG – (Big Hairy Achievable Goal)

The Tarawera Ultra Marathon (TUM) for the last 12-18 months has been my BHAG. The goal out in the distance that you dare to tackle, that motivates you to go for that run when you are too busy, or when you’d rather sleep. For most of that time it wasn’t spoken of directly, as this would put yourself out there for critique, but bubbling under the surface was a desire to knock this outrageous distance off. Big… Tick. Hairy… Tick. Achievable…. Well that is the real question, and the one that motivated me. The thought it was achievable entered the realms of possibility @TUM2015 when as pacer I saw first-hand my brother and Thom Shanks successfully knock it off. Wow what an amazing event and even more so, something that weekend warrior athletes like us could achieve with training and guts!

TuM_Allan_007287
Having paced him through the dark moments, So proud of Dave as he finished in 2015

First though, before I dared to fully believe, I would have to prove to myself (and others) that my cricket battered body could sustain the long efforts. This would come by way of the Auckland Marathon and Kepler Challenge.

Cramps

Having played premier Auckland club cricket for more than 10 years as an opening bowler, I am good with endurance. Every season I would have long days of bowling up to 30 overs in a day, and the recovery would take most of the next week. However, this also lead to a lot of injuries and numerous coping adaptations in my physiology. These would become evident when pushing into endurance events. The primary symptoms being knee issues and cramps. These cramps are my primary competition when racing. Sometimes I am in front and beat them, at other times, they get the better of me. The best way to describe it is like a vice that mid-race has been attached across your thighs with someone slowly tightening it until you stop and walk at which point it slowly retreats again. Push hard and you will be forced to stop completely. So instead, a fine balancing act is required to hit a pace that can sustain semi-cramp without tipping over the edge.

These cramps first appeared when training for the Routeburn classic. Training runs >25km would end with cramps >>> Cue a trial and error process of looking into all possible causes: Salts / Hydration / Nutrition / Compression clothing (or not) / then technique and conditioning. Still no obvious cause or solution was found.

IMG_8059
Routeburn Classic 2014. My first taste of trail running and I liked it!

The 32km Routeburn Classic in 2014 (do it!) was finished nursing these cramps. The Rotorua Marathon likewise. Then in 2014, knee issues caused a withdrawal from the Auckland Marathon and I sought the advice of a new Physio. At the advice of the MEC boys I visited Vaughan @ Sportslab.

2015 – Rehabilitation and Conditioning

2015 was a good year for running. I steadily increased my km’s from 15km to 20 to 30 or even 50km/week as my knee got more reliable and Vaughan made progress unwinding many unhelpful adaptations from years of cricket. Running with the MEC guys provided ample motivation, inspiration and camaraderie to push on. A disappointing Millwater 10km was appeased by a perfect race strategy and PB at the Onehunga Half Marathon.

Distance was put to the test with the Auckland Marathon. As I approached St Heliers with 12km to go, I was just waiting for the cramps to set in. It wasn’t too long till they arrived at Mission Bay. Fearing the worst, I settled into ‘managing the vice across my knees’. However this time around, by taking regular short walks and managing the cramps, I made it to the finish in a big PB, losing only 5 minutes on the return leg from St Heliers. Perhaps I had a strategy for managing this after all…

Kepler Challenge (60k & 2000+m climb)

2015 built to a crescendo with the Kepler Challenge. Such an amazing race, and a must do for everyone who enjoys trail running. The Kepler was my BHAG before I learned about TUM. It is a fantastic event in sublime landscapes. Even better we mustered 4 entries from MEC boys and the scene was set for a great adventure. (See Thom’s Kepler Report). Heading into the great unknown of a >42km run, this is pretty much how I approached the race:

  • Have a good time with the boys enjoying the adventure
  • Walk all the hills
  • Plan to be in running shape once we are off the mountain at halfway,
  • then see what happens.
IMG_1365
Loving the Ridge-back Running of the Kepler Challenge

All started well, it is such an amazing part of the world, what a privilege to be able to do this. Unexpectedly, I was also consistently finding the pace comfortable. I smashed the downhill (as this is my forte and free-wheeling is actually easier for my knee), then had a long aid station stop as the boys caught up. I was still feeling fresh and pushed the boys pace on the flat track, but decided to essentially stay together as I was entering unknown territory and I figured it was wiser to stay with the experienced group, and save it for the end. Eventually I felt I wasn’t being efficient and set off at my own pace. Much to my disappointment despite my best efforts, the cramps arrived with ~ 10km to go. I walk-runned toward the finish the best I could, but was passed by a fast finishing Thom Shanks (big respect) with only a precious few km’s to go.

Not to worry, I got the amazing experience that I wanted, and along the way learned a few things:

  • I could run more than 42 km !!!
  • By walking the hills and pacing well I held off cramps till 50km.
  • When absolutely shagged and battling cramps, I could still walk/run at 7.5min kms.
  • Running with a backpack for 8+ hours (with a dodgy neck like mine) is rubbish, avoid it if you can.
  • If you care about your finishing time (or beating your mates), then run your own race!

I was stoked with my race and it was really good fun knocking out an ultra with the boys. But afterwards I wondered what would have happened if I had not waited at aid stations, been more goal focused, and set my own pace…

Final Prep

The recovery from the Kepler was not straight forward. I had dug deep into the well to finish that one and my knee was now protesting. This became clear when (perhaps a little too soon after the Kepler) pacing Ron on the starting 32km of this Auckland Traverse. I came to realise that my body needed longer to recover from long efforts than I had been allowing. I developed a new appreciation for recovery runs and learned I would need to leave a good month between long efforts heading towards TUM. On Mike and Vaughan’s advice the focus went on maximising training without aggravation. This meant a diet of ~10km runs, stopping before knee pain set in, trading distance with hitting as many hills as possible. (My Strava heat map of Mt Eden is pretty concentrated). This worked well enough but didn’t build confidence. I still needed to prove to myself that I would have a shot at making it to 100km.

This came by way of the mid-summer double header. A morning Marathon on the Hillary Trail with Caleb, followed by a half marathon in the evening. I think that second run in the evening was mentally and physically the hardest run I have ever done (dropped 3kg that day). My knee was aggravating me consistently, and I was totally spent. However, for the second time now, when totally shagged and sore, I could still chip away and walk/run @ 7.5min kms. Despite the pain on the day, I recovered well (under the new regime) and had a new found confidence that whatever shape I was in, I would make it to the finish!

IMG_1541
Sunrise on the Te Henga walkway Marathon with Caleb.

The TUM Plan

Applying lessons learned from the Kepler, I set a race strategy as follows:

  • Fast hike the hills.
  • Every 1km of consistent running, walk a 100m to let the knee recover.
  • Run with company if possible, but run my own race (and don’t wait at aid stations for anyone).
  • Above all else, my only real goal was to reach the finish line. That was the prize I was after, anything more would be an added bonus.

Using Ron’s time predictor, I loaded up for a steady race, with a fade factor equivalent to finishing the race walk-running those 7.5min/kms. This came out predicting 14.5 hours. A good goal I figured, as this was about Thom’s time from last year. I printed out for Kristy timing charts for each aid station based on three scenarios; Expected (14.5 hrs) / Blow-out (15.5 hrs), and if the stars aligned, an Optimistic schedule for 13.5hrs.

Final preparation was good. Down in Rotorua early soaking it up, we shared a great night-before dinner with the MEC guys. I was particularly happy to figure a way to attach my seam sealed jacket to my racing belt. So if I could manage a handheld drink bottle (I had used only once before), then I would have my goal of avoiding the dreaded back-pack.

Race Day

Heading out at the start with Thom, I found it surprisingly tough going in the slippery conditions. Matching Thom’s pace also had me working harder than expected, but we arrived at Blue Lake pretty much right on schedule, to our adoring fans.

IMG_1582
Supporters are the best. Out all day with the kids in the rain for a brief moment of encouragement.

The next leg set in play the major dynamic of the run. With all my hill work, I was consistently pushing the pace going up and down the hills. On the flat however my sparring partner Thom, was quicker, with my regular walking breaks (to let my knee recover) causing me to regularly play catch up. At the same time we looked to run together and in our competitive yet supportive approach, whenever someone needed to stop to pee (or walk) the other would forge ahead, but at an easy pace. Neither of us wanted to drop behind and a serious effort was put in each time to link up again.

As I headed over the hills to Okataina, I noticed I was stretching Thom, and with the experience of the Kepler fresh in my mind, if I was going to put a move on, I would have to put some serious distance on Thom knowing he is a very strong finisher.

The leg from Okataina to the Outlet is where I made my move. Having caught and commiserated with a brave battling Brent Kelly, I was moving freely and at my own pace stretched away from the comrades. That middle section is very tough going and at 55km I first heard the familiar voice of those cramps starting to taunt me with whispers of ‘I’m not far away, here I come’. While walking it off, I got a timely ‘pep talk’ from fellow competitor Fran, a school teacher who told me in no uncertain terms ‘Don’t be a pussy, you are going to finish this 100km! I will check the board at the end and make sure you weren’t a pussy!’ OK, Yes Maam!

Coming into the Falls, I was stoked to have made 62km right on schedule and in such good shape, much better than when I finished the Kepler. I was at the food table looking forward to my change into running shoes when Thom appeared at my side. It was good to have my sparring partner back for the second half, but to be honest I was a bit disappointed. I thought I would have been a good distance ahead. I should have known better, Thom is tenacious and to get line honours, I would need to finish strong.

The 2nd Half (The Business End of the race)

In our new slippers we set off at a good clip on the leg to Titoki. Running pace was good, but my knee was requiring regular walks. It was quite a funny scene, I’d pull ahead then with each walk, Thom would go past. Back running I would set sights on Thom before walking again. This to and fro fun came to an end when the dreaded cramps hit me head on at 67km. Still 35km to go…. Thom sympathised with my misfortune and forged ahead. I was left to contemplate how I would walk out the last 35km. I am not an overly emotional person, and my rational brain kicked into solving how am I going to do this. System Check: I’m feeling good, my nutrition is good, my fluids are good, if I can manage these cramps I will still do it. So the plan was: Salts, more gels, walking and… a little ‘potion’. The week before the race, I picked up some ‘Cramp Stop’ homeopathic spray. With nothing to lose (hell I’ll take placebo effect if it works!), I took the 3 x 5 sprays over the next 5 minutes walking and to my great relief, my legs loosened up and I could get back to having both feet off the ground at the same time!

P1040510-001

With Thom well out of sight, I focused on keeping moving, managing the tightness of the vice across my thighs with regular walks, magic spray and salts. My conditioning was good and I was regularly passing people on the hills and my natural pace was good when able to run. Awaroa arrived after an age, and the loop of despair turned out to be the loop of passing people. It was actually harder going down than up.

MEC SEGMENT CHAMPION

As a member of the 2nd Tier @ MEC, I would like to take a minute to highlight my first MEC victory. At the 2016 TUM I was the fastest entrant in the Awaroa to Fisherman’s Bridge Race. I was onto something, I stopped walking for the sake of knee pain and just dug in for the last 20km. I arrived at Fisherman’s Bridge to find that my loyal supporters out in the rain had been wrong footed by my pace and were nowhere to be seen. Between Titoki and Fisherman’s Bridge, I had moved from the ‘Expected’ timetable onto the ‘Optimistic’ timetable. But I wasn’t the only one, and l had to let Elysia know that Thom was not behind, but in front of me, and she better haul it to River Road asap! (See Strava FlyBy)

StravaFlyBy
In hot pursuit of Thom, Brent rolling down the loop of despair, Ron and Caleb coasting to the finish

Ploughing ahead in the pouring rain and splashing my way along the river, I arrived into River Road to a very enthused family who simply gave me a kick in the pants and said THOM IS ONLY 3 MINTUES AHEAD, GET MOVING!!!! That was just the elixir I needed and with target acquired I peeled off my fastest km of the race. At the start of every straight I scanned ahead for green shirts. There’s Thom, nope that green shirt has sleeves, it must be a TUM race shirt. I was pulling out the stops, but with 2km to go, that vice closed up again and I realised I had pushed it too hard. In the last couple of km, I had to give up the chase and just get to the finish. With 500m to go, a multiple cramp lockup of the quads, hammies and calves halted me to a static stretch. The Kawerau locals hollered from the side of the road ‘JUST GET MOVING’!

Finally the home straight and my two biggest fans literally ran straight into my legs. Hand in hand we ran over the line and to my astonishment I was the best part of an hour ahead of my target in a time of 13hrs 34mins. With all systems cramping I picked up the boys and ‘smiled’ for the post-race photo. Job done. 

In terms of numbers: Of the 623 brave souls that entered, 316 completed the challenge and quite respectably I was 116th over the line.

TUM_2016_025156

Reflections – If you are still with me 😉

  • Completing Tarawera, was a massive achievement of determination, not just on the day, but in getting to the start line. That is something I am very proud of.
  • I succeeded at the BHAG. Something that was intimidating with no guarantee that I would be able to do it, and I managed to surprise myself in beating my challenges to do so.
  • Thom was a great partner in crime and I have no doubt that the competitive element of our race drove us both faster than we would have on our own. In point of fact, this rivalry dynamic is no doubt the reason why Thom and I (perennial MEC chasers) put in the fastest MEC times on the 40km’s from the Falls to the finish this year. (Of note: despite not seeing each other, only 1sec separated our times over the last 20km) Congrats on your race Thom you are an amazing competitor and I hope to line up with you again soon.(See Thom’s Report)
  • This was the perfect culmination of all the lessons I have learned in trail running. Right Shoes / Clothing / Gear / Nutrition / Hydration / Race Management all came together so so well.
  • The weather was tough, and the course slow, but I really enjoyed not being too hot. Once you are wet, you are wet aren’t you…
  • Expectations are a funny thing. The day after, I think I was the most stoked of the MEC runners despite finishing 90+ minute behind the MEC lead pack. (See Ron’s Report)
  • Mike, I have a lot of respect for a tough runner who still has the wisdom to know when to fight another day. (See Mike’s Report)
  • Brent, what a legend. To grind out a finish in such a state as you clearly were, having already completed TUM before, demonstrates what a tough determined competitor you are.(See Brent’s Report)
  • Cramp Stop spray works !!!!
P1040518
Get up Dad! … I Caaaannnn’ttt Craaaaamppp

Many thanks to Mike, Ron and all the MEC guys for your advice and to Vaughan @ Sportslab for keeping me able to run all year. Dave, for being my running buddy and for showing me that Aky’s can do this endurance thing. Gutted I couldn’t do it with you this time, but no doubt we will have many more adventures. Most of all, thank you to my lovely wife for supporting me in my hours out training when you’d rather have your husband at home sharing the load. Time for the next challenge… Baby number 3.

But I’ll be back.

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.

2016 Tarawera Ultra, nearly but not quite

Revrun reports

Buildup: B+

Very happy with how my late spring / early summer went. I had two races (SkyRockNRun and Westcoaster) of around 5hrs with lots of climb in November and December. I was consistent, managing to get my 60-70k per week in around my other priorities. Then in January I ramped up the climbing further and got some great trail runs and hikes in. Only thing really lacking was a couple of runs around the 50k mark. I think having one that finished with some gradual road climbs would be good specific prep for this race.

Pre race prep, physical: A

Got down the day before. Hydrated and carbo-loaded well. Noticed that I was really tight in my hips so foam rolled them to bits the night before. Had all my crew instructions ready to go and got to bed just after 10.

Pre race prep, mental: D

I was fit, in probably the best shape I ever have been for this race. And so my goal was a small PB – 15 mins. Very reasonable. However, I had not dug the motivation deeper than that. This is a race I have loved. But still it is an event where experincing discomfort is certain, and suffering and misery are likely. Therefore, having a single time goal is a very vulnerable motivation. A breadth of goals is what is needed e.g. Run my best race on the day, come top x in my category. Push through the pain to finish strong. Never give up, stay positive, keep moving.  This is Racing 101, so big points off for this lapse in preparation

Race execution: C

Ron, Caleb and I met at the start and ran together as planned. We actually started a bit further back than ideal but made up by catching plenty on the first 5k. In retrospect, I pushed a little hard on some of the first leg single track in aid of getting to a pace that felt most efficient. Lesson: Start further up. If caught back, bide time and protect legs and await some firetrail to get into position.
Interestingly my heart rate (HR) was a bit high for the first leg. Not sure why, I felt fine. Still thinking on it. Came right by Leg 2 to Okataina.
TUM_2016_OkatainaMe
The trip to Okataina is the most familiar part of the course, and I was happy with our progress here. The effort felt manageable and the HR came back to expected. We came to the Okataina aid station in 4:09:05, just 4 minutes down on my predicted splits for a 10:45 finish.
The third leg to Tarawera Falls was hard. We ended up doing it about 10 minutes slower than expected, but the body felt like we had being pushing hard, not taking it easy. This is still a bit of a puzzle. With the rainy conditions, I thought we would have an easier time (less effort shifting heat), but perhaps the mud made our legs work just that much harder that they fatigued sooner. I had great grip in my X-Talons, but was very glad to swap them out for road shoes at the Falls.
As mentioned in Ron’s report, our three man team collectively stepped off the gas at the Tarawera Falls. I saw we were about 15 mins down on time needed to make goal of 10:45, and not feeling nearly as fresh as expected/desired. That felt like there was no chance of hitting the target (huge mental mistake – counting your current state  of wearyness/energy/misery as if it is fixed, when actually you can recover). In actual fact, we were in the top 35 at this point (but unaware) as everyone was behind schedule! We transitioned from pulling each other along, to happily going at the lowest common speed – i.e. whoever was slowest set the pace. Toilet stops, walking breaks, we all took them together.
It was nice to have company, but if I am honest, it was real hard going. I have had more fun pushing myself hard in this section, drawing everything out of my fatigued body. I was downcast at missing my goal, and Caleb wasn’t having a happy time either. Ron seemed content, and we all trudged in slow silence. The quiet company of three was no match for the motivational force of an engaged pacer (or a competitive/positive mindset). No complaints from me, I was very glad to have the boys to run with and wait with – but just a reflection that I wanted to share as a lesson.
On the way to Awaroa after Titoki I noticed my pee had gone from yellow – dark yellow – brown. I started to drink more, but was feeling fine so not particularly bothered by this. Then just as we left the Awaroa aid station (83k) I noticed that it was brown and red. Oh. Not good. I won’t go into the difference between myoglobinuria (extremely bad) and exercise associated haematuria (maybe bad, maybe benign), but I knew that my kidneys were likely stressed regardless. This left me quite stressed. Ron gave me the good advice to go back to the aid and slam some fluids. I did this, asked if there was any medical person there (no, they had just left) and filled both my bottles. I made the decision to run it to Fisherman’s bridge 8.5k away. Dad would be there, which meant an objective opinion, and potential evacuation in his car if necessary.TUM_2016_Bluelake
Ron and Caleb had waited for me (much appreciated) and we picked up the pace and ran down the hills. I now had motivation to get there quickly and was moving the fastest I had in a couple of hours, with little change in effort. Amazing how perspective change can impact your performance. We got to Fisherman’s Bridge and I was very relieved. I took a couple of minutes to check my urine and think and discuss with Dad what to do. I decided to take the safe option and pull out there at the aid station. I sent the guys who were now quite wet and cold from waiting for me onward and I spoke to the race medical team who concurred (nice medical word eh?) with my decision. An hour later in the med tent at the finish I had put on 1.3 kilos (i.e. over-hydrated) and shortly after this I was peeing clear again. The kidneys had bounced back from the hydration and I was fine. In retrospect I can see that I had rehydrated sufficiently (actually too much hypo-isotonic fluid – hence the weight gain) and would have made it to the finish OK. However, I wasn’t to know that at Fisherman’s Bridge and so while very disappointed not to finish, I am reassured that I made the sensible call on the day. Better to live to fight another day then die trying to prove you’re a hero.
So, another year at this excellent event, but definitely not my best or my favourite performance. Some great results from the MEC though, and I will live it to those chaps to tell you the story for themselves. See you soon on the trails.

2016 TUM100 – everything changes (same as every other year)

2012, the first crack at the TUM100 came in at 12:07hrs from a desired time of 11hrs. On the fifth attempt it ended in 12:15hrs from a desired 10:45hrs. Not only was it the slowest of the standard 100km course attempts, but it also saw the greatest gap between expectations and reality.

TUM_2016_003897
Happy times =

The thing is, I had thought I was coming into the event better prepared than ever and I was only 7mins off my 10:50hrs target time last year.

So what gives? It appears it wasn’t a decrease in effort, my TRIMP score (think a conservative Strava Suffer Score) was near identical to last year 1105 vs 1107. These were the highest of any of my past TUM, including the extended distance/climb 2013 Fire Edition. Nor was it cracking and running in a state of exhaustion, I didn’t feel like death during or after the event. In fact recovery was excellent, and somewhat quicker than previous years. Nutrition and hydration was also better than previous years, ate and drank well, no gastro issues.

TUM_2016_020961
See -I’m eating
TUM_2016_021796
So Tasty! Mmmm.

That leaves two suspects. The most obvious was the conditions, it was wetter and warmer than the 2013 Lusi Cyclone edition. The course didn’t actually feel terribly slow underfoot, and unlike many I wasn’t wearing clown shoes so felt pretty confident on the climbs/descents (wizard sticks helped). Even though it was wet and grey, it was warm and humid from the get go. Despite a solid effort over the first 60km our pace was well down, so maybe these early exertions were just sucking out energy more rapidly than anticipated?

The other identified suspect was the social approach of the run, as three of us were all targeting a 10:45 finish we started as a pack. And ran as a pack. Each nicely pushing the pace over the first 60km. I guess each aware that we were falling further and further behind schedule. Then at the Tarawera Falls aid station, since a sub-11hr was clearly off the cards it was like an unspoken contract was entered to cruise to the finish. Nobody pushed the pace, nobody parted company to press on alone. Nobody mentioned time or pace.

TUM_2016_022603
So long suckers

It was nice running as a bunch, comfortable. It wasn’t like I was trapped in an unwanted social contract. It just stopped being an individual race I guess. Fine by me, I’ll take challenging collaboration over competition given a choice. Unfortunately the dream three-way MEC finish wasn’t to be, though we did finish as two. The others’ stories are sure to come…

TUM_2016_027110
Happy times…

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.