The follow-up to the Ultra Easy 100 was the 2017 Tarawera Ultra. This has become a feature of my calendar for nearly a decade – it’s such a cool event, I just love to come back. However, last year’s race showed me that my motivation was a bit tepid for the 100k. So doing the two-man relay was a perfect way of scratching the Tarawera itch and not being silly doing two massive events in a fortnight.
Ron and I combined our powers like a trail-running Captain Planet to make team Tumeke Waewae. We were joined by another couple of MEC teams – Brent and Burton facing off against Evan and Thom. There was a fierce rivalry between those two, while Ron and I eyed up some well-fancied opposition from the Sportslab crew.
We applied the self-annihilation attack strategy to this race. It would be a unique opportunity to run with the big boys – they were doing 100k solo and we were just knocking off a couple of 20k-ish legs. So could we stay in touch and learn a thing or two from the pros.
Ron had the first leg, and claimed to be still finding his running fitness after his Italian sojourn. But he still managed to redline it from the gun and come around the Blue Lake just outside of the top 10.
My turn. I noted that Aaron Jackson, first team member for our main opposition was ahead, and (legendary ultra runner) Mike Wardian behind, so I got into my own over-zealous pacing to see what I could do. Wardian caught me within a quarter of an hour and blasted past up the new trail around Lake Okareka. I then held my own, catching several bods over the Western Okataina leg. It felt good running it with more intensity then usual. I came in to the Okataina changeover and we were just behind our marks – the Labrats, and keeping right on our schedule.
Can’t tell you much about leg 3, except that we had vastly overestimated how long it would take Ron ‘unfit’ on ‘tired legs’. By the time I had driven through Kawerau and arrived at the Falls carpark, Ron had been waiting of me for nearly 15 minutes. Im gonna be the bigger man and say that it was his scheduling that cost us that, not my yarns with the other MEC lads while eating at the aid station buffet.So the final quarter had a shambolic start, but Ron through me his water bottle and I put my tunes in on the go and got into it. What a great leg it is to Titoki when you don’t feel like rubbish! That long downhill is dreamy, legs spinning at sub 4s and life is good! There were a few more technical bits afterward and some inevitable discomfort (NB nothing like 100k pain though, not a bit). We had got solidly into the lead of the two person division and it was a gratifying final few run for the final few kms to take the win for Tumeke Waewae.
Logistics in two person team events are actually rather challenging. You have to know quite precisely how long you will run each leg and how long the drive will take. I have never had to get around the course in a car before – its harder than I realised!
But the relay is a great option – you can run hard, you can share the day with mates and it doesn’t have to shatter you like a massive ultra tends to. I’d be keen to repeat, but I think Ron misses the 100, so we’ll see what 2018 brings.
Coastal Challenge 2017
The bravest race director award of 2017 goes to Aaron Carter and the TS crew for holding this event which has plenty of ocean interaction during the tail-end of a cyclone. I couldn’t believe it was going ahead, but it did, and it was epic as usual. Thom Shanks and I decided that mother nature wouldn’t hold us back, and drove North to Arkles Bay with the mighty Stu Hale as team photog and crew.
The course changed a bit – it was lengthened to help reduce the length of the swim across the Okura estuary and we ran over the Long Bay headland track rather than risk rockfall around the coast up there. Otherwise it was the same juicy wet goodness it always is.
I got stuck a little further back then I would have liked at the start, about 20th at corner one. I worked my way up and was in top 10 by the Wade River swim, and top 5 by Okura swim. A few kms after Long Bay I moved into 2nd when one of the leaders dropped with an injury. The gap to the front runner Nick Berry varied between 5 and 9 minutes, but I wasn’t able to catch him in the end. I was pretty bushed from Takapuna onwards and held on for (another) 2nd place here. Nick is a beast Surf Lifesaver / sub 9 min 3000m runner so not a bad guy to be beaten by!
Onward to the World Masters Games… time to add some speed to the stamina!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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…
Up we go…
We love hills
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!
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.
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.
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!
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)
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.
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 !!!!
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.
For some reason every year I run this race I spew. Seriously – check my previousrace 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
Tarawera Ultra, The Big One. The highlight of the MEC calender, the prized goal. When Mike forwarded the link to the early bird registration all those months back, I hadn’t thought too much about it but knew straight away I was going to be in. The FOMO of missing out last year and not being part of the pack wasn’t going to happen this time, and I figured if you’re going ultra you may as well go the whole hog and do the hundy.
Training had gone reasonably well, I was stoked to be injury free in particular. My general volume/frequency of training had been a bit lighter than I would have liked but a successful Westcoaster in December was a definite highlight and I did manage a handful of 30ish km runs including some beauties in Coromandel, San Fran, and LA.
There were a few glitches along the way, a crash and burn in the Auckland Marathon https://mendurance.wordpress.com/2014/11/04/auckland-marathon-attempt-2014/ but probably more so a bunch of confidence was lost when I missed the MEC Hillary Trail epic just prior to Christmas due to gastro. Feeling a bit like the water boy after missing out on this biggie (75+km) I knew I was well behind the pack – I would have to sort out a solo mission. I was happy to get connected with some trail junkies in LA who sent me on my merry way to the Santa Monica Mountains. It was no Hillary but a solo 9 hour and 60 km later with 2100m climb I felt mentally in a better place, although could still not imagine pushing to 100 km ! My issue with bad chaffage was rectified with a new pair of skins and a half marathon chafe test around Vancouver a couple of weeks before the event.
I was pretty excited to be on my first 100 km with such an awesome pack of lads and a big MEC turnout, the race was never far from my mind for the last couple of weeks. It felt like a huge unknown stretching out to 100 km and after seeing the carnage of the Hillary/the DNF of Auckland I was wary. Completion was definitely not a certainty. My strategy was simple:
1. Stick with Dave for as long as possible and take it very easy for first 60-70 km, walk all the hills and then if I had something left use it. Be wary of crashing and burning right at the end ! Don’t worry about time, this is only about completion. Mike said 13 + hours. So don’t expect to finish before that!
2. Don’t be sick or jetlagged in race day. Plan an easy week before and have the best sleep possible night before
3. Have gels not more than 45 mins apart, drink plenty (Water, not beers)
4. Scoff like a pig at the aid stations
5. Keep the mental tank full up on the joy and goodness of race day, stunning scenery, supporters, MEC camaraderie, and pacers.
The day started well after an awesome sleep thanks to Brent’s sleeping tablets. Brent was his usual pre- race frantic headless chicken in the morning which provided some great entertainment. I was carrying a carbo-loading-fuelled Big Bertha that refused to budge so was obviously jealous of lads successful visits to the bog pre race and I hoped Bertha would not come unstuck at an unhelpful time.
It was epic to arrive and see the lads at the start. The new MEC green shirts looked swell. I was frothing as we kicked off some way down the field – pace was determined by the pack as the track narrowed through the bush. There was plenty of banter amongst the MEC brothers, particularly on the highly disappointing colour of Todds shirt. (black? What’s with that?) Once the field thinned a bit I was happy for Dave’s insistence on not pushing and sticking to the plan.
The course was stunning and I only felt good vibes as the kms fell easily. We headed up the track after Millar Rd and Sean was having some issues walking the hills with his knee but apparently not running so he suddenly disappeared like a mountain goat racing up the track never to be seen again. Once we started coming down the hill into Okataina at 37 km I relaxed the legs and let the pace go a little more. I arrived into Okataina to a large contingent of extended family support including Elysia with young James which was epic. I hung around scoffing my face, replenishing my supplies and generally sticking around way to long enjoying the festive atmosphere.
Dave and I were staying together as we launched into the next section to Humphries Bay and Tarawera Outlet. As warned this section was very slow with lots of up and downs over rooty rocky ground. We plugged away I started to lose some of the previous high as kms fell with much more of a fight. Perhaps it was the knowing that we had not even reached half way that yet that got me down a bit. The mental dark clouds cleared considerably as the trail improved underfoot and gave way to beautiful vistas over Lake Tarawera and the mountain behind. I stayed as long as necessary to replenish at the outlet and pushed on, the good times were back and I relished in the beauty of running beside the river and into the Tarawera Falls. It was awesome to arrive at the Tarawera Falls with all the excitement of the 60 km finish and have a boost of encouragement from the supporters that were there. I had been there for a few minutes when Dave arrived and we decided to part ways and run our own race. Dave mentioned before parting that we “only had a marathon left and man, we’ve got this bro” and I headed down the forest roads to Totoki knowing I only had a solo 10 before hitting my pacer at 70km. Mentally I was in a great place. A slightly tweaky knee got me concerned for a few kms then passed, and I gradually started to overtake a few other runners.
I arrived in Titoki with loads of self belief feeling fatigued but happy knowing I had pacers by my side to get me through the great unknown of the final 30km. Dad (at 67 yo) was my first pacer and an absolute trooper as he launched out of Titoki with some enthusiasm. While we sweated our way up to Awaroa he kept me distracted with epic tales of woe and winning on the Oxfam 100 km and how we were going to pick off the field in the last 30 km. The Big Bertha kindly dislodged herself just prior to the loop of despair. By this stage I was feeling a bit nauseous and unable to eat. Thankfully I managed to keep gels down. There was some carnage at the Awaroa aid station including a woman wailing with despair and water supplies had temporarily run out. I was happy to feel mentally good but physically the long climb up to Awaroa and the loop itself took its toll, and I was concerned about not having any food.
The nausea faded a bit as I left Awaroa and I was stoked to have something left to run the flat and downhill trails, and I gradually picked off places as we continued on. Fisherman’s Bridge arrived and Matt my brother was there to tag Dad out and run with me for the last 10 km. Dad wouldn’t have a bar of it despite already running 20km and stayed with me. Flanked by the Shanks clan was a real treat. They followed my gruff commands to slow down or speed up. We arrived at the last ‘pink’ aid station to Elysia frolicking through the woods doing the cancan in bright pink accessories and I was nothing shirt of ecstatic, only 5 kms to go, and Dad checked out after a solid 25 km support. I set out and felt like I was flying (ok sub 6 min/ kms feels like flying when you’ve done 95!).
It was only overwhelming joy and gooodness I felt despite a tired body as I ran those last miles into the finish, following the Kawarau river. I picked off at least a half dozen runners and having the MEC clan and supporters cheer me down the chute with my bro by my side was wild. I finished in the fading light with an official time of 14:38, which I was happy with for my first 100 km.
1. I aimed to start slow and was adamant to avoid the DNF so was stoked to finish. Because of the unknown distance for me I maintained a relatively conservative approach throughout but next time would keep things moving a bit faster, especially in last 40.
3. I was a bit surprised to never mentally enter a particularly dark place, in my 60 km in Santa Monica hills I felt mentally in a more difficult place. I put this mainly down to the last 3 hours running in the dark solo abroad compared with the beautiful goodness of the course, race day and supporters, camaraderie.
4. I had no issues with injury, sickness, chaffage etc. The nutrition plan of stuff my face seemed to work well
5. I spent ages at each aid station, a bit too long. A large part of this was my focus on eating, my current racepack has no access to food without taking pack off so did not eat at all between stations, except for gels. For my next ultra (did I say that?) I want a racepack that I can access food while on the go. And spend less time chewing the fat with supporters and soaking up that epic atmosphere at those aid stations! although that was one of my highlights
6. From pre race feast at Daves place to the post race meet up on Sunday the highlight for me was to go through the pain and glory with such at top bunch of lads, and all the months of training. Dave was a legend to run alongside for the bulk of the run. The support from Elysia and the rest if the mob (and the ridiculous enthusiasm of Toddy at the aid stations) was epic. Dad and Matt were legends to finish the race with. Thanks Mike for encouraging me to do the full 100 km, it always seemed like an unattainable goal until I did it. And I have to say Paul and the organisers of the TUM put on an exceptional event with a great vibe.
Here’s the strava link https://www.strava.com/activities/252273800
If you want to see more photos of the scenery enroute check out the other fellas blogs. Well done for getting through my ultra-length race report, you know me, never short of words. Cheers! Thom
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!