From the couch

Me and my germs listening to Talk Ultra in the lounge at 3am. Wild!

Me and my germs listening to Talk Ultra in the lounge at 3am. Wild!

I’m at home, by myself, on a beautiful day, with gifted garlic soup heating up in the kitchen. Life is grand. The only blight is the cold sitting like a small elephant on my nose. For the last few months my colleagues and friends have fallen like flies with loathsome lurgies but I’d become complacent. Seems like I don’t get sick. Must be all that healthy running. Then Wednesday’s run felt unusually flat, and it went downhill from there.

The silver lining is that I get to lie in the lounge and type delirious ramblings on to the internet. It’s been a little quiet blog-wise lately, mainly because I took some down time after Ultra-Trail Des Cagous (had a blast and the race report is up at Backcountry Runner, if you missed it). Recovery actually happened fast thanks to the relatively slow pace and soft surface – although 4 or 5 toenails are still MIA. But I then embraced laziness for its own sake, and sleep-ins and weight gain aren’t terribly exciting to read about. (On the latter: I don’t think my innovative high fat, high carb diet has a big future, but you’ve got to test these things.) kaimai_run

I don’t have specific races planned yet and reluctantly restrained myself from the Kepler entry fray due to logistics/budget. But I’m enjoying regular expeditions again. A couple of weeks ago, Ange and I abandoned our offspring and tested out a Kaimai route she’d wondered about – up on to the ridge, along the North-South track and down Thompson’s track.

Well, it got a big tick for adventure, and a minor cross for being less runnable than predicted. The ascent was fine, gravelly and day13straightforward. We paused at the top enjoying the view and the peace. Some nearby mystery hunters seemed to like it too. Turning right across the ridge, we hit some rugged overgrown terrain. With the per-kilometre pace sitting around 30 minutes, you’d probably call it a tramp not a run. Cold too, despite the fine day. The bush had that feeling that nothing ever really dries out.

Mums on the run! Found a little waterfall.

Mums on the run! There’s a waterfall behind us, promise.

Checking out the view - one of the benefits of running along a ridge.

Checking out the view – one of the benefits of running along a ridge.

Ange takes on a fun rocky part

Ange takes on a fun rocky part

Ladders, even

Ladders, even!

Rather nice..

Rather nice..

We found a good old-school hut, and wrote in the book. It was a little tricky finding the way back down again once we came out of the North-South track up top, but we got there eventually. Slip detouring added some extra road, so we were more than happy to get back to the car, clocking a mere 5 hours of adventure in total. Lots of fun. More please!

UTDC – the preamble (AKA ‘TMI’)

SAMSUNG‘You’ve run wearing a rectal thermometer before, right?’ asked Lillian, as she prepared the heat chamber. I laughed. Ho, ho, what witty banter! Ha ha ha. Ha..?

Yeah, it seemed she wasn’t joking. I figured doing the Ultra-Trail Des Cagous in New Caledonia would make for some interesting new experiences, but hadn’t expected them to kick in before leaving Hamilton.

Without a whole lot of training time after recovering from the 100k champs, I’d decided just to play with hills and warmth for two weeks, and Wintec’s School of Sport and Exercise had kindly agreed to assist with the latter. Cue the delights of a couple of sessions of monitored heat/humidity training. Many thanks to Lillian, Adrian and co for this opportunity. The aforementioned thermometer was actually no problem in practice but made for good war stories nonetheless. And Hadley gets coach points +1000 for taping the wire on to my back when required. It was interesting to see how quickly I got dumber over a mere 45 minutes of runnning in the heat – 80k could plumb new depths of dopey.

I also tried some Bikram hot yoga for the first time, which was intense but masochistically enjoyable by the third session. If only it was a tad cheaper. Also, the logistics started to look a bit like this, and that’s before adding in any child factors. I would like to do more though.

todolist

Hills were fun. Hills are always good. Oscar in his awesomeness accompanied me on some early morning Fanny Hill efforts, and I got over to Te Aroha with Ange, and Karangahake. Then it was pretty much taper time – again.

It feels like I haven’t ‘trained’ since pre-Tarawera in terms of proper mileage, but I hoped muscle memory would do the trick for my New Cal adventure. Spoiler – it pretty much did. Watch this space for an inordinately long writeup of a most excellent experience..

Trig with a view

Trig with a view

Trig with no view

Trig with no view

What’s next: deuxième partie

It turns out my comment about not entering any ultras for at least two months after the NZ 100k champs was a complete lie. Sorry, limbs. Encore une fois? (Wow, sudden late ’90s dance music flashback.)

For anyone who missed it, my 100k race report is over at Backcountry Runner. Short version: it went well, despite an overenthusiastic start. I ran 2k 50 times and got a PB and a cup. Also a drink bottle with a fabric handle, which Alba declared the best prize of all.

Since then, I’ve been a bit droopy and done not much. The hundy smashed my quads and energy reserves a lot more than Tarawera, maybe due to the surface, the speed and the extra 30k. I keep getting cajoling emails from the High50 Vertical Challenge who can’t comprehend my slackness, saying they see that I haven’t updated my Vertical Challenge log for some time now and what am I, some kind of crybaby flatlander wimp? The body’s creeping back into action though. I’m going to be a pacer for the first time at Huntly Half on Sunday and am more nervous about that than I would be taking part (responsibility!)

Also, I have been invited to an international race, which happens in three weeks. I’m quite excited about this.

woohooThe event is the Ultra-Trail Des Cagous in New Caledonia on June 7th -a pedestrian running of lowmountain range in semi autonomy organized by Nouvelle-Caledonie Aventure’. Take a moment and read Ruby’s report of the 53k version from last year, which she carved up as per usual despite running 7k extra and basically having to ski. This year Ruby is preparing to smash UTMB instead, sensibly forgoing the UTDC jaunt. Thus, I get to carry the torch, with trepidation and gratitude. It looks fairly epic. Jungle running in a new country!

I'm used to being a tortoise, not a lièvre

I’m used to being a tortoise, not a lièvre

Aspects of the description are slightly unnerving:

‘Every competitor can be submitted to a dope test, hanging and upon the arrival of the event.’ I’m fine with a drug test, but not sure about the hanging.. 

Anyway, it should be a grand adventure. I have an excuse to scatter arbitrary school French phrases around with abandon. There’s no time to train as such, so I’ll be going directly from recovery into taper. The level of elevation gain is new. I’m not going in completely green though – I did Cambridge Cross Country on Saturday, which had 4 metres, so it’s only another 3646 than that.

Deluded? Never! I’m off to the doctor today to be certified of sound body and mind. Wish me bonne chance.

What’s next?

“What’s next for you?”, asked everyone after Tarawera.

5k at Parkrun. After doing 74, 5k is fun but lung-busting.

5k at Parkrun. After doing 74, 5k is fun but lung-busting.

Aside from the glib responses (Sleep! Food! Basking in goal-completion-mode before stressing about something else!), I didn’t know at the time. With characteristic vagueness – let’s call it clarity of focus – I just didn’t want to look past Tarawera beforehand. So that all went fine, but the upshot was three weeks of umming and ahing. TNF Australia 100k? Hillary? Rotorua Marathon? T42? NZ 100km championships? All good contenders for different reasons. TNF would be brilliant but I’d like to plan ahead for it. The Hillary I would have loved to try and almost did but couldn’t quite swing the childcare/time away from home. Rotorua? There’s a certain pace-pressure in a road marathon which didn’t quite gel for me (one day though). T42 was a very strong possibility, being close to home with cool people at it, and a nice surface to run on. But for some reason the 100k champs got a little hook in my mind that wouldn’t let go. So the answer is, Christchurch on April 27th, for 50 x 2k laps of Hagley Park. That looks something like this:

00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000.

See? No problem.

As you can see, I’m working on the optimism. I’m not entirely sure why that was the choice, given my persistently stubborn achilles and the fact that I basically love trail running, but the format intrigues me. Also, there’s always been a reason I can’t do the champs for the last three years, but this year I feel like seizing the chance to try it out. It’ll be a different kind of adventure.

Screen shot 2014-04-22 at 11.31.01 AMNote to self: signing up for Mal’s Vertical Challenge while tapering, in Hamilton, for a flat ultramarathon, is not going to cover you in glory. Oh well, it’s for a good cause. Better start saving now. There’s still plenty of time to come and join me in my barely-undulating shame.

But what shall I wear?

Contrary to many, I find trail much more forgiving than road in a shoe sense. I can wear anything on the average trail, ideally Spyridon FiveFingers. Extended road, however, is a bit of an unknown. Champs like Wayne Botha can do the barefoot/minimal long distance thing on a hard surface, but I’m not confident enough at this point.

Over the last few weeks I’ve tried out every pair of shoes I own on a long run to see if anything comes up tops but nothing really helped. (Anyone would think it’s the tendons themselves that are the problem.) So the approach will be: take 5 pairs of shoes to ChCh for potential swapping, and rely on optimism/ adrenaline. Wish me luck.

outtoohard

Trying out a long road run

Lap dancing

As far as preparing the brain, I’ve been doing a few lap-tastic runs. Lake Ngaroto is a classic one to do three weeks out, and that session went pretty well. It was a slight cop-out in terms of surface though, being mainly quite soft.

I also headed to Ruakura for the good old club champs loop which went well until the achilles hurt, but was still sobering in that I’d be doing another 9 10ks.

Angry bird

Angry bird

Taitua Arboretum makes a pleasant set of laps, complete with toilets and water, and many chickens. (Why did the chicken cross the path? Because he apparently didn’t see the runner hobbling powering towards him. Sorry chicken).

Graham Dudfield’s speed sessions with the Hawks have started again, which I love. There’s a big mob of great people and the endorphins are a buzz, completely different to what you get running for several hours. Last Tuesday we ran reps of 500m around the lake and swallowed midges as the moon got eaten by the eclipse.

Five more sleeps till the hundred though, so for now it’s just low-key running. Time for resting, massages and optimism. Down time is on the cards after this one, whatever happens, with the aim of being all gung-ho and ‘BRING IT ON’ and uninjured next time an event happens. I’m still looking forward to it though. So that’s what’s next.

 

 

 

Vibram Tarawera Ultramarathon 2014 race report

SAMSUNGTarawera! The training was done and the time had come. The idea of finally being on the startline was tantalisingly close, but my almost-not-quite-maybe cooperating body kept me guessing until the last minute. I was hanging out for a reassuring pain-free jog in the final 10 days, but the achilles was being stubborn. By Tuesday I gave up trying and just decided not to run anymore before the race – if it felt like coming right on the day, so be it. Bring on some carb loading. I like carb loading.

On Thursday I went for a final loosen-up massage with Dale McClunie. Alba and I threw many random things in the car and drove over to Vegas.

SAMSUNGThe no-running plan meant I missed out on the fun run, but still enjoyed watching everybody. The opportunity to explore Te Puia for free was a great bonus from an Alba perspective. We spent a lot of time there over the evening and following morning.

I did look wistfully at the elite photo shoot as they skipped gazelle-like across the volcanic landscape – it looked pretty fun. However, some elite three-year-old-chasing was the priority for the day.

Friday morning we were back in Te Puia for the official welcome, which I thought was great. Alba was a bit unnerved, but got inspired to practice her pukana face.

Pukana!

Pukana!

We spent most of the morning wandering around enjoying geysers and kiwis – and getting photos with multiple Ruby Muir fans who thought I was she, despite assurances to the contrary. I’d like to think this complimentary confusion was because of our matching athletic physiques and inner cool, but was more likely down to wearing FiveFingers and being female. “I reckon it’s the rough-and-ready hairstyles,’ offered Kristian.

The buzz was on when we got to the Holiday Inn for rego and weighing and seminars. Carl turned up after that and took over-it Alba for a sleep so I could watch the elite Q+A. Part of keeping myself amused during aquajogging sessions is to listen to podcasts – Talk Ultra, irunfar, UltraRunnerPodcast – so the opportunity to hear from some of the key players outside of the dive pool and tomorrow run with them on real dirt was something I was looking forward to.

I remember reading a few weeks back that the chance of the fire course was less than 5%, and thinking of this.

Have to admit, when reading a few weeks back that the chance of the fire course was less than 5% I thought immediately of this.

Mid-afternoon there was rumblings about changes afoot due to Cyclone Lusi, and after a nervous wait (please don’t cancel it), we found out the course was shortened to 70k. On a personal level I was pragmatic about this, assuming safety was paramount and everything would have been weighed up carefully. I felt for Paul though, and all the runners who were set on completing the full course after missing out last year.

reallyakawerau

Friday night was sleepless, but that’s normal. Lying awake at 3am, I decided to have an early breakfast, because I remembered some of the elites do that. They also said (about 10 times) ‘don’t try new things on race day’, but who can remember every detail? Anyway, breakfast was probably a bad call as it sat heavily in my stomach until an unscheduled stop about seven hours later. Good to know. Leonard Cohen’s ‘Anthem’ came on the ipod and got me in the perfect mood.

VTUM_003584

Image by Photos4Sale

The birds they sang, at the break of day 
Start again 
I heard them say 
Don’t dwell on what has passed away 
or what is yet to be.

By which I’m pretty sure Lenny meant ‘quit angsting over injuries, course changes or weather, and go have fun on the trails.’ Attempts to get ready without waking the family were a complete failure, so I quickly exited and caught a ride to the start thanks to Vibram’s star-studded relay team.

VTUM_003921

Image by Photos4Sale

It was fantastic to be lining up at the start rather than watching. I’d hoped to see training buddies Oscar and Dan and Ceana somewhere in the mix, but there were a lot of people around. I chatted with LTH and met Sadie Cranston. Last year I was excited for everyone at the start, but couldn’t help some tears in the dark as they ran past. This year I was elated to be there running, and yet there were still tears – there’s something powerful about start and finish lines. The tears abated, but the joy remained, even with a solid bit of hill to kick off.

Going up the hill I saw Shannon-Leigh Litt having a frustrating time with cramping. I was disappointed on her behalf as her preparation seemed exemplary and she could have been on the podium if things had aligned on the day. Here’s to an awesome Northburn and Hillary for her.

1912289_10152169365015677_268173156_o

Image by Photos4Sale

The first 12k was a chance to test the legs and relax into running. Extra time in the redwoods was no hardship. Coming through the start again added some energy, as it was packed with people screaming. Brendan Keenan and I nearly got taken out by a moving aid table, comic film styles. Going up again I saw some Hawks friends from the relay which was fun.

I always like the blue lake track, especially the bush parts and beautiful views. Somewhere around here I saw Lucy Bartholomew, who was very friendly and encouraging as I passed despite not feeling the best. More cheering awaited us at the aid station. I love aid station energy, but get too revved up to make the most of them, and never once got round to eating. Bit of a waste really. ‘Are you feeling good?’ asked a pajama-d Kim Allan. ‘Yes,’ I said, slowly, and took off.

vinegarWith legs behaving and a playground-trail to run on, I was having a pretty good time. I’m here! I’m running! ‘I could see your smile from the other side of the lake,’ observed Scary Dr Glenn Larsen as I headed into Tennent’s Track. Then I got stung by a wasp – how dare it interrupt the glee? It felt a bit painful through to Okareka but I couldn’t do much and it wasn’t going to be fatal.

It sounds a bit blasphemous, but the weather was perfect for running, cool and pleasant, and I like rain. Nutrition seemed to be going fine. I was knocking back gels as the time rolled around. Trotting up the hill we started to see some of the 55k runners. I still had no idea where I was sitting in the women’s race but wasn’t thinking about it too much. Along the mid-hill plateau and upwards I ran with a guy in a blue shirt for a long time who helped keep a good consistent pace but never got round to asking a name. (Belated cheers!) I do know he hadn’t run further than a marathon before, so hope everything panned out ok. I wanted to hit the top of the hill before the first long course guys appeared, and we did.

VTUM_005640Then it was all downhill and wheeeee, flying! As I caught up to Shona, relaying Ruby caught both of us, so there were quick greetings and well wishes all round. I exchanged a high five with Kerry as he cleared the way for Sage, and he said ‘Meghan (Arbogast) is just back there.’ For some reason I thought he meant she was coming up the hill behind them, so when I did pass Meghan I didn’t really register, and thought maybe she was a relay runner. The trail down to Okareka was a blast – possibly my high point of the day.

The closer I got to Okataina turnaround without seeing a female runner coming back, the closer I was to the top ten, so when I arrived at the aid station having still not seen anyone it was getting pretty exciting. Ironically, the splendid Western Okataina walkway was the one part of the course I’d trained on, so it was good to run at least a tiny bit of it. I think it was my fastest pace for the whole race, although it was a bit congested. After a bit I saw Jo leading and was intrigued, not knowing who she was. A little later I saw Claire and Beth, and Meghan and Shona, and a bunch of relay runners in between. So I didn’t know my placing for sure (counting is tricky after a few k) but was buoyed to know I was in the mix, and definitely top ten. The awesome Gayle and Anna had filled a bottle of Perpetuem for me here, and said Beth was 3 minutes ahead. I should have also refilled on water, but was a bit too amped to think straight.

Yep, it's me running...again. Photos4Sale.

Yep, it’s me running…again. Photos4Sale.

I’d been looking forward to having my friend Ange as a pacer, but assumed with the course change it wouldn’t be necessary. I still could have, in retrospect, but we weren’t sure how bad the weather would get for travelling so called it off. Going back up the hill wasn’t too bad anyway, and certainly social. I ran where I could, and just walked hard a lot. I loved being able to say hi all the other runners, and can see how an out-and-back style course has its benefits.

Over the top I was starting to get thirsty but needed sugar too. Note: gumming through a packet of Clif bloks without water isn’t the best idea. Coming down to the plateau, I suddenly glimpsed Beth just ahead. She said ‘Awesome, well done,’ and waved me past – at which exact point my quads said ‘WHY YOU RUN STUPID LONG WAY?’ and cramped. ‘I don’t think I can!’ was my slightly desperate response (to Beth, not the quads), but things came right, sort of.

The next patch was probably the trickiest as I jog-walked the moderate uphill stretch, which seemed to have got longer in the last couple of hours. There are even some photos of me not smiling. Seeing runners still heading out towards Okataina – knowing they had 4, 5, 6 hours left in the rain, and often still smiling – was good for perspective though.That’s gutsy, right there. Coming down to Millar Rd I found a bit more impetus. Finally, I got to the aid station and sculled some water. Seeing Kim again was a nice bonus. 3k to go? Let’s get this thing done.

VTUM_000055Coming down the road was my first experience of being filmed running for an extended time – novel but slightly awkward. Over the last kilometre I took the time to appreciate all the preparation for the race, waking up in the dark to run before work, and what a lovely privilege it is to be able to do things like this in a place like this. Then came the finish! I’d never finished a race to a semi-circle of cameras before. Interviews, hugs, dry clothes and a paddle in the lake.

All up it was a great day and ahead of my own expectations. According to IRunFar, I’m officially sneaky. I finished third in 7.16, 5 minutes behind the UK’s Claire Walton and 12 minutes behind Kapiti’s Jo Johansen, who pulled off a gloriously accomplished unexpected win.

Lots of people asked afterwards how I would have gone on the full course. It’s hard to say, as I adjusted effort accordingly, but I don’t think much would have changed. Jo had things under control, and a great base, by the sounds of it.

Footwise, the pretty blue Spyridon MRs plus injinji  socks went like a dream. No blisters, no nothing, and no problems on the wet bits. The timing chip, on the other hand, provided some blood and bruising to make up for the fact that I didn’t even fall over. Those things are lethal. I’ll put the gory shot at the bottom for brave people.

Podium photo by Bryan Powell, www.irunfar.com

Podium photo by Bryan Powell, http://www.irunfar.com

Top of the thanks board would be Carl and Alba, for sharing me with the trails. Hadley ‘Crater NZ’ Craig has truly been a fantastic coach and support. Alba rushes for my phone whenever it rings, saying ‘I want to talk to Hadley!’

Can’t have an Oscars speech without Oscar, who has shared the long runs and driven me many, many cumulative kilometres so we could find hills. Ceana and Dan are now ULTRARUNNERS, and great training buddies too. Thanks Jenni for the jacket and many many awesomes. Dylan and the Vibram crew are the nicest group of people and I feel lucky to be part of the team. Thanks to Paul for working so hard on this excellent race, and to the runners who make it what it is. I really enjoyed being able to run with such a solid field, and meet lots of new awesome people. (‘I think you have a little running crush on Meghan Arbogast,’ observed Ceana. Hey, who doesn’t?).

What’s next? I’m not sure yet. Watch this space, and feel free to offer suggestions.

*Bonus (slightly) gory shot, below*

At 2am on Sunday I realised I could have just moved the timing chip to my wrist.

At 2am on Sunday I realised I could have just moved the timing chip to my wrist.

Superstition and the ‘i’ word

ScribblesThis time last year I was inspired by a book on visual journals and started one. It’s possibly the first time in adulthood I’ve kept a regular record for a year. Part of the reason for choosing Waitangi Day 2013 to kick off was that we had a great training run in the morning that deserved remembering – 10 x 6k at Lake Ngaroto with some excellent people. Repeating it for 2014 didn’t quite fit in with our various plans this year, but some key players and I commemorated it with a measly sensible 5 x 6k on principle – thanks guys!

With events and training for them, the same things often come around in cycles. Most are good – fun training runs, again, and the fact that I’m really looking forward to Tarawera, again. It has a ridiculously amazing lineup, again, even more so than last year. Check out this shot of the entry list around my name alone and a few random examples of the guns I get to run with (MS Paint styles). I love how democratic ultrarunning is.

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 9.00.38 PMIt’s all very exciting. On the nervewracking side, I really don’t want to get injured again. I feel slightly superstitious even writing down the ‘i’ word or making a post about it. Or enthusing about the opportunity to be on the startline with all these awesome runners – because I Did That Last Time, and look what happened. But is there anything I can do about it?

Self-centred eavesdropping at the dog park

Self-centred eavesdropping at the dog park

Yes and no. But some of the strategies – alongside crossed fingers and picking up lucky pennies – include:

- Another set of eyes. The mighty Hadley ‘Crater NZ’ Craig is kindly helping me and others to prepare for Tarawera, and thus my schedule now includes such innovations as rest weeks and multiple days off. It’s also great being part of a crew with the same aim, particularly if they rub your calves en route to Raglan (thanks Oscar!).

- No buggy runs, Running with the stroller was great and downright necessary in the first year of parenthood. I don’t think it’s great for loading my calves though, so is consequently cut for a few months. Also, I incurred last year’s injury while pushing it. See above re high superstition level.

- Rehab activities, so you don’t need them. Prehab! Fairly straightforward: Ice, getting Dale McClunie to massage my calves when I can afford it, and spending quality time with the Waterworld dive pool when I can sneak it in.

Sometimes it helps. Sometimes my achilles tendons are still painful and taut enough to play a sad violin accompaniment to the first-world-problem complaining.

“I worry about you, Dawn,” intoned Dale seriously last week as he inflicted preventative agony to my lower limbs. I worry about myself. But with Tarawera’s sweet siren song crooning to me across the hills, what else is a girl to do?

Merry Kepler and a happy new year.

The day preceding the mighty Kepler Challenge started at 4am and felt long – five hours waiting in an airport (Jetstar misplaced a plane and a cabin crew), and then a one-sided splitting headache appeared upon the descent that didn’t go away. By evening I was a sore zombie. And it was raining. Woe is me, etc. The darkest hour is just before the…yeah, yeah.

At 4am I woke up and felt suddenly ready. The rain stopped. The lake sparkled, the marshalls had flaming signs, and the excitement was palpable. Kepler time!

A handy diagram, for anyone wondering about the difference

A handy diagram, for anyone wondering about the difference

I seeded myself in the 6.30 start zone and bantered with Mr Law as we rolled along the first 5k of trail. I knew from the last few weeks that my achilles wouldn’t be keen for running up many hills, so I walked a lot once we hit that – probably at least 70%. Matt Bixley wrote an excellent article on BCR about running Kepler. I borrowed ‘if it feels comfortable, you’re doing it right’ as a bit of a mantra, and stuck with it as reassurance. I then found myself walking every miniature rise and musing on the grey area between smart pacing and laziness

Coming out of the bushline the views hit with a marvellous jolt. I’d seen photos but it’s bigger and better to be there. It was fun to see Amy cheering. I whizzed through Luxmore aid station, having utilised Matt’s packing tips for the compulsory gear check. Walking up the gravel section afterwards I tripped over, cos I’m good like that. Better pick up the feet more. BAM! Over again (still merely walking), and blood spurting out my knee, wrist and fingers. I was glad I’d packed fabric plasters in the little front pocket of the pack.

Across the glorious tops I noticed a pink dot amid the climbers up ahead. A lady perhaps? Admittedly it could have been a sartorially-bold guy, but it wasn’t. I gradually caught up and marvelled at some fabulous calf muscles. These belonged to Kami Semick but I was in happy running dreamworld and didn’t register that. After this came lots of descents and switchbacks – welcome, after all the up. I passed quite a few people and hoped I wasn’t smashing my quads.

I bought some Vfuel gels from BCR to try and they were going down pretty well. But whether it was the caffeine or the downhill, I had to divert at Iris Burn. The balloons in the woods here were beautifully whimsical. Coming into the aid station I was caught on camera uttering the philosophical question “Where’s the toilet?” Heading out again a lady mentioned I was in 6th place for the women, which was a surprise.

Apparently I was enjoying the view more than this guy.

Apparently I was enjoying the view more than this guy.

Several of us got a great ‘train’ going at this point, chugging contentedly along at a consistent pace for a good ten kilometres or so. I don’t remember anyone’s names as I’m vague like that, but it was a sociable highlight. Our train ‘engine’ had been training (ha! Get it?) in Zurich due to work, which sounded very nice. We passed Shireen Crumpton going over some rocks and invited her to jump on, but she seemed to be having a tougher time than usual.

After the 30k mark, I was conscious of feeling pretty fragile and had to pull myself back periodically to regain strength – an ongoing balancing act that was to last the whole way.

Our train drifted to pieces after an aid station dressed as a Maori tribe. I proceeded to mosey on, periodically tagging on to fellow monosyllabic sufferers. My one proper long run for Kepler had been 48k, on a flat trail by necessity of injury, three weeks prior. I’d assumed this was pretty inadequate in the elevation sense, but looking back, it was at least useful at prepping my legs to turn over metronome-style for the second half.

I saw Matt B at Motorau and said thanks – I’d taken his advice to keep it easy. ‘I haven’t,’ he said wryly. He mentioned that I might see South African runner Landy Greyling ahead who wasn’t having the best day but I didn’t feel in racing mode.

SO PRETTY. Up on the tops.

SO PRETTY. Up on the tops.

With 15k to go, the ‘comfortable and easy’ had gradually given way to ‘stupid challenging and ridiculous quite hard’.

‘The next lady’s only 2.5 minutes ahead – you could catch her,’ said a volunteer at Rainbow Reach. Finishing was the sole focus though, and that was finally coming closer, albeit slowly. Baby hills required more walking. It’s just one relaxed Eastside run, I told myself at the 5k aid station. No problem. It was great to see Chris there cheering, as she waited for Dot.

A group of teenage girls applauded enthusiastically too. These fast woman runners make me so proud!, one said to her friend, which I thought was lovely and added a spring to my step. I’m a fast woman runner! Woah, feeling a bit woozy. Baby steps, just keep running.

With 1500m or so to go, I glimpsed Landy ahead and had to find out if I had anything extra left for a finishing surge. But I really can’t be bothered, wailed the body. I’m tired, I don’t care about positions. Somehow I rallied and passed, running scared for an interminable kilometre. She didn’t challenge, but I didn’t wait to see.

Made it!

Made it!

Finishing was so good – it always is, but I was proud of how I paced this one and found some extra at the end. 6 hours 30. 4th woman! There may have been tears. It was nice to see Grant Guise there, who’d had a fantastic run, and Angela’s mum, and Steve. I wanted to take a photo with Landy and Kami but wandered vaguely into the lake instead. Watching Angela finish was even more emotional, somehow. What a star. Speaking of stars, Ruby! A lack of training runs is obviously not an excuse I can utilise. 

Next came the first aid tent for a rinse of the gory cuts but they were enthusiastic and I got the thorough treatment, including all the gravel fragments dug out with a needle (!). Luckily there was some euphoric hormones still floating around. I love those hormones. They can go both ways though, and I missed Carl and Alba a lot. 

Technically I should have seen them the next day but Jetstar flew to Christchurch instead of Queenstown, so I endured a night at the Rydges in a big bed with a lakeview and had to miss work on Monday. But it all worked out in the end.

Huge thanks go to Angela and Steve and Dot and Chris, for sharing the adventure and the training and the support. Kepler Challenge: fantastic. I see why people like it. I’ll be back.