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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.