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).

279

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!

IMG_1961

Here goes nothing!

IMG_1905

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.

IMG_2094

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.

IMG_2243

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.

IMG_2426

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.

IMG_2262

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.

IMG_2461

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.

IMG_2531

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.

IMG_2608

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..

IMG_2707

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.

IMG_2815

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.)

285 undies

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).

IMG_2886

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.

IMG_2973

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 >>

286 snooze

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.

284 want computer

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

278

 

 

5 tips for running Tarawera Ultramarathon

Tarawera Ultramarathon is nearly here! I’m down to share tips at a Hawks get-together, and when I wrote them down as notes they turned into pictures. They didn’t turn into colour pictures though, because my child has apparently eaten all my good waterproof pens. Enjoy.

tatatip1

1. Appreciate the moment – frequently. The start of an ultra is MAD, in a fantastic way, but take a minute to yourself in the dark and think about why you’re here. Think of the 5.30am starts to fit in training before work, and the ridiculously long runs you really weren’t in the mood for and the adventures with friends that have all prepared you for this day. Appreciate the victory of making the start-line, of having courageous and exciting life goals, of having a body that can do this. And then, don’t dwell on what has passed away, or what is yet to be. Just run, and revel in it.

This goes for later on as well. You might be grumpy, and have sore legs, and low blood sugar, but you’re still in one of the most beautiful places in the world and have limbs with the grace to perambulate you in a forward direction. Injured runners who couldn’t make the startline are insanely envious and might slap you for whinging.

2014 was easily my most enjoyable Tarawera to date, because I was relaxed from the start and had no expectations. I recommend it.

2. Take it easy.

take it easy

That follows on from being relaxed and is kind of a no-brainer, but START SLOW. Have fun. Breathe, talk, make faces at the cameras. Even if you’re doing 60k rather than 100k, you should definitely be feeling full of beans at Okareka. It’s much too easy to pick up the pace imperceptibly along those straights between the water tank and Blue Lake and later regret it. Don’t do that.

3. If it’s sore, sort it out

taratip3

Last year I had a niggly timing chip that eventually gouged its way into my ankle. I still have the scars from this because I couldn’t be bothered stopping to figure it out. If the race had been 100k, it could have been interrupted by this, so it’s worth taping a blister or removing the stone, or having the foresight to buy something like this.

4. Keep the core temp down.

taratip4

My hero for keeping cool in heat is US ultrarunner Pam Smith, who goes to the extent of ice in the knickers. Whatever you have available to you, make the most of it. A cup of water over the head at an aid station, a quick dip in the river or stashing some frozen drink in a drop bag? Worth a go. I was tipping water over myself even during last year’s cyclone.

 5. Removal of friction

taratip5

One more tip (just to keep it classy) – grease yourself up like a Turkish oil wrestler. I like Bodyglide, but anything of that ilk will do. It’s a long way. Things rub. Chuck a little bit of your preferred lubrication into your pack if you can. Unpredictable things will happen, but hopefully chafing won’t be one of them.

Enjoy the run.

I won’t be running 100k at Tarawera – long boring story of uncooperative health – but am excited to be running the first leg for a Hawks team, and cheering everyone on. See you there!

 

Blast from the past: Paris Marathon 2010

I wrote this four years back to pitch it as a travel article to a newspaper but never got around to it. Enjoy! Pre-child Europe jaunt.

Pee for Paree

Pee for Paree

People travel to foreign big city marathons for the buzz, the energy, the new experiences. The awe-inspiring amount of public urination before the 2010 Paris Marathon presumably falls into the latter category. Truly, I have never before seen so many men peeing. With these ritualistic tribes lining the streets, any polite aversion of eyes is pleasantly irrelevant.

Five months ago, entering Paris MoiMarathon to coincide with a planned Europe trip was an excellent idea. Since then, ultramarathon fatigue and recent injury (thwarting all training) suggest otherwise. However, we are here at ‘le departe’, with Nurofen, adrenaline and joie de vivre. Don’t try this at home. With 1 portaloo per 3000 runners, I’m glad today is not a nervous day.

The gun fires, probably – I can’t move or hear. A roar of glee sweeps back towards the Arc du Triomphe and the 40,000 strong crowd surges down Champs Elysees, euphoric (while maintaining impeccable pace judgement, of course). The early kilometres are a combination of marvelling at the surroundings and very careful placement of feet amid the mob. Someone falls. The first drink station is on one side only, causing a dangerous swerve to the side. But we trot along, buoyed by the constant support and the stunning beauty that is Paris.

DeparteMore than 80% of Paris Marathon entrants this year are male. With us femmes being generally sparse, the novelty prompts enthused cheering throughout. ‘Allez la femme!’ I hear repeatedly. Go girl! Encore la fille!

‘Vous êtes passés par une femme!’ calls a marshall teasingly to a man behind me. ‘Chicachicachica!’

At 11k, we hit the lovely Bois du Vincennes, and my injured leg throws in a protest. Merde. Limping with 31k to go is a bad sign. But after a kilometre or so of grimacing and muttering, it eases. Whether errant Nurofen or guardian running angel, I’m grateful.

Whee!

Whee!

A splendid variety of entertainment, or ‘animations’, lines the route, if runners need distraction. Running plus animation – two of my favourite things! We have ‘Chariots of Fire’ by bagpipe. Bizarre cheerleaders. Pink Floyd courtesy of a young cover band, with the Chateau du Vincennes in the background, and this juxtaposition is strangely poignant. But then many things have me moved, particularly the man running resolutely carrying a big Polish flag and the orange-clad teams pulling and pushing disabled runners in carts.

Better chocolate absorption? I'm in!

Better chocolate absorption? I’m in!

Running into the Bastille at the most popular support point, we hit a wall of sound. It’s tremendous. Above us is a winged statue with one leg outstretched. I wonder if it’s Mercury, as beloved of NZ’s own Lorraine Moller, and take heart from the fact. It turns out to be Winged Hope, which is also appropriate. Maybe I can make it after all. The carnage is beginning, though. Grimaces and limps abound, and a river of walkers widens as we pass the Eiffel Tower and stream through tunnels beside the Seine. One of these was where Princess Di died.

Next we conquer the rolling hills into Bois de Boulogne.

‘Seulement six kilometres, c’est facile!’ calls a cheery young thing. Easy? Pardon? Ce n’est pas facile! Has she tried this?

Sad decor, sad legs..

Sad decor, sad legs..

With 5k to go, a drinks table offers red wine and I down one on principle. At the next one, I revert to sports drink, or as it turns out, champagne. C’est la vie! Upon rounding a corner a man in elaborate national dress stands in the middle of the road. He’s slightly in the way and…holding a camel. Of course. Perhaps the wine is kicking in.

‘Bravo la femme, allez, allez!’ rings out one last time from a shriek behind me, and I dutifully sprint to l’arrive, to be enveloped by great relief.

Support crew

Support crew

In an hour, I will be hobbling painfully across the road among screaming vehicles, and cursing the prolific and steep metro stairs. I then learn that pedestrians are supposed to hobble under L’Arc du Triomphe, rather than dice with death. Tomorrow, an opportunistic cold dives gleefully on my fatigued immune system and I discover the limping and snuffling combination is seriously un-chic. In two days, we will miss our flight back to Heathrow, just pre-empting the expulsion of errant volcanic ash which would have made a much better excuse than vaguely miscalculating the distance to Charles de Gaulle because we were busy stuffing our faces in a boulangerie.

But for now, I appreciate the emotion of the man crying beside me as we stop, and breathe. We have run the Paris Marathon and life is good.

From the couch

Me and my germs listening to Talk Ultra in the lounge at 3am. Wild!

Me and my germs listening to Talk Ultra in the lounge at 3am. Wild!

I’m at home, by myself, on a beautiful day, with gifted garlic soup heating up in the kitchen. Life is grand. The only blight is the cold sitting like a small elephant on my nose. For the last few months my colleagues and friends have fallen like flies with loathsome lurgies but I’d become complacent. Seems like I don’t get sick. Must be all that healthy running. Then Wednesday’s run felt unusually flat, and it went downhill from there.

The silver lining is that I get to lie in the lounge and type delirious ramblings on to the internet. It’s been a little quiet blog-wise lately, mainly because I took some down time after Ultra-Trail Des Cagous (had a blast and the race report is up at Backcountry Runner, if you missed it). Recovery actually happened fast thanks to the relatively slow pace and soft surface – although 4 or 5 toenails are still MIA. But I then embraced laziness for its own sake, and sleep-ins and weight gain aren’t terribly exciting to read about. (On the latter: I don’t think my innovative high fat, high carb diet has a big future, but you’ve got to test these things.) kaimai_run

I don’t have specific races planned yet and reluctantly restrained myself from the Kepler entry fray due to logistics/budget. But I’m enjoying regular expeditions again. A couple of weeks ago, Ange and I abandoned our offspring and tested out a Kaimai route she’d wondered about – up on to the ridge, along the North-South track and down Thompson’s track.

Well, it got a big tick for adventure, and a minor cross for being less runnable than predicted. The ascent was fine, gravelly and day13straightforward. We paused at the top enjoying the view and the peace. Some nearby mystery hunters seemed to like it too. Turning right across the ridge, we hit some rugged overgrown terrain. With the per-kilometre pace sitting around 30 minutes, you’d probably call it a tramp not a run. Cold too, despite the fine day. The bush had that feeling that nothing ever really dries out.

Mums on the run! Found a little waterfall.

Mums on the run! There’s a waterfall behind us, promise.

Checking out the view - one of the benefits of running along a ridge.

Checking out the view – one of the benefits of running along a ridge.

Ange takes on a fun rocky part

Ange takes on a fun rocky part

Ladders, even

Ladders, even!

Rather nice..

Rather nice..

We found a good old-school hut, and wrote in the book. It was a little tricky finding the way back down again once we came out of the North-South track up top, but we got there eventually. Slip detouring added some extra road, so we were more than happy to get back to the car, clocking a mere 5 hours of adventure in total. Lots of fun. More please!

UTDC – the preamble (AKA ‘TMI’)

SAMSUNG‘You’ve run wearing a rectal thermometer before, right?’ asked Lillian, as she prepared the heat chamber. I laughed. Ho, ho, what witty banter! Ha ha ha. Ha..?

Yeah, it seemed she wasn’t joking. I figured doing the Ultra-Trail Des Cagous in New Caledonia would make for some interesting new experiences, but hadn’t expected them to kick in before leaving Hamilton.

Without a whole lot of training time after recovering from the 100k champs, I’d decided just to play with hills and warmth for two weeks, and Wintec’s School of Sport and Exercise had kindly agreed to assist with the latter. Cue the delights of a couple of sessions of monitored heat/humidity training. Many thanks to Lillian, Adrian and co for this opportunity. The aforementioned thermometer was actually no problem in practice but made for good war stories nonetheless. And Hadley gets coach points +1000 for taping the wire on to my back when required. It was interesting to see how quickly I got dumber over a mere 45 minutes of runnning in the heat – 80k could plumb new depths of dopey.

I also tried some Bikram hot yoga for the first time, which was intense but masochistically enjoyable by the third session. If only it was a tad cheaper. Also, the logistics started to look a bit like this, and that’s before adding in any child factors. I would like to do more though.

todolist

Hills were fun. Hills are always good. Oscar in his awesomeness accompanied me on some early morning Fanny Hill efforts, and I got over to Te Aroha with Ange, and Karangahake. Then it was pretty much taper time – again.

It feels like I haven’t ‘trained’ since pre-Tarawera in terms of proper mileage, but I hoped muscle memory would do the trick for my New Cal adventure. Spoiler – it pretty much did. Watch this space for an inordinately long writeup of a most excellent experience..

Trig with a view

Trig with a view

Trig with no view

Trig with no view

What’s next: deuxième partie

It turns out my comment about not entering any ultras for at least two months after the NZ 100k champs was a complete lie. Sorry, limbs. Encore une fois? (Wow, sudden late ’90s dance music flashback.)

For anyone who missed it, my 100k race report is over at Backcountry Runner. Short version: it went well, despite an overenthusiastic start. I ran 2k 50 times and got a PB and a cup. Also a drink bottle with a fabric handle, which Alba declared the best prize of all.

Since then, I’ve been a bit droopy and done not much. The hundy smashed my quads and energy reserves a lot more than Tarawera, maybe due to the surface, the speed and the extra 30k. I keep getting cajoling emails from the High50 Vertical Challenge who can’t comprehend my slackness, saying they see that I haven’t updated my Vertical Challenge log for some time now and what am I, some kind of crybaby flatlander wimp? The body’s creeping back into action though. I’m going to be a pacer for the first time at Huntly Half on Sunday and am more nervous about that than I would be taking part (responsibility!)

Also, I have been invited to an international race, which happens in three weeks. I’m quite excited about this.

woohooThe event is the Ultra-Trail Des Cagous in New Caledonia on June 7th –a pedestrian running of lowmountain range in semi autonomy organized by Nouvelle-Caledonie Aventure’. Take a moment and read Ruby’s report of the 53k version from last year, which she carved up as per usual despite running 7k extra and basically having to ski. This year Ruby is preparing to smash UTMB instead, sensibly forgoing the UTDC jaunt. Thus, I get to carry the torch, with trepidation and gratitude. It looks fairly epic. Jungle running in a new country!

I'm used to being a tortoise, not a lièvre

I’m used to being a tortoise, not a lièvre

Aspects of the description are slightly unnerving:

‘Every competitor can be submitted to a dope test, hanging and upon the arrival of the event.’ I’m fine with a drug test, but not sure about the hanging.. 

Anyway, it should be a grand adventure. I have an excuse to scatter arbitrary school French phrases around with abandon. There’s no time to train as such, so I’ll be going directly from recovery into taper. The level of elevation gain is new. I’m not going in completely green though – I did Cambridge Cross Country on Saturday, which had 4 metres, so it’s only another 3646 than that.

Deluded? Never! I’m off to the doctor today to be certified of sound body and mind. Wish me bonne chance.

What’s next?

“What’s next for you?”, asked everyone after Tarawera.

5k at Parkrun. After doing 74, 5k is fun but lung-busting.

5k at Parkrun. After doing 74, 5k is fun but lung-busting.

Aside from the glib responses (Sleep! Food! Basking in goal-completion-mode before stressing about something else!), I didn’t know at the time. With characteristic vagueness – let’s call it clarity of focus – I just didn’t want to look past Tarawera beforehand. So that all went fine, but the upshot was three weeks of umming and ahing. TNF Australia 100k? Hillary? Rotorua Marathon? T42? NZ 100km championships? All good contenders for different reasons. TNF would be brilliant but I’d like to plan ahead for it. The Hillary I would have loved to try and almost did but couldn’t quite swing the childcare/time away from home. Rotorua? There’s a certain pace-pressure in a road marathon which didn’t quite gel for me (one day though). T42 was a very strong possibility, being close to home with cool people at it, and a nice surface to run on. But for some reason the 100k champs got a little hook in my mind that wouldn’t let go. So the answer is, Christchurch on April 27th, for 50 x 2k laps of Hagley Park. That looks something like this:

00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000.

See? No problem.

As you can see, I’m working on the optimism. I’m not entirely sure why that was the choice, given my persistently stubborn achilles and the fact that I basically love trail running, but the format intrigues me. Also, there’s always been a reason I can’t do the champs for the last three years, but this year I feel like seizing the chance to try it out. It’ll be a different kind of adventure.

Screen shot 2014-04-22 at 11.31.01 AMNote to self: signing up for Mal’s Vertical Challenge while tapering, in Hamilton, for a flat ultramarathon, is not going to cover you in glory. Oh well, it’s for a good cause. Better start saving now. There’s still plenty of time to come and join me in my barely-undulating shame.

But what shall I wear?

Contrary to many, I find trail much more forgiving than road in a shoe sense. I can wear anything on the average trail, ideally Spyridon FiveFingers. Extended road, however, is a bit of an unknown. Champs like Wayne Botha can do the barefoot/minimal long distance thing on a hard surface, but I’m not confident enough at this point.

Over the last few weeks I’ve tried out every pair of shoes I own on a long run to see if anything comes up tops but nothing really helped. (Anyone would think it’s the tendons themselves that are the problem.) So the approach will be: take 5 pairs of shoes to ChCh for potential swapping, and rely on optimism/ adrenaline. Wish me luck.

outtoohard

Trying out a long road run

Lap dancing

As far as preparing the brain, I’ve been doing a few lap-tastic runs. Lake Ngaroto is a classic one to do three weeks out, and that session went pretty well. It was a slight cop-out in terms of surface though, being mainly quite soft.

I also headed to Ruakura for the good old club champs loop which went well until the achilles hurt, but was still sobering in that I’d be doing another 9 10ks.

Angry bird

Angry bird

Taitua Arboretum makes a pleasant set of laps, complete with toilets and water, and many chickens. (Why did the chicken cross the path? Because he apparently didn’t see the runner hobbling powering towards him. Sorry chicken).

Graham Dudfield’s speed sessions with the Hawks have started again, which I love. There’s a big mob of great people and the endorphins are a buzz, completely different to what you get running for several hours. Last Tuesday we ran reps of 500m around the lake and swallowed midges as the moon got eaten by the eclipse.

Five more sleeps till the hundred though, so for now it’s just low-key running. Time for resting, massages and optimism. Down time is on the cards after this one, whatever happens, with the aim of being all gung-ho and ‘BRING IT ON’ and uninjured next time an event happens. I’m still looking forward to it though. So that’s what’s next.

 

 

 

Vibram Tarawera Ultramarathon 2014 race report

SAMSUNGTarawera! The training was done and the time had come. The idea of finally being on the startline was tantalisingly close, but my almost-not-quite-maybe cooperating body kept me guessing until the last minute. I was hanging out for a reassuring pain-free jog in the final 10 days, but the achilles was being stubborn. By Tuesday I gave up trying and just decided not to run anymore before the race – if it felt like coming right on the day, so be it. Bring on some carb loading. I like carb loading.

On Thursday I went for a final loosen-up massage with Dale McClunie. Alba and I threw many random things in the car and drove over to Vegas.

SAMSUNGThe no-running plan meant I missed out on the fun run, but still enjoyed watching everybody. The opportunity to explore Te Puia for free was a great bonus from an Alba perspective. We spent a lot of time there over the evening and following morning.

I did look wistfully at the elite photo shoot as they skipped gazelle-like across the volcanic landscape – it looked pretty fun. However, some elite three-year-old-chasing was the priority for the day.

Friday morning we were back in Te Puia for the official welcome, which I thought was great. Alba was a bit unnerved, but got inspired to practice her pukana face.

Pukana!

Pukana!

We spent most of the morning wandering around enjoying geysers and kiwis – and getting photos with multiple Ruby Muir fans who thought I was she, despite assurances to the contrary. I’d like to think this complimentary confusion was because of our matching athletic physiques and inner cool, but was more likely down to wearing FiveFingers and being female. “I reckon it’s the rough-and-ready hairstyles,’ offered Kristian.

The buzz was on when we got to the Holiday Inn for rego and weighing and seminars. Carl turned up after that and took over-it Alba for a sleep so I could watch the elite Q+A. Part of keeping myself amused during aquajogging sessions is to listen to podcasts – Talk Ultra, irunfar, UltraRunnerPodcast – so the opportunity to hear from some of the key players outside of the dive pool and tomorrow run with them on real dirt was something I was looking forward to.

I remember reading a few weeks back that the chance of the fire course was less than 5%, and thinking of this.

Have to admit, when reading a few weeks back that the chance of the fire course was less than 5% I thought immediately of this.

Mid-afternoon there was rumblings about changes afoot due to Cyclone Lusi, and after a nervous wait (please don’t cancel it), we found out the course was shortened to 70k. On a personal level I was pragmatic about this, assuming safety was paramount and everything would have been weighed up carefully. I felt for Paul though, and all the runners who were set on completing the full course after missing out last year.

reallyakawerau

Friday night was sleepless, but that’s normal. Lying awake at 3am, I decided to have an early breakfast, because I remembered some of the elites do that. They also said (about 10 times) ‘don’t try new things on race day’, but who can remember every detail? Anyway, breakfast was probably a bad call as it sat heavily in my stomach until an unscheduled stop about seven hours later. Good to know. Leonard Cohen’s ‘Anthem’ came on the ipod and got me in the perfect mood.

VTUM_003584

Image by Photos4Sale

The birds they sang, at the break of day 
Start again 
I heard them say 
Don’t dwell on what has passed away 
or what is yet to be.

By which I’m pretty sure Lenny meant ‘quit angsting over injuries, course changes or weather, and go have fun on the trails.’ Attempts to get ready without waking the family were a complete failure, so I quickly exited and caught a ride to the start thanks to Vibram’s star-studded relay team.

VTUM_003921

Image by Photos4Sale

It was fantastic to be lining up at the start rather than watching. I’d hoped to see training buddies Oscar and Dan and Ceana somewhere in the mix, but there were a lot of people around. I chatted with LTH and met Sadie Cranston. Last year I was excited for everyone at the start, but couldn’t help some tears in the dark as they ran past. This year I was elated to be there running, and yet there were still tears – there’s something powerful about start and finish lines. The tears abated, but the joy remained, even with a solid bit of hill to kick off.

Going up the hill I saw Shannon-Leigh Litt having a frustrating time with cramping. I was disappointed on her behalf as her preparation seemed exemplary and she could have been on the podium if things had aligned on the day. Here’s to an awesome Northburn and Hillary for her.

1912289_10152169365015677_268173156_o

Image by Photos4Sale

The first 12k was a chance to test the legs and relax into running. Extra time in the redwoods was no hardship. Coming through the start again added some energy, as it was packed with people screaming. Brendan Keenan and I nearly got taken out by a moving aid table, comic film styles. Going up again I saw some Hawks friends from the relay which was fun.

I always like the blue lake track, especially the bush parts and beautiful views. Somewhere around here I saw Lucy Bartholomew, who was very friendly and encouraging as I passed despite not feeling the best. More cheering awaited us at the aid station. I love aid station energy, but get too revved up to make the most of them, and never once got round to eating. Bit of a waste really. ‘Are you feeling good?’ asked a pajama-d Kim Allan. ‘Yes,’ I said, slowly, and took off.

vinegarWith legs behaving and a playground-trail to run on, I was having a pretty good time. I’m here! I’m running! ‘I could see your smile from the other side of the lake,’ observed Scary Dr Glenn Larsen as I headed into Tennent’s Track. Then I got stung by a wasp – how dare it interrupt the glee? It felt a bit painful through to Okareka but I couldn’t do much and it wasn’t going to be fatal.

It sounds a bit blasphemous, but the weather was perfect for running, cool and pleasant, and I like rain. Nutrition seemed to be going fine. I was knocking back gels as the time rolled around. Trotting up the hill we started to see some of the 55k runners. I still had no idea where I was sitting in the women’s race but wasn’t thinking about it too much. Along the mid-hill plateau and upwards I ran with a guy in a blue shirt for a long time who helped keep a good consistent pace but never got round to asking a name. (Belated cheers!) I do know he hadn’t run further than a marathon before, so hope everything panned out ok. I wanted to hit the top of the hill before the first long course guys appeared, and we did.

VTUM_005640Then it was all downhill and wheeeee, flying! As I caught up to Shona, relaying Ruby caught both of us, so there were quick greetings and well wishes all round. I exchanged a high five with Kerry as he cleared the way for Sage, and he said ‘Meghan (Arbogast) is just back there.’ For some reason I thought he meant she was coming up the hill behind them, so when I did pass Meghan I didn’t really register, and thought maybe she was a relay runner. The trail down to Okareka was a blast – possibly my high point of the day.

The closer I got to Okataina turnaround without seeing a female runner coming back, the closer I was to the top ten, so when I arrived at the aid station having still not seen anyone it was getting pretty exciting. Ironically, the splendid Western Okataina walkway was the one part of the course I’d trained on, so it was good to run at least a tiny bit of it. I think it was my fastest pace for the whole race, although it was a bit congested. After a bit I saw Jo leading and was intrigued, not knowing who she was. A little later I saw Claire and Beth, and Meghan and Shona, and a bunch of relay runners in between. So I didn’t know my placing for sure (counting is tricky after a few k) but was buoyed to know I was in the mix, and definitely top ten. The awesome Gayle and Anna had filled a bottle of Perpetuem for me here, and said Beth was 3 minutes ahead. I should have also refilled on water, but was a bit too amped to think straight.

Yep, it's me running...again. Photos4Sale.

Yep, it’s me running…again. Photos4Sale.

I’d been looking forward to having my friend Ange as a pacer, but assumed with the course change it wouldn’t be necessary. I still could have, in retrospect, but we weren’t sure how bad the weather would get for travelling so called it off. Going back up the hill wasn’t too bad anyway, and certainly social. I ran where I could, and just walked hard a lot. I loved being able to say hi all the other runners, and can see how an out-and-back style course has its benefits.

Over the top I was starting to get thirsty but needed sugar too. Note: gumming through a packet of Clif bloks without water isn’t the best idea. Coming down to the plateau, I suddenly glimpsed Beth just ahead. She said ‘Awesome, well done,’ and waved me past – at which exact point my quads said ‘WHY YOU RUN STUPID LONG WAY?’ and cramped. ‘I don’t think I can!’ was my slightly desperate response (to Beth, not the quads), but things came right, sort of.

The next patch was probably the trickiest as I jog-walked the moderate uphill stretch, which seemed to have got longer in the last couple of hours. There are even some photos of me not smiling. Seeing runners still heading out towards Okataina – knowing they had 4, 5, 6 hours left in the rain, and often still smiling – was good for perspective though.That’s gutsy, right there. Coming down to Millar Rd I found a bit more impetus. Finally, I got to the aid station and sculled some water. Seeing Kim again was a nice bonus. 3k to go? Let’s get this thing done.

VTUM_000055Coming down the road was my first experience of being filmed running for an extended time – novel but slightly awkward. Over the last kilometre I took the time to appreciate all the preparation for the race, waking up in the dark to run before work, and what a lovely privilege it is to be able to do things like this in a place like this. Then came the finish! I’d never finished a race to a semi-circle of cameras before. Interviews, hugs, dry clothes and a paddle in the lake.

All up it was a great day and ahead of my own expectations. According to IRunFar, I’m officially sneaky. I finished third in 7.16, 5 minutes behind the UK’s Claire Walton and 12 minutes behind Kapiti’s Jo Johansen, who pulled off a gloriously accomplished unexpected win.

Lots of people asked afterwards how I would have gone on the full course. It’s hard to say, as I adjusted effort accordingly, but I don’t think much would have changed. Jo had things under control, and a great base, by the sounds of it.

Footwise, the pretty blue Spyridon MRs plus injinji  socks went like a dream. No blisters, no nothing, and no problems on the wet bits. The timing chip, on the other hand, provided some blood and bruising to make up for the fact that I didn’t even fall over. Those things are lethal. I’ll put the gory shot at the bottom for brave people.

Podium photo by Bryan Powell, www.irunfar.com

Podium photo by Bryan Powell, http://www.irunfar.com

Top of the thanks board would be Carl and Alba, for sharing me with the trails. Hadley ‘Crater NZ’ Craig has truly been a fantastic coach and support. Alba rushes for my phone whenever it rings, saying ‘I want to talk to Hadley!’

Can’t have an Oscars speech without Oscar, who has shared the long runs and driven me many, many cumulative kilometres so we could find hills. Ceana and Dan are now ULTRARUNNERS, and great training buddies too. Thanks Jenni for the jacket and many many awesomes. Dylan and the Vibram crew are the nicest group of people and I feel lucky to be part of the team. Thanks to Paul for working so hard on this excellent race, and to the runners who make it what it is. I really enjoyed being able to run with such a solid field, and meet lots of new awesome people. (‘I think you have a little running crush on Meghan Arbogast,’ observed Ceana. Hey, who doesn’t?).

What’s next? I’m not sure yet. Watch this space, and feel free to offer suggestions.

*Bonus (slightly) gory shot, below*

At 2am on Sunday I realised I could have just moved the timing chip to my wrist.

At 2am on Sunday I realised I could have just moved the timing chip to my wrist.

Superstition and the ‘i’ word

ScribblesThis time last year I was inspired by a book on visual journals and started one. It’s possibly the first time in adulthood I’ve kept a regular record for a year. Part of the reason for choosing Waitangi Day 2013 to kick off was that we had a great training run in the morning that deserved remembering – 10 x 6k at Lake Ngaroto with some excellent people. Repeating it for 2014 didn’t quite fit in with our various plans this year, but some key players and I commemorated it with a measly sensible 5 x 6k on principle – thanks guys!

With events and training for them, the same things often come around in cycles. Most are good – fun training runs, again, and the fact that I’m really looking forward to Tarawera, again. It has a ridiculously amazing lineup, again, even more so than last year. Check out this shot of the entry list around my name alone and a few random examples of the guns I get to run with (MS Paint styles). I love how democratic ultrarunning is.

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 9.00.38 PMIt’s all very exciting. On the nervewracking side, I really don’t want to get injured again. I feel slightly superstitious even writing down the ‘i’ word or making a post about it. Or enthusing about the opportunity to be on the startline with all these awesome runners – because I Did That Last Time, and look what happened. But is there anything I can do about it?

Self-centred eavesdropping at the dog park

Self-centred eavesdropping at the dog park

Yes and no. But some of the strategies – alongside crossed fingers and picking up lucky pennies – include:

Another set of eyes. The mighty Hadley ‘Crater NZ’ Craig is kindly helping me and others to prepare for Tarawera, and thus my schedule now includes such innovations as rest weeks and multiple days off. It’s also great being part of a crew with the same aim, particularly if they rub your calves en route to Raglan (thanks Oscar!).

No buggy runs, Running with the stroller was great and downright necessary in the first year of parenthood. I don’t think it’s great for loading my calves though, so is consequently cut for a few months. Also, I incurred last year’s injury while pushing it. See above re high superstition level.

– Rehab activities, so you don’t need them. Prehab! Fairly straightforward: Ice, getting Dale McClunie to massage my calves when I can afford it, and spending quality time with the Waterworld dive pool when I can sneak it in.

Sometimes it helps. Sometimes my achilles tendons are still painful and taut enough to play a sad violin accompaniment to the first-world-problem complaining.

“I worry about you, Dawn,” intoned Dale seriously last week as he inflicted preventative agony to my lower limbs. I worry about myself. But with Tarawera’s sweet siren song crooning to me across the hills, what else is a girl to do?

Merry Kepler and a happy new year.

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!

A handy diagram, for anyone wondering about the difference

A handy diagram, for anyone wondering about the difference

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.

Apparently I was enjoying the view more than this guy.

Apparently I was enjoying the view more than this guy.

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.

SO PRETTY. Up on the tops.

SO PRETTY. Up on the tops.

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.

Made it!

Made it!

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.