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!
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.
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.
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.
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.