Tarawera: ramble from the sidelines

Ultrasounds were easier when Alba was in the womb

Ultrasounds were easier when Alba was in the womb.

If you’re forced to be a spectator at Tarawera Ultra, you might as well be placed at central aid station Okataina on a ‘fire course’ year. Upon hearing I was out, Paul C considerately organised the race to run back past so I could watch everyone in action twice. What a guy.

For anyone following my big moan last week, the verdict turned out to be a small tear in the achilles and a complete tear in the plantaris tendon (a weird and apparently ‘unimportant’ vestigial item that is not mirrored in my other leg). So that was that. Maybe six weeks off running and definitely no 40k of relay (I may have got a glare from the physio upon facetiously throwing that back in the ring).

My body actually wouldn't let me not carbo load, so I had to bow to it's whims.

My body actually wouldn’t let me not carbo load, so I had to bow to its whims.

‘How did you even run on it?’ queried both the physio and masseuse. Dumb optimism, I tell you – it’s powerful stuff.

Thus I was in the cheering squad for Tarawera thanks to Barefoot Inc taking me along for the ride. And while I would have loved to run, watching was actually kinda cool. What I liked most was seeing so many friends running and getting a true overview of what has become a MASSIVE event. From speedsters Sage and Ruby and Tim and Vajin and Brendan and Mick and Beth and Shona and co flying, through to Brian rocking in ten minutes before the cut-off – and cruising out carrying nothing but one gel (tough man). I really enjoyed the athlete’s seminar on Friday too.

Some random observations:

*Everyone knows the top runners are fast, but it was a bit humbling to realise just how fast. We got to Okataina, a bunch of people came through, we put up a tent, ate nuts, talked smack, some more people came through…and I noticed that Imaginary-Dawn was still half an hour off arriving. (Imaginary-Dawn had a good day overall though, for anyone wondering, despite slowing a bit on the hills.)

One runner mused on how to avoid single track congestion without being reported.

One runner mused on how to avoid single track congestion without being reported.

* Kristian copes well with every second conversation being about how Ruby’s going, what training she’s been doing, how cool she is, what she has for breakfast and her favourite brand of toilet paper. Luckily he likes her a lot.

*After a few hours the carnage began and it was slightly worrying to realise I was envious of peoples’ pain. Well, not pain as such, but the intensity of the experience they were having and the challenge of testing themselves on the terrain and distance – I wonder how I would cope with this? It’s these extremes that draw us to ultrarunning, I guess. It was also gut-wrenching at times though, especially when people were truly hurting or getting told they couldn’t continue.

Masochist much?

Masochist much?

* It was also humbling to be reminded than spectating/supporting is enjoyable, but even in an awesome race full of guns, it’s really not as exciting as running. Presuming I’ll be back, supporters get extra kudos next time! Having said that, having the opportunity to help a few friends fill a pack or just cheer them on was one of the coolest aspects of watching.

*I think watching Jenni was also one of my favourite parts of the day. So proud! I knew she could do it.

*Watching Ruby was amazing too but I’ve never seen her do anything except win decisively so had difficulty envisioning anything else. Didn’t have to. Star.

*I finally got to meet Deb Nicholl in person and she was awesome.

* Loved seeing someone else casually breastfeeding at an aid station mid-race, and a wee one too. Go Nadine!

Ruby and Kristian and their sounds on the last leg

Ruby and Kristian and their sounds on the last leg

* Another (obvious) realisation: even when you get to the start-line fine, anything can happen. People hurt themselves, their tummies don’t work, they cramp, they bonk, they fall down hills. So many class athletes throughout the field had issues and that’s just what happens when you attempt hard unpredictable missions. They can come back in style though. Vicky pulled out at 40k, only to pace Darren 17k further to his finish. It was sobering to see elite runner Jason Schlarb walking v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y into the aid station on his return and having a good long sit (and great to see him sprint into the 100k finish later). Shona was really disappointed not to have the race she’d hoped for, retiring at 85k – and then one week later smashes the 100 miler at Northburn.

*Obvious realisation #3 or #4 – places and time really don’t matter so much. It’s all about the journey, man, and people have such amazing journeys irrespective of those measures. I’m remembering that next time I’m angsting mid-race too.

I’m not too phased about missing out now (promise). Tarawera is done and that’s how it was meant to be this year. It was a privilege to watch, and I’m enjoying living vicariously through some amazing blogs. Ironically, after several weeks of no running I’ve acquired a weird fatigue/virus thing, like chicken pox without the pox, so all I’m aiming for now is regaining my normal energy. Then we’ll get the running going again, and then…who knows.

From dumb optimism to dumb rehab!

From dumb optimism to dumb rehab!

100 – 0 = Lame.

“The field at Tarawera is AMAZING this year. I’d almost rather watch the race than run in it.”

Talk about being careful what you wish for. I uttered this glib statement several times during training for the 2013 Vibram Tarawera Ultramarathon. The first part is true enough – here’s the men, and naw, I even snuck in at the bottom of the women’s – but the second isn’t so much. I entered the 100k race around July, meaning I have been looking forward to it for seven months. Build up to Kauri 70k, run lots over summer and come in properly fit this year, went the plan.

The friendly atmosphere and meeting new people was a highlight of the training camp.

The friendly atmosphere and meeting new people was a highlight of the training camp.

This plan went well until two weeks ago. Really well, considering, although of course I’d been complaining it wasn’t enough. Kauri was great. 2013 brought semi-consistent 100k weeks and solid long runs, notably a very enjoyable 60k with fellow Tarawerans at Lake Ngaroto, a double ascent of Te Aroha, finally ticking ‘run to Raglan’ off the bucket list, and Mal’s excellent training camp. I even got my iron levels soaring into the normal zone.

So it was all going just dandy until an innocent 5k buggy run brought it crashing down. That achilles is unusually sore, I mused, stepping on a wonky brick during the last kilometre. Ooh look, we’re on track for a buggy PB. Sprint!

I got the buggy PB – 22 minutes and some change – and lost the 100k. Didn’t know that at the time though, so I ran and hobbled us another 5k home. From there my hopes and progress looked a bit like the revised Tarawera elevation chart.

*”This seems to be a proper injury. There’s three weeks to go though! Heaps of time.”

*”This still really hurts.” Sulk and eat almond butter with a spoon.

Thinking positive

Thinking positive

*Feels a bit better! Maybe I can make it. I WILL make it. Think positive and spend money, ordering all my gels for the race and some new shorts. Draw quick picture depicting my awesome healthy legs and put it by my computer – that can’t fail to work.

*Wait 4 days. Try to jog, for 20 minutes, at walking pace. Can’t. Sulk and eat more almond butter.

*Race course gets changed due to fire risk, so I’ve covered the distance before. Slight consolation, except I still really want to run it.

*Start to ogle less munted achilles, including speedy two-year-old offspring’s (so lithe and undamaged), and contemplate transplant. 

*Wait two more days. Jog for 40 minutes, with minimal pain. I love running! Running is awesome! I’m going to be all healthy and fresh for Tarawera.

*Figure I should test out running for an hour if I’m going to be running for 12 or 13, so I try it, nice and slow, on grass, followed by an aquajog. Screw you, says the ungrateful achilles and transforms into a sore spongy mango-like shape.

It was downhill from there, really. With help, I slowly talked myself into letting the 100k go and doing the relay – only 38k! This was a good intermediate step. After work yesterday, the physio said the injury was as bad as it had been initially and implied that while I might get to the end of 38k, any running was a dumb idea in regards to

Being a good sport in recovery

Being a good sport in recovery

future endeavours and the speed of healing. So, bye bye Tarawera. That’s ok, I thought. It’s just a race. There’ll be more. This faux-zen exterior revealed itself as pure denial as I set off biking home, got a huge lump in my throat and pretty much bawled. (You can kinda get away with that on a bike.)

Kids are cool for perspective though, aren’t they? After an extra lap or so round the block to calm down I got back. Mummy! said Alba, sprinting up (with her lovely undamaged achilles). Did you have a good day at work? Can we lie down in your bedroom and have some milk? And pretty much just like that I felt ok again. Rich chocolate ice cream helped, and the massage that was booked ahead to get me ready for the race. I have to make more almond butter, because Alba’s started eating it by the spoon too.

It still sucks when you can’t do something you’ve been building up to for ages. It will be bittersweet seeing everyone run away in a surge of adrenaline on Saturday at 6.30am, and I get a slight envious ache at seeing all the fully-warranted excitement on the Facebook group. My gels and shorts arrived this morning.

Ultimately though, it’s not that important. It’s a peculiarly niche issue, not being able to run an ultra, and would pale beside family health issues or anything like that. I’ll be back.

As I’ve said, the field at Tarawera is AMAZING this year, and there’re worse things in the world than watching a world-class ultra. After being out for ages Ruby Muir knows all about lame injuries, which must be doubly frustrating when you’re phenomenally fast. I think she’s going to smash it. It will be cool to cheer, especially my lovely running mates Jenni and Oscar and Brian, and the Barefoot Inc athletes, and everyone, really. Go hard and treasure the opportunity.