Jiayou jaiyou! Running for NZ at the Asia-Oceania 24-Hour Championships

Video

After arriving back in NZ, my experiences in Taipei are already feeling a bit dreamlike. In short, it was an amazing experience. In long, here’s a bit more of the story and background. Thanks to those I borrowed photos from!

It’s been a tricky year for my running, with sickness during Tarawera 100k in Feb, DNF through injury at the Sri Chinmoy 100k in May, and then a frustratingly slow rehab.

But in October I got this email: ‘On behalf of the Selection Panel, I would like to congratulate you on your selection to represent New Zealand at the IAU Asia/Oceania 24HR Championships’. This event would happen in 6 weeks, at Soochow University in Taipei. Fantastic! You don’t say no to that. Small matter – I could literally not run round the block that evening, thanks to the injury niggling from doing the downhill leg at the Takahe-Akaroa relay a few days before. But hey, six weeks to fix that!

Getting me to the start in one piece

There was plenty of anxiety mixed with my excitement. Technically you’re supposed to keep training increases to 10% of the previous week, but there was no time for that kind of sensibleness. 20k, 60k, 80k, 100k, say my Strava weekly totals, and then it was time to taper down again. The excellent Daws Osteo committed 110% to getting me to the start, locking in weekly treatments (combined with calming talk-therapy if I turned up wailing that my achilles hurt and this whole thing was ridiculous.) Work were uber-supportive, even shouting me a massage during work time the day before I got on the plane.

Big city!

We flew over a pretty epic two-hour lightning storm on the way, but I arrived safely in Taipei on Thursday morning and explored the city a little by foot, bike (pretty wild on the car and scooter-filled roads) and metro before catching up with the rest of the NZ team in the afternoon – Andrew, Bryan, Emma, Fiona, Graeme, Wayne and myself. We also met our volunteer student helpers Andy, Krystal, and Aeolus. The support and encouragement from the volunteers is one of the things people love about this race, and we were about to see it in action. They happily managed our various fiddly food requests for tea (delicious) and made us very welcome.

View from the hotel

On Friday we attended an opening ceremony, including marching in behind the NZ flag (fun!), and a welcome dinner for all the athletes in the evening.

Team NZ, and some of the awesome support crew.

With all the runners. Somehow that NZ flag wriggled into centre stage

No wasted energy before the start (and a half-tortoise for good measure. I hear it’s worth 8 hours sleep).

From the start to about 3pm, it was oppressively hot, feeling warmer than the 32 degrees or so it apparently was. I consciously pulled back the pace, started walk breaks early, used lots of wet sponges, and felt pleased I’d got a bit of hot yoga in. Weigh check reckoned I’d lost 5kg over the first 8 hours, despite keeping up a good hydration routine. By the later checks though, it was all regained plus almost 2kg extra, so go figure. Bodies are weird.

Andrew and Graeme get some last-minute tips from Big’s Backyard Ultra winner Johan Steene.

Thankfully the heat eased around 4pm as the sun dropped behind the hill, although never dropped significantly. I was happy with my nutrition plan of Osmo drink mix and Spring Energy gels. It was very exciting to see Fiona leading the women’s race around this point, and an inspiration to keep my own running consistent with half a mind to the team score.

Encouraging hug as inside runner…falls forward?

Fi going strong

Wayne had mentioned that we’d be hearing a lot of ‘jiayou!’ (加油) through the race which was an understatement – this cheer of encouragement would ring out from somebody almost every metre. If I waved when going past the lap counters, the volume of enthusiasm in response made you feel like a popstar. This event is worth it for the spectators!

My pace was slower than at my previous 24 hour event – partly by design and partly by necessity – but I still felt quite joyous that despite my fears, this run might actually work out ok. My late-ring-in support team Sharell and Linda did a great job.

You can see where the stomach rebelled, but otherwise consistent enough

The first challenges to the happy headspace came bang on halfway, with some energetic vomiting stints making it difficult to keep energy up. There’s nothing like being in a rather gross portaloo at 10pm musing on the logic of how ultrarunners sometimes pay good money for well-formulated goo, reluctantly force ourselves to consume it, and then throw it all up, repeatedly. Fun times! Having said that, I think caffeine was possibly the instigating issue, and I would otherwise try the same nutrition combo again.

Relateable middle-of-the-night feelings

Kat looking after Fi

I was also feeling the lack of miles in the legs and slipped to a lower pace for the rest of the race, although still able to jog at least parts of each lap. Fiona kindly let me have some of her non-caffeinated Spring gels as I was out, and I slowly got my stomach back to some dubious equilibrium. Fiona had hit a challenging patch later in the race, with some time in the medical tent to recover. It was great to see her come back strongly – running! – after having this break

One major aspect of this race was the attrition rate. So much carnage! For instance, Fiona and I were both seeded in the bottom third of the field overall, meaning we ran in the third lane out. Ultimately we finished in the top third, due partly to dogged determination, but also to a lot of great runners having unexpected issues. 24 hours is like that. If you have 10 minutes, the video shot by Team Aus really captures the environment, and the drama (we sneak into a couple of shots!).

The hours counted down – too, too slowly, but it helped a lot to focus on the goal of breaking the 200k mark, and attacking that in bite-sized chunks, one tottering jog step at a time. It became more and more likely to happen, and then both Fi and I made it. ‘Come with me!’ she called as the crowd went wild heading into the last 10 minutes. My calves were shot, so I waved her and Wayne on. Cue the much awaited flag-run (‘run’ is maybe a generous term).

While my previous 24 hour finish was muted by nausea and cold, this one felt amazing. That inimitable mixture of overwhelming joy, wanting to cry, relief at stopping, and possibly needing to vomit. (OK, definitely. Sorry team. But hopefully everyone else was too busy lying down to mind).

I was so proud of our NZ team – I still have a silly grin just thinking about it. Nobody had an easy day, but we all pushed through and stayed on the track.

It was pretty funny that I ended up with the same total as my first 24 hour, despite a different experience. My headspace was better for sure, even if the fitness was lower. I’d like to think I can run further in future with good build-up, but I’m also really satisfied I made the most of what I had in me that day. Huge thanks to the people who gave a donation to help with the team’s costs – this was very much appreciated.

Being part of the team and meeting lots of lovely people will remain my enduring highlights. Thanks for having us, Taipei! You were wonderful.

Bronze!

Team bronze, plus 4th for Fi and 5th for me

 

Farewell dinner

Enjoyed meeting the strong Japanese team

 

 

 

Advertisements

NZ 100k champs 2018, and the dreaded DNF

It was precisely three hours and twelve minutes into the race, bang on the 39km mark. The Christchurch day was clear and warm. The pace was on track, averaging 5 minute ks as planned. A lap earlier I’d taken the lead for the first time, although all three of us in the women’s race seemed well-matched, staying close and steady throughout. Nutrition was working. I’d thoroughly enjoyed running with Wayne Botha for a while as he completed his pre-Comrades tune-up.

It was a buzz to see the Christchurch Achilles athletes and guides frequently as we trundled around our 2.5k triangle towards the distant grail of 40 laps. I wanted to do a secret greeting gesture or code to indicate Achilles guide fellowship from faraway Hamilton but nobody’s taught it to me yet – I probably have to hang around another few years.

Go Achilles! I called out cheerfully each time, GO ACHILLES! And seconds later, as I turned the corner, my achilles went. (This coincidence amuses me slightly. It did not at the time.)

Previous achilles issues for me have been slow, nagging issues, that develop with time and often ease with the right stretches. This one hadn’t bothered me at all, training included, until it suddenly bit in with a vengeance, pulling me up short. Over the course of three stretches and 200 metres, the sinking feeling in my gut took root – that’s it. Race over.

As runners, we tend to know our bodies well. The race team were wonderfully buoyant and optimistic, offering massage, heel raises, and strong encouragement to continue. I hobble-walked another lap to clock a marathon and see if the pain would ease up enough to continue. It was all like:
(If you haven’t read the Oatmeal on running, I heartily recommend it).

And with that, I had my first DNF (did not finish). I was particularly disappointed to pull up just before Carl and Alba arrived – they’ve not yet seen me in action at a championship event and we’d made an effort to come down as a family. DNF can feel a bit anti-climactic, and…nothing, especially when your sights are set on surviving the next 60k. There’s all this thwarted unreleased energy swirling around.

Cue some deep breaths, a couple of self-pity tears, and then some re-focussing. These things happen sometimes. I’ve had a lot of great luck at races too. There’ll be more runs.

Right there, at that blue dot..

Stopping meant I got to sit around and eat a lot more of the delicious Sri Chinmoy food than usual – the roast kumara pieces were excellent dipped in leek and potato soup. It was cool to see Susan again, who I’d met at the 24 Hour, and hear perspective-giving stories of her challenging 10-day race in New York (woah). I got to see the 100k unfold from a spectator perspective and marvel from a different angle on just how challenging it is, the intricacies of individual experiences as you see people evolve each lap, and how strong you need to be to get through it. It was legitimately exciting too, wondering how it would pan out. If you haven’t watched a loop race like this happen before, and especially if you have a voyeuristic fascination with drawn-out human perseverance and suffering, I highly recommend it. Congratulations to Larissa, Wayne, Shannon, Dave, and all the other tough participants. Big thanks to everyone who helped me out or cheered or had a chat, Sundog Running for the programme, and to my club Hamilton City Hawks for the travel contribution

Full results and pictures >>

We loved seeing Angela, Steve and Thomas again – cheers for having us! Next day, Alba was lethargic and blah so our sightseeing became lying on the couch all day but at least we had a great place to hang out. Adrenaline kept the injury functional on Sunday but come Monday onwards, I couldn’t bear weight on it at all. Roll on the airport wheelchair!

Why the injury happened, I don’t know, other than that my calves were tight and the surface was hard – neither of which has got me at that race before. After my 24 Hour hip issues, I’d put more time into foam rolling, hot yoga and strengthening, so felt more prepared rather than less. It’ll be another thing to consider and add to the learning for next time.

Two points of interest. Chatting to Larissa, I learned that Australia have quite achievable A, B, and C qualifiers for the 100 Worlds, and it would be great to see NZ using that model too. Interestingly, it’s easier to qualify for 100k there, but tougher for the 24 Hour.

Second (unrelated) thing. I vaguely thought I needed to see my GP to do the ACC thing for a more painful injury and score some crutches etc, but I could actually have gone straight to Daws Osteo (they even have crutches). So bear that in mind if you’re unfortunate enough to be wondering, and save some $!

In summary: shooting for a big goal includes risk. Sucks to DNF a race, but it wasn’t all bad, and will make future highlights more special.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11 cool things about Tarawera Ultramarathon 2018

Image

In some ways, Tarawera 102k was a rough race for me this year. In others, it rocked a lot of luck and wonder. Here’s a list based on the latter while describing some of the former.

Background – I’ve done Tarawera a bunch of times over different distances, from the cones-in-a-paddock-finish-line days to the huge event it is now, but never the 102 (cheers, injury, fatigue and a cyclone). Would 2018 be the year? Here are 11 cool things that happened with this race:

1 – Being able to do (just) enough training

Way back in October, I ran in circles for a long time and then my body was like LOL, you suck. I took a long time to figure out that the pain was worsening and more than just DOMS (long enough that I optimistically applied for an elite entry at Tarawera) but not being physically able to run 2k with Alba at a fun run gave me a clue. It turned out to be a problematic hip injury. Daws Osteopathy was great, I did my exercises, and then eventually, one splendid day at the end of November, I COULD run 2k again. The build-up-train-a-bit-taper countdown was on.

 

2 – Getting ill enough days in advance that I was at the tail end of it on race day. Sort of.

I built up to a few long runs and felt a little bit more confident I could manage 102k at Tarawera. There was even the bonus of the race falling at the right time of the month (a friend and I had both bought Stacey Sims’ book in the leadup to get some tips on combatting things like the dead-tired week than can happen at the end of a cycle. It’s good, I recommend it).

In my smugness at this nice timing, I ignored germ potential. Monday came, with a sudden fever and headache, and I struggled home from work at lunchtime to immediately fall asleep. Not ideal, but at least it’d be over by the weekend, right? It progressed to sore throat, then cough and no voice by Friday. I went through an expensive amount of lypospheric vitamin C. To DNS or not DNS? If I just got a good sleep..

3Seeing my two favourite Kiwi Trail Runner editors and other nice peeps at rego!

My optimism was waning a little as my head throbbed in a long crawling rego queue on Friday.  Then I saw Vicki, and shortly after, Matt, and Mal, and Fiona, and lots of cool people. That cheered me up. Thanks team!

4 – Not getting sick on the bus ride

As a wimpy traveller at the best of times, I was really nervous about getting carsick on the bus ride to Kawerau. Thankfully, it seemed to be ok. I chatted to seatmate Andy (Qian) about the massive rise of trail running in Hong Kong. As the sky lightened, we were in Kawerau. Cue queues to the loos, and an hour of nervy runners wandering about aimlessly, looking like they were about to go to war.

5 – My body can run!

The start felt different to usual (well, it was in Kawerau, in a field, in the light). I heard a karakia but don’t think there was a haka, which is always special. Anyway, we started running and hurrahed, and calloo callay, it seemed like my body and lungs were cooperating, at least for now. There was a good bunch of paddock to get everyone seeded reasonably, then a really pleasant trail that I don’t remember doing before.

6 – Deer me

Having the forestry roads early makes for some dangerously cruisy kms. However, it all felt good and smooth.

About 15k in, I was running comfortably with a group up a gravel hill with one woman just up ahead (perhaps Courtney Pratt?) The forest was misty and beautiful in the soft rain, and then BOOM, a huge stag leapt across the road, nearly taking out Courtney (who looked strong, and if I’m right about it being her, later surged on to take 4th). Initially though, she dropped back with us to get the heartrate down! It was quite a wow moment.

7 – Persevering through the first hard bits

Essentially, all was rocking along ok for the first 40k. I kept the effort low, as I could feel my energy reserves were lower than usual. It was a bit like lacking a 4th gear – trucking along, but nothing extra there if pushed. Not ideal, but I was enjoying the scenery and experience. Tarawera Falls were stunning after the rain, full and powerful.

A lot of the Eastern Okataina was still fun, but it started to get slushy. Based on previous times through the track, I blithely ran through Humphries aid station without taking on much water. I like mud, mostly, but negotiating it must have sapped my energy enough to start a grumpy spiral. Progress was much slower than expected. At one point I thought balloons and signs indicated Okataina was imminent, but it was an anti-climactic tarpaulin with people sleeping under it, and a ‘4 k to go!’ sign. I was not amused.

I’ve always loved Okataina aid station – you bomb down the hill on a high and pop out into riotous support. Trudging through the mud to it from the other direction proved less upbeat. There’s a daycare phenomenon where a kid might be fine all day, and then erupt in wails and tantrums when the parent turns up, as a release. I think I was a bit like that seeing Oscar. (Not that I’m calling you old, Oscar.) The last 10k had felt so difficult and not fun, and I proceeded to dissolve somewhat. “It’s just a f%$#ing race,” he reminded me, also weeping a bit (but stoically, he maintains). “Just stop.”

He had a point. But I stubbornly set off toward the hill of doom, resolving to get my head back in the game.

8 – Not falling over on the Western Okataina

The good news was, I did get my head back on track. It took some time, but hey, there was a lot of time – it’s a solid hill, and I was solid walking. There was more mud than during Cyclone Lusi 2014, so there was lots of woah! and crikey! and other Tintin-esque exclamations during the sliding.

I wore the Altra Superiors and they did pretty well to support no falls (somehow). While Okataina Aid Station lost some kudos in my mind after the course reversal, Miller Rd gained it in spades. The sounds were pumping and the energy was great! A lot of us even started to run again (in the loosest sense of the word).

9 – Hanging out with Oscar and rocking the sounds

I hadn’t had a pacer before, and it was a lovely thing to look forward to. After removing some shoe gravel and such (and no crying), Oscar and I rocked off around Blue Lake (‘rocked’ also in the loosest sense of the word). Despite waning reserves, going round Blue Lake was surprisingly ok, due to my high familiarity with the route during the famous Blue Lake Challenge. During the whole course I kept assuming Sue Crowley was miles ahead due to her skillz vs my frequent-strolling strategy – and then seeing her again – but she did cruise smoothly by at this point to mutual encouragement.

Oscar turned on his speaker so we could traumatise people with my eclectic playlist. That was fun too. Sorry-not-sorry to those who put up with the likes of Leonard Cohen, Sia, and some Moana/Muppets courtesy of Alba. Starting to have to walk even on downhills was a low point, but my spirits were up even when energy wasn’t. 5k to go at Redwoods! I found amusement in the fact that I and another chafe-buddy I’d never met both had our hands down our pants rubbing Gurney Goo on the thigh region, and were entirely relaxed about this. (But why does it have burny tea tree oil in it? C’mon Steve!)

Postscript to this: I was hanging out in pain for the aid station, forgetting the fact I had brought lube in my own pack. Away with the fairies.

10 – Finally finishing a trail 100k

A nice thing about a difficult day is the joy of finishing it. Nuff said. Although it wasn’t at the speed I anticipated, I finally got that Tarawera 102k done! Photos by Photos4Sale.

Then I felt bleh and Oscar was like, ‘What can I get you, what do you want to do?’  and I was like, ‘Ung…guh…?’ I came in a smidge before 13 hours, 11th woman.

11 – Hanging out at the finish line

Because of my duh factor, Oscar kindly set me up with a sleeping bag and snack, and left me to it. I sat at the finish line until nearly 2am, gradually coming right, and it was awesome. In previous years I’ve headed off with family and eaten, showered etc, but this was a really nice experience too. The sheer joy and energy of the participants is contagious, and the finish line crew do a great job of keeping up the energy. It’s a handy counterpoint to unhelpful self-critique around your own result too – everyone here has the grins and tears and exhaustion and euphoria, whether running 8 hours or 13, or 24 hours, or 35. It’s a heck of an adventure.

Was it wise to run while unwell? I don’t really condone it, and felt the effects, but I think it was ok, for me, this time – the adventure outweighed the consequences, although those did include a bit of a relapse after. Huge thanks to Oscar for the care and company. Having a pacer is great.

How was the reverse course? A bit harder, for sure, with that extra elevation. You lose all the ‘easy’ running at the end, traded for a potentially too fast start, but that’s part of the fun. There’s potential congestion, coming past a long tail of 62 and 87k competitors, although not too crazy. The last 30-odd k could be great running if you had the power remaining. I really liked the final path through the steamy flats. The start lost a little energy, but it was gained back by a great finish line.

Will I come back? Of course!

My first 24 hour track race: 2017 Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence Run

What will it feel like?

Many people can’t understand why runners would choose to run in circles on a 400m track for 24 hours. It’s a valid question – the extension of choosing to run in 2k circles over 100k. For me it was as simple as the above: I wanted to experience the highs and lows of continuing moving forward through the night. Distance, titles and transcendence would be a bonus.

I suspected I hadn’t done enough preparation – no excuses, just the way it panned out with life at the time. At the same time, I felt healthy enough, and got through a couple of long slow test runs adequately. Not wanting this to be yet another year I didn’t get round to trying a 24, I put in the entry. And then did a bunch of stilt-walking to pay for it, but I don’t think Strava counted that as training.

Going to National Road Relays with Hawks a week out from the event was great fun, and a nice distraction. I figured if the standard ultra takes 3 days carb-loading, a 24 could take a week’s worth, so made sure I started that nice and early too. I also spent a lot of time figuring out the best way to make a music playlist (first month of Spotify Premium free? Yes please), what songs to have on it (lots), and the optimum way to carry my phone with me (thanks, Trek’n’Travel).

279

Lance kindly offered a couch for the Friday night, so I zoomed up to Auckland after work. I couldn’t have asked for a better host, as Lance is a pro at these events, and spotted exactly which things I was clueless about. We raided Geoff’s water bottle stocks (cheers Geoff), and sieved lots of white powder. Lance gave me some of his ginger beer stash. Good to go!

Following Lance in the morning made directions to Millenium Stadium nice and easy. We set up the table and tent, and met Twiss (below, centre), who was crewing for Lance and adopted me too. It was a relief to eventually get to the startline. All photos by the Sri Chinmoy team!

IMG_1961

Here goes nothing!

IMG_1905

The Sri Chinmoy team introduced all the competitors in the 24 hour, 12 hour, 6 hour and relay races, and then we were off. Sprint! (Just kidding.)

The first few hours were relaxed, and busy – people were very gracious, but there was a lot of slaloming around each other with so many on the track. The first change of direction came at 4 hours, and added a bit of excitement. It was nice to seeing Wayne Botha whizzing by periodically in his fast-cadenced bare feet, and catch up with current NZ 100k women’s champ Katrin Gottschalk (both in the 12 hour). It’s interesting how everyone has different strategies and speeds. Andrew stuck to his run-4-walk-1 approach without fail, and it appeared to go great guns.

IMG_2094

We had timing bracelets and personal lap counters, who were always encouraging, I worked out that mine eventually said ‘Go Dawn’ or ‘Got you, Dawn’ approximately 500 times over the full event. Phew. That would take some focus.

IMG_2243

My aim was to feel good at 6 hours and ok at 12. I enjoyed most of the day, especially jogging round in a train with Katrin and Susan Marshall, recent winner of the Sri Chinmoy 6-Day race in New York. Susan ran an amazing 656km there! We were both doing our first 24-hour race, but for her, it’s on the short side.

IMG_2426

I went through 100km in about 9.30, which was probably a tad fast. I’d planned for 6-min ks, but a tiny bit too quick per lap adds up. Nutrition was Tailwind and water and Vfuel gels, with some sushi and ginger and chippies, which all worked fine until it didn’t.

IMG_2262

Come 12 hours, a bunch of people stopped and had their part-laps recorded – Katrin won the race outright despite not feeling in top form that day. Bryan McCorkindale, always a class athlete, achieved an age group record here I think, before carrying on. The 12 hour would make a great taste of this type of running, as you get to enjoy the day and a bit of the night – and then go home! It started raining around the 10 hour mark, and didn’t really stop.

IMG_2461

It was great to see the mighty Mgcini turn up in the evening, fresh from pacing at Tauranga Marathon. Every lap he’d be sitting out by the table in the rain with a smile. I’d make random food requests and then change my mind the next lap. Good times.

IMG_2531

I apparently went through the 100 miles (160k) in about 16.40, and suspect it was actually a little before there that some wheels fell off, in a matter of 4 short laps or so. My right quad decided this was all a stupid idea and ceased lifting my leg up off the ground, quite a key motion in running; and my stomach got very unhappy. Consequently, I was reduced to a striding walk for the rest of the race. This was disappointing, as I’d started to get my hopes up for bigger distances, but I remember regrouping mentally and working out that walking 5k per hour for 8 hours should still get me over the 200 mark, and the primary aim was simply to keep moving forward and experience the night.

So I kept moving forward, as it rained on and on, sweeping in billowy clouds across the stadium lights and puddling deep in each track bend. I’d heard this 1am – 5am stretch was the hardest part of the race, and so it proved to be. Looking at the photos brought it back – it was never one agonising moment of struggle, just an ongoing challenge amid cold, fatigue and tedium.

IMG_2608

My music was a great help, and kept me going for a good 3-4 hours. I also thought a lot about the special people who left us too soon this past year and what it might mean to make the most of your own life, even the crazy whims that involve walking in circles. Sometimes there was something oddly beautiful and peaceful about the monotony too.

Unfortunately I was having trouble staying warm while walking, even with two thermals and a waterproof jacket. Mgcini had sensibly suggested I take off the wet singlet first before putting on the other gear, but I was all ‘nah, can’t be bothered, look, a fairy!’

Gotta love it when you run too long even for the clock to handle..

IMG_2707

Toilet breaks seemed to be happening way too often, and the whole sitting down motion had ceased to be fun hours ago. Funnily enough, although we were only 9k apart at the end, I never really ran with Slavomir Lindvai, the winning man – he was always going faster or slower. Just near the end we walked half a lap together and he said, well done, you are winner?, and I said nah, I don’t think so (ooh look, a fairy!), and he offered me Slovenian beer. In retrospect, this might have been a better bet for the stomach than coffee. Slavomir is a very strong athlete who’s reportedly run in the 240k region for this event previously.

Eventually the sky started to lighten – Tracy Benjamin made an obligatory ‘dawn’ joke! – and the end was kind of, sort, in sight (3 hours feels interminable by the end). Tracy launched into some tough love every time I went past which was great. I didn’t really know or care what distance I’d done (the lap updates only go up occasionally and I was cold) but she didn’t let me slack off: ‘You know you want the 200! Keep pushing it harder, and not just when you’re going past me!’

So I did, and made it in time for a few bonus laps (hoorah!). Below is me heading out on the final lap – I’m holding a personalised block to put down when the hooter goes.

IMG_2815

Although it was the longest race I’ve ever done, it wasn’t an equally intense experience to finish it. I was pleased and relieved, but the emotion was dulled by queasiness and cold. Twiss, bless her, went from not knowing me the day before to stripping me off and getting me through a shower. The chafing was truly epic. It could have won a chafe contest. There was a perfect chafe-bra, complete with all the chafe-seams. (Ultras are so glam.)

285 undies

At prizegiving, Andrew and I felt gradually sicker and sicker. I kind of love how this photo captures the moment. We’re each about to make a mid-speeches vomit dash (ultras are so glam).

IMG_2886

Ah, this one’s a bit more perky. I was really happy to follow in a long line of awesome runners and get the Sandy Barwick trophy for a while. Huge kudos to my fellow 24-hour runners too, especially Bryan (below) and Lance, who really are world class at this.

IMG_2973

Things to improve:

  • Eating. I don’t think there’s a magic answer, but I’d at least bring more savoury options and protein.
  • Pacing. It wasn’t terrible, but pulling back a bit more and possibly adding walk breaks could be a plan.
  • Chafe-avoidance. The ye-ow level of chafing was probably due to the wet-wet-wet level of rain, and I don’t know exactly how to fix that, but it’ll be something to work on.
  • Put some warm things on much earlier if required. Take off the wet ones.
  • Train some more

Things that went well!

  • No major injuries, not even Achilles issues (that’s pretty unusual)
  • Mind-set and focus was calm and positive almost the whole way, even with the disappointment of going to a walk
  • Shoes – the flexible Altra Escalantes were really comfy during 90% of the race, and I’d use them again. I did have sore blisters afterwards, but suspect this was always going to be hard to avoid in the rain.

In conclusion, I’m really happy I did the event. The organisers and other participants were great. Huge thanks to Twiss, Mgcini and Andrew for taking care of me along the way – hope to return the favour sometime.

I initially felt slightly ripped off that there was no euphoric transcendent moment, before coming to the conclusion that the keeping going was itself the transcendence. Would I do it again? Yes.

Splits to analyse >>

Official report >>

Full gallery of photos through the day >>

286 snooze

Aftermath summary: The next day I couldn’t move much (quietest birthday ever), and it took 24 hours after finishing before I could face food again. I didn’t really lose any weight though (bodies are odd). It took a good 8 days before I felt I could jog, and I’m giving it a few more for good measure.

284 want computer

PS – A bonus of this type of run is inspiring your offspring with your feats of perseverance. Or not.

278

 

 

ANZ 100k championship 2016 race report

Mention the idea of running 100k in flat concrete 2k laps to an acquaintance, and they’ll look at you somewhat bemused. Even otherwise-hardcore runners don’t tend to get excited by the idea. No mountains, no soft trail, no point-to-point = no point?

Loopy fun

Loopy fun

The intrinsic pointlessness is part of the charm. It’s hard to explain, but the simplicity of the loop setup makes the body-mind challenge of the game more stark and intriguing. Today you traverse this (flat, concrete, FAR) distance. Don’t worry about carrying gear or getting lost or negotiating hills. It’s purely about maths, motivation and mind games, as well as camaraderie and courage.

Since dipping my toe into the ultra realm in 2010, I’ve felt weirdly drawn to the 100k road champs when they come around. Last year I was out due to fatigue and injury (more on that in a coming post), and this year I was unsure I had the fitness. Respecting the distance to me means averaging some 100k training week blocks in the leadup. I’d been doing 60-70 at a moderate pace, and Christchurch is a long way to go. April came and the decision had to be made.

Three weeks out, I set off in the dark for a make-or-break 10 laps of Lake Ngaroto (60k). If I could average 5 minutes/k, I’d take a punt on the champs. If I blew up, or was lots slower, I wouldn’t. In short, I held the pace for marathon distance and gradually deteriorated for the last 18k, but the average was acceptable. Talking to some encouraging adventurous people later that day sealed the deal (peer pressure works). I booked the flights.

Let's do this! Photo: Shannon-Leigh

Let’s do this! Photo: Shannon-Leigh

On May 1st at 6am, I walked into Hagley Park listening to ‘Heroes’ and joined a small brave band of ultrarunners congregating in the dark. It’s a modest field, spread over 50k, 50 mile, 100k, and 100k relay events, with two men and three women in the Athletics NZ championship category. “Odds of a podium spot seem good,” joked Phil Costley, as we picked up our numbers. Trouble is, you still have to run a fair way to that podium.

4racestart

Race start, 2016. Photo: Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team

After all the wondering and waiting and travelling, it was a relief to stand on the startline and set off. You soon get to know people along the way while passing and getting passed. It was fun to see the speedy Phil taking on his first 100k (he holds 32 or so NZ titles from 1500m up). Every 10k he’d lap me and chat for a moment, and I’d have a go at emulating his smooth running form for a few hundred metres.

The first 40k or so of 100k is pretty fun, by necessity. You’re running within yourself and enjoying the environment. My aim was to stick around 5 minute kms for basically as long as possible, which worked well. You can explore the numbers here if thus inclined, but essentially I held a consistent 4.50 – 5 minute per/k pace until 60k, and then drifted between 5 and 6+ until the end.

This is me congratulating Geoff on finishing his first ultra (50k). Photo: Sri Chinmoy

Congratulating Geoff on finishing his first ultra (50k). Photo: Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team

I enjoyed running with Geoff for 12k, who had done 18 marathons but was about to complete his first 50k ultra. We kept inadvertently speeding up while talking. Another nice man in a Quebec Marathon shirt would always greet me before I passed, picking up who it was from my quick cadence.

Realistically I don’t go into an ultra to ‘race’ – it’s more about pacing my own effort alongside others. I knew Shannon-Leigh and I might be well matched for the women’s title though. She led for some time initially. Around 50k I caught up and at some point lapped her (memory is blurry on details). We had a quick chat. She was pushing through soreness, and wondering whether to withdraw. I mentioned that ultras always have peaks and troughs so things could still turn, which would prove prescient.

7Dawn

Photo: Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team

From there, I just got on with my own digging deep as the laps became harder and my legs whined that we didn’t really prepare for this. Around 78k or so I noticed I hadn’t seen Phil lap me for 20-odd kms, meaning he was facing his own challenges. By now I was negotiating the fragile knife edge of remaining resources, taking walk breaks periodically to marshall equilibrium. I have to admit it was a little encouraging to see Phil do this too after he did pass.

One down.. Photo: Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team

Another lap bites the dust.. Photo: Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team

Overall, I felt like the body was less trained than in 2014, but my mental tenacity was stronger. I broke down each 10k in 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and focussed on something I was grateful for each lap – being alive with working limbs, beautiful trees, helpful people like Geoff and Judy who were helping fill my bottles. There are quotes by Sri Chinmoy around the course. My favourite was:

‘Each sunset is the beginning
Of a very, very bright
And powerful sunrise.’

This one was well placed to kick me out of a walk break. (I figured, egotistically, that Bright Powerful Sunrise could easily be the ninja version of Dawn Tuffery.)

1philcostley

Phil ended up finishing (and winning) in 7.31. At 88k, I got a wee surprise as Shannon-Leigh surged past in an impressive comeback. I knew I was one lap ahead, but fading, and her strong pace seemed like it could be 5 minutes per k to my 6, which would see me caught within 12k. I didn’t have the energy to do much about it though, except keep moving forwards one step at a time. This all livened up the race for spectators, who started timing the splits. She was indeed gaining fast.

Those vertical lines are the walk breaks, AKA the wheels falling off and bouncing away

My pace vs the hours. Those vertical lines are the walk breaks, AKA the wheels falling off and bouncing away

As it happened, I crossed the line in 8.47, relieved and drained, and Shannon-Leigh came in a mere 6 minutes later. Much kudos to her too – while I didn’t have much energy left to respond with, it was a more exciting – and probably faster – race with us both pushing each other on, and a very equal effort.

Done! Feeling the love

Done! Feeling the love

It felt wonderful not to be running, as I lay on the grass and looked at clouds. 10 minutes on, I was hobbling around making plans for next time. Three hundys down, and I still feel like I’m just beginning to learn how to run them.

What worked well:

  • Pacing and sanity. The metronomic stride did its thing and I was chuffed to pull it off, after a questionable buildup. I went through the marathon 5 minutes slower than 2014 (3.25) and finished 5 minutes slower overall, meaning the last 60k were the same pace as 2014 despite less prep. I’ll take that.
  • Nutrition. Tailwind gets a tick from me after this experiment, though I had trouble drinking enough liquid near the end to get the calories in. It seemed to keep energy pretty consistent, and my stomach didn’t grumble for solid food like it does with gels. I’ll be using it again.
  • Footwear. I was nervous about wearing FiveFingers for the whole 100k given the hard surface. They’re still my favourites though so it was worth a go. My feet were tender by the end and didn’t love the ‘offroad’ gravel section but overall the shoes performed well and kept my feet quick.
With Phil Costley. Photo: Shannon-Leigh.

With Phil Costley. Photo: Shannon-Leigh.

Things to improve:

  • Training (do more). The standout opportunity really.
  • Lubrication. I’m usually happy with Bodyglide but bought this pink ‘for her’ version and got the worst chafing I’ve ever had, in 9 places. New formulation? It was partly due to frequent water over the head, carrying a few more kgs, and being blindly focussed at the end, but I would expect better. (After the race I noticed that the period I’d been expecting had arrived, but no, actually just the thigh chafing.) That was one sore shower.
  • Set up a better ‘aid station’ or talk my way onto someone’s table from the start. I put all my drinks and stuff on the ground assuming it’d just be a good rest opportunity but after a while couldn’t be bothered stopping/crouching.
  • I didn’t smile as much as usual after 70k. I think that’s linked to the training thing.
Post-race carb-replenishment at work - gluten-free!

Post-race carb-replenishment at work – gluten-free!

Muchos gracias: Big thanks to Tracey and Trish (wardrobe specialists), Marcus (Daws Osteopathy), Mary (Hukanui Body Therapies), Hamilton City Hawks (contribution to costs, and support), Ceana (morale-boosting stalker/nutritional support), Mark from Tailwind (nutrition contribution), Shannon-Leigh and Allen (great support and foot-saving car-rides), Geoff and Judy (bottle filling and mile-gobbling chats), Maryke, Felicity and family (cheer squad!), Nimbus crew (remote cheer squad), my family (generally cool), and Sri Chinmoy team (another great event and delicious meal).

Second win of the day - getting on to podium without falling off. Photo: Shannon-Leigh

Second win of the day – getting on to podium without falling off. Photo: Shannon-Leigh

I’m now recovering as per this smart article, and have no set plans for my next event. Maybe I’ll even write another post before 2017. Watch this space.

Full results and report by Sri Chinmoy here.

By the numbers

By the numbers

5 tips for running Tarawera Ultramarathon

Tarawera Ultramarathon is nearly here! I’m down to share tips at a Hawks get-together, and when I wrote them down as notes they turned into pictures. They didn’t turn into colour pictures though, because my child has apparently eaten all my good waterproof pens. Enjoy.

tatatip1

1. Appreciate the moment – frequently. The start of an ultra is MAD, in a fantastic way, but take a minute to yourself in the dark and think about why you’re here. Think of the 5.30am starts to fit in training before work, and the ridiculously long runs you really weren’t in the mood for and the adventures with friends that have all prepared you for this day. Appreciate the victory of making the start-line, of having courageous and exciting life goals, of having a body that can do this. And then, don’t dwell on what has passed away, or what is yet to be. Just run, and revel in it.

This goes for later on as well. You might be grumpy, and have sore legs, and low blood sugar, but you’re still in one of the most beautiful places in the world and have limbs with the grace to perambulate you in a forward direction. Injured runners who couldn’t make the startline are insanely envious and might slap you for whinging.

2014 was easily my most enjoyable Tarawera to date, because I was relaxed from the start and had no expectations. I recommend it.

2. Take it easy.

take it easy

That follows on from being relaxed and is kind of a no-brainer, but START SLOW. Have fun. Breathe, talk, make faces at the cameras. Even if you’re doing 60k rather than 100k, you should definitely be feeling full of beans at Okareka. It’s much too easy to pick up the pace imperceptibly along those straights between the water tank and Blue Lake and later regret it. Don’t do that.

3. If it’s sore, sort it out

taratip3

Last year I had a niggly timing chip that eventually gouged its way into my ankle. I still have the scars from this because I couldn’t be bothered stopping to figure it out. If the race had been 100k, it could have been interrupted by this, so it’s worth taping a blister or removing the stone, or having the foresight to buy something like this.

4. Keep the core temp down.

taratip4

My hero for keeping cool in heat is US ultrarunner Pam Smith, who goes to the extent of ice in the knickers. Whatever you have available to you, make the most of it. A cup of water over the head at an aid station, a quick dip in the river or stashing some frozen drink in a drop bag? Worth a go. I was tipping water over myself even during last year’s cyclone.

 5. Removal of friction

taratip5

One more tip (just to keep it classy) – grease yourself up like a Turkish oil wrestler. I like Bodyglide, but anything of that ilk will do. It’s a long way. Things rub. Chuck a little bit of your preferred lubrication into your pack if you can. Unpredictable things will happen, but hopefully chafing won’t be one of them.

Enjoy the run.

I won’t be running 100k at Tarawera – long boring story of uncooperative health – but am excited to be running the first leg for a Hawks team, and cheering everyone on. See you there!

 

Blast from the past: Paris Marathon 2010

I wrote this four years back to pitch it as a travel article to a newspaper but never got around to it. Enjoy! Pre-child Europe jaunt.

Pee for Paree

Pee for Paree

People travel to foreign big city marathons for the buzz, the energy, the new experiences. The awe-inspiring amount of public urination before the 2010 Paris Marathon presumably falls into the latter category. Truly, I have never before seen so many men peeing. With these ritualistic tribes lining the streets, any polite aversion of eyes is pleasantly irrelevant.

Five months ago, entering Paris MoiMarathon to coincide with a planned Europe trip was an excellent idea. Since then, ultramarathon fatigue and recent injury (thwarting all training) suggest otherwise. However, we are here at ‘le departe’, with Nurofen, adrenaline and joie de vivre. Don’t try this at home. With 1 portaloo per 3000 runners, I’m glad today is not a nervous day.

The gun fires, probably – I can’t move or hear. A roar of glee sweeps back towards the Arc du Triomphe and the 40,000 strong crowd surges down Champs Elysees, euphoric (while maintaining impeccable pace judgement, of course). The early kilometres are a combination of marvelling at the surroundings and very careful placement of feet amid the mob. Someone falls. The first drink station is on one side only, causing a dangerous swerve to the side. But we trot along, buoyed by the constant support and the stunning beauty that is Paris.

DeparteMore than 80% of Paris Marathon entrants this year are male. With us femmes being generally sparse, the novelty prompts enthused cheering throughout. ‘Allez la femme!’ I hear repeatedly. Go girl! Encore la fille!

‘Vous êtes passés par une femme!’ calls a marshall teasingly to a man behind me. ‘Chicachicachica!’

At 11k, we hit the lovely Bois du Vincennes, and my injured leg throws in a protest. Merde. Limping with 31k to go is a bad sign. But after a kilometre or so of grimacing and muttering, it eases. Whether errant Nurofen or guardian running angel, I’m grateful.

Whee!

Whee!

A splendid variety of entertainment, or ‘animations’, lines the route, if runners need distraction. Running plus animation – two of my favourite things! We have ‘Chariots of Fire’ by bagpipe. Bizarre cheerleaders. Pink Floyd courtesy of a young cover band, with the Chateau du Vincennes in the background, and this juxtaposition is strangely poignant. But then many things have me moved, particularly the man running resolutely carrying a big Polish flag and the orange-clad teams pulling and pushing disabled runners in carts.

Better chocolate absorption? I'm in!

Better chocolate absorption? I’m in!

Running into the Bastille at the most popular support point, we hit a wall of sound. It’s tremendous. Above us is a winged statue with one leg outstretched. I wonder if it’s Mercury, as beloved of NZ’s own Lorraine Moller, and take heart from the fact. It turns out to be Winged Hope, which is also appropriate. Maybe I can make it after all. The carnage is beginning, though. Grimaces and limps abound, and a river of walkers widens as we pass the Eiffel Tower and stream through tunnels beside the Seine. One of these was where Princess Di died.

Next we conquer the rolling hills into Bois de Boulogne.

‘Seulement six kilometres, c’est facile!’ calls a cheery young thing. Easy? Pardon? Ce n’est pas facile! Has she tried this?

Sad decor, sad legs..

Sad decor, sad legs..

With 5k to go, a drinks table offers red wine and I down one on principle. At the next one, I revert to sports drink, or as it turns out, champagne. C’est la vie! Upon rounding a corner a man in elaborate national dress stands in the middle of the road. He’s slightly in the way and…holding a camel. Of course. Perhaps the wine is kicking in.

‘Bravo la femme, allez, allez!’ rings out one last time from a shriek behind me, and I dutifully sprint to l’arrive, to be enveloped by great relief.

Support crew

Support crew

In an hour, I will be hobbling painfully across the road among screaming vehicles, and cursing the prolific and steep metro stairs. I then learn that pedestrians are supposed to hobble under L’Arc du Triomphe, rather than dice with death. Tomorrow, an opportunistic cold dives gleefully on my fatigued immune system and I discover the limping and snuffling combination is seriously un-chic. In two days, we will miss our flight back to Heathrow, just pre-empting the expulsion of errant volcanic ash which would have made a much better excuse than vaguely miscalculating the distance to Charles de Gaulle because we were busy stuffing our faces in a boulangerie.

But for now, I appreciate the emotion of the man crying beside me as we stop, and breathe. We have run the Paris Marathon and life is good.