Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Tarawera Ultra 2016 - The one (hundy) that wasn't meant to be

This was my third attempt to get the Rotorua-to-Kawerau course nailed. In the previous two occasions we had the now legendary 5k vertical "fire course" and the shortened cyclone course. To say I was excited about the prospect of finally making it to Kawerau is an understatement. I’ve been ready to go the ‘bush’ way to that finish line for ages, it was just a matter of time.

With experience comes confidence, and my training and final preparations went smooth. The only preoccupation was that Nat is 8 months pregnant, and I did not want her to be on her own following me for a whole day. Without a nap or a co-equipper. I am a bit of purist in that sense and was happy to do without support crew or pacers, as long as we are all happy.

The race day was muggy, drizzly and windless for most of it. On account of that I was prepared to go 5 to 10% slower than my target time of 6:10min per km. I like to break the race in 5 phases that roughly equate to 20km chunks of the course:
The adrenaline phase: From the start to the blue lake, I run in an overcaffeinated and oversugared blood supply. Everything is good and one can afford to do a couple of well-timed efforts to avoid bottlenecks. I did just that, but at some point I landed in a funny way that caused a lot of pain in the side of my lower quads. I though I’d run through the pain but it was only a thought… I ran in pain. The key word here is RAN, though.
The patience phase: from the blue lake to Okataina is all about being patient, reign oneself in, walk the uphills that need to be walked, and let a lot of very keen beens pass you. This is the part of the race where I chose to do my own race or do someone else’s. Patience must prevail and it did prevail for me. The pain in my upper legs a friendly reminder that things can go anywhere in longer races like this one.
The confidence phase: from Okataina to the Falls, this is the part of the race that I found the toughest mentally in my first attempt. I was not in a happy place and didn’t want to get back there again. This time I was confident in my physical and mental ability to get through this soulbreaking stage without issues. So… all the patience and savings made in the previous leg came to the fore and the body was able to carry on running through the technical bits. The scenery here is outstanding… and I enjoyed the fact of being able to still run albeit at a slower pace than thought (at this stage I was a good ½ hour behind the target time). Quads had not got any better, but there was a fresh pair of shoes waiting for me at 60k… if anything, the shoes would buy me another 25km to drop from the 100 to the 85 if the pain did not subside.
The persistence phase: for the first time I was in the forestry roads of the last 40km of the race. The physical condition was not the best due to the pain (now isolated to the right leg only) and mentally I started to calculate risks and opportunities of going the full 100 or dropping to the 85. The decision needed to happen by km70, and as I approached the aid station I made the call to go left to the 85km course. The deciding factor was the risk of getting a serious injury and longer recovery thanks to an extra 2hr of running unwell. The maths was simple in my mind and there was no ego in the equation. Time to retreat and prepare for another battle.
The glory phase: Once you’re in the last stage of such a long race, event when you are in the fart reaches of your physical and mental strength (did I mention that the last person I crossed on the course was at km 62?... yeah.. it is a lonely race in no man’s land) you know you have it in the bag. The endorphin release, the excitement and the vision of yourself having ‘knocked the bastard off’ act as a great motivator to get you through to the end. At least it worked like that for me. I was third through the line for the 85k finishers, but I hadn’t come here to do the 85… so I let Paul, the race director who was handling the medals at the end, know of my changes. He shook my hand and congratulated me on the finish.

My take of the third Tarawera run is a mixed bag, on the one hand I still haven’t gone the full 100km course through the infamous ‘loop of dispair’. On the other hand, I tried a new distance, and I did very well with what the race threw at me. I am definitely coming back at some point in the near future.

Ten days past the race, I am fit and full of energy to be the best husband and father I can be. Time for me and Nat to be together and enjoy quality days, long walks and lots of house chores. It helps that I am not dealing with post-race niggles or rehab. I ran for the first time yesterday, and I was happy as every other time I go out for a run.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

One per day – Sugar free July

July was a month of recovery, I recovered a bit of form (thanks to a good few weeks swimming), I recovered mentally thanks to the study break at uni.And I recovered a bit of shape thanks to a sugar-free diet that was not quite sugar-free.
I just cut any added sugar, sweet biscuits, scones, cereal bars, sauces, drinks, deserts and any other sugar-ladden food that was not naturally sweet. That meant I kept eating fruits and sweet veggies. And I also treated myself to a sweet treat once a week.  The result was nothing extraordinary in weight-loss (I wasn’t looking to lose too much weight, anyway) but it was a good reflection on what habits I needed to shave off to keep to my sugar-free promise. It wasn’t extremely hard, but it was not a walk in the park either. I reckon doing this twice a year is a good way to go about it.
What else happened?
keeping to the pack at the Welly XC champs
We had the final race of the XC season, a 6-lap-12km affair in the northern beaches of Wellington region. Cross Country is good fun, and this race was great fun, firstly because it is hard mentally and secondly because it is good banter with club mates. My performance was nothing to write home about, I got into a group and there was no group ahead to aim for, therefore the interest went from going fast to staying-in.  By the end, I had no legs for the sprint, so I trotted to a happy 46min finish 15th or so overall.
In the pool front, we had our second Time Trial, and I was happy to see the time going down closer to 20 than to 25. There still a lot of room for improvement, but the signs are good.
Wellington is much colder than Auckland, and there were a couple of mornings that the cold and the wind made it easier to stay home than to go out training. I don’t regret a good lay-in, especially when the road is wet and windy.
With the XC season all but finished, the focus was to road racing, or doing something else. I went for something else and started a long base-training block, aiming to get miles on the old 890’s and ready myself for the tri season which is just round the corner.
And then there’s August… but that’s another story

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

One per month – June

June is the start of the winter. And this is our first winter in Welli, which is a colder city. The days went very very short straight from the start of the month. The rides home in the afternoon became shorter,and didn’t venture into places that are quite dark.
After 3 months and a half we finally started a swim squad proper. Even though is not as much as we used to swim back in Aucks, it is great to be back to 5:30am starts and great pool routines. Coming from 2 years of minimum 3.5km per session to nothing to a 2.5-3km per session gig was not too bad. We still miss the feeling of having just completed 4 or 5km of solid work, though. The first week of the squad was Time Trial Week. I won’t go into the detail, but it wasn’t as bad as we were expecting.

For me, it was a confirmation that I had lost some of the magic... but that I still know how to pace.
Every split was pretty much spot on, except for the slow start.

On the XC racing front, there was the Dorne Cup, a two-lap-8k race that crowns the best of welly. I
killing it at the Dorne cup
did a little face plant on a hill, and then ran out of gas on the last 1km, but all in all I achieved my
goal of going under 30min.

A week later was the event I was looking forward to. The Wellington half marathon. I was given a ticket by my mates in the old job, so I wanted to make them proud. I had six weeks of pretty solid prep, only hampered by a chesty cold that knocked me out a 6 days before the race (ie. just after the other race). I had toyed with the idea of trying to go for 75min , which would be my PB by a long shot. I knew I had the base, but I also knew that I had done bugger all between March and May.

wardrobe malcfunction 101
Anyway, the race went well and I ended with a respectable 1:17 and change on a windy day. Loved it. Unfortunately I had to go for a pretty unconventional wardrobe choice, but it was all a matter of keeping warm and not letting the cold get the best of me.

All in all, June was a great month to bed-in the routines for swim-bike and run, both for me and Nat.

We also had essays and exams, and friends visiting, which is always a great way to keep motivated

Monday, August 11, 2014

And the sprint finish

Blood, sweat and no glory. LOL

One per month – May

Yeap... I did it again. Over three months with nothing said.

Although I do have things to say. Just lack of time/motivation/a Dictaphone?

Anyway... back the writing bloc. What happened in may? Looking at my diary I was well into training for the wellington half

marathon in June. Lots of running, not a lot of swimming and starting to bike consistently. The cross

country season started in April, and I did two races in May, a 5Kyer for the Varsity Relays followed by a 10Kyer  for the Vosseler shield (I love the athletic's naming system for their races). the next week.
Varsity was great, the 10k? not so much... I had a bad prep and a bad beard (look at the photo). The only good think was a massive sprint to the finish trying to get one-up on a good mate.

The issue for cross country racing is being able to start fast, be strong up the hills and continue to be
fast in the flat. I can do all that... but not when I’m anaerobic. Steep learning curve there, but I think I got it pretty much sorted for the final race of the season.
Apart from that there was plenty of university activty, with a great essay on climate change and the obligations of New Zealand towards its citizens and and as part of been a responsible neighbour. Oh.. and a trip to Christchurch, a run through the glaciers and a super cool run to Huka falls.

Livin' la vida loca in godzone :-)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Racing in the Queen city - Triathlon Nationals race report

WOW what a fantastic day to be playing in the big smoke. Great sun, not too hot and no much wind. It was a recipe for fast racing.
This was my return after 2 years of not racing (for some reason or other) in the standard distance event. I never loved the distance because it was not short enough to play to my advantage as a swim-runner, but it was not long enough to play to my advantage as a consistent runner. Anyway, the opportunity came to go and do it and I was determined to enjoy it.
First tri ever... 
The swim was a breeze, no major inconveniences for most of the leg. Because they send us in waves, we cought some of the slower guys from previous waves. In any case, I was nowhere near where I traditionally fare in these races, so I had a good time swimming protected by the big middle pack. The water temperature was good to swim with no wetsuit, but that would have meant a further 2 min of my time given away and I was not prepared to do that. At the end of the day, it is national champs and one has to deliver.
There was a looooooong transition to the bike and I made it slower by putting a pair of socks. There’s two reasons for that, firstly, I was wearing my mate’s shoes and didn’t want any blisters or bleeding ruining them. Secondly, I was going to wear socks for the run anyway, so might as well put them on now and make a shorter T2. The bike was a 3 lap course mainly flat with one climb at the top of Queen Street. The climb was short enough and greatly compensated by a 1.5 km downhill section from the top of the golden mile to the Ferry building. That was the highlight of my race… doing 60k plus at full throttle on the busiest street of Auckland was an experience to repeat. In races like these, I am usually passed by a dozen plus others. This time I managed to hang on and even pass some people myself. I was thoroughly impressed by the performance of my lended bike. An old aluminium P3 that flew through the flats and ripped through the asphalt. Unfortunately I hadn’t had my ceremonial Nutella on Bagel brekkie, and I was banking on some gels to bring the extra energy. But I lost them somewhere. I realised only when I went to grab one after the first lap of the bike.
T2 was fast and I was feeling good… although not flash-like due to the lack of caffeine and sugars. I ran at a steady pace with the idea of unleashing the beast in the last 2km.
But there was no beast, my run time was over 39 minutes, a good 10% over what I would consider my top runs. I was passed by a couple, but passed a few myself, so all in all I went up on the run too (4th fastest in the category) and finished in a respectable 2:14 and change. The best was yet to come, though.
On reflection I came to two very encouraging conclusions. First, I had a lot of fun and enjoyed the short distance like I hadn’t done before. Secondly, I was fairly competitive without specific training and virtually no swimming. So, there is not only potential for a more competitive performance, there’s potential for lots of fun doing many more races next season. And who knows… maybe even a world championships trips is not too far out of the way. 
That brings an end to the season of multisport, I think. It's now time to go into hibernation mode and start a good block of endurance and strength training. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Back to basics

Had enough of this ultra thing… for now
After careful meditation the last couple of weeks I came to the conclusion that I am biting much more than I can actually chew in ultra running terms. That is not a bad, thing, on the contrary… it will help strengthen my jaw and, with time, allow me to chew as much as I bite.

Metaphors aside, the learning from Tarawera and Auckland 70.3 was: I can get away with doing long races without base. But only to a certain point. That certain point for me is a decrease in performance that sees me fall from the upper lines of the results sheet. It is a blow to the ego and I have now healed. 
What rests to be done is to go back to the drawing table and re-match ambition with the realities of how much time there is to put on the training. And how much choice. Should I cut on swimming for good? (not) Shall I start training a bit earlier to get miles in? (maybe). Shall I take a month off?

We’re in the part of the cycle where thing start to wind-down and one starts reflecting on the past season and build-up to the long slogs of winter training. It is also planning time in my household… so there will be list of races by the end of the month. And they will be made public.
I’ve also joined a run club, for the first time I’ll be mixing it up with pure runners and learn a few of their tricks. May even enter an event or two to see how much I can hold my own.
For the time being, there is this list:
6 Auckland Triathlon
12 Scottish run club race