A year ago I dipped my feet into the river of ultra. Both in a metaphorical and literal sense, I got into the ultra world by taking on the Kaimai killer in the middle of a weather bomb. All I remember was cold rain and surface water on the track, to the point where running (at least for me) was not possible. Let’s say that it was a steep learning curve, all of a sudden I learned about my shortcomings in the training to the race, in my nutrition strategy and the overall toughness of a race where you have to be focussed for over 5 hours, which is the time a half ironman race takes. It was fun, character building fun.
And a year makes a lot of difference. I was a year fitter and a year wiser. This means that I did not enter the race until 1 day before, once I was absolutely sure the weather was going to be OK. It also meant that the preparation and planning were a lot more sparse, my training must have been somewhat more ‘smart’. We stayed in a DOC campground a few metres from the race HQ, just perfect for the 5am race start. My nutrition strategy was less overprepared, it was fruits (fresh and dried), nuun water and a couple of bars. There was a big bottle of mountain dew waiting for me at the marathon point, to avoid last years’ bonk at 45km. And that was about it.
The early start means that 1.5 to 2 hours of the race are done in the dark. These are technical stretches where I lose ground to mountain runners because I am somewhat more risk-averse that these bastards. I hung on to my headtorch and said to myself that I needed to stay in touch with the front bunch for the first 8km, where last year I lost a lot of ground. It didn’t quite happen and I found myself isolated again, running through an empty field with two quite intimidating bulls for company. I was somewhere in the 8th or 9th place, though, and that was spot on where I wanted to be. Remember, I had a plan for the long run and many of the guys ahead may not. There are a number of river crossings, and I managed to fall or slip on all of them, the first one brought me a small cramp-like feeling that didn’t ease until the end of the race
The middle of this race is where I feel the best. The two big hills are behind and the terrain flattens to a rolling sort of track. It i also when my breakfast finally settled and the energy is flowing well. Besides the little cramp-like feeling I was on a high. To top that up I met a guy, Matt, who had to make a toilet stop in the bush and we sort of got on with each other after checking he was OK. He was a good runner (or so I thought) and we worked for each other. I learned who was first, second, third and fourth and we were somewhere in 8th and 9th place. Talking and running we struck a good pace and caught and passed 7th and 6th and we would eventually catch 3rd and 4th Alistair and Steve. We formed a good group and ran for a good couple of k’s until 3rd placer upped the pace on a hill. I followed and made sure I stuck behind and didn’t do any extra work. All of a sudden I was with a chance of placing :-) that motivation alone got me through the final 5km back to the race HQ and the point of the marathon.
Alistair was having a big feed as I walked into the marathon point, my plan was to be a bit faster and have just the mountain dew and pack something for later. I had to take my shoes to remove some debris and I was good to go. Matt caught us at this point. Three of us left together, and I was on a plan not to set the pace, but to follow attacks and conserve energy. My nutrition plan is gentle on the stomack, but it is not so energy dense that I can overspend, therefore the next 19km were about conserving energy until 3k to go and spending all of it in the good downhill to the finish. Whatever happens happens.
We lost Alistair, he needed his body to do the digestion stuff for him. I took careful note of that, as he would definitely feel much better towards the end of the race. Matt and I carried on for not much longer, as he set a crackling pace up a 5km, 400m vertical hill and I cracked. I was now running for fourth, not ideal but not too bad, and just about 1 hour better than last year if I kept the pace. The next hour and a half I run by myself and tried to limit my losses. The final dash to the finish was OK, but I made sure I kept a steady pace, because Alistair is a much better climber and he surely made some ground on me. As I was on the 59th kilometre, I began to relax and plan the rest of the day. I was saying to myself ‘I got this in the bag, I’m gonna be fourth overall and 3rd open mens’.
And it was a case of ‘it’s not over until the fat lady sings’. Alistair blazed past and pushed me aside in a nice steep downhill. I stuck behind and waited until the terrain gets flatter, I may had a chance at a long sprint in flat terrain. I put my head down and didn’t look back until I crossed the line. I gave it all I had on those 600m and it paid off. I crossed 1 minute and a bit ahead.
The good, the bad and the ugly
The good: I stuck to a plan and it worked.
The bad: I was somewhat short on the energy front. Could I have run better uphill with more sugar?
The ugly: the last 15km of this race are tough on the mind, real tough