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).

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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!

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Here goes nothing!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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..

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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.

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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.)

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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).

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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.

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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 >>

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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

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.

 

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.