Back on the horse – Huntly

(May not in fact contain horses).

I ran Huntly 10k today, because I could and the price was right. The achilles pain is easing off, meaning I’m edging back into training. Hooray! I decided to wear a silly outfit because I figured it would slow me down and remind me I’m not racing – thanks Helen and Sandra for the morphsuit and tutu components.

Yar! Image by The Edge - https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151590331142159.1073741831.196135892158&type=1

Yar! Image by The Edge – 97.8 Waikato

It all went fine, really. There’s a bit of an ache in me ankle which I’m icing as I type, but it’s not major. I like the variety of the Huntly course, and the river views – it’s like crossing the Harbour Bridge but slightly littler. The costume was rather warm but seemed to make people smile. I was sensible starting and kept a pretty consistent pace. Luckily I knew the k markers were for the half or I might have been confused/excited to have done 2k in 7 minutes.

They put a couple of hills in the 10k this year. Sneaky! Athough that didn’t matter, because I wasn’t racing, right? If I have one irritation with today, it was my default runner’s instincts. Hey look, there’s Oscar, I thought around the 7k mark. It would be really cool to chat, maybe we could even cross the line together. And did I? Nope. Whizz, bye. A couple of ks on and I’m slowly slowly slowly getting closer to Tracey, who is awesome and we haven’t run together for aaages. I’ll catch up and we can cross the line, it’ll be great. So did I? Nope. 400m to go and brain says sprint. Thus finish line fun is sacrificed for 6 seconds, in a time that’s 3 minutes or so off a PB and was never meant to be fast. What a knob. Sorry guys! So that was my philosophical lesson of the day: chill the heck out and don’t let the brain’s central governor spoil the fun.

The coolest part about the day was possibly the baking. Dead heat between Jenni’s chocolate chickpea cookies and Sandra’s carrot cake muffins. Yum.

Also excellent: Hawks rocking the party all over the shop, a few awesome nutters running to the race from Auckland, top notch whanau support, and the fact that I had a tutu over the onesie. Good to be back.

 

What I really think about when running

I was able to run for an HOUR today, which is quite significant. It was actually about 70 minutes, because I was in a happy daze and forgot to turn around. Anyway, it reminded me of this phenomenon:

what think I think about when I runThat’s overly glib though – in truth, I can do both simultaneously. Multitasking! (I don’t define food as trivial.)

smoothie and almond butter

What’s not to like?

 

Otherwise fine

achilleshowyougoingMy mum was over this weekend and we attended a race at the Hawks. “Runners seem to just greet your achilles,” she observed afterwards. Ah, runners. We understand each other, and the awesomeness of running, and thus civilities take a logical unrepressed order:

– “How are you?” (ie, your injury).

– “Still haven’t got the achilles right so that’s frustrating, but otherwise I’m fine.” (Done.)

Whereas everyday life non-runner greetings go more like this:

– “How are you going?”

– “Great!” (Inside voice: “Apart from NOT RUNNING. Nice operational legs and tendons you have there, which you’re rampantly wasting by NOT RUNNING on them”).

I’m joking, sort of. Cue blog tumbleweeds, anyway. I haven’t written anything for a while because I haven’t run much for a while. The achilles/plantaris injuries have been taking a glacial pace to improvement, but I’ve been super patient and not disobeyed the physio at all aside from some generous estimates on what might constitute a 3k jog. It’s currently in a 2 steps forward, 1 step back stage but hopefully, hopefully, heading in the right direction. Still eating almond butter off a spoon as consolation.

I attended a Kugs advanced running workshop a few weeks ago and enjoyed that a lot, especially tying Jenni up with elastic. Lots of interesting exercises and info – I recommend it.

Weirdly I have been way more tired and generally blah in the 6 weeks since stopping the 100k per week regime. A recent doctor’s visit was inconclusive, which I interpret as meaning I’m allergic to not running. First club race back on Sat though – hooray. It’s not quite the loopy NZ 100k champs, which I really wanted to do this Sunday (good luck all!). Or T42 and Rotorua Marathon (good luck to you all as well.)

If you didn’t catch it on Facebook, this excellent video of the Kauri Run has just come online. It’s 20 minutes, but it’s very good – great editing and coverage of the whole field. Kerry sings. I potter along (rambled about it last year).. There are hills and coast and trails and it’s funny. It definitely gives a real taste of the charm and challenge of Kauri.

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.

Buggy running – top ten tips

Being able to run with a stroller can be a lifesaver when you’re getting a bit stir-crazy or child-sleep isn’t a happening thing. Here are some tips and observations.

1 – Get a good running stroller. Ok, that’s kind of a no-brainer. But some people have strollers that are fine for walking but awkward for running – perhaps a bit heavy or difficult to turn. This puts them off from the start, meaning they miss out on all the fun. If you’re wanting to run regularly, it’s well worth picking up a second-hand model that’s nice to use. I’m very fond of our well-used Mountain Buggy Urban but there seem to be loads of good options, including some with big speedy wheels. Try before you buy.

2 – Take snacks and distractions and get used to multitasking. However, this is good ultramarathon training. After you’ve distributed crackers and sung The Wheels on The Bus 10 times while negotiating pavement bumps and keeping your steps light, opening and consuming a gel in peace and quiet mid-race becomes a breeze.

buggy1

3 – Pump up the tyres, and check them regularly.

4 – Push with one hand, and focus on form. (If you can’t run while pushing the stroller with one hand, see tip 1.) Obviously two hands are good for hills and delicate steering and such, but I find that gripping with both hands on flat paths is a sign I’m too tense and probably at a weird angle bending forward. You’re going for high cadence and low effort. This might mean almost jogging on the spot on occasion but it’s comfortable in the long run (so to speak).

5 – Investigate good routes and explore lots.

twinstatistics_002105_m6 – Go slow at first, nice and relaxed and slow. Easy pace means fun. Don’t expect to maintain a no-buggy per-km rate just yet. (Unless you’re crazy fast. Having said that, Lance Brew has been breaking spirits at Hamilton’s Eastside 5k too with his sub-20 efforts – wonder if he’ll slow down when he acquires two new additions? A triple buggy may be required.)

7 – Run with friends and gossip en route.

8 – Make it a sweet ride. I put Alba’s old moses basket mattress in her stroller so it’s pretty snug and conducive to sleeping. Hooray for buggy sleeps and sane parents.

9 – Run to do errands. A bonus of running with a stroller is that you can take plenty of stuff, like a full change of clothes.

10 – Remember other people are around when talking to your child. See below. True story.

snuggle

Recent running reading reviewed

Motherhood has curtailed reading time a tad but here are a few running books I enjoyed at the end of last year. Further recommendations are most welcome.

Eat and Run – Scott Jurek
Ok, I’ll say it right off – I like Eat and Run a lot and decided quickly that it was one I wanted to own. It mixes an engaging life story with great insights and advice, and includes delicious recipes at the end of each chapter. Somehow, I came out totally wanting to be vegan. Although that urge remains in the realms of vegan-curious for now, this aspirational quality permeates the book’s titular focus. It’s essentially about running smart and eating smart, and makes a pretty solid case for both.

Jurek had a difficult childhood, stumbled into ultras sort of by accident and then proceeded to carve up Western States and many other ultramarathons repeatedly. He’s a serious and inventive vegan, and makes the best case for a plant-based diet I’ve read. The recipes were one of the convincing factors in buying the book, as I kept going back to them. They can be frustrating initially if your pantry is as ordinary as mine – damn it, we’re all out of sprouted sorghum and mesquite powder! – but stand up well to substitution. Mostly. I made vegan gluten-free pancakes out of scraps I found and they had structural integrity issues, but tasted good. My favourite is still the chocolate adzuki bean bars.

The running stories and advice are excellent and make me want to do back-to-back-to-backs up mountain ranges. Alba might not approve though. She rates this book due to its photos, despite their somewhat repetitive nature. (‘Man running!’ ‘Man and dog running!’ ‘Man running on mountain!’ ‘Lady running!’ No, still the man – oh sure, whatever.)

Honest, genuinely inspiring, and highly recommended.

Just a little run around the world – Rosie Swale-Pope
This one’s been around a couple of years now but hadn’t made it into my frame of reference. It’s also highly inspiring. I might have to slow up on the inspiring books while I have a young child, as she probably wouldn’t appreciate me dashing off to run across continents and take on wolves either. Perhaps I could just run to Raglan for now.

The gist is in the title – after losing her beloved husband, Rosie Swale-Pope runs around the world over five years raising money for charity, taking what she needs with her. Her style is relaxed and humble while the stories are often mind-boggling. Insane coldness, wolves, a naked gunman and frostbite all feature. It’s a phenomenal expedition, really, related with humour and honesty.

In a sense it’s a great contrast to read next to Eat and Run due to the simplicity of Swale-Pope’s diet – she’s often on 1/3 cup of buckwheat groats per meal (damn pantry, we’re all out of buckwheat groats too). They would agree on the central place eating and running take in life though. Perhaps the sentiment that resonated most for me was her musings on just how much we can really do without.

So I didn’t buy her book, but I liked it whole lot.

Keep on Running: the highs and lows of a marathon addict – Phil Hewitt
The trouble with reading about Jurek and Swale-Pope is that most running books will consequently suffer in comparison. This book is light and likeable enough – a rundown of one average UK guy’s discovery of marathons and his subsequent 42.2k experiences – but lacked a bit of pizzaz for me just due to being narrower in scope and following a less dynamic character.

It’s written well though, as Hewitt is a journalist, and prompts some wistful envy of just how many interesting marathons are a day away when you’re in Europe. It would make good research for anyone considering a European marathon, as he reports on a fair few in detail. He didn’t enjoy Paris as much as I did but did also note the public pee-fest at the start.

Embarrassing runner’s admission – it kept me reading partially to see whether his PB would get below mine (no, not quite). If you particularly like marathons, this is a worthy read. If you prefer ultras and weird stuff instead at this point in time, by all means give it a go. Just don’t expect anything transcendent.

Running to Extremes – Lisa Tamati
I found Running to Extremes a good enjoyable yarn. Tamati’s first book had a wider autobiographical focus whereas this has a straightforward approach – several detailed race/run reports of interesting adventures plus thoughts on various aspects of ultrarunning – and this simplicity works well. It was nice to have a New Zealand perspective in the mix while I was on this ultra-masochism-book kick.

There’s a certain fascination in reading about the intricacies of intense multi-day expeditions such as the Gobi March and how tough, and sometimes dangerous, they can be. Unlike some of Jurek’s and to a degree Swale-Pope’s experiences/events, I’m not drawn to emulate the hot long stuff yet. As Alba would say, maybe soon, maybe later.

Some of the running advice was aimed more at newer runners but I found some of Tamati’s observations timely, including the need to be careful with adrenal recovery and how easy it is to get sick slightly after an intense event.

Pretty interesting and easy to read. More NZ ultrarunning stories in published form please? I’m definitely looking forward to reading Malcolm Law’s when it comes out.

Race report: Kauri 70k

Seems that the longer the run, the longer you can go on about it. Get some snacks and settle in.

The Kauri 70k last year was my first ultra back post-baby, and was fun for that reason alone, not to mention all the lovely people I met. This time round I wanted a bit of speed. Training this time had at least happened on occasion – two months of good Sunday efforts from 2 – 3.5 hours duration, a couple of good Te Arohas, occasional runs to work and the good old buggy runs.

Support team organising the nutrition

I had a vague feeling I was fitter, but no proof. Waihi Xterra marathon could have been an indication, but turned into a (fun) mudbath. Optimistically, I aimed to beat last year’s Kauri time of 9.09 and ideally knock half an hour off. My favourite fast women seem to be occupied elsewhere this year (the 32k, Kepler tapering, other events) but you never know if there’s a dark horse among the entrants. Either way, the main goal for me would be a solid time…and a fun time.

My taper ended up being decidedly generous, starting almost 5 weeks out in terms of long runs, and my final carb-loading efforts more so. I love eating, and pancakes with lemon and sugar seemed a good way to start a Friday. Since reading Eat and Run (very good book) I’ve become quite addicted to Scott Jurek’s chocolate adzuki bean cake, so I whipped up some of that too.

The drive to Coromandel is no fun for a carsickness sufferer. Add in another hour or so of winding gravel up to Fletcher Bay, and I was stubbornly gritting

Pretty but winding

my teeth – you’re not going anywhere, precious carbs! Finally we made it, and put up the tent (thanks to Fiona for that). Time for a swim! Alba had a big freak out at the sea, and a further freak out at me being immersed in it. Poor child. I refrained from mentioning the imminent abandonment.

Sleep was intermittent and minimal, thanks to a starfish bed hog (toddler) and general excitement (me). At least being awake at 4am was a good chance for some more adzuki bean cake. I snuck out without waking Alba and geared up around 5am. Nervy runners swarmed the toilets and adjusted packs in the gloom as the energy mounted.

Tent + toddler

5.30 and GO! We trotted gently up the hill to start and had some stunning views over the sea of Great Barrier in the sunrise. I could see the silhouette of Kerry and his buddy bobbing along up ahead. (In these shots in the Sportzhub roundup it looks like a halo. Teehee.) The first 12k is great gentle running along the coast path. I had a varied stash of gels and whatnot to keep life interesting, from Boosta slabs to Hammer to Gus. Stony Bay prompted a stop – no more Leppin, maybe?

I felt good overall though (too good?) and stretched out over the gravel road hills for an hour or so (too fast?). Every now and then I wondered if I was lost, but Ryan-who-I-just-met stayed reassuringly behind for a while. He had an amazing support team that put up signs and spraypainted the road.

Inane ways to amuse oneself #45: ‘Gel Idol’

More kms, more meandering, another bay appeared and the rain started. Children in pajamas waved out of caravan windows. We headed into the farm tracks, which requires some loin-girding. I’m not used to being a leading woman and it’s kind of novel – people look surprised and cheer slightly more than when you’re 2nd or 3rd. The video team get me to hold the camera on a pole and talk while I trudge up an epic hill in the farm tracks – a challenge to the coordination.

Inane ways to amuse oneself #21: Butchering dubious nursery rhymes your child likes (because you’re too sleepy to count correctly)

My memories of the first 38k from last year are happy wistful ones of girly gossip up hills with Kate and Natalie, and enjoying going running again. Somehow I managed to completely blank out a huge chunk of glute-clenching elevation, so this was a slight shock to encounter. Ok, a big shock. It’s lonely and wet and the digging deep ensues. Who put all these hills there? Then we have to run down again. Sheesh. It’s pretty cool descent though, exciting and not too slippery. Farmland and cow pats bode well for hitting the halfway mark soon.

Inane ways to amuse oneself #74: Singing complete with lame jokes

My Spyridon FiveFingers are going great guns, despite much freshly graded gravel and a good range of terrain. I was warned that I’d probably want to change to thicker ‘normal’ shoes at half way and accordingly spent half an hour searching the house for a matching pair that had laces. It’s been months since I’ve used anything other than fives, but better safe than sorry? Luckily my feet were all good and the old shoes stayed in the drop bag.

LTH made me smile afterwards – watching at halfway, she was inspired by the way you can easily undo the front clips of the UltrAspire pack as opposed to wriggling awkwardly into it. (It’s a fun image though. I should draw it.) And yay for Jenni! (bottom left, getting water ready).

The flat road to Waikawau offered a chance to unwind, stretch out in a comfortable rhythm and bust out some more adzuki bean slice. The buses came past for the 32k starters and I got some bemused looks out the window. Coming into Waikawau was a huge boost, as a who’s who of awesome cheered me on – Carl, Alba, Jenni, LTH, Duncan, Brian, Ruby, Kristian. Jenni had honed her champion support skills helping Kerry and the water refill went without a hitch. I left thoroughly buoyed, with a huge grin. This was lucky, as the high tide meant the 2k soft sand was pretty draining and I seemed to weigh 200kg. The river crossing offered a nice cool down though, and having clear paths into the forest this year was luxurious. Starting the ultra a bit earlier was a good call by organisers I reckon.

All seemed to be going smoothly until the climbing to the lookout really kicked in and my legs felt unusually wimpy. Oh no, I went out too hard, went through my head. In retrospect I think the sand just sapped a bit of impetus. It sort of came back, or at least I kept moving forwards. I met Grant-from-Thames around here and we took on the next few kms of hurricane-hit ridge, running and yarning over the next 10k or so. The hills up here go UPsy DOWNsy repeatedly, rollercoaster styles so it’s a pretty stop-start endeavour.

Soft sand – one of the trickier parts.

I’ve always been curious whether elites run all of the steep climbs in Kauri or walk like normal people. In a lucky piece of timing, Vajin Armstrong came past leading the 32k at exactly the steepest point on the course while Grant and I were trudging up in companionable but focused silence. So was he running? Was he ever. It was almost a mountain goat skip, light and easy, with plenty of breath to mention how glad he was that these rock faces weren’t downhills. Truly inspiring to behold. As was Ruby, who swept past a little later, virtually floating – and singing – as she headed off to claim second place overall. All class.

In Eat and Run, Jurek mentions that when you run the same event often enough, you identify where ‘your’ race really begins. After 4 times at Kauri (2 x 32k, 2 x 70k), I can pretty much pinpoint it – around 14k or so from home, when you crest the last grovelling rocky hill. I’m not sure why – every person is running the same terrain after all – but it’s just a lovely stretch of trail, and somehow brings in my second wind (or third, fourth, fifth) and an uncanny sense of wellbeing.This year I inadvertently ditched Grant there and soon caught James who was in the final painful throes of his first ultra. We ran together for a while and chatted but eventually my perky cheerfulness gave him an urgent need to vomit and he stopped (well, it was either caused by that or the preceding 58kms). I roll on, glorying in how awesome it is to be running here. Did I mention it’s a lovely piece of trail? The ‘ks to go’ hits single figures. It’s always great to make the final aid station and head up to the tower (any qualms I may have had about walking disappeared around the 30k mark.)

Last year the technical stretch to the trig did my head in a bit. I’d run it twice before, but the faster context of the 32k meant it was over quickly, and offered a good nippy chance to make up ground on more cautious competitors. This time I was very much the cautious competitor and was mentally prepared to take my time. A few more 32k-ers came past but not loads. I got to the trig safely and blew it a kiss.

Woohoo!

The aptly named downhill Success track is the most fun part of Kauri, but the caution remained given I was already heading for a decent time and result. I caught up to Jason Good who I’d run with briefly at the start of the 70k way back in that dim morning. His ‘Oh, hello..’, while friendly, contained a slight suggestion that he wasn’t overly keen to be ‘chicked’ for third place, and he found another gear for the next 4km. I was wavering and not up for the challenge so just kept rolling on down. The road arrived – 2k to go! Coromandel Town always seems bigger at the end of the race, but finally that beautiful gate loomed. Round the field and home! Finishing ultras rocks. 8.21, 23 minutes inside the course record, 4th overall and 49 minutes faster than last year.

It was great to see Carl and Alba, who had been eating strawberries with Ruby. Lesley had a great run

Team BI (sans super Ruby)

for second in the 32. Kerry was relaxed in a sleeping bag having been home for 90 minutes. At prizegiving we got trees and the famous kauri bowls. I’ve been ogling them for more than four years, so it’s satisfying to have my own after a solid effort. Kerry gave a very good speech about his buddy and the child abuse stats it represented. Brian Smith became the oldest finisher of the 32k at 80!

On the way home, my stomach had less success retaining rehydration than the carb-loading, but by then I didn’t care. The run was over and it was excellent.

My times extrapolated: 4:15 for the first 38k, 3 minutes or so refilling at Waikawau, and 4.03 for the 32k.

Recovery has gone surprisingly well. No major muscle soreness to speak of, just a general tiredness, and my feet are fine (toenails all accounted for). Many thanks to the organisers, my whanau, fanatastic friends, and Barefoot Inc for the gear and support (do go and enter their Tarawera competition, which I was one of the lucky recipients of last year). Read Kerry’s race report too, and Ruby’s.

What’s next? Tarawera, I guess, but I’m open to suggestion in the meantime..

Race report: Waihi Xterra Marathon

Waihi Xterra Marathon was my first bigger post-baby event last year, so I was keen to see if I’d got any fitter. Aims were threefold – beat last year’s time, place top 3, run most of Karangahake, and generally have fun. Ok, that’s four.

At 5am I woke up, heard the rain, and suddenly had a yearning to be doing the ultra. But the marathon would have to do. Child is happy to be abandoned with grandma this year, and I am happy to zoom off for Dickey’s Flat. We lined up for the boot wash and I scan my fellow masochists. Where are Vicky and Kristian? (Peer pressured to upgrade to the 60k, I learn later). Hmm, that lady looks fast, must be Lesley Turner-Hall. The first half hour passes by pleasantly as we all trot along by the river. I’m not sure whether to queue-jump or not, so just take the patient approach.

Odd fact: I am called ‘Ruby’ on three separate occasions during the race. I’d like to think it’s because I am speeding like a gazelle, but it’s probably just that one muddy female in the bush looks much like another. A girl can dream though. (“I am one with the bush! I eat hills for breakfast! I am Ruby Muir!”)

Driving to Waihi yesterday, Alba had very definite opinions about appropriate music choices. These now resurface on repeat as a background soundtrack in my mind. At least they help the cadence.

A flea and a fly in a flue
Were imprisoned, so what could they do?
Said the fly, “let us flee!”
Said the flea, “Let us fly!”
So they flew through a flaw in the flue

This section of track really is great fun. I’m able to meander along at my own pace and generally have a good skip around. Whee! I then meet several people coming towards me and get confused. Am I lost? While I’m pondering this, we pop out onto farmland and I get lost. Good one Dawn! It’s only 3 or 4 minutes but slightly irritating.

Onwards and upwards, however. River crossings and the kauri track await.

I went to the animal fair,
The birds and the beasts were there,
The big baboon by the light of the moon
Was combing his auburn hair
The monkey he got drunk
And sat on the elephant’s trunk
The elephant sneezed and fell on his knees
And that was the end of the monk.

The climb up to the hut goes well (cheers, occasional Centre Place stair jaunts). I catch up with the people who passed me while I was wandering off the track chatting to cows. All is going reasonably well until the track gets steep and super slippy. Much as I love my Spyridon  fivefingers, and I do, very slick wet downhill is the first thing I’ve found they don’t really suit, and my usual galumph becomes a wimpy tiptoe. Having said that, most shoes aren’t designed for this. The mud gets progressively muddier, and becomes entertainingly waterslide-style in places.

Running back through the start area I get a second wind and holler encouragingly at Vicky (Woolley) who has been running much further already, cos she’s tough. The shorter course runners are trickling back in, but there are no major holdups and the gentle wide track feels blissfully cruisy after the preceding terrain.

Last year I trudged and grumbled up Karangahake grumbling about the neverending ascent – hence the vow for a more dynamic effort this time. And it works! I run happily up everything that’s runnable (cheers, occasional visits to hilly places). It still feels long-ish though, and I’m admiring of the ultra runners who are several hours tireder than me and still going. Despite hanging out for the downhill, it all comes a bit unstuck once it finally arrives. BANG! I fall over three times in quick succession on the wet clay, and add to that every few minutes. Telling myself I am Killian Jornet does not work when I am in fact an ungainly seal.

Somewhere around here I meet Charlie again who’s had some good slips also. We have been discussing Spyridons since about March and he’s finally invested in some. This won’t be the brightest debut for them unfortunately, just due to the conditions, but he’s still enthusiastic and going strong. One interesting thing about wearing the fives today though – my feet end up completely fine after 6 hours in the mud (no sore toenails, no nothing) and that’s pretty cool.

I squelch and slither on home, nipping over the finish in 5.59. Yuss! Beat my 2011 time by one minute! Ergo, I AM fitter than last year. The other aims line up too. I’m in the top 3rd of the field and more than happy to come in second woman to LTH. (While chatting at prizegiving later I mishear her time as closer to mine and agonise over the getting-lost-bit, but she is in fact a comfortable 10 minutes ahead. Legend!) Also definite legends are all the inaugural ultra crew…super tough.

Fived and survived! Charlie and I rock the Spyridons in style, post-race.

And was it fun? Absolutely! A brilliant post-30th treat.

Then I went home to delicious boeuf bourguignon courtesy of Dad, and my cousin looked after Alba while I got a massage from Mum. My family are awesome.

Post-script: You’d think I would have learned something, but precisely one week later I am running on a steeper downhill, in worse mud, wearing my road fivefingers (Bikilas). Good one Dawn! This all comes about via a chance meeting with Duncan from Tauranga at a family wedding in the Hokianga. (Password: “Yeah, I like long distances”. His countersign: “Do you know Kerry Suter?”) Next morning we hit the hills. You can tell Duncan’s a runner because he has to have a crack at the anecdotal Fastest Known Time on the steep section, temporarily handing over the excess weight of his backpack. We tortoise up and find him snoozing at the top, and then have a splendid splash around for a couple of hours through the bush amid fog and wind and rain. Anyway, the moral of the story is: enjoy mud. Glorious.

Wanted: iron like a lion..

In case you needed to know, my iron stores are too low again, as they have been for years. There was a brief foray into the normal range for a while there, but it’s apparently lapsed. But why, iron gods, why? What did I ever do to you?

Ok, I’m female, and we tend to inconveniently lose a bunch of iron on a regular basis. However, thanks to pregnancy and lactational amenorrhea, that hasn’t applied for 2.5 years and counting (handy). Breastfeeding might counteract that right back by yoinking a bit, although the amount shouldn’t be period-equivalent nowadays.

Ok, I run, sometimes for a long time, and that kills wussy iron cells through the feet pounding, and sweat and suchlike. But plenty of people run and don’t lose iron, right? And I haven’t even trained much lately.

But that’s it. On the plus side, I eat red meat reasonably often (vegetarianism stint lapsed on commencement of relationship with carnivore – so slack, I know), plus green stuffs and vitamin C stuff and porridge and smoothies and barley grass, and take the ferrotab supplements sometimes, soon to be more frequently, and don’t drink tea, or milk, or coffee. It’s not a perfect diet – mmm, cake – but also not too bad.

Killer iron-building tips welcome..