Hello Dad and Mike and interweb denizens, yes it’s been a while since I posted anything about running.
Soon after the last event I entered in February this year (the Tarawera relay with Mike) I suffered a rude reminder of middle age with what turned out to be a herniated disc. Unlike previous lower back spasm type incidents this also came with sciatica (nerve pain). Luckily being in my mid-forties I had sense enough to seek treatment. Not so luckily, this did sweet nothing after 3-4 months after following professional advice. Plan-B, Google my way out of it (and listen to my wife).
Solution was some McKenzie exercises and completely giving up the bike, any bike, all bikes. Though turns out running was a non-issue. Just to be sure I adjusted my running pose a little and made sure even slow runs were +180 cadence to keep it super low impact. Increasing running volume week on week had nil effect. Pain diminishing, mobility increasing. Runner reborn.
Those long, long days of not running gave some reflection of what I really wanted to do. Run fast or run long? Long won out, but with some concessions (PB’s in 5, 10, 21, 42, 50, 160km – lacking road stuff I’ve got a pretty soft history). So I entered Northburn again with the option of the TUM 100M when it opens. Turns out the TUM 100M requires a +50km trail qualifying criteria. Hence the Taniwha, a proper distance back recovery test and a TUM qualifier (the Italy sojourn put all my official trail stuff outside the time frame).
All I knew about the Taniwha was that it was a Total Sport event (good vibes and beer at the end) and the Waikato River trails were part of a MTB route. Figured my training was getting back on track and the course didn’t look so difficult as to target a 5:30 race pace. Turns out I’d mistaken the Waikato River trails for a more general family ‘bike trail’ which they are not. Instead they are sections of fantastic MTB single-track linked by forestry tracks and the odd road section.
The weather forecast in the lead-up was consistent – intermittent hosing rain but warm. Having bought a ticket to camp at the finish line, I opted not to have to get up 4:30am and pack up a wet tent in the dark and instead borrowed a friend’s car and slept in the boot (station wagon). Love that car’s window awnings. And my goodness, the location of that campground at the finish is spectacular and needs a post-event overnight stay with friends next time.
I’ve been fooling round with a power running meter for the last month or so and decided on a full experimental approach to the Taniwha. Calculate what pace I reckon I can sustain on the flat for ~6hrs translate that to power and let that guide my efforts irrespective of terrain. So I chose a pace of 5:30min/km looking at the course profile and previous finishing times. I made power adjustments for pack weight (water, food, and walk-out clothing options), but didn’t fully comprehend the running conditions. The Stryd power meter estimates running power via weight, gradient, and a fancy accelerometer. External resistance like mud and wind don’t factor at all. And there was a lot of mud.
Haven’t really delved into the details but figure the power readings I was following were underestimating my true output. Given that I was only looking at power, not pace, not heart rate, and actively suppressing perceived exertion guidance, there was a bit of chance at play. No better way to learn than an opportunity to fail I figure.
The Taniwha itself was great. The finish-line campsite and bus options meant I just had to get up at 0500 get changed, eat, drive 700 metres to the bus and then get ferried to the start line. Given the wet and warm conditions I opted to get wet in light merino without a rain jacket. Worked well, I may as well have been swimming at times, soaked as I was, but having applied antichafe everywhere so no worries.
Given my slavish commitment to following power numbers alone I found myself out front at the get go. I hate being in front. Fortunately I soon had company with Anthony Hancy (Ants), who was great. Chatting about family, house maintenance, training (and lack of), we were wizzing along. The pattern soon became established, I’d keep an even effort up the hills (ie. slow) and he’d pull away, then I’d catch him on the downs. The first down was a doozy, endless swtichbacks in sketchy mud.
The first 30km felt pretty effortless, though I was noting the sections of mud and snaking MTB singletrack weren’t quite what I was expecting (I’m thinking sections of Riverhead Xterra here). And the hills were a bit more biting given a lack of hill training. I was loving the muddy downhill’s doing my best flowing single speeder impression without a bike. Ants and I disconnected at some point round the 25km(?) mark so I was by myself again… though I did have a stick insect drop in for a bit. I carefully placed him/her on colour matched foliage before moving on.
The mud went on and on and on, fun but sapping. Energy levels were still excellent though my right hammy was starting to complain, given that’s my sciatica side I initially had concerns it was connected. It wasn’t, though I had to ease up all the same. Hit the road section that signaled the end of the bigger climbs of the day so just had to cruise out for the last 20km. Then the wheels came off. Energy crashed, cramp management engaged. Left leg in solidarity with right. Super-cruise button didn’t work.
Got passed by the huge smile of Cecilia Flori around the 42km mark who’d been the shadow I’d been feeling all day. Given her form I’m guessing she could have passed us anytime she pleased, though it turns out Ants is the [solid] course record holder so she was in observation mode till he dropped off (fortunately for us his training schedule got replaced by new house fencing and maintenance). I didn’t try to latch on or keep in contact, it was pure damage control from thereon.
Pity I was internally focused for that last 20km cos they really seemed rather nice, flowing scenic trail and all. However cramp spasms left & right quads/hammies/calves were a bit distracting. After the last 6km of stupendous sketchy mud a slight climb into the carpark ~500m from the finish I came to a complete stop in a pseudo-Half Foster (Crawling to the finish line: why do endurance runners collapse?). Luckily it was only a temporary seizure, and the hobble turned walk, turned gammy jog. Thanks for the pick-up Steve.
And the result? I ran the event at precisely my estimated pace of 5:30min/km, qualified for the TUM (volunteering aside), and came in first male finisher. A mere 17min behind an in-form-quality-runner. While I came in at exactly the target pace without ever looking at pace on the watch, it wasn’t the even-Stevens result I was looking for. Though I did run the climbs slower that I might have otherwise, the overall energy output must have been way high to collapse and still get the desired finish time. Excellent learning from a successful failure I’d say.
Yes I underestimated the Taniwha in the glorious mud. Is it a fast trail 60km? It can be. Will it be easy? Nope. Would I do it again? Absolutely. Am I going to bring company? Yep.