The Great Kauri Cranleigh Run – 2017

You know when you get 3/4 through a race & find yourself still really enjoying yourself that it’s been a great day out. To be fair, 10 minutes later I was yelling my head off from agonising cramps. But hey, you’ve got to focus on the positives – at least I wasn’t vomiting too.

When Thom suggested a weekend away for this run down in the Coromandel I thought why not. Training had been pretty sparse, but there was plenty of time to get into shape and it was sure to be a fantastic run. 32km, ~1200m of elevation, panoramic views & a heap of beautiful Coro bush trail. Sounds epic.

The “get into shape” part never really happened. With work, projects & family life all being flat out, something had to give … and it was the training. I’d pulled back to the bare minimum of generally 1 run a week – maybe averaging around 15km/wk for the past few months. The one potential redeeming factor is most of that limited training was hill work.

My general race plan on the way down to the race was to take it real easy, try not to blow up & maybe just maybe (hah! Yeah right) have something left for the technical section & big downhill at the end. Thom quickly pointed out that I’ve pretty much never had a race go like that, and he would put money on this not being the first.

Sure enough, Thom the Seer proved correct, and arriving at the start line I threw out the conservative approach & decided on a new race plan. With 2km of beach going onto single trail, I was worried if I took the start too easy I’d seed well back in the field & spend the next hour burning lots of energy trying to pass people on single trail. So new plan: start faster, but not too fast & try seed near the front. Once we got onto the trails, run completely to feel & try to be at least a little bit sensible – especially conservative on anything steep. And then hope like hell I didn’t blow up with 15km still to go.

We set of down the 2km beach section at a reasonably comfortable pace around 4:30’s/km. I paced myself just off the lead bunch, settling in about 20m behind Sean. Coming off the beach you have a beautiful few km of winding bush trails with 4 or 5 stream crossings, and a runnable hill climb through the first 50-odd metres of elevation. I felt I was taking it reasonably easy, but still hanging with a bunch of guys in 3-7th (Chris Morrissey & one other had vanished as soon as we got off the beach). The going got tougher & we pulled back to a hike & ground out a steep climb eventually pushing out of the bush up at the first trig point @ ~7km mark, 350m above where we started. I’d shuffled a few places, but was sitting around about 5th with Sean in sight about 100m ahead in 3rd.

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Stream crossing at the end of the beach. 2km in. No point in trying to keep the shoes dry!

The next section involved repeated steep downhills, followed by steep uphills – starting over pasture, and moving onto a quad trail through the bush. The uphills we ruthless – I remember seeing the grade break 40% a number of times – and I decided it was time to pull back or suffer the consequences of trying to keep with the others. So I let the guys ahead disappear, shortened my stride on the climbs, walk more hills & tried to not bomb the downhills too hard.

I felt like this slightly more defensive strategy (as far as protecting the body goes) seemed to be working quite well until at the 13km mark I half tripped on a gorse bush that surprised me lying across the track, resulting in sharp spasms of cram with both calf’s locking up. Oh dear. Not even half way through. This could go terribly wrong. However I had been in similar positions before & knew at this stage it was more of a warning sign than anything too debilitating & could be managed. So I set off again, having lost 1 position (chick’d), started popping electrolyte tabs, cramp spray, & anything else I could think of to hold things at bay.

Everything went pretty smoothly through to the next aid station & the following next 6-7km was a beautiful ridge line bush run, completely runnable along a quad track with interspersed epic vistas of the east and west coasts of the Coromandel.  I held strong pace through this section but saw no one, eventually coming out at Kennedy Bay Rd. I was pretty stoked at this point. I was 3/4 through the race, had felt great the whole run so far & was really enjoying myself. My nutrition was, for once, going to plan. Staying off solid food & a less aggressive fueling approach of a gel every 40 mins with a roughly 1/3rd mix of electrolyte drink to water in my bottle was seeming to do the trick & I’d had no sign of nausea, or any ‘low points’ on the energy front.

However I’d known the whole race that this next section was going to be the real test. A steep climb, followed by a heavy technical steep up & down section (mostly up) on fatigued legs that hadn’t been this long or high in a long time. The first steep climb (~130m up) went great, I felt strong with lots of energy & tried not to fall into the trap of slamming my legs. However as I crested & entered a steep technical downhill the cramp finally bit hard. I’d been looking forward to this section the whole run, so it was a bit disappointing (not to mention immensely painful) to have my calfs, quads & hammies taking turns, or often all at once, going into full blown cramp lock down.

Stretching out was doing nothing, and was often impossible as both quad & hammy were cramping at the same time, so to stretch one was to fire off the other worse. In the end I had to just try & hobble/shuffle/walk with the cramp still in full swing. It must have looked pretty funny (not to mention often yelling my head off), my foot would often stick out a funny angle as even my shin muscle would cramp. But standing around wasn’t working so I gritted teeth & began to force myself forward.

This went on for a couple of nasty km over the next half hour. I was resigned for a slow & painful slog out to the finish when I summited at the last high point – the Kaipawa Trig and beginning the 560m descent over the last 7km ahead of me back to sea level. Miraculously I’d only dropped 1 place (chick’d again) through this ordeal – I guess a good place to blow up is in a highly technical section where everyone is going slow anyway – I’ll have to keep that in mind for future races.

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Gotta stop for cramp anyway so might as well take a photo.  Finish line in the distance a long way down. Managed to half remove the grimace for the second it took to take the photo 🙂

Through this section I had been noticing that the cramp seemed to be more to do with climbing than downhills, and as I got into the descent, I was relieved to feel the cramp letting go more & more – finally managing to string more than a stride or two together at a time. I was soon ambling along, shortly after running freely, shortly after bombing down the windy, often slippery track – more concerned with careening off a cliff than with muscle seizure. Surprisingly I managed to hold this all the way back to town, only starting to see signs of the cramp when things flattened out on the 2km road run back into town.

I could see there was no one for a long way either in front or behind so I opted for as conservative an approach to the finish as I could bring myself to. I knew the only thing that could cost me a position would be pushing too hard & having to stop to stretch out cramp – so I ran to feel & each time I felt the cramp building I would drop back another 10-20sec/km until I found a pace I could hold.

Seeing the wifey who had lined up a couple of excited toddlers for me to run in the last 100m was a nice boost at the end (despite firing off a hammy cramp trying to pick one up) and I crossed the line in 7th place (5th guy) in 3hr 27m. Overall I was pretty stoked with how the run had gone. I was about as unprepared as I felt I could be for it, and despite wishing the cramp held out for 2 more km at the top of that hill, it couldn’t have really gone much better in the circumstances. I knew I was pushing the line as to what the body would manage so to not blow up earlier was a good outcome. Aside from the obvious, it was a really enjoyable day out. The scenery was magic, the trails (especially the bush single track sections) were awesome & I felt really good throughout the run.

Congrats to Sean who ran really strongly & took out 3rd in 3hr 03 Awesome effort. Also to Thom who battled it out to finish in 4hr 28 despite also having a average lead up, and his old man Alistair who was only 1 minute off taking out the 60+yo ‘Classic Men’ section in 5hr 02 – his favourite line about the trail “why do you keep calling it technical? It’s just bush trail.”

Finally a big thanks to the organisers of the run. They’d obviously done a lot of work on parts of the course for the race. Everything was really well run, everyone was really friendly, the course marking was great and all proceeds from the run go to adding to the 3000+ Kauri trees they’ve already planted along the trail over the past 12 years they have been running it. A great initiative.

Full results here.
Strava link here.

Xterra Shakespear 2015

Shakespear is always a favorite race of mine, and I was stoked to manage to make it again this year for the 3rd year running. My lead up had been reasonably good – I’ve been relatively injury free this year, although fitting regular training in around a very busy work & family schedule has been a challenge.

This year the course had been modified with the 2nd coastal section being replaced with a hill climb & farm downhill as well as a bush section on the ‘tiri tiri track’ being added near the end. My race plan this year was to try & stay near the front, but not at the expense of pushing too hard through the initial hill climb & bush section down to Army Bay. The technical stuff over the rocks has always been a strength of mine so that’s where I wanted to make some serious gains, while trying to avoid running out of gas for some of the hills in the 2nd half like I did last year.

It was great to see the boys with a strong M.E.C turnout with Dave, Evan, Ron, Todd and myself all lining up to run the super long.

The race started fast as it tends to, with the usual bolters out front. I seeded myself near the front & kept pace with Ron as we climbed the first hills. I felt the cardio workout kicking in near the top of the hills so backed things off a little, letting Ron & a half dozen others break away.

"Team Green" at the start. (Photo stolen from Steve Neary's Strava :))
“Team Green” at the start. (Photo stolen from Steve Neary’s Strava :))

After a fast descent down into the bush, I held back a bit through the Kauri forest, trying to ensure I wasn’t feeling gassed by the time we came out at Army Bay. The tide was high this year which I knew would work to my advantage, forcing us up onto the loose rocky surface near the shoreline instead of being able to pace it along the comparatively smooth rock face further out.

I broke out onto the coastline probably around 15th and I dialed it up a little each time we hit a technical section, while forcing myself to cruise a bit on the flatter sections to keep the cardio under control. I settled in behind Ben Firth who historically I’ve found quick around the rocky section & worked my way up the field with him. This strategy worked well, generally gaining at least one or two places each time things got technical.

Ron gradually eased back into view and I caught & passed him & Ben about 2/3’s through the rocks, eventually working my way temporarily into what turned out to be a brief duel with Kelvin Meade for 3rd behind the air force boys who were nowhere to be seen.

Coming out onto the beach behind Kelvin I eased off the gas a little knowing there was some good hill climbs coming up & Ron hauled me in & passed. I decided to set my pace off him & see if I could keep somewhat in reach. I fell behind a little as we descended through the new section down to Te Haruhi bay (courtesy having to stop to do up a lace – argh!), but started the hill climbs feeling pretty good and managed to slowly pull Ron back in, getting to within 5-10 meters on some of the climbs but with him pulling away again on the downhills & flats.

As we crested the big hill & started to increase the pace along the top, my arch nemesis “cramp” started to bite in my left calf. I backed off & stopped to scull back some powerade at the last aid station at the top of the hill in an effort to ease it up. Suddenly the trail veered off to the right from where we would usually go – something I hadn’t noticed before the race. We dropped steep down into tiritiri trail and through a beautiful bush segment and back up the other side, reconnecting with the usual course on the farm races.

With only a few km and a couple of hills to go, the cramp really started to kick in. Any hope of trying to push Ron along disappeared as he powered along strongly and started pulling away as I was forced to back off on the climbs to prevent a full blown lockdown – very frustrating as I felt I had paced well and had plenty in the cardio tank for a strong finish. While I hadn’t held any hope of overhauling Ron, I did have it in the back of my mind that I may be able to turn the heat up on him a bit & force him into a bit of a duel by bombing down the last downhill & along the beach.

Instead as I crested the last hill the full lockdown cramp kicked in. I had been keeping an eye since we started the hills on the next guy behind us. He was a long way back so I banked on stopping to stretch & see if it would let go. Unfortunately he saw me do this, smelt blood and set about hauling me in.

I set off again but the cramp kicked back in instantly. Aside from Ron I hadn’t shed a single place since coming off the beach & I was bloody determined not to do so in the home stretch, so I bit down hard & started to run as best as I could with the cramp locked on.

I made my way down the last steep hill & managed to hold around 3:50-4:20’s along the beach with a crazy straight legged hobble run. My messed up running style was burning my cardio reserves at an alarming rate, and if it wasn’t for Mr Blue Shirt behind me making startling gains I would have dribbled along a lot slower. Determined not to surrender a spot so close to the end I gave it everything & managed to hold him off – climbing up off the beach, embarrassingly dry retching all the way down the home chute to collapse over the finish line. Talk about style.

I finished behind Ron – coming in 5th at 1:32:46, a bit over a minute slower than last year – although hard to know what impact the changes to the course meant.

Overall, the last 2km aside, I am pretty stoked with the race. My best position in a race so far & I felt I paced well, executed my race plan and finished in front of a bunch of guys who bet me last year. Probably need to start hitting some longer, high intensity hill reps to try & sort out the cramp issues.  Cheers Ron for egging me on along the way 🙂 and congrats to all the boys for strong runs!

M.E.C results:

Ron King – 4th – 1:31:11
Brent Kelly – 5th – 1:32:46
Evan Atkinson – 44th – 1:49:52
Dave Atkinson – ?? – for some reason missing from the current published results.
Todd Calkin – 75th – 1:58:40

Strava Link: https://www.strava.com/activities/305946238/overview

TUM 2015: 100km … tick.

When the chunder finally came, it was almost a relief. Having felt progressively more rubbish for the past few hours, anything had to be better than the walk I had been reduced to on the long slow rise out of Titoki. And then the cramps hit.

Tarawera Ultra has become somewhat of a focal point for me over the past few years. My year is split into two parts: a few weeks of recovery from TUM, and 11.5 months of buildup for the next one. Well at least for the last couple of years since Mike & Ron managed to persuade me of something as crazy as running an ultra.

Still being a 100km virgin courtesy cyclone Luci in 2014, I was hopeful that 2015 would provide the opportunity to run the full course to Kawerau.

Great times training with the boys - "Top of the Dome" to Waiwera
Great times training with the boys – “Top of the Dome” to Waiwera

Preparation had been somewhat spotty to start with. I was sidelined for several months during the middle of the year with tendinitis in my Achilles and that and family duties saw me miss pretty much every target race in the 2nd half of the year. Training began in earnest in October when I was finally able to run freely again. I focused a lot of my training on strength rather than cardio, with a lot of vertical meters, knowing that cramp had been a problem in the past.

Conquering the 78km Hillary trail in December with the boys was a huge confidence boost, and with a few more long runs under my belt, I approached the race feeling quite confident in my prep, despite not having put in a huge amount of weekly k’s.

The race plan this year was reasonably simple. Hold back and knock off the km’s running well within myself – hopefully reaching the top of the loop of despair with enough left to start to dig it in for last 18km & push myself hard into hopefully a strong finish. Anything around the 12hr mark I felt would be a good effort.

Caleb had a similar plan & after enjoying the great company for the first 45km last year I was stoked to be able to team up with him again. Caleb is a strong runner so I knew that he would push me along & challenge me to keep pushing through my ‘downs’ during the race .

Arriving at the start line it was great to see the huge turnout of MEC boys, all clad in our shiny new singlets. We lined up nearish the front & set off. Next year I think I’ll start closer to the front as we overtook a lot of people, which probably is a bit of an inefficient way to use your energy at the start of an ultra.

The leg to the first Tikitapu aid station passed quickly and uneventfully, arriving 15 minutes ahead of schedule. It’s a beautiful run through the trees, and seemed slightly easier with the modified course. A highlight of the leg was passing a saxophone player in the middle of the bush, blasting out great tunes for the runners.

Yakkin away to Caleb on the Okataina climb
Yakkin away to Caleb on the Okataina climb

We made good time through to Okereka, and set off toward Okataina. Knowing this leg was the big climb of the race, we ran well within ourselves, walking anything remotely steep and drifted back in the field a little. We eventually crested the top and took it easy on the big drop into Okataina, careful not to put too much pressure on the quads & knees with a whole lot of KM still to go.

Coming into the aid station, I was feeling it a bit more than I might have liked, but stocked up and set off again. It was great to see the familiar faces there with some of the other guys supporters, and high fiving Justin Cheyne with my ‘vas hand’ provided some short term amusement as we set off around Lake Tarawera.

This leg was easily my favorite of the race. Amazing scenery, beautiful bush, and winding technical trail. With over half the race still to go I had to remind myself to keep the brakes on as this is probably my favorite type of trail to really let the wheels turn & pick up some places.

Epic scenery around Tarawera Falls #literalphotobomb
Epic scenery around Tarawera Falls #photobomb

Caleb & I made steady progress through this section, and despite dealing with off & on nausea I managed to keep up as Caleb started to set the pace as we neared closer to Tarawera Falls – arriving having gained a good 40-odd places. 60km down, only a marathon to go!

As we set off for Titoki we couldn’t miss a green MEC singlet up ahead & realized Mike had somehow snuck past during a brief stop at the aid station portaloo. After yelling out Mike waited for us to catch up and it was great getting to run with him for a few KM before he broke away – powering strongly up a hill & demonstrating how he had managed to catch us after taking the start very easily with his dodgy calf.

During this leg my nausea really kicked in as well as some niggling pain in my Achilles – particularly concerning due to my injury earlier in the year. I pushed through but struggled to keep up with Caleb on the hills, eventually cruising into Titoki – something I had been looking forward to for the last couple of hours. Firstly I knew my lovely wife would be there to greet me which was a huge lift. Also one of my best mates Phil Needham had agreed to pace me the rest of the way I was really looking forward to his company.

Feeling that I was becoming a bit of a handbrake to Caleb who was in a much happier place compared to my ongoing nausea issues, I suggested he cut loose so after 70km we parted ways & he disappeared off up the hill, running strongly.

Titoki at last!

Phil & I set off, only to be shortly reduced to a slow shuffle & then down to a walk. The nausea had ramped up to a point now where I reeeeealy did not want to eat anything, and was crashing my energy and general will to live. With the Achilles pain starting to ramp up I descended into a dark place where even the encouragement & positivity from Phil struggled to penetrate. The possibility of a long walk out or even those never-to-be-thought 3 letters ‘D-N-F’ started to sneak into my thoughts – along with the disappoint of feeling like I was really letting Phil down who had travelled for hours only to have to go on a long boring walk up some forestry roads with some really bad company.

Eventually I got so green that I decided enough was enough. Knowing the mere thought of another-freakin-hammer-gel was enough to nearly make me start retching, I ripped one open – banana *shudder* – and slammed the whole thing down. Achieving it’s intended outcome I promptly ripped off my straw hat, and spewed my guts out. Multiple times. 6 to be exact.

Now that my stomach had removed all my pending nutrition, my body decided it was time to freak out with a near simultaneous cramp of most significant muscles in my body – through nearly every leg muscle to my back & forearms. I managed to force another gel down & after a good dip in the river the cramp started to back off enough to start moving forward again. We eventually ambled into Awaroa having taken over 90 minutes to travel about 8km – nearly 30 minutes slower than Caleb who was smashing it!

As we pushed out onto the “Loop of Despair” the nutrition started to kick in & for the first time in hours I started to feel considerably better. Despite the warnings I’d heard about this section, I actually found the loop of despair quite the opposite. We powered up the hill in good time, and I came out at the top feeling well on the way to recovering from my bottoming-out.

This was the spot I had intended to pick up the pace knowing it was predominantly downhill from here. Performing some quick calculations in my head it came as a bit of a surprise that if I could keep to around 6 min k’s for the last 20-odd km I still had a shot at getting in under 12:30 – something I had long since written off. Telling myself I hadn’t run this long to cream-puff out in the last couple of hours, I forced myself to lean forward & run.

Potentially the youngest crew on the course @ 8 weeks old?
Potentially the youngest crew on the course @ 8 weeks old?

The last two legs are a bit of a blur to be honest. I don’t think I’ve ever focused so completely on forcing my body to obey & push beyond where I thought it could. As we pushed towards Fisherman’s Bridge the brief walks stopped and the pace increased. I kept thinking “Just two laps of the Estuary and we’re home”, just “1.5 laps of the Estuary and we’re home” etc..

We pulled into Fisherman’s Bridge around 11hr30 – 10km to go in under an hour.  I can do this. Phil was phenomenal as he had been since he joined – crewing me as well as pacing. He had my water bottles filled in a flash and was onto removing my shoes for me to clear the stones and allow me to push hard to the finish. The straw hat was off. Game on. We departed after a few short minutes & headed for home.

Keeping pace was all consuming for that last leg. I had long since decided to hold nothing back & go for broke. If the body gave in, so be it. We hauled in a steady flow of tired runners as we regularly pushed along around 5min30’s, slowing for the occasional sand-cliff to climb or bridge to cross. The constant encouragement from Phil was great, although I apologized profusely in the days after the race for my clipped 2-word instructions to ‘speed up’, ‘slow down’ and my generally poor, tired and grumpy communication. We pushed straight through the last aid station 5km out & it was all out for the finish.

As we rounded into Kawerau fields I kept lifting the pace. Seeing a couple of runners in the distance ahead I set my final goal to catch them before the end. I always find it satisfying sneaking a couple of places at the end. I figure I just ran for 12 hrs to get to my current place – if I can pick up a couple more just by pushing hard for 2 minutes that some serious ROE (return on effort ;)).

We managed to hold sub-5’s for a lot this last few km, interrupted every 500m or so of a yelp from me, some straight-legged-hopping as I tried to get a locked up cramping calf to release, and then straight back into it. We hauled in the first of my ‘targets’ with about 500m to go and was pressing on to the last one when the calf packed it in good and proper. It locked up & wasn’t letting go.

With a few inappropriate words of frustration I pulled to a halt and stretched the calf out until it released – watching all my hard work disappear round the corner into the finishing chute. Luckily there was no one behind us for ages, so I hobbled the last couple of hundred meters and managed to run across the finish line in 12 hrs, 26 min & 51 secs.

Finished!

Overall I was pretty disappointed at crashing out in the Titoki leg. I think I probably over-ate for a good portion of the run, being used to training at a lower cardio level than I probably was at as we started to increase the pace about half way through. However I am really pleased at the recovery and finish and pretty satisfied with the final finish time – all things considered. It will come in handy in future races knowing I can dig a bit deeper & push a little harder when I feel spent.

A huge thanks to my supportive wife who lugged around an 8 week old baby for half the day to support me over the latter part of the course. What a woman! Also to “Team Green” – awesome bunch of guys & love the training & camaraderie. And finally Phil Needham my complete legend pacer, putting up with my crazy emotions and selflessly crewing and pacing me from Titoki. He smashed out the longest run he’s done, supporting me the whole way without one complaint or comment about being tired – nothing but compliments & support. It was awesome to tick off a big goal with such a great mate at my side – cheers bro!

Click to view on Strava.

Kaweka MM(mmm) 2014

My second crack at the Kaweka Mountain Marathon, a course slightly lengthened to 50km from the commonly agreed 46km event of  last year. The extension being a couple of flat km at the start (and finish) to take you to the first brute of a climb up to Kuripapango, a straight up 700m climb. Everything else was unchanged, as least as far as the course map went. I already posted about my build-up, which had me cautiously optimistic of a similar if not better performance to last year –

  1. I knew the course (well I thought I did)
  2. I had better hill preparation
  3. It wouldn’t be in the heat-wave conditions 2013
  4. I had improved nutrition/hydration options (copious home made gels and two bottles for stream refills)
  5. Though my endurance was a bit down from last summer

The optimistic early weather forecasts were for perfect running conditions, cool and calm with a bit of cloud cover. There was confidence in bettering my 2013 time, I told Victoria and Violet to be sure to be at the line for my <7:30hr finish. Meanwhile I had jacked up a ride from registration in Havlock North on Friday evening to the race camp (1:30hrs distant), courtesy of some very hospitable local race volunteers. In addition to the lift I was offered up a second dinner of beef stroganoff and matching Hawke’s Bay wines up at base camp.

An excellent night’s sleep was assisted by cool temperatures and peaceful patter of rain on the tent. I had by this point blocked out the reality of the conditions in the mountains 1km above the camp. Rising to the sound of other early starters at 05:00, the rain had definitely not blown over, though neither had the predictions of it ‘pissing down’ by locals come to pass.

I don’t know how Philip the race director manages to come across as simultaneously nonchalant and rather alarming about the event, as he was announcing rain, gale force winds, and sub-zero windchill at the start. And we were off, I sort of listened to the navigation details figuring it was basically the same as last year. Error #1 was minor, but following the early race lead, who by that stage was drifting off the front, it was pointed out to me by fellow competitors that I was going the wrong way (as did he but by now he was long out of sight), so I doubled back round the carpark to the correct side of the tape and ended up at the back of the event for the swing-bridge queue.

No real problem I figured as we were 10min into a +7hr course. I took the opportunity while waiting to cross to take off my jacket as we’d be taking this first 700m climb in the lee of the wind (I hate overheating). And up we went, I wasn’t forcing pace on this climb but made my way through the field and must have been inside the top 5? As expected conditions deteriorated with temperatures dropping, winds rising, visibility declining, and rainshowers coming through in waves, jacket back on. At times the track had turned into a lovely trickling stream, and  I wished I had my merino socks on.

Running along the ridges in the cloud I could barely make out the frequently spaced track markings let alone any other competitors (it would have been nice to be with a couple of others a I know but a minute ahead at this point, damn that early detour). The pace clearly was well down from last year hunching to counter the wind, so no besting this year. I guess this is where I made my #2 and prime error, electing to go for the higher-energy-moving-to-keep-warm rather than layering up to keep comfortable option. I made my way along the ‘track’ frequently stopping to sight the next marker a mere 15 metres off and double checking the junctions against my mental image of the map. At one point I caught another runner, and then was caught myself as I triple checked the route against a sign.

Route assured, I slowly moved out of sight of the other two and was on my own again, summiting Kaweka J at over 1,700m in conditions where I was unable to stand upright due to the wind. Given my earlier choice not to layer up and the horizontal soft hail I was rather anxious to descend quickly at this point, and running down past the poor buggers camped out up here as volunteers (they poked their heads out of a rather impressive polar expedition tent to check my number) I headed downhill on the Makahu Spur.

With a fear of heights and a rather dizzying descent my last year’s strategy was to stay close to my running companion Craig and let him take me down without overly worrying about the drops on either side of the spur. Evidently there were also marked track junctions I’d been unaware of, whereas the LINZ map that I’d reviewed again this year had none. This combined with an eagerness to get down from the tops inevitably lead to an unfortunately choice of following the track named after the eponymous topological feature rather than the course itself.

Despite it feeling wrong I continued down, being not so keen to try map reading in gale conditions, or indeed staying still too long as I knew my core was cooling. As the route became even more unfamiliar and frighteningly steep -at least for someone who isn’t keen on heights- I knew I had to review my situation. I wandered about a bit to check possible alternative routes I may have missed, then had a rising sense of anxiety at the situation (height, wind, cold). I came to my senses and stopped, sheltered behind a rock looked the map and rapidly came to the only sensible conclusion, to climb back up to the last junction, cos this track was clearly wrong. Mistake #3 I’d folded the map to fit the waterpoof map bag to obscure the printed directions on the back of the map which had the names of the tracks which were non-existent on the map itself.

As I ascended I came across a pair coming down who made the same mistake, after a brief discussion two of use concurred that we were on the wrong track and made our way back. With the junction came familiar territory and relief as we descended the lovely long switchbacks rather than a direct drop of the previous spur. Though by this time I had given up any race spirit not knowing how many had passed or how long I’d been off course – in fact I was just glad to be back among others.

Hitting the bottom we encountered the compulsory gear check, for my part I couldn’t speak properly as I was too cold, and one of the others didn’t have the dexterity in his fingers to open his pack. Though conditions down here were relatively balmy and I was soon sweating again having set off at a trot. The only other real point of interest of the event was encountering another runner (who I’d passed earlier before getting lost) at the bottom of the Donald gulch. I grabbed him crossing the river as the hip-high current started sweeping him downstream.

Funnily enough I knew I was both cruising and running more of this last third of the course than the previous year. In the end I finished well over an hour down from 2013, but in 5th overall again. In fact if my foul weather decisions and navigation had been up to task I would have been in an excellent tussle for 3rd overall as that finishing time was equal to mine less the time I spent wandering off-course. But then this was always pitched as a race where you need to make those kind of decisions, so I guess it is like saying I would have won if I could have run faster than the others.

The stats and recovery concurred, I wasn’t a wreck after the race, I could walk comfortably even up and down stairs. My TRIMP and Strava Suffer scores (a measure of time x intensity) correlated also being well down on last year. What did hurt post-race was my hands which ached from the cold the following day. So maybe my build-up was pretty good, I was also very happy with my nutrition/hydration and never felt stressed in this regard.

While I would like to say having done the event in both heatwave and winter-like conditions I have experienced both extremes of the course, but suspect even this would be false comfort. Will be more prepared next time. Though if I mutter anything about doing the 96km 25th anniversary version please stop me.

Oh, and here’s a pretty pic, just over 4,000m climbing clocked up in 50km thanks to my detour. Of note over 3170m was gained in a little over 11km putting the bulk of climbing gradient in excess of 30%. Nice.

Off-Course Edition
Off-Course Edition

Xterra Woodhill The King Report

Nietzche said frustration is where expectation and reality are at odds. If you’ve got kids you’ll know that’s certainly true. It isn’t always the case with us grown ups though. I’ve come to expect a sensible start from Dr Hale, followed by a brilliantly paced effort to run through many of us more ‘excitable’ starters.

Today reality was rather different as Mike put me on the back foot for the first 5km. Tell the truth had anymore climbing been stacked at the front, I would have let him go as I had real difficulty staying in touch (and was actually relishing the prospect of letting him disappear from sight such was my state).

Luckily the hills turned into twisty descents and was able to move through a bit. Though every move I made was well countered on the next climb. At some point in the twisty woods I managed to make a break big enough not to hear his breathing. The silence lasted until we hit the next road section.

Important intelligence gathered. I could, with a concentrated effort, get away on the twisty stuff and those horrid sand waves. So as we exited the gravel road for the next forest section at around the 14km mark I channeled Andy Schleck and made a long range solo break. Think I did about 3km of effort before I eased off back into something a little more sustainable, giving Mike (and older guy Simon) about 6km to catch me.

I tried to keep a pre-break pace going but knew I was starting to fade, and as trail gave way to forest road Mike surely would be gaining ground. Going through my head constantly was – will it be a Schleck or Contador move? Both had tried long range attacks in the tour but only Andy succeeded. Also going through my mind was the grimace both wore (it’s worth hurting for). Unlike Andy, I didn’t permit myself a backwards glance, at least until I was in the last km. And when I did who was no more than 20 metres back but the Dr himself.

New calculation, how hard did he push to get here? How much has he left in the tank? What are my chances in a finish line sprint? Decision was to try to up my pace as best I could, deny him any opportunity to recover before a finishing chute sprint was on the cards. If he was surging I was toast, had no gas for a full sprint. He’d have to work to get that opportunity though! As it turned out his tank was as empty as mine and I managed to hold a 10 sec gap to the line.

The moral? Don’t always let your expectations rule your reality.

Tarawera Ultra 2011

Race Report from the 2011 Tarawera Ultramarathon

Mike Hale

It was never going to be easy. After last year, where Myles Robinson and I stunned ourselves with great first time efforts at the 85k distance, this race had been lurking in my mind more than any other. I knew it hurt, but then it also felt so good – the conquering of your own weakness while running yourself into oblivion. 2010 showed that good results were possible, now what about if I were to increase the training – maybe make it a focus, not an add-on?

Come late 2010, I knew I wanted to do it again. The plan was to have a good summer holiday with regular 2-3hr runs, then do some more long runs including 2 x 50k buildup runs  to total at least 10 runs over 2 hrs (as opposed to 1 x 50k with a handful of 2-3hrs runs  as in 2010).

I got a bit of set back on Boxing Day when I was foolhardy and went for my first barefoot run in months (careful), for 40 minutes (way too long), on sand-dunes (silly, silly boy). Calf pain followed and would hamper my efforts for the next month. I was able to run occasionally, but had to swap my summer holiday long runs for summer holiday long (hill) walks. This was good for strength, and hill running, but not so good for endurance or aerobic conditioning. It also took me out of the Maungakiekie Endurance Club battle for the Stroke n Stride series.

But soon enough, I was back getting the long runs in. I managed the 50k crash training /make or break session in late January. Me, Dave and Myles battled for 6 hrs in Cyclone Wilma, the toes were hurt, but the calf endured – great success!

The Coastal Challenge came and I went into it with more long runs under my belt than ever before. I felt strong and like I would endure, albeit not very fast. That race was another great battle with Mikey Licht, he got 8th and I was 1 minute back in 10th – the field have got stronger I tell ya!

The 33k speed endurance of the Coastal made a great sharpener for the Tarawera, so I approached this year’s race with high expectations. This year was made much better by having a huge contingent of mates going down competing and supporting. There was me and Dave Robbo in the 85k solo (with Todd Calkin and Charles Belcher as pacers respectively) and Mat Raffills and Jake Parsons teaming up for the 85k two man team.

A mean south westerly front passed over as we drove down to Rotorua on the Friday. It could have been ugly on race day, but fortunately had blown away and race morning brought nothing but blue skies.

We started in the dark, this year with plenty more competitors (237) in the field. Word must have got out that this event is the business. It also appears that more of the talent in the field are now taking on the 100k option (over 100 starters), and bypassing the 85k.

The hooter went and we plunged in to the darkness. This year I was more conscious of slowing my urge to race at the start, and I happily jogged along at an easy pace while a good 30 or so athletes took off ahead. I had forgotten how much uphill there was – it wasn’t all that steep but it was consistent. Very soon we were looking out back across Lake Rotorua and the whole district. The sun came up, revealing beautiful pine forest all around. I had some good chats as I marveled at the view. It was just a pleasure to be running. We came down into Tikitapu (Blue Lake) and I was merrily cruising in a group of four. I pulled ahead of them just prior to the aid station. The raucous welcome of our crew was fantastic – I love those guys and girls! An easy road section down to Okareka wound up the first leg (18.5k), I did 1:50, about 2 minutes slower than last year and was feeling 10/10 as I left the Miller Road aid station.

I took on extra fluids (sculling 3 cups of fizz) before heading into the isolated Western Okataina track. Last year I was punished with thirst during this section, and I wasn’t going to have that again. I was quickly by myself and turned on the speakers to get a happy tune in my head. Speakers were distorting – a flat battery (note to self, something to check before the race next time).  Last year I ran with Myles and a couple of others along this trail before their fast pace pushed my HR too high and I backed off and fell into a sad state of solo running. This year I was master of the controlled response. I ran when it made sense to, and backed off when my HR was too high or the track was too slippy to make it worthwhile. I was very consciously keeping my effort in check and yet I was still catching people – brilliant!

It wasn’t too long before we crested the summit and started the steep descent. I emptied my right shoe out and tightened my laces as the toes were getting quite pained and I wanted them on my side come the last 30k. Three guys passed me and I ducked in behind as we formed a train all the way to Okataina.

Okataina came in 2:04. This was 3 minutes faster than last year. Not only was I a bit faster, but I was feeling way better both in the body and in the mind. I gave huge smiles to my crew and took on some more lollies (where were the power cookies this year? I was planning on eating those!). I took off onto leg three, my weakest section in 2010. I happily progressed over the next hour, tiring but still good. My thoughts were self affirming – “look at me, I can do this, I have these ultra’s down – an easy start and look at me go!” I pulled into Humphries Bay Aid station and was definitely starting to hurt, but had passed half way and was making good time. My somewhat cocky attitude blinded me to my own intensifying ache. I got passed by a couple of guys, but held them for a few minutes. My guts were a bit dodgy and my hip flexors were groaning.

I came to Tarawera Outlet and my delusions of grandeur were over. I was sore, very sore, and lots earlier than I remembered last year. Plus, my guts felt really crook and I didn’t want to eat anymore lollies (why couldn’t there be some power cookies?). Todd joined me and was a great lift, but pretty soon the guts dominated and I had to hike into the forest to fertilise the flora. Those few minutes were well worth the relief they brought. Now all that ailed me was intensely sore hip flexors and tired legs, oh and a mind that had now come to wear me down “you were so far ahead and now you are so sore already and are going to be slower than last year, but you still have 30km of PAIN to go… enjoy”. Todd was fantastic at helping me shift the dark cloud. It took a while and I even toyed with exiting at 60 km, but we had a big walk up a long incline while Todd told me of what he had been reading etc. I loved hearing the passion and just the experience of being with a brother in the forest. My head changed – “OK its sore and my PB is gone, but this is actually a cool thing to be able to do.” So I pressed on, still in lots of pain, but now with a good mind. Nevertheless, the pain worsened, and pretty soon I was walking long stretches again. I thought this would be my lot until the finish. Then, out of nowhere, Jacob caught me. He was off ahead and I was still struggling to lift my feet up off the ground. I though how cool it would be to run as a three man team: Jake, me and Todd. I started to run again and told Todd, “I’m gonna catch Jake.” We halved the gap down to 30m but then I couldn’t make the last part. I was ailing and was about to break into a walk when Jake did first – I seized the moment, caught him and we all walked together. This began a super hour of great comradery. We all walked and Todd and Jake talked while I grizzled along. Just being with them helped, and soon I found that walking was just as sore as running (so why not run?).

Again, the support from our crew at the stations was tremendous. They would seize the empty bottle, pass a full one and shout and cheer and make you feel great. They are some great friends. Eventually the tired three came upon the last aid station, with the deceptively marked sign “4km to go” beside. I frankly doubted this sign and challenged the old birds who manned the station, they assured me it was accurate. Fueled with chips and watermelon I launched ahead, ready for the last effort home. At this point Jake was faltering and it was sad to see him drop as I had imagined we would cross the line together. Soon enough, it became apparent to me that Todd and I had run for 2km and hadn’t even got close to the bridge which had another 2km after it. I was cursing the evil sign and the mongrel who wrote it as I imagined breaking down due to an over-exuberant final effort. A short walk helped to bring me back and I ran on, more conservatively now. I just wanted to see the bridge!

At last  we came to the bridge, and got into the never ending sports fields. This year, I was ready. I knew they went on and on and so just kept the pace up, but not smashing it until the finish was assured. I saw the final corner and let loose. It was great to finish so strong! I ran across the line and noticed that my hips were now virtually pain free – how did this happen? I got 9:41, enough for 5th place,  and about 12 minutes slower than last year.

So in reflection:

  • I was better prepared than last year.
  • My first half of the race was near-perfect: well paced and good nutrition/hydration.
  • The hip-flexor issue hit much earlier this year and really laid me low. I should have countered the mental lowness better, but will need to look to prevent the physical issue too (it never happened in any of my long training runs).
  • The nutrition in the second half could be improved, I need to make sure I get enough lipids and protein (perhaps drop bags/ crew if they won’t provide power cookies next year).
  • It was a decent run, I’m a bit disappointed not to get a PB, but there were many areas of improvement over last time.
  • I recovered much better than last year
  • I have not mastered the ultra, and have much to learn in keeping the mind and body happy.

Finally, a last word of thanks to all who helped and supported me in this run. To do it solo would have been miserable and uninspiring compared to the great celebration that I experienced. Much love to Heather, Heidi, Dad, Dan, Todd, Emily, Jake, Matt, Monique, Mikey, Charles, Dave and Jo (and all the well wishers from back home too0>

Results

Michael Hale – 5th (out of 27 solo men and 14 solo women)

Dave Robertson – 15th (out of 27 solo men and 14 solo women)

Mt Atkinson Bograts – 2nd team of two (out of four teams of two) or 12th team (out of 19 teams)

Splits

85km Overall Statistics

Category
Total
Men
Women
Avg Time
Fastest Time
Slowest Time
Two Person Relay 4 4 09:40:03 07:44:45 11:22:02
Four Person Relay 15 15 09:00:06 06:18:40 10:23:31
Solo 41 27 14 11:35:28 08:10:36 14:28:03

My splits: (Legs 1 and 4 slower; legs 2 and 3 faster than 2010)

Split
Race Time
Leg Time
Time of Day
Pos
Cat Pos
Gen Pos
Dist Done
Dist To Go
Pace
Leg 1 – Okareka 01:50:26 01:50:26 08:52:10 11 4 11 19 66 10.3
Leg 2 – Okataina 03:54:33 02:04:06 10:56:17 11 5 11 37 48 8.7
Leg 3 – Tarawera Falls 06:52:04 02:57:31 13:53:48 18 7 18 60 25 8.1
Leg 4 – Kawerau 09:41:57 02:49:52 16:43:41 19 5 19 85 8.5

Mt Atkinson Bograts (Matt Raffills and Jake Parsons)

Split
Race Time
Leg Time
Time of Day
Pos
Cat Pos
Gen Pos
Dist Done
Dist To Go
Pace
Leg 1 – Okareka 02:00:26 02:00:26 09:02:10 16 2 16 19 66 9.5
Leg 2 – Okataina 04:10:58 02:10:32 11:12:42 16 2 16 37 48 8.3
Leg 3 – Tarawera Falls 07:05:06 02:54:08 14:06:50 14 2 14 60 25 8.3
Leg 4 – Kawerau 09:53:22 02:48:15 16:55:06 18 2 18 85 8.6

Dave Robertson

Split
Race Time
Leg Time
Time of Day
Pos
Cat Pos
Gen Pos
Dist Done
Dist To Go
Pace
Leg 1 – Okareka 02:07:29 02:07:29 09:09:13 24 14 24 19 66 8.9
Leg 2 – Okataina 04:36:41 02:29:12 11:38:25 30 13 29 37 48 7.2
Leg 3 – Tarawera Falls 08:03:26 03:26:44 15:05:10 33 14 31 60 25 7.0
Leg 4 – Kawerau 11:06:51 03:03:25 18:08:35 25 8 24 85 7.9

Race winner of 100k Sam Wreford – amazing splits.

Split
Race Time
Leg Time
Time of Day
Pos
Cat Pos
Gen Pos
Dist Done
Dist To Go
Pace
Leg 1 – Okareka 01:35:29 01:35:29 08:37:13 1 1 1 19 81 11.9
Leg 2 – Okataina 03:12:34 01:37:05 10:14:18 2 2 2 37 63 11.1
Leg 3 – Tarawera Falls 05:26:12 02:13:38 12:27:56 1 1 1 60 40 10.8
Leg 4 – Awaroa 07:03:01 01:36:48 14:04:45 2 2 2 80 20 12.4
Leg 5 – Kawerau 08:33:50 01:30:49 15:35:34 1 1 1 100 13.2
Dave Robertson’s Report:
Hey Dudes, just a little (long) report from the ultra.
Pre-race went to plan- started with a feed at 5.30 and took on heaps of fluids. struggled at times to get the food down with the nerves keeping me honest. The nerves did help the bowls get into action though which was great to get out the way before the start!!
Jo dropped me off at the start where i caught up with Mike and Matt on the start line. It was dark and pretty bloody cold! 7am the gun went off and it was the most chilled race start of my life. Heaps of talking and heaps of walking on the immediate hills! Mike was off and i wouldnt see him again until the finish. The plan was to start slow and hold back on the hills. In the first hour i had to stop and pee 3 times and did some good gagging trying to knock back the first gel!!
The support team of Jo and Charles were in fine form early on meeting me at the 13km and 18.5km stations to swap the bottles, grab some food, and have a good morning kiss! This first section really took me by surprise with how many hills there were. I got pretty frustrated at times with not being able to get any consistant running in. The other bummer was we were close to 1000m at one point and there wasnt any view!
The second section of the course was even more brutal than the first. I had a lot of realisataions during these 3 hours. One was that i defintely needed to train on way more hills..and when i say ‘hills’ i mean long steep hills..and when i say ‘train’ i mean walk! I lacked strength in my arse and hamstrings and after 3 hours they were blown. Walking was painful from this point on as the muscles were not used to this. What was worse was being passed by so many people walking..this was doing my head in! I got quite dark at times until i was albe to run again. Running felt great and to be honest i always felt fresh and strong on the trails. It was always nice to pass people too! So at the halfway mark i was about an hour behind my target time. I had completely underestimated the hills and the amount of walking that was required..
Section three was a turning point. The undulating trails were rooty and technical but i got into a real good groove. Its funny that after 6 hours you can suddenly get a boost of energy that propels you for the next couple of hours. I loved this section with its awesome lake side running and beautiful native bush. I also loved it as i managed to pass a lot of people through this section. Nothing got me in a better mood that day than seeing others hurting more than me! I managed to meet some great people on the trail through this point too which made the time pass. It was also cool because i had never run this far or for as long before..it was all new territory which was quite exciting!
At 55km the pacers were able to join the race. It was awesome to pick Charles up here and do the final 30km with him. To have company of a friend at this point and some feet to follow through the tricky trails did the mind a lot of good. The Tarewera Falls were and awesome sight and the slight downhill gradient allowed us to get a good clip on. At 60km i got a word from a marshall that the course was ‘mostly flat’ from here to the finsh. I LOVED this news and decided to pick the pace up as i was feeling great. Charles had his GPS going and we knocked out a couple of 5 minute km’s no probs! But then we turned a corner…suddenly it was hill after hill after hill all over again. BUGGER! Back to walk run walk run blah blah blah. I was so dark again and just had no strength to get up the hills..I only got passed by one person but i felt i was starting to lose the battle. With 10km to go i didnt know if i would make it..the heart rate was through the roof, the legs were exhausted, i had multiple blisters giving me grief, a rash on the bum, sore knees, sore ankles…etc etc..everything was saying STOP!
I can honestly say at this point i wouldnt have made it home if it wasnt for Charles and Jo. They are legends and truly got me to the line!
From 75-80km i mostly walked and lost a lot of time. Approaching the 5km to go station a girl came round the corner behind me and was running me down. If anything was going to motivate me this was it. I stopped at the station for 2 minutes and hoovered back two hand fulls of jet planes, a snickers bar, 3 cups of coke, 2 cookies and some sour snakes..mmmmmmm!!! With the sugar hit i got a run on..and then kept running..and kept running..and kept running! It was a crazy finish. The last five k’s went in just under 30 minutes which i thought was pretty good for having already run 80k’s! And the girl..well she never caught up.
Seeing the crew at this finish was awesome. I managed to hold back the tears but it was pretty emo! After 11 hours and 6 minutes on the feet it felt amazing to crash onto the grass!
So stoked its over. I was an hour slower than i hoped but i completely underestimated the first half of the course. At the end of the day i did the best i could have.
For interests sake i made a list of what i can remember eating and drinking on the day on the day:
– approx 6 litres electrolites, 1 litre of water, 600ml of coke
– 1 banana
– 1 one square meal
– 2 Snickers Bars
– 3 Museli Bars
– 6 Gels
– 1 Danish
– 4 Cookies
– 5 handfulls of lollies
– 1 Brownie
And after all that i still lost a couple of kilo’s!
Until next time. Love
Dave