Yes, it’s been a while. The sabbatical in Italy put a dent in testing, sure. Then came a disc bulge which took any decent running load out of the picture. On the upside I took the time out to brush up on my geospatial-data-dorking skills in R and PostGIS and rebuilt the process entirely in R script. Yes, it’s nerd. The result is a complete re-analysis of collected data to give better insight into the capabilities of the GPS models tested.
In short, the updated methodology is leaning more towards quantified GPS performance bench-marking rather than a subjective review. Plus the future collection and analysis workflow is super easy which equal less typing and more running. Or beer, or whatever.
We can make pretty pictures like this track point cloud that shows GPS positional accuracy over a large number of runs (hint – this is a recent model GPS).
Having powered up the analysis we can now see the impact of tree-cover, bendy paths, running speed, sampling rate, satellite availability, and even how much the satellite data is actually filtered out from the recorded distance (ie. does the watch work like a glorified activity tracker). The results give some great insights on which watches work best in actual trail conditions. With a couple of statistical tests we can formally identify which comes out as the better, or worse, performers. And the data can be modeled to show which factors effect watch accuracy.
As a teaser, the chart below shows the accuracy of all models across easy, mixed, and difficult conditions as recorded by the watch (ie. as you see it) in purple and as recorded by the raw GPX data (ie. buried underneath what you see) in yellow. The brown is the overlap of the two. The dashed lines are means, and grey is the true distance. We can see here the accuracy deteriorating between the conditions nicely. At the individual watch level there are huge difference in performance between these categories. Given we normally spend a lot of time running in the mixed to difficult conditions (when we are not testing) this analysis gives a great view on which watch will give us the good trail running numbers.
Plus, we’ve sold a kidney and promised a first born child to get hold of a Suunto Spartan Ultra for testing. The first round of formal surveyed trail testing is done, though sadly the +20hr endurance run test is off the cards for now (back prognosis points to a Spring running recovery). At the same time we tested a Sony Xperia Z5c using the SportTracker app. The results are interesting… our advice would be hold off any purchase till you read the review.
We’ll be writing up the Sunnto Spartan Ultra and Sony Xperia Z5c and updating existing reviews over the coming weeks. And data collection is in progress for the TomTom Adventurer.
Ahh the goal race for the season. Worthy of a full race report, this one. Make your self a cuppa and sit down, this could take a while:
This race is a beautiful beast.
Vital stats: 100k, 4700m climb/descent, anticlockwise loop in Wanaka, with elevation between 270-2000m.
I saw it online when looking for a new ultra challenge to replace the Tarawera Ultra. As I said in my 2016 report, I love that race, but need to get away to be able to come back with the true hunger to race that. So, when I saw the course map, with its three massive climbs and natural loops in one of NZs most pristine alpine areas, I was in.
And my training over the summer has been focused on this one race. The goal was to log regular 65-75 km/week and try to get about 2000m of vertical each week as well. Of course it would be better to get more, but I have worked out that those numbers are about what my schedule can accommodate without displacing family, friends or work commitments. And I have to say I did well, more or less hitting those numbers for a good 10 weeks following my recovery from the Auckland Marathon.
I had a week down in Wanaka with the family to holiday and check out bits of the course. I ended up only running twice down there for several reasons:
The parts of the course I wanted to check out (Pisa range) cross private land, requiring difficult logistics to organise your own way.
I didn’t want to get weary before the big day
Holidaying is fun, so I was happy holidaying.
I caught up with Burton and we did a brief shakeout up Mt Iron, and Myles came down for the 42k as well, so we had a good MEC crew lining up.
I have to mention the weather: It was meant to be Central Otago in summer – think blue skies, low winds, hot days and cool crisp nights. Instead we had a week of significant wind and on the Saturday prior to the race, a blizzard came through and it snowed on Mts Roy, Alpha and Pisa. Interesting. So that’s why you have to take all this compulsory gear…
But on race day (the 28th) we had perfect weather. The 50 or so solo runners plus another 50 teams were sent off from the Albert Town Tavern at 0300, heading up Mt Iron, then along the Wanaka waterfront to the base of Roy’s Peak. There was a bit of a breeze blowing in from the West, and at that time of the morning it makes it kinda cold, but within a few minutes I was comfortable with my chosen outfit of merino T shirt with arm warmers plus extra merino T over the top (to be ditched once things warmed up). My bottom was covered with running shorts, my calves with compression socks and my feet with inov8 trail roc 255s.
The game plan was straight-forward: Get to the highest point (Mt Pisa) at 68km in decent shape, then use whatever is left to run the long downhill and flat section home to glory. I’ve done a few Tarawera 100s, but have limited experience in the mountains, and so wanted to make sure I wasn’t exposing myself (if you will) in the high altitude.
Leg 1 to Roy’s carpark was smooth sailing. I ate and drank to schedule, and found myself moving comfortably at about 5:15 min/k on the flats. It was interesting how fast others seemed to go at the start, I was initially left in the back half of the field. I came to Aid 1 (15k) right on schedule at 1:30 and struck my first hurdle: My drop bag was no where to be seen. No drop bag. Dang. That one had my gels, my bumbag and 600mL bottle and most importantly, my trekking poles.
This took me aback and I wandered anxiously, searching for the missing bag. The RD Terry was at the station and so the aid crew summoned him. He quickly helped me find the Aid 2 drop bags and we looked for the missing bag in there. Negative. Oh no. Suddenly, I remembered that I had dropped this bag off at the last minute, after having returned home to add my poles to it. I had absent-mindedly put it in the container on the far right, which meant I had sent it to Lake McKay Aid at 88k! Terry (what a legend) said he would see if someone could get it for me and bring it to Aid 2 at Cardrona Valley Rd. I thanked him, nervously filled my bottles and grabbed a handful of the gels available and headed up the climb. I spent 10 minutes in that Aid and really should have only spent 2. But that was my fault, so there you go. What this incident did get me to do though was flick from a ‘I need to race this thing’ mindset to a ‘this thing is a mighty challenge and I need to do whatever I can to make it through to the finish’ mindset. That was a good thing, methinks.
A word on trekking poles: these things are wondrous for mountain running (hiking). They take pressure off your legs and keep you feeling stronger for longer. Its like having someone behind pushing your sorry ass up the hills. They don’t work on tight single track or overgrown grass/foliage or over boardwalks where they get stuck, but they lap up wide open dirt roads. I got mine on Dec 31 and had worked on my pole conditioning and coordination (my ‘pole dancing’ technique) so I would be ready to race with them on Jan 28.
Climbing up Roys Peak was fun. Through switchback after switchback we gained 1000m of elevation as the sun slowly rose over Wanaka town to our East. I calmed myself down and chatted to a few folk, most of whom were faster at hiking than me and steadily moved ahead. Brad was one of these people and he kindly gave me some of his fruit Danish as we told each other of our build up to this race. By the time we hit the final ridgeline (somewhat precarious) to the summit it was light enough to turn the headlamps off. I had warmed up, and paradoxically, the wind had dropped now that we were at 1500m too. There were plenty of tourists at the top, as the conditions were perfect to witness the sunrise. It was truly spectacular to have beautiful landscapes in 360 degrees as the sun peaked over the hill and I was feeling good!
I took a pic or two and headed along the skyline singletrack to Mt Alpha, marvelling at the view of Mount Aspiring and the Southern Alps to the North West. The great reputation of this trail totally matched my experience and I felt filled up by the rich visuals surrounding me.
The ridgeline to Mt Alpha was great fun, and I started to catch back up to a few of the fast hikers. We summited and then started our descent, running swiftly to the amazing Alpha Aid Station. Co -RD Ed (co-legend) had driven his 4WD up and he was there with his missus dishing out water, chips and hot pies. Yep, they had a diesel generator at 1500m and a pie warmer. I gushed, and promptly downed two mince pasties. Then, with bottles filled, I continued my descent. It was 12k downhill to the Cardrona Valley and I steadily caught runners despite taking it easy on my legs. Again, this part of the trail was truly gorgeous and I arrived in Cardrona with the body feeling good and the mind at peace.
It was great to see the family at this point. We had been going nearly 40k and taken a good 5 and 1/4 hours. It was also great to see my drop bag had made it with my poles! I took my time to swap clothes, and top up supplies before chasing back after Brad who had already made his way toward the big climb up the Criffle Range.
We crossed the Cardona River (chilly but nice at mid shin level) and I cranked out the poles as our second 1000m+ ascent began. This one differed from the first in that you couldn’t see right to the top as it had several false summits, but you could see North to Wanaka and South to the Alps so we enjoyed some terrific views as the sun continued to rise. It wasn’t too hot though, I was fine in a t-shirt merino with the gloves and arm warmers well and truly stowed now.
I was a bit more on pace with my contemporaries on this climb, but again Brad pulled away. It sure felt nice having the poles to assist though. I got to the top of Little Criffle in just under 2 hours. At this minor aid station there was a lonely looking dude sitting on the back of a quad bike loaded with water and a bag or two of chips. I topped up the bottles, took a selfie and said a hearty thanks as I left.
The 12k section south to Bob Lee Hut was rather bland. You follow a 4WD track along the top of the range, but often so far inland that there are no views. The only vegetation is tussock, so although your first 5k of this is rather pretty, it is nothing on the visual symphony of Roys Peak and the skyline trail.
Coming into and out of Bob Lee Hut Aid I made a couple of errors – I lost the trail twice in a short period of time. The first time was my fault, I saw a crushed red cone ahead and missed the massive row of intact cones on the left hairpin when I passed through a fence. The second one could have been avoided with better markings. As I left the Hut, I was told to follow the fence line down to the track. I ran down the fenceline for 100m where the track departed from it to the right, which I took and ran downhill for half a km. Then I realised I hadn’t seen any markers and had to walk back up the hill to the station where I had departed the ‘track’. I was surprised how buoyant I was when faced with these wasted efforts. I think pacing my run to finish strong meant I had a good reserve and that helped keep me going when these things went astray.
We were now 60k in, 9 hours down. I was feeling weary but not really sore. My nutrition and fluid regime was working well (gels and water only on the go, topped up by real food PRN at the aid stations). The real milestone though was getting to the top of Mt Pisa. I remembered it being about 10k from the Hut, but the advice we got as we left was that it was 12 or so. In any case, I was keen to get there in good shape. For me, being 2000m high and 12+k to the nearest vehicle was not a place I wanted to run myself into the ground at. So I was really happy to pull up alongside Andy from Dunedin, and I took it easy while we ascended and chatted together. We made the top in 1:36, meaning it was nearly 2pm. It was still sunny but it was pretty cold with gusts from the West. My arm warmers were back on when we hit the aid station. Some poor soul had been abandoned to serve water to sweaty runners on this desolate mountain top in the wind. Lucky guy. If I thought the section to Bob Lee was a bit barren, this leg was just plain stark desert. Few tussock remained and we traversed long straights with nothing but dry rocks at our side. This was not the Southern Alps that make us romantic and misty eyed. Having run through the Rangipo desert a couple of times, I can tell you I would far prefer that environment, because you have a view. I guess what I became aware of on this run is that I like running in the mountains, but more accurately I love running where there are great views and interesting features. I want a visual feast if I am to don the ultrarunning robes. I want to at least get a buzz on if I am to drink the cup of suffering.
So no, you will not find me entering any of the masochistic ultras anytime soon. I am a trail runner, who runs ultras on occasion, but there must be a payoff. You may not care where you run, I do and I’m OK with that. Runner, know thyself!
Where were we, oh yes, top of Mt Pisa. Well, now the fun begins: a 20k downhill where we drop from 2000m to 300m ASL. It would certainly be amazing on a MTB – that Big Easy ride would be all time! Its not such a picnic running down however, especially on legs that have run for 11hrs+ and 4000M+ climb. So I changed plans and kept my poles out, hoping that they would take a bit of the bashing my legs were gonna receive over the next 2 hours. I turned the music on and started to let the legs roll. After a while, people I hadn’t seen since before I lost the trail came back to view. I was making ground! Then the view appeared as we moved out of the centre of the range and all of a sudden I was hit with the magnificent scene of Lake Hawea, the Clutha River, Mount Iron and Wanaka. The grin appeared, the arms went up. I began to hoot and cheer. This was great. The hill high carried me down to the farm at the bottom, somewhat tempered by the increase in gradient as we finished the descent. The knees were letting me know they had been abused, but there was no catastrophic damage and I was a happy man rolling into Lake McKay Aid to see my family once again.
12 k to go to the finish. I put on the MEC singlet for the heat (and to represent!). I keep the poles, as I have a hunch they will help me start up every time a stop threatens to seize my legs like rust. I pass more people and although I am well achey, I am in good spirits as my race plan seems to have been a smart one. But somewhere just before Stevenson Road Aid my knees become more than sore, and I stop running freely. Have I eaten lately? Not really, I thought I could cut back now we have just 7k remaining. Those caffeine gels are tasting gross and I’d rather not have another thanks. I will myself to the Aid and realise that I will be caught if I don’t shake this shutdown. So I smash some fluids. They don’t taste sugary enough (who makes that non-sugar electrolyte rubbish, what absolute homeopathic codswallop… rant over), and I know I need energy. So I have a half banana, and then another half. Then I make myself leave the Aid, despite the chair looking so appealing. It hurts so much to start running. The flats are the worst. I can walk hills guilt-free. I can run down hills. But flat running is not working for me right now.
And then I get caught, first by a team runner, then a guy with mini polls I haven’t seen for ages. Then Victoria, a Chilean runner who has yo-yoed ahead and behind me since Mt Alpha. She tells me to stick with her to get to the finish. I rally somewhat and start running a bit more, but she moves steadily ahead as we cover the last few km. We hit the road at Albert Town and I look back, no one behind me, and nothing left in the legs. I walk-run to the final bridge, see Heidi waiting for me and greet her and Heather gladly as the kids join me for the final walk to the finish (I would run but Beau decides that walking is what he would like and I’m a very selfless guy). So I finish, exhausted and full of running in 14:40:48, 18th place.
On reflection I’m very pleased with this run. It was by far the hardest course I have tackled, and I measured my effort 95% spot-on. Lessons include better attention to drop bags, and making sure to eat right to the end. I fully recommend this event, its got a great team behind it and the first 40 and last 32k are just sublime to spectacular.
One more thing – We used these great GPS trackers called Yacht-Bots, which enabled friends and family to follow along at home – this was awesome! I hoped you enjoyed it – I certainly loved reading up on the FB comments from those who were following live. More (all!) races should do this. Review the race
Running in the mountains with my mates makes me feel very alive. So I thought an international trip to the Italian Dolomites could be something to aim to for a 40th birthday celebration with the lads. Then Ron went to Bologna for a sabbatical, and the PHE conference lined up and suddenly serendipity happened in 2016.
RON’s editorial notes: This run was entirely Mike’s idea, as was this write-up. I’ll leave Mike’s work largely untouched and merely add a note here and there when he shows signs of senility or delusion (he is approaching 40 you know).
So there we were, Ron and I getting off the train at Porretta ready for 3 days of running in the Italian Apennines. The Apennines are not as famous as their Northern counterparts the Dolomites [RON: earthquakes aside], but the tight timeframes we were working to meant that the much closer location (and ready access by train) meant the Apennines were the way to go.
Somehow I managed to break the Indian Summer, and my arrival in Italia marked the end of the Golden weather. But we started up the hill, running alongside the river in a baking hot Emilia-Romagna day.The trails in Italy are marked by a white and red stripe sign, which is great because you often get a reminder of what trail you are on mid-run (when they bother to include the trail code). The downside of this system is that it is often hard to appreciate degraded red and white paint on a weathered, rough surface (Italy has a few) and they aren’t reflective so low light makes the visualisation task harder. But it does mean you get to play spot the marker as you run though rocky trails, and holiday villages.[RON: Now before we get started, by the time Mike actually turned up fit and fresh off the plane I’d gone through a good 15+ iterations of a possible 3 day mountain run. The original criteria of keeping to high alpine ridges had somewhat diminished as serviced lodging and lunch re-supply options disappeared following the end of the Italian vacation/trekking season. Aside from lunch and lodging requirements the route needed quick evac (as we were travelling v.light) and bad weather re-routing options. And it needed to be relatively easy to navigate in all conditions (the network of marked and unmarked trails can get overwhelming in places). So we headed for some loosely defined loops in the regional park Corno alle Scale.]
Day 1: River to Lake to Village to Mountain.
We had a bit of trouble following the marked paths on our way to Lago di Suviana and ended up on some of the local roads. Not ideal, but these roads are about as pleasant as you will ever encounter – low traffic volumes and amazing scenes of old-Italiana life as you run past small farms and orchards. The heart rate would rise with the barking dogs approaching, but only once were they not contained by a fence. Saw some wild deer in the forest once we re-found the trail which was pretty cool.
We had a late start so by the time we dropped down to the Lake we were ready for a lunch stop. This happened to be at a local restaurant, who were gracious and happy to host us sweaty runners inside [RON: nothing ‘happened’ here – this was a planned eating location]. We enjoyed a pasta [RON: I had a wild hare ragu and tagliatelle, think Mike had gnocchi in a simple tomato sauce] and beer and made our way onward.
The lake was obviously feeling the effects of a dry summer so the views at waters-edge were not spectacular. We retraced our steps up to the ridge, then onto a new track as we headed down toward the river crossing at Pavana. This was a neat piece of trail with wild berries in the open and the shade from the pine forest a welcome relief from the 25+C temps we were facing.Across the river we traversed around the face of a steep escarpment and staying on the contour, made our way from one ancient village/holiday spot to the next. This was a similar running experience to the Eastern Okataina walk away – lots of leaf litter and variations in gradient without any significant hills. Trail finding (marker finding) was an issue, but we made steady progress. This took us back to the river at Moline del Pallone and we were ready for the final run for the day – the climb to Mount Cavallo and its namesake rifugio.
This was a rugged climb, initially past some more beautiful towns, and then through more pine forest. 25+ degrees of both temperature and gradient for hours is a good recipe for weariness. Add to this the nasty horseflies who buzzed around your head and then landed to bite you (hateful hateful creatures) and it was a good bit of running slog. And we spotted more wildlife – wild boar.
[RON: it wasn’t until about lunchtime we were actually sure that the rifugio was actually open and expecting us – I had left some unanswered messages and we had our fingers crossed when we set off.]
But we made it up to our rifugio and rest point just before 7pm. Our host Maria was a character. A bit hard on the exterior (not happy with our later than guessed arrival), she was very proud of the rifugio and the region and was soon won over by Ron’s Italian [RON: I think it was more my charm than my Italian Mike] and our obvious delight and wonder for the trail in the area. So a hot shower, and cooked dinner of local delights (including locally harvested chestnut pappardelle, tortelloni, porchetta, oven potatoes, and vegetables) and a half litre of wine was just the thing for weary runners to make our sleep super sound that night. [RON: I should also note that Mike got scolded by Maria for eating the bread she left as a trap before she started serving food]
Day 2: The Weather Wins
We woke up bright and early (well I did, thanks jet lag) and had a typical Italian breakfast of cookies, cake and coffee. Then it was out into the moody grey clouds for our attempt along the ridge and into the high alpine region of the park. The clouds thickened in that first hour, and the rain started, a little drizzle becoming proper rain. But the temperature was good, we began at 1287m and climbed up to 1500m or so, but the temperature was probably in the low teens, very pleasant for rain on the mountains. Then the thunder started. Distant at first. We were taking stock underneath a hut on the ridge when the sky lit up and within 3 seconds an earth-shaking long roll of thunder made us take notice.
It’s fair to say that Ron was less bothered than I, his eyes alight at the drama around us. I was more aware of the potential for death (low odds, but still real). Our original plan was to stay on this ridge for hours and work our way up above the treeline at around 2000m. This was not such a good idea anymore so we made quick plans for a new route. We would swing down the hill to Piannaccio village for lunch before climbing back to our rifugio for the night at Segavecchia [RON: Good call Mike, I’m attacted to lightning, not sure if it’s mutual].
The run downhill in sometimes torrential rain was one of the best rain-runs of my life. The trail was gorgeous, very runnable and we were warm so it was super fun cruising along (except when the thunder would freak me again on occasion). Spotted a few fire salamanders on the way down too [RON: Despite my encouragement for Mike to give them a lick, he refused. Turns out to be a good call as they can as cause strong muscle convulsions, hypertension/hyperventilation, death, etc.].We wound our way down and arrived at the beautiful little village ready for a feed. Once again, the Italian welcome was very generous. Ron would get a good conversation going while I smiled and nodded like a simple but good tempered cousin. Some of the laughs surely came at my expense, but if that built rapport with the locals, then I would happily wear that.
We were more than happy to sit outside for our meals, saturated as we were. But Marco, the owner, got a coat rack out for all our wet gear and kindly ushered us inside by the fire. We were then treated to a glorious two course (three if you count Ron’s gelato) meal [RON: today we order a local bottle of red (premium sangiovese), I don’t recall Mike’s primo but I had a bean, ham and pasta soup, and we followed it up with crescintine (a lard fried hot bread served with cured meats, cheese), and finished with espresso]. We even had wifi (especially nice when roaming data is $10/Mb). Marco then sent us on our way with a glass of his home made mint liquor. What a guy!
The road climbed up for about 3k to the rifugio, and we were there a bit earlier than expected with our reduced course. So we did a little loop before coming back down to Segavecchia, notching up a few extra kms and some serious vertical meters as nearly everywhere went up from our valley.Another hot shower [RON: Well one of us did, you used up all the hot water] another great welcome from the proprietors. We were joined at this establishment by a group of 6 Italian hikers in their 60s. This made for a more boisterous atmosphere than the night before where we were Maria’s only guests. Another amazing meal sourced from local ingredients, three courses of bliss, red wine and noccino [RON: we had a half litre of house red pre-dinner, some local lentil and grain dish to start, tagliatelle al ragu for primi, and for secondi Mike went for the pan fried scarmorza cheese with grilled vegetables while I went with the grilled sausage and vegetables, with another half litre of house red. I don’t remember if we had dessert – suspect we did]- this is how you run in the mountains people! After a less-than-excellent sleep (sharing a room with 6 old men is rather noisy with the continual toilet stops, farting and snoring), we got up early to give ourselves time to make the most of the final day.
Day 3: Alpine Redemption
The weather was forecast to improve on our last day, and we had just one shot to try to get above the treeline and into some real alpine stuff. We awoke to blue skies with clouds whistling by in the strong breeze. It was game on. Segavecchia is at 980m and the high point in this part of the range is Corna alle Scale at 1980m. You climb straight up the valley and get there in 3.5k. You do the math, there is some grunty gradient at the end there for sure. It soon got warm as we climbed, then cold again as we got higher. Just before the trees ended at 1600m we donned warmer layers still.
And then we were out, in the high mountain tussock, climbing hand over foot as the clouds moved in and out, sometimes giving us a glimpse of the glorious valley below. I’m still new at the alpine stuff and it was a thrill but I was keenly aware of my lack of knowledge, so the stoke was mixed with fear. Ron was forging ahead, and his experience was reassuring, though the more precarious spots of our climb sent his heart racing too [RON: I’m not one for heights and the wire-rope rock sections had me in a fearful state]. We summitted around 100 minutes after setting off. The wind was howling and clouds were rolling right across the top, but Ron had the sense to grab a photo before we scurried out off the cold.
Then we followed the ridgeline path back towards where we had got to on day two. A few km in, high up on the ridge track we found red and white striped tape across the path along with some high vis ‘do not remove’ flags. As this was our only sensible way off the mountain we were obliged to cross, though crossing tape across the track was something that caused another anxious few minutes. Still not sure what it indicated, there were no rockslides or washouts to be seen.
The conditions didn’t improve, but we got to be on the leeward side of the mountain at times, including at a mountain spring of rememberance on top. I grabbed a photo and had a swig of the cool water, thinking of Bumpa, who would enjoy this tale of mountain adventure. Till then.
We re-entered the forest after an hour and a half and were treated to some really lovely smooth single track. One of the cool features of this forest was the number of different environments you pass through: baking tussock with centuries-old houses (think of a classic picture of Italy), pine forest, beech forest, alpine meadows, river wetlands… So much variety.
We took a steady descending route into the town of Casteluccio for our final lunch stop. The meals had been getting bigger and here they reached a climax [RON: this last meal was always going to be epic. I’d already done a reccie here and started a rapport with the proprietor Daniela. We had local beer, a starter of bread hot from the oven, olives, oil, and a caper/olive/tomato paste, for primi I had a Sicilian pasta I don’t recall the name of with cima di rapa, and Mike amused Daniela with his pasta sauce combo (you order them independently) which she then kindly corrected so he ended up with a pumpkin gnocchi with sage and butter. Sadly I don’t recall secondi, but we finished with torta di cioccolato].
Three courses, when one alone had me satisfied. We just about rolled out, and the Grappa certainly helped [RON: Daniela tried to dissuade me out of the grappa here for a more refined drink, no chance!]. Not the smartest idea to eat to popping point when you have a 5k, 300m descent to do immediately after [RON: it took me a good few hundred metres before I could actually break into a run]. There was some discomfort as we bounced down the semi-urban trail back to Poretta and the train.
3 days. 75km, 5500m climb.
An amazing trip, and one I would gladly do again. However, that would require an Italian translator. Ron’s language and planning skills were both essential for this mission. Many of our initial plans were changed when rifugio owners said they weren’t actually open [RON: despite indications to the contrary a week or two before]. The ones we did manage to get to (which were great) said we were the first Kiwis to visit that they were aware of. So, my appreciation to Mr King and his planning and persuasion for getting this adventure off the ground.
I think we did a great job of making the best of the opportunities we had, and feel we were also sensible in changing our plans to accommodate the conditions. We played our hand well, and the memories will fuel me for a long time. Grazie amici, arrivederci!
[RON: If there’s ever a race that requires running after a 3 course meal with wine/beer/grappa I reckon we’re in with a shot Mike.]
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.
The last bite of the 2015 cherry for me. I was wondering if after a long Spring season whether I might be a bit fatigued, so contemplated skipping this race to focus on Tarawera 2016. But after a couple of weeks post SkyRockNRun, I was feeling way better and I do love this course so it wasn’t really a surprise that I took my place at the start on Dec 12.
You can read previous reports for more course info, this one is a brief bit of race coverage.
I knew it was going to be warm (not crazy hot like 2013) and humid so wasn’t gunning on any PB attempts. Was great to join Sean Falconer at the start line – he had been spanking out the runs in his local southern end of the Waitaks and was fit and ready for his first off road marathon. Without pushing I briefly found myself leading at the start then ended up trading places in the top 4 over leg 1, completing the private farm loop in 2nd place in 1:05:27. First gear mistake of the day – bringing the wrong HR monitor strap and so no data there. Had to rely on perceived effort to guide me ie “using the force”, which is a critical race skill anyway so a good opportunity to test my internal guide.
Leg 2 going North on Te Henga felt good, I had dropped behind the first fellow when filling my bottles at aid 1, but was content to pace reasonably. I got caught by 2 more chaps, which made me double check my pace, but I felt I was on track, so kept it steady. Completed this one in 1:11:59 a touch quicker than last year so all going to plan.
Leg 3 To Horseman. Felt good coming out of the aid and ran strong down Constable, into the Goldies Bush section and then hit the steep stairs which dropped me to a walk. No worries, pretty quickly saw one dude ahead once we got off the stairs again as we climbed up. Got passed by Anthony “Little Brown Runner” Hancy here as he blew by. I had a quick stop in the aid, about 26k done and ready for the real race to begin. This year they had moved the aid station down to the track junction, saving 500m or so by eliminating the out and back.
I took off down the hill toward the river, catching both guys who had overtaken me on Te Henga. Ha! This felt good. Hit the river and noted my second gear mistake of the day – the Salomon Fellraisers were useless on wet rock and I had to gingerly trot across the dozen plus river crossings to avoid a full immersion. In doing so, I got re-passed by one of the dudes, but had to let it slide as this was not the place to try for a show down.
Up out of the river and climbing back up the kauri grove to Constable Road. Here was a pleasant surprise – I caught the guy who had been in front since leg 1. He was walking and looking well spent, so didn’t need to worry about him anymore. Then I caught my river-buddy once again and put in some pace on the stairs to build a gap.
I got to the final Aid at the top of Constable and was told I was 4 minutes down on Anthony who was in first. I figured that unless he fell apart I wouldn’t catch him over the last 10k but set off to keep it an honest race. And honest it was. I did fine until the last 4k, whereupon the effort of the day caught up (my internal guide may have been just slightly over-ambitious). I was teetering on cramp in multiple lower leg locations, and had to button off the gas and take a salt tab. I managed to grind it home, but was really in damage control and terrified of being caught as I had little more to give. Fortunately no pursers showed up and I crossed the line in 4:43:59, a new PB for me and in second place.
Sean had a well-paced cracker himself to go sub 5hrs and nab 5th spot – another great result from the MEC.
That’s it for me for 2015 – looking forward to another great year of running in 2016!
I had the pleasure of trail running in the South Island for the first time last week (I know – crazy that it’s taken this long!). I popped the cherry with a crack at the SkyRockNRun Mountain Marathon, held in the Mt Oxford Conservation Area about 1 hour North West of Christchurch.
This was the Australasian Skyrunning final for 2015, which meant I was expecting the course to be brutally steep, and there would be some real speedsters in the mix. True on both counts.
The charismatic race director, Adrian Bailey set us off at 6:30am on a perfect race morning with a little bit of cloud and low winds. I was planning on being quite conservative until we hit the turn around (out and back course). So I was happy trundling along just inside the top 20 as we took in the flat-ish first km.
We crossed the river and the hill climb started. We were at 400m elevation and I knew that I had to climb 1000m in the next 6km of running/hiking. Hiking hasn’t really been a strength of mine, but I was glad to see that I could hold onto my position without compromising myself with too much effort. We popped out of the cloud at about the same time we popped above the tree line and the view was spectacular. The sun was out and you could see alpine tundra lining the ridges and the Canterbury Plains beneath, still green from the Spring rains.
I hit the summit of Mt Oxford in 1:11 and after stopping for a pic (tourist!) I kept moving as the wind was rather bracing up there. On the way down the other side I had dropped behind two fullas who had been company on the climb, and managed to miss the poled route for a minute or two while I got lost. Back on track, I navigated the equally steep and gravelly descent off Mt Oxford. The X-talons weren’t really necessary for this course. It was dry, and a less intense trail shoe would give sufficient grip but more comfort I reckon.
The course is three massive climbs, and three massive descents. That’s it. This first descent ended with a super steep and twisty final couple of ks down to the river. I was overtaken by a speedy senior dude here, which I must say came as some surprise to me.
The flat trail along the river felt great, finally a chance to run! It took us over to the bridge at 14k and the only aid station on the course. I survived just fine with 1L (2 x 500ml bottles) but if you like to guzzle a bit more, than be prepared.
Leaving the aid, you re-cross the river (a bit more mucking around with difficult to find trail again here) and then go straight up the Black Hill track. This is another steep, rooty trail through Beech Forest. I saw the front runner barreling down the hill ages before I reached the turn around (63 minutes it took me). The turnaround came as a relief – 2nd big climb done! Legs a bit tired but not too bad. I was able to pass the speedy old dude down this hill and got back to the bridge and aid station in 37 minutes. Took on some more water and then enjoyed the river running section again.
The enjoyment ended as we turned back up Mt Oxford. It was about 24k by now, but the real killer was that we had another 1000m to climb over the next 6-7k and that is hard to comprehend when your legs are feeling like they have done more than a week’s worth of climbing already. The next 1.5k or so of climb was absolutely grueling. I was hands on knees the whole way, gradient between 25-45%, tiny switchbacks with no view of how far to go. It was real mind-battle time. I had kept lots of energy for a strong finish, but now my leg strength was being sorely tested and it made me feel like giving up on that plan – and instead just take a few rests and mope home. I was sure I would be passed. Its hard not to feel this way when you knock out a 21 minute km. However, I disciplined myself to not think of anyone else and just give my own best effort.
I was so glad to leave that miserable hill climb behind. It was now more of the twisty beech forest, but at least punctuated with runnable sections as we made our way back up Mt Oxford.
Finally, I broke out above the tree line and it was like a tonic. I could see how far to go now (250m climb and a couple of km to the top) – and I could see there were people ahead! Invigorated, I ran more and more of the trail, working closer to the targets up ahead. It felt great to catch a pair of them right on top of Mt Oxford!
Time for a quick lace tighten to protect the toes over the punishing 6k descent and then I went for it, as best my legs could go. It wasn’t anything outstanding, but I was glad to pull away from the guys I had just caught. I hoped to see the Matt the pole-carrying Otago local I had met early in the day, but he was long gone. I enjoyed the run down and felt sweet relief as I finished in 6:18:31 for 10th place.
You will earn your supper on this one – I logged it as 39k and 3000m climb. Well organized (hot chips and soup for me at the finish – top marks!), glorious vistas, and savage trails are yours to be had.
So, I actually sent out an email the week prior to the race when I was convinced it was over for me. No pain free runs since Dec 20. All my usual tricks at speeding recovery had been to no avail. My thoughts switched to how I could recover rather than how I could race.
But I had a painfree walk run with Ron on Tuesday, repeated it with a 3.5k run walk home and thought – I’ve got to give it a go. No way I was missing the race if there was any chance, even a small one that I could take part. So it was great to be down in Rotorua with our biggest MEC contingent ever. We had a fantastic pre-event pasta party at Dave and Evan’s family bach. It was a cool family occasion (and thanks guys for the great pressie).
Race day was as predicted: Cool start (approx 8 degrees) but low winds and mod-warm temps in the afternoon (officially 22 in town). We all met up for the pre-race festivities and I was delighted to be in fine company for the first leg, going out at an easy pace with Dave, Todd, Sean and Thom. We were probably 2/3 of the way back and there was plenty of unavoidable walking in the first 5km. This suited me just fine. That meant no temptation to run on my legs that hadn’t run for more than 6k at a stretch in the last 7 weeks. We had a glorious time laughing our way through the redwood forest and down to Tikitapu. We got in to the Blue Lake aid 30 minutes after Ron and 15 minutes back on Caleb and Brent. I was pumped – no pain in the calf, and the day was looking like it might come together.
We made our way down to Okareka aid station and shortly after our party of five were split. Todd and I were moving faster and got a gap on the other three. I was getting more confident in my calf by the time we left the Miller road Aid station at 21k, and was running more freely on the leg. Over to Okataina we ran together well, catching heaps of people and only stopping occasionally for me to stretch or knead the calf when it felt tight. The downhill to Okataina felt good, and I rolled ahead of Todd who was feeling pretty sore by now. I finished the leg just under 2:17 (over 20 minutes slower than last year). I felt fresh and took on supplies at the aid station before heading out.
Leg 3 was where I really let the brakes off. I was pretty sure my calf would hold for the day, and so started to run my natural pace. I noticed that my heart rate was 10 beats or so higher than I would have expected for the effort, but put that down to the nerves of the big day. I steadily caught group after group (sometimes getting stuck behind for a while on the snaking singletrack) as I made it my goal to reel in Caleb and Brent who had started the leg about 13 minutes ahead of me.
As I ran over the hill to Humphries Bay, a MTBer commented on my singlet and said he had seen a couple of guys in that singlet not too many minutes before. Encouraged by the sense of progress, I kept pushing along. I made it to the Tarawera Falls aid in 7:30 – about 30 minutes slower than 2012, but that was all from the first 2 legs. My watch had frozen on leg 3 so I re-started it at the aid station, filled my bottle and my hat with ice and went into the forestry road section.It wasn’t long before I was caught by Caleb and Brent. I had actually passed them while Brent took a pit-stop, so I waited and we ran as a threesome for a bit. I was feeling good. I had eaten well, and wasn’t too sore. I ended up pulling ahead and so said my goodbyes.
My technology was not aiding my ambition. My watch had 3 meltdowns, and on this part of the trail I became aware that my mp3 player wasn’t gonna work either. That was a bit of a blow, as it was meant to focus and lift me through the last 30-40k.
But I wound into Titoki aid still feeling good and making progress. Then it got real. Real hard. My body remembered its lack of training and around the 75k mark I started to slow, feeling tired and sore. The Awaroa loop was tough, I moved OK on the steep uphill, but it was very very sore going down. The heel inserts that had taken the pressure off my calf, had re-allocated it to knees and they cried out in protest. I went from catching up to seeing people pull away, and then getting caught myself. I still had 20k to go and it was a struggle to run at all (interestingly walking was quite fine – unlike meltdowns in 2010 and 2011). I heard a yell and Caleb was roaring down the hill to me. He slowed to talk for a minute and then sped off. I wished him well, so good to see him finish like that, but I took a mental dive as his smart race approach contrasted with mine and I saw my race unravelling at the end. Oh! The beginners error! Made on my 6th TUM, I should have known better. I castigated myself for my foolish leg 3 antics, and questioned my sense in running 100k on such unprepared legs. The self criticism of course made me feel so much better. And I began to walk with a dark grey cloud around me.
I tried to keep myself honest. I stopped and stretched my quads to take the pressure off the knees. I felt a bit freer and ran for a while before the pain took me down again. The aid stations would give a similar, fleeting boost. I was just relieved to see the kms tick over as I pulled into Fishermans bridge at 90k. Dad was there – his impeccable crewing had got me through all day. Every aid station he would give me splits and info and ask what I needed. I no longer need cooling as my speed had reduced. But he was able to pass me my iphone and I plugged that in for the final 10k to the finish.
Not sure if it was just having 10k to go, or the music or what, but I was able to lift into a slow shuffle for the rest of the journey. I actually caught a few people who had taken me earlier. The pain was still there, but was more background now and I made much faster progress. This was better.I crossed the bridge over Tarawera River with about 2k to go, I didn’t really have much more to give this time and I just chugged in over the fields. It was quite emotional getting to the finish line after being in pain and a bit down for a wee while. Heidi was itching to run with me, which made my day, so we held hands and ran the chute together, stopping the clock at 12:16.
Nutrition – ate well, did my gels on the half hour plus aid station food.
Hydration – drank water to thirst and felt fine.
Pacing – Started spot on, but worked too hard on leg 2 and especially leg 3.
Preparation – Minimal, and again the ultra had to teach me not to underestimate how much it will require of you.
I think because I so love the experience of testing oneself and experiencing the natural environment, I can forget how hard these ultras are. This sometimes leads to me not counting the full cost (until the race day, whereby I will pay the cost, oh yes). I will try to remember this because it feels SO much better to finish strong (even if you are sore) then to self-destruct along the way. What I love about this sport is that anyone can have the perfect race – it’s not about finishing first, it’s about delivering your best performance in all areas on the day. I had three great performances 2012-14 where I squeezed the best race out of my self I could, and I’m gonna make sure I have some more.
But, how crazy is it that I was even able to run? 1 week before I would have been happy to run 10k, and would not have expected to complete this event. So I’m gonna be grateful for my own little on-the-trail miracle recovery. As I said to the guys, what I really love is getting to share this whole thing with friends and family – having the competition and the comradery. And that’s what we did – 8 MECers with whanau in tow took on the Tarawera. Look out for Team Green next year!