Maybe you have heard the expression “Respect the Distance. Respect the Terrain”? I heard it before and never understood it until now.
The Tarawera weekend started out with a panel seminar. We were able to meet several of the elite runners and ask them questions. It was quite informative. I especially liked the laid back attitude of the runners and liked to hear Tim Olson’s strategy. Thank you to the runner’s who were so free with great information.
Registration was a straight forward affair at the Holiday Inn. Participants were given a Merino long sleeve tech shirt and a pair of Injinji socks. Vibram had products on display and for sale including the Aspire line. I was able to stock up on Hammer products to cover the next few months of training. Maybe some of these companies want to start selling in Bali?
We were faced with a major course change for this year due to the extreme fire danger and closure of part of the forest. This meant that it was going to be a much harder run this year. Instead of finishing with 16 miles of downhill forested road, we would be doing an out and back. This would give me a look at the terrain I would have to cover on the return towards the end of the race. The finish would be back over the most technical sections of the route. Estimates are that it would be at least an hour slower for the elite runners. That meant it was going to be several hours slower for me. I had enough confidence that it wasn’t going to be so hard and I would have no trouble finishing. Shows I had a lot to learn.
Friday night I had a light dinner and off to sleep. As much as that was possible anyways. My young one wanted to play with his Dad and I wasn’t going to pass up that chance. Races will come and go. Time to play with my son will pass too quickly. Still I was able to get a fair amount of sleep.
The alarm went off early to a light rain falling. Final preparations, coffee and a banana. Then a short drive to the starting area. Thanks to Milo for helping me out with driving. The start was in the middle of the towering Redwood trees. Even though it was dark and drizzling, it wasn’t cold. I was wearing my CamelBak Ultra Vest with about 1 liter of water in the vest. My 750 ml bottle was filled with UCan Super Starch. I had GU Roctaine and Vitalyte Chia Surge energy gels in the pockets. Also onboard were some packets I made up of Hammer Endurolytes and Master Amino Pattern. A few Honey Stinger Waffles rounded out my supplies. We got the prerace greeting, rule briefing and final thoughts. Then the final countdown to the start.
We went through the starting arch and followed a wave of bobbing headlamps and glow sticks. It was a unique sight to see all the lights ahead of me moving slowly forward. The start was uphill for the first 2.5 miles (4 K). Part of it included climbing stairs. Needless to say, it was a slow pace for the first few miles. At about 2.5 miles we were greeted to a sunrise with views out over Rotorua. A beautiful view and a slow pace, so I stopped to take a couple of pictures. I think I reached the 2.5 mile mark in 31 minutes.
We ran some rolling trails through dark forest until about 3.5 miles, where we were able to leave our headlamps. Thanks to the volunteers who got the headlamps to the finish area. There were a few areas that were still dark after that, but the day was brightening up. We just had to watch our footing through the dark sections. This was a very runnable section. Rolling trails brought us to the first aid station at Blue Lake. About 8.5 miles (13.7k) from the start. I grabbed a banana and kept on moving. After leaving Blue Lake we went through a short uphill past a big water tank and the down through a forested trail. We came out of the forest and ran a section of sealed road and sealed bike trail. Mostly uphill, but a nice section all the same. Several of the home owners were out to cheer us on. At about 12.5 miles (20k) we came down into the park at Okareka Lake and into the aid station. This park was also the finish area for the 100k runners. There was a nice long aid station area. Almost too many choices. I decide to fill up my water bottle with Hammer Heed because there was a break in the line. The volunteers were a great help to get a runner back on the trail in the quickest time possible.
Leaving Okareka Lake we ran up (up again) a gravel road for 1.6 miles (2.5k) to the Millar Road Aid Station. This was the last aid station before a long tough section so everyone was advised to make sure we had enough fluids. I topped off my bottle with Heed, had part of a Banana and got back at it.
The next section from Millar Road to Okataina Lodge was the start of the tough part of the course. Up to this point I was able to keep up a solid pace and I was ahead of my preplanned check point times. The start of this section was about 13.7 miles (22k) from the start. We ran uphill on some long trails with short sections of downhill. At 18 miles (29k) I stopped to get some gravel out of my shoe. Suddenly my leg cramped up. Both my calf and my thigh. I was able to release the cramp quickly, but I had a little trouble with cramps the rest of the day.
I should probably mention here that I had taken in a GU gel with Roctaine every 30 to 40 minutes and 2 Hammer Endurolytes every hour. That should have been enough electrolytes for the cool weather, and was enough for all my training runs. New research has shown that cramps are also caused by asking your muscles to do more that they are used to. In other words, not enough training. This was already several hours into lots of hill climbing that I didn’t train enough for.
From 18 miles there was a 2 mile (3.2k) long climb with a couple of river crossings. This took a lot out of me. If you remember from my earlier blogs, I usually have a tough period around 18 miles. Today was no different. I had expected this section to take less than 2 hours to get to the next aid station. It took me almost 3 hours. The uphill sections were mostly gradual ascents. They were just long.
This was a beautiful trail section. Too bad it was uphill for so long. I think that with better training, I can get through this section with less damage. At 20 miles (32k) or so, we started downhill to Okataina Lodge. This was about 2 miles of gradual descents with one steep section near the end. I had one misstep and turned my ankle over. No real damage done, but I was reminded to watch my footing more closely. Also at around this area I started passing the race leaders. This was a great part of this race. It was impressive to see them powering up the hills. And they had time for a word of encouragement for many of us at the back.
I entered the Okataina Lodge Aid Station wondering if I could continue on. I was only 23 miles into the course and I already had tired legs. I was 1 hour off my projected time. I decided to have some food, look through my drop bag and see how things felt. I filled up my bottle with Heed, had a few handfuls of pretzels, some orange slices and looked over the rest of the food to see what looked good. There was some nice pizza and sandwiches available, but none seemed like what I wanted. I checked out my drop bag and saw that I had another bottle of UCan Super Starch drink. Since I had already filled up my bottle, I decided to leave the Super Starch.
I looked over the course map and saw that I could probably finish the 60k route. This race allowed a runner to drop down (or go up) in distance depending how one felt. I didn’t have to make that decision until the Humphries Bay Aid Station. A couple of things went through my mind. Any more distance I ran was going to add up to a personal record. Also the race director had cautioned us about dropping out at the Terawera Falls or the Terawera Outlet aid station. It was not going to be easy to get back out to the finish area due to the closure of the forest. I wanted to see what the Western Okataina Trail was like. Oh, and my family wasn’t going to meet me at the Lodge for another 5 hours.
I remembered what someone had said. “Toughen Up Princess”. So I started up the hill out of the aid station for a 7 mile (11k) section to the Humphries Bay Aid Station. All of the runners around me were also here for the first time, so we didn’t know what to expect on this section. We went mostly uphill on some awesome technical trails for a little over 3 miles (5k). Then some downhill for the next 3.7 miles (6k) with a steep downhill before the Humphries Bay Aid Station. This technical section was fun to run through. Well, I wouldn’t really call it running. I walked most of the first half uphill and then got to run the downhill parts to the aid station. As I was running along I was keeping track of what I was going to have to traverse on the return trip. This was when I made the decision to turn around at the aid station and do the 60k run. It was going to be 3.7 miles of mostly uphill just after the turn around.
At the Humphries Bay Aid Station I stopped to fill up my bottle with Heed and chat with the volunteers. Since I decided to drop down to 60k and I was already at 30 miles (48k) I was in no hurry to leave. I drank a couple of glasses of Coke and a glass of Mountain Dew. All told it was still less than 10 minutes spent at the aid station. I challenged myself to push it to the end. After the steep climb out of the aid station I tried to run as much as possible. I ran up some of the hills and all the flat and downhill parts. I surprised myself by being able to keep going at a continuous pace. At the last downhill back into the Okataina Lodge, I could hear the announcer calling off finishers names and numbers. That gave me a little adrenaline to finish with a smile on my face. The finish line was at 37.4miles.
Summing up my day, I would first give the most thanks to Paul and the rest of the volunteers. I was happy enough with finishing my first Ultra. I also gained both respect for the other runners who finished and the elite runners who crushed the course. I was also encouraged by the post race comments from far better runners than me who stated that it was a tough day on a tough course.
The main takeaways from a training perspective were: “RESPECT THE DISTANCE” (Don’t think you can get by too much under trained) And “RESPECT THE TERRAIN” (If it is a hilly technical course, you have to train on the hills) Elevation gain for the part I ran was 6,754 feet.
Now I will take a few days off and see how my legs feel. There are more races in the near future, so I will use the climbing fitness I gained to continue with harder training.