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.
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
I entered the Northburn100 (miler) a couple of years back. Unfortunately they had an incident with a fire on the build-up to the 2015 edition and didn’t offer the 100 that year so I’ve had an extra year of terror just thinking about the thing. As a bonus, they’ve put that year to good use by adding a couple of thousand metres of vertical and an extra kilometre to the course.
So the mental state over the last couple of months has constantly alternated between excited anticipation, and the why? Why? Why did I enter? Part of the why is the trail-100-miler? Tick, aspect. Honestly if there were an easier trail 100 mile event in NZ I’d have entered it. At this point I’d actually feel pretty secure, happy even, going into an ‘ordinary’ 100 miler. But then Northburn isn’t very ordinary. I’ve stopped reading the race reports because they are a bit disturbing.
Breaking Northburn down there are some pretty clear requirements with respect to training and preparation. As far as I can tell the specifics of the event are: hills, endurance, hills, fatigue, hills, darkness, hills, rocky/stabby/uneven-terrain, hills, varied-climatic conditions, hills, nutrition/hydration, hills, load-carrying, hills, personal care, hills, and mental state. In the build-up I tried to cover off these as best I could within a 6 month average of 10hrs running a week (supplemented with fixie commuting and family hikes).
Hills: keeping a low-carbon family-friendly programme I largely resorted to local neighbourhood hills (lots of repeats of steep 40m and 80m climbs). Have managed just over a 2000m per week average since the start of October. The most vert I managed in a week was 5000m. Ideally I’d have hiked some big long climbs with a silly heavy pack but it never happened. Quite a lot of the hill work was power hiking between 500-1000 metres/hr, that’s gotta be good for me right? 10,000m of vert scares me, have no idea if I’ve done enough.
Endurance: Biggest run I managed was 15.5hrs on a +140km week. Took that big day really slow, carried full gear/water load, and felt like I had a fair few hours still in me at the end (though was only around 3000m of vert). Got in a good number of +8hr runs, and some 100km weeks. Recovery after these big runs has been great, even managed some solid sessions in the week following them. Pretty happy with endurance then.
Fatigue/Darkness: A Rangitoto Island Dusk till Dawn hill set tested my night ops. I actually rather like being out and about in the dark, often wish sunrise was a bit delayed on early morning sessions. Plus I’ve got a headlamp that’s plenty powerful and good for +10:30hrs without having to change batteries (almost feels like cheating). Also tried out a 40min power nap on Rangi after 7hrs on the feet, while I didn’t actually sleep, and restarting was an unpleasant experience I felt great once I warmed up again. I’m also getting the kids to throw a couple of totems in the TW (half lap) drop bag as a bit of lift if/when things go psych-dark. No fear here, psych/electromagnetic darkness spectrum covered.
Rocky/Stabby/Uneven-Terrain: Mostly past experience and gear selection here. With most of the recent running occurring in confines of Auckland city, Rangitoto and Tarawera were main forays on the trail. My first choice shoe-gaiter combo was taken on the family hike around Lake Waikaremoana in January and they worked out great (same combo as Rangitoto and Tarawera). In summary, confident with the terrain
Nutrition/Hydration: Have paid a bit more attention to eating/drinking during the build-up, especially on long runs. Seems to have worked pretty well and have been able to eat solidly on the long low and slow outings using a combination of sports nutrition and normal food. Planning on carrying mainly gels and Farmbake Peanut Brownies, plus a few other solid (savoury) snacks. Drop bags will have a various other treats in them. I’m calling it the Brent 30hr gel chow down.
Varied-Climatic Conditions: Been a bit tricky this one, as the summer has been hot, humid, and rather wet at times. Tell the truth I’m not at my best in the midday heat when I’m fully loaded. Doesn’t look like it’ll be as hot and humid down there though – overnight lows of between 6-8C at base, who knows what’ll be on the tops in the middle of the night. At this point it’s looking like rain is threatening. Was looking forward to a gorgeous Central Otago sunset/sunrise but prefer rain to baking heat.
Load Carrying: Done all of my long runs and a fair number of hill sets fully loaded. The compulsory gear list means carrying a couple of kg of water and quite a bit of bulk. I’ve played with packing options a bit and current setup seems to work well for the kind of running (walking) I’ll be doing at Northburn. Been running with wizard sticks for the past few months, they are great on the combo of climbing with a load. Got options here, no real cause for concern.
Personal Care: Look after the feet, tend to any chafing early, carry sunscreen and toilet paper. Changes of clothes and shoes at base. Common issues covered then, though keeping on top of chafing is a nagging concern.
Mental state: +30hrs in trying conditions? How do you prepare for that? I’m going with the ‘what would DKR do?’ approach. Three runners that often come to mind when I need a bit of inspiration or fortitude are Dawn Tuffery, Ruby Muir, and Kim Allen (DRK listed, of course, in no particular order). At which point you say, wow, that’s enlightened, and not weird at all for a man in his mid 40’s. Yeah, yeah, I could throw in Mal Law but his inspiration membership is already fully subscribed. I think I can work through any issues of resolve or inner darkness, and have a powernap on hand for hallucinations.
Finally, to put it all together on the day(s) I’ve got a plan. The plan being designed to get me to the finish, hopefully only experiencing one sunset.
Race, ahem, event-survival plan: This is pretty straight forward four point plan.
Limit running to the easy terrain on the first lap (ie. cap effort)
Don’t stop unless you’ve got a task that requires stopping (a nap is technically a task)
Keep on top of nutrition/hydration.
Mantra: belief, resolve, endure, entry-fee
Prediction: I’ll finish. I’ll cry at some point. I’ll want to withdraw soon after. Those gels are going to get nasty. But I think I’ve done enough to finish.
One time I got lucky, one time I got it wrong. This time, I got it right (and probably got lucky too).
We started in the dark at the Redwood’s Forest HQ. Jake and I huddled together at the back of the pack listening to the briefing. We decided to ditch the headlamps because day was already breaking. Perhaps we should have taken the time to seed ourselves in the large bunch of 300 odd people eagerly awaiting the starter’s gun. As it happens, we were right at the back when the gun went. This gave us a slow start, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Probably the easiest mistake to make in an ultra is to go out hard. It’s not hard to stay at the front for a leg or two. But if you haven’t paid your dues in training, you will pay them at the back end of the race if you try to get ahead of yourself.
That said, I was a little concerned that we were forced to walk single-file for the first 10 minutes in the bush. It was great having Jake alongside, as otherwise it would have been easy to lose it and try force my way forward. Instead we relaxed and had a gentle warm-up to the long day ahead. After a further 7 minutes of walk/run we hit a forest road, and I was able to open up and move through the field a bit. I said farewell to Jake and headed on.
The first leg is the best time to meet people and have a chat, so I was happy sharing stories with those I found myself next to as we made our way to Tikitapu (Blue Lake). I knew Ron and Shaun would be way up ahead and had already made peace with this and committed to just running sensibly and trying to stay strong through the whole event. I had worked out a solid plan encompassing regular nutrition/hydration and a run/walk pacing strategy. As well as walking the hills, I gave myself a good 3-5 minute walk every 30-40 minutes to refresh and reset my legs. This was intended to ward off and delay any ITB issue, and had been helpful in training.
The first leg was a pleasure. We all got wet feet from the high Blue Lake and I was very glad to change my socks and shoes at Okareka. The new piece of single track down to Okareka was a treat, much more enjoyable (and a bit slower too) than the road. My time of 2:04 was 14 minutes slower than last year’s conservative start – but I knew this was just due to my quarter-hour conga-line at the start. I was holding a fine pace and felt fresh.
The second leg – 18.5k over the Western Okataina walkway went by smoothly also. This trail has the most climb of any on the course. I made good use of the walk here. The trail was drier and faster than any of my previous attempts here. If one was strong enough, you could run the whole way.
I arrived at Lake Okataina in about 4:08. The 2:04 split was the same as last year’s. And I was still feeling really good – a 9/10 I’d say. It was great getting a big cheer from the entourage of MEC supporters. I was a bit overwhelmed, and actually left without realising I had forgotten to pick up my gels for the next section. But I did get a good feed of roast veges. As I walked off eating these, who should pull up next to me but Ron! I had thought he was long ahead, but he had wisely stopped to change shoes at Okareka and then had another good pit stop for food and sunscreen at Okataina. It was so good to run this section together. Leg 3 has previously been the place where the race becomes hard and I have got rather dark on that section. But with Ron, we chatted merrily together and the kilometres rolled by. We pulled into Humphries Bay aid station (about 45km) both eager for a feed. Following Ron’s lead I knocked back a honey sandwich – these are great (must remember that for next year). I was done a bit quicker than Ron and mentioned that I would start walking. As I walked up the hill from the station, I couldn’t see him following and I was a bit gutted I hadn’t just hung around longer. I almost turned back to wait (almost, but not quite – it’s a race not just a ‘life event’). Instead of the comradery of the last 75 minutes, I was off on my own.
But my legs were feeling good and I ran this section faster than ever before. I came into the Outlet in around 6:20. It was great to see Dan, Todd and Dad there and I was in great spirits. I had never felt this good for this long in the Tarawera before. The section past the falls was as beautiful as ever. I finished the leg in 2:50, a 7 minute PB. This put me at the 60km mark in just a whisker under 7 hours. I let my mind calculate what would be required to hit my top target of 11 hrs – 40k in 4hrs, 6 minute kilometres (including walking time!). I didn’t think that was feasible, but if I played it smart I could make it between 11 and 12.
The terrain change after the Tarawera falls can be hard. You leave behind beautiful single track with plenty of visual distractions and find yourself on long straight forestry roads. The pain became real for me here. I turned on the music to give me a lift as I felt my mood dropping away. I was still running better than last year though. There was no hip flexor acute pain that made each step agony, just the steady ache of legs that are well tired. I walked the steep uphill, but could run the shallows. I came upon a couple of guys and started a long game of yoyo tag with one of them, Greig. We passed each other several times before running together down the long drag to Titoki. This picked me up, and I was all smiles as I saw the crew here. I cooled off with some water, refuelled and picked up Todd Calkin, pacer-extraordinaire.
It was uncharted territory for me as we headed up to Awaroa. Greig had gone ahead and Todd told me that Shaun Collins had only just left ahead of me. That put a bit of fire in my belly – lets go catch Shaun! We passed him while he took a mimi in the forest. I had been struggling to drink and eat lately and had figured out the culprit – the Heed in my bottle was bouncing around and getting a big lot of foam on top. When I swallowed I was taking on heaps of air. My guts hurt and I was gassing out both ends overtime. I figured the best way to fix this was to switch to drinking water. At Awaroa I did this and the guts felt better, allowing me to force down the precious gels.
I arrived at Awaroa in 2hrs. I had pulled a little ahead of Grieg and Shaun, who had been holding pretty close till then. A quick refill was all I needed and Todd and I headed out onto the loop of despair. This whole area is recently planted forest so you run along limestone roads with immature pine trees at your side. You can see for ages without them obstructing the view, but you don’t have the shade they usually provide. But I was happy, not despairing on this leg. I caught two guys on the steep hill climb. I was hiking, but obviously faster than others! The harder part was the downhill drop to Awaroa again. My quads were now weary and hurt like heck as I went back down. Greig made yet another reappearance as he took off up the steep hill after the aid station. As I turned up the hill, I saw Ron turning in to the loop. He was in good spirits, but had obviously dropped the pace off a bit.
It wasn’t long before Todd and I caught Greig up again. We now had 18.5k to get to the finish. I still wouldn’t let my mind think about the end too much. The ache in my legs and fatigue deep in my bones were desperate for a quick exit, and focussing on the finish would actually bring me down. I just looked to the next aid station, played some tunes and kept forcing the legs to go fast. They were going to hurt anyway, so it may as well be at a good pace. Todd was his encouraging best, and as we caught runners rather regularly it did make me feel good.
Somewhere around 80k, I noticed that the walk breaks were no longer helping. Instead of feeling fresh after the walk, I was stiff and it took ages to build back into my previous pace. It was time to give the walk the flick. Gels would now be consumed while jogging. Shaun was well behind, but Greig was still in the mix. I thought back to Jake often, hoping his knee was OK, and wondering how Ron was doing.
My pace over this last section was not just a surprise to me. I imagined that I would be doing plenty of short walks, and now I was running well and not stopping for anything. At Fisherman’s Bridge I was half an hour ahead of predicted time, so the crew were all still back at Titoki cheering Jake on. I was happy enough to know that there was only 10k to go – just over an hour I thought.
We drilled the last section. I was so impressed with Todd. We were both expecting this to be a slow jog to the line and instead I was still feeling good enough to smoke along (relatively speaking). He had only done one run of 20k to prepare. He later told me he was often running with HR near 200. And then I would just take off while he was still opening a gel or whatever – the life of a pacer aint easy. We crossed the Tarawera river bridge at 10:45. I knew then that I had a shot at breaking 11 hours. Todd, like a perfect lead-out rider in Le Tour had spent himself to get me to this point and he bid me farewell as I upped the speed across the grassy fields, hammering home the final 2 kilometres. I crossed the line in 10:54, 16th place (chicked by one), and half-collapsing on the finish fencing I said, “That’s how you do 100k”.
No knee/ hip flexor issues
Great nutrition and hydration
Very happy runner.
Not that I consider myself an ultra master, nay not by any stretch. The winner was over 2 hours ahead! But it does feel good when you put together a great performance, one that brings out the fullest of your fitness. The other thing that made the trip great was the excellent crew I shared it with. Doing that run solo would have been less than half as good, and certainly a lot slower. Thanks to the cheering babes, the documenting dad (these are all his phtoos), the pacers and my comrades out there on the trail. Huge congrats to Jake and Ron for finishing their first ultras! Big ups once again to Paul Charteris and his team for holding a fantastic and well organised event.
I will not repeat these front of pack calls, but focus on the performance of the 4 MEC associates running this year.
Ron “the” King
+ Knows how to keep moving amidst the hurt (veteran of all day bike rides, rode NZ on a fixie in a fortnight)
+ Excellent pre-event training mileage
Peak week of around 140km
Nailed a 69km, 10hr offroad beast in late Feb
+ Has trained specifically for this event (focussed, and representative training)
– Untested at the distance
Predicted: 15-25th, 11-12.5hrs
90% chance of finishing
Jake “Rocky” Parsons
+ Very determined, and realistic in his goals (he WILL finish)
+ Has run 50% of the course before
+ Fittest he has been in his life
– Small background in endurance sports
– Recent toe infection and time off training, on-going knee ache
Predicted: 11-12hrs, place 2/3rds in men’s 85km
70% chance of finishing
Michael “The Rev” Hale
+ In good shape, lots of strength in the legs and core
+ 2 successful Tarawera 85kms
+ Good result at Coastal Challenge 2012 a fortnight ago (4th, 3:21)
– Training build-up interrupted by R) ITB flare. The only two runs over 4hrs resulted in a walk-heavy finish.
Predicted: 18-30th, 11-13hrs or “the walkout finish” – 17hrs.
60% chance of finishing
Shaun “RunningBeast” Collins
+ Veteran of many ultra length events
+ Recently set the Hillary Trail (72km) solo FKT (~10.5hrs)
– Recent sinus infection
Predicted: 15-30th, 11-13hrs
80% chance of finishing
So, there it is. A little bit blurry, I know. If you forced me to call it, I would say the odds are that Ron does 11hrs, Shaun and Jake 11.5 and Michael 12.5. But as we know in an ultra, it can play out very differently. It will be fun seeing what happens, that is for certain.
It was never going to be easy. After last year, where Myles Robinson and I stunned ourselves with great first time efforts at the 85k distance, this race had been lurking in my mind more than any other. I knew it hurt, but then it also felt so good – the conquering of your own weakness while running yourself into oblivion. 2010 showed that good results were possible, now what about if I were to increase the training – maybe make it a focus, not an add-on?
Come late 2010, I knew I wanted to do it again. The plan was to have a good summer holiday with regular 2-3hr runs, then do some more long runs including 2 x 50k buildup runs to total at least 10 runs over 2 hrs (as opposed to 1 x 50k with a handful of 2-3hrs runs as in 2010).
I got a bit of set back on Boxing Day when I was foolhardy and went for my first barefoot run in months (careful), for 40 minutes (way too long), on sand-dunes (silly, silly boy). Calf pain followed and would hamper my efforts for the next month. I was able to run occasionally, but had to swap my summer holiday long runs for summer holiday long (hill) walks. This was good for strength, and hill running, but not so good for endurance or aerobic conditioning. It also took me out of the Maungakiekie Endurance Club battle for the Stroke n Stride series.
But soon enough, I was back getting the long runs in. I managed the 50k crash training /make or break session in late January. Me, Dave and Myles battled for 6 hrs in Cyclone Wilma, the toes were hurt, but the calf endured – great success!
The Coastal Challenge came and I went into it with more long runs under my belt than ever before. I felt strong and like I would endure, albeit not very fast. That race was another great battle with Mikey Licht, he got 8th and I was 1 minute back in 10th – the field have got stronger I tell ya!
The 33k speed endurance of the Coastal made a great sharpener for the Tarawera, so I approached this year’s race with high expectations. This year was made much better by having a huge contingent of mates going down competing and supporting. There was me and Dave Robbo in the 85k solo (with Todd Calkin and Charles Belcher as pacers respectively) and Mat Raffills and Jake Parsons teaming up for the 85k two man team.
A mean south westerly front passed over as we drove down to Rotorua on the Friday. It could have been ugly on race day, but fortunately had blown away and race morning brought nothing but blue skies.
We started in the dark, this year with plenty more competitors (237) in the field. Word must have got out that this event is the business. It also appears that more of the talent in the field are now taking on the 100k option (over 100 starters), and bypassing the 85k.
The hooter went and we plunged in to the darkness. This year I was more conscious of slowing my urge to race at the start, and I happily jogged along at an easy pace while a good 30 or so athletes took off ahead. I had forgotten how much uphill there was – it wasn’t all that steep but it was consistent. Very soon we were looking out back across Lake Rotorua and the whole district. The sun came up, revealing beautiful pine forest all around. I had some good chats as I marveled at the view. It was just a pleasure to be running. We came down into Tikitapu (Blue Lake) and I was merrily cruising in a group of four. I pulled ahead of them just prior to the aid station. The raucous welcome of our crew was fantastic – I love those guys and girls! An easy road section down to Okareka wound up the first leg (18.5k), I did 1:50, about 2 minutes slower than last year and was feeling 10/10 as I left the Miller Road aid station.
I took on extra fluids (sculling 3 cups of fizz) before heading into the isolated Western Okataina track. Last year I was punished with thirst during this section, and I wasn’t going to have that again. I was quickly by myself and turned on the speakers to get a happy tune in my head. Speakers were distorting – a flat battery (note to self, something to check before the race next time). Last year I ran with Myles and a couple of others along this trail before their fast pace pushed my HR too high and I backed off and fell into a sad state of solo running. This year I was master of the controlled response. I ran when it made sense to, and backed off when my HR was too high or the track was too slippy to make it worthwhile. I was very consciously keeping my effort in check and yet I was still catching people – brilliant!
It wasn’t too long before we crested the summit and started the steep descent. I emptied my right shoe out and tightened my laces as the toes were getting quite pained and I wanted them on my side come the last 30k. Three guys passed me and I ducked in behind as we formed a train all the way to Okataina.
Okataina came in 2:04. This was 3 minutes faster than last year. Not only was I a bit faster, but I was feeling way better both in the body and in the mind. I gave huge smiles to my crew and took on some more lollies (where were the power cookies this year? I was planning on eating those!). I took off onto leg three, my weakest section in 2010. I happily progressed over the next hour, tiring but still good. My thoughts were self affirming – “look at me, I can do this, I have these ultra’s down – an easy start and look at me go!” I pulled into Humphries Bay Aid station and was definitely starting to hurt, but had passed half way and was making good time. My somewhat cocky attitude blinded me to my own intensifying ache. I got passed by a couple of guys, but held them for a few minutes. My guts were a bit dodgy and my hip flexors were groaning.
I came to Tarawera Outlet and my delusions of grandeur were over. I was sore, very sore, and lots earlier than I remembered last year. Plus, my guts felt really crook and I didn’t want to eat anymore lollies (why couldn’t there be some power cookies?). Todd joined me and was a great lift, but pretty soon the guts dominated and I had to hike into the forest to fertilise the flora. Those few minutes were well worth the relief they brought. Now all that ailed me was intensely sore hip flexors and tired legs, oh and a mind that had now come to wear me down “you were so far ahead and now you are so sore already and are going to be slower than last year, but you still have 30km of PAIN to go… enjoy”. Todd was fantastic at helping me shift the dark cloud. It took a while and I even toyed with exiting at 60 km, but we had a big walk up a long incline while Todd told me of what he had been reading etc. I loved hearing the passion and just the experience of being with a brother in the forest. My head changed – “OK its sore and my PB is gone, but this is actually a cool thing to be able to do.” So I pressed on, still in lots of pain, but now with a good mind. Nevertheless, the pain worsened, and pretty soon I was walking long stretches again. I thought this would be my lot until the finish. Then, out of nowhere, Jacob caught me. He was off ahead and I was still struggling to lift my feet up off the ground. I though how cool it would be to run as a three man team: Jake, me and Todd. I started to run again and told Todd, “I’m gonna catch Jake.” We halved the gap down to 30m but then I couldn’t make the last part. I was ailing and was about to break into a walk when Jake did first – I seized the moment, caught him and we all walked together. This began a super hour of great comradery. We all walked and Todd and Jake talked while I grizzled along. Just being with them helped, and soon I found that walking was just as sore as running (so why not run?).
Again, the support from our crew at the stations was tremendous. They would seize the empty bottle, pass a full one and shout and cheer and make you feel great. They are some great friends. Eventually the tired three came upon the last aid station, with the deceptively marked sign “4km to go” beside. I frankly doubted this sign and challenged the old birds who manned the station, they assured me it was accurate. Fueled with chips and watermelon I launched ahead, ready for the last effort home. At this point Jake was faltering and it was sad to see him drop as I had imagined we would cross the line together. Soon enough, it became apparent to me that Todd and I had run for 2km and hadn’t even got close to the bridge which had another 2km after it. I was cursing the evil sign and the mongrel who wrote it as I imagined breaking down due to an over-exuberant final effort. A short walk helped to bring me back and I ran on, more conservatively now. I just wanted to see the bridge!
At last we came to the bridge, and got into the never ending sports fields. This year, I was ready. I knew they went on and on and so just kept the pace up, but not smashing it until the finish was assured. I saw the final corner and let loose. It was great to finish so strong! I ran across the line and noticed that my hips were now virtually pain free – how did this happen? I got 9:41, enough for 5th place, and about 12 minutes slower than last year.
So in reflection:
I was better prepared than last year.
My first half of the race was near-perfect: well paced and good nutrition/hydration.
The hip-flexor issue hit much earlier this year and really laid me low. I should have countered the mental lowness better, but will need to look to prevent the physical issue too (it never happened in any of my long training runs).
The nutrition in the second half could be improved, I need to make sure I get enough lipids and protein (perhaps drop bags/ crew if they won’t provide power cookies next year).
It was a decent run, I’m a bit disappointed not to get a PB, but there were many areas of improvement over last time.
I recovered much better than last year
I have not mastered the ultra, and have much to learn in keeping the mind and body happy.
Finally, a last word of thanks to all who helped and supported me in this run. To do it solo would have been miserable and uninspiring compared to the great celebration that I experienced. Much love to Heather, Heidi, Dad, Dan, Todd, Emily, Jake, Matt, Monique, Mikey, Charles, Dave and Jo (and all the well wishers from back home too0>
Michael Hale – 5th (out of 27 solo men and 14 solo women)
Dave Robertson – 15th (out of 27 solo men and 14 solo women)
Mt Atkinson Bograts – 2nd team of two (out of four teams of two) or 12th team (out of 19 teams)
85km Overall Statistics
Two Person Relay
Four Person Relay
My splits: (Legs 1 and 4 slower; legs 2 and 3 faster than 2010)
Time of Day
Dist To Go
Leg 1 – Okareka
Leg 2 – Okataina
Leg 3 – Tarawera Falls
Leg 4 – Kawerau
Mt Atkinson Bograts (Matt Raffills and Jake Parsons)
Time of Day
Dist To Go
Leg 1 – Okareka
Leg 2 – Okataina
Leg 3 – Tarawera Falls
Leg 4 – Kawerau
Time of Day
Dist To Go
Leg 1 – Okareka
Leg 2 – Okataina
Leg 3 – Tarawera Falls
Leg 4 – Kawerau
Race winner of 100k Sam Wreford – amazing splits.
Time of Day
Dist To Go
Leg 1 – Okareka
Leg 2 – Okataina
Leg 3 – Tarawera Falls
Leg 4 – Awaroa
Leg 5 – Kawerau
Dave Robertson’s Report:
Hey Dudes, just a little (long) report from the ultra.
Pre-race went to plan- started with a feed at 5.30 and took on heaps of fluids. struggled at times to get the food down with the nerves keeping me honest. The nerves did help the bowls get into action though which was great to get out the way before the start!!
Jo dropped me off at the start where i caught up with Mike and Matt on the start line. It was dark and pretty bloody cold! 7am the gun went off and it was the most chilled race start of my life. Heaps of talking and heaps of walking on the immediate hills! Mike was off and i wouldnt see him again until the finish. The plan was to start slow and hold back on the hills. In the first hour i had to stop and pee 3 times and did some good gagging trying to knock back the first gel!!
The support team of Jo and Charles were in fine form early on meeting me at the 13km and 18.5km stations to swap the bottles, grab some food, and have a good morning kiss! This first section really took me by surprise with how many hills there were. I got pretty frustrated at times with not being able to get any consistant running in. The other bummer was we were close to 1000m at one point and there wasnt any view!
The second section of the course was even more brutal than the first. I had a lot of realisataions during these 3 hours. One was that i defintely needed to train on way more hills..and when i say ‘hills’ i mean long steep hills..and when i say ‘train’ i mean walk! I lacked strength in my arse and hamstrings and after 3 hours they were blown. Walking was painful from this point on as the muscles were not used to this. What was worse was being passed by so many people walking..this was doing my head in! I got quite dark at times until i was albe to run again. Running felt great and to be honest i always felt fresh and strong on the trails. It was always nice to pass people too! So at the halfway mark i was about an hour behind my target time. I had completely underestimated the hills and the amount of walking that was required..
Section three was a turning point. The undulating trails were rooty and technical but i got into a real good groove. Its funny that after 6 hours you can suddenly get a boost of energy that propels you for the next couple of hours. I loved this section with its awesome lake side running and beautiful native bush. I also loved it as i managed to pass a lot of people through this section. Nothing got me in a better mood that day than seeing others hurting more than me! I managed to meet some great people on the trail through this point too which made the time pass. It was also cool because i had never run this far or for as long before..it was all new territory which was quite exciting!
At 55km the pacers were able to join the race. It was awesome to pick Charles up here and do the final 30km with him. To have company of a friend at this point and some feet to follow through the tricky trails did the mind a lot of good. The Tarewera Falls were and awesome sight and the slight downhill gradient allowed us to get a good clip on. At 60km i got a word from a marshall that the course was ‘mostly flat’ from here to the finsh. I LOVED this news and decided to pick the pace up as i was feeling great. Charles had his GPS going and we knocked out a couple of 5 minute km’s no probs! But then we turned a corner…suddenly it was hill after hill after hill all over again. BUGGER! Back to walk run walk run blah blah blah. I was so dark again and just had no strength to get up the hills..I only got passed by one person but i felt i was starting to lose the battle. With 10km to go i didnt know if i would make it..the heart rate was through the roof, the legs were exhausted, i had multiple blisters giving me grief, a rash on the bum, sore knees, sore ankles…etc etc..everything was saying STOP!
I can honestly say at this point i wouldnt have made it home if it wasnt for Charles and Jo. They are legends and truly got me to the line!
From 75-80km i mostly walked and lost a lot of time. Approaching the 5km to go station a girl came round the corner behind me and was running me down. If anything was going to motivate me this was it. I stopped at the station for 2 minutes and hoovered back two hand fulls of jet planes, a snickers bar, 3 cups of coke, 2 cookies and some sour snakes..mmmmmmm!!! With the sugar hit i got a run on..and then kept running..and kept running..and kept running! It was a crazy finish. The last five k’s went in just under 30 minutes which i thought was pretty good for having already run 80k’s! And the girl..well she never caught up.
Seeing the crew at this finish was awesome. I managed to hold back the tears but it was pretty emo! After 11 hours and 6 minutes on the feet it felt amazing to crash onto the grass!
So stoked its over. I was an hour slower than i hoped but i completely underestimated the first half of the course. At the end of the day i did the best i could have.
For interests sake i made a list of what i can remember eating and drinking on the day on the day:
– approx 6 litres electrolites, 1 litre of water, 600ml of coke
– 1 banana
– 1 one square meal
– 2 Snickers Bars
– 3 Museli Bars
– 6 Gels
– 1 Danish
– 4 Cookies
– 5 handfulls of lollies
– 1 Brownie
And after all that i still lost a couple of kilo’s!