Monday, October 28, 2013

Waihi - Kaimai Killer ultra race report

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 race
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

Friday, October 11, 2013

Do you have it in you?

Tomorrow we’re going out on a very long bike ride with a mate. The idea is to complete it. I am nowhere near in need of such a long ride at this stage of my training, but it will be good as a fitness test, fat-burning exercise and start of a taper period before the 60k ultra a week after.
The reason for the ride is to carry on with a classic ride from Auckland to Coromandel that has been happening for the last 4 years. It is also a good way to help my friend who’s got a 200k ride in 3 weeks time and needs to do the distance to know he has it in him.
Which gave me a new take on another reason why we go out training that I hadn’t thought before. Some times we go training just to know we can finish an event we haven’t done before. I remember my first triathlon to be quite a long day in the office. I had never combined a 500m swim, 20k ride and 5k run in the past. And even thought I completed it, there was a few moments of doubt during that race. With time I learned to work around the doubts and voices that come upon.
If we split the race in three, we have hope, doubt and belief. The start of the race is full of hope and good anxiety. The middle of the race gets a bit more serious, and at some point or another there’ll be a bit of doubt, which seems to be the way the body whines about the hard times we’re giving to it. Then there’s belief, the end of the race is all about getting all that self confidence back and pulling ourselves together to get to the finish knowing we’ve given our best. Post race there will be another three stages, but that’s the subject of another post.
So, back to the long ride of tomorrow, we’re doing it for the moment when the voices and the doubt come knocking at my mate’s helmet: 3 hours into the race and going up a hill, mildly dehydrated and hungry, and probably a bit uncomfortable already by being on a small bike seat. The voices will say, do you have it in you? If all goes to plan, he’ll say “hell yes!” I did it two weeks ago and finished it. And I can do it again today.
Whether you need to do it all before to know you have it in you depends on one’s self belief, number of years training and the length of the race. My take on it has been usually towards the other side, keeping a bit of doubt has worked as a motivator to show up at every training session, as each of them increases the probability (but not the certainty) of getting the successful outcome.  Let’s play an example.
You’re running neck to neck with another competitor for a long bike/run/swim, it’s close to halfway and you’re already above your sustainable effort mark, you’re tired, a bit thirsty and maybe hungry. You’re all focused on the task ahead and all of a sudden doubt starts to creep. DO YOU HAVE IT IN YOU? what would you prefer? To know you have it in you because you’ve done it before or because you’ve trained mind and body well enough?
Keep training wise

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Breaking it into chunks

Another guy breaks the Marathon World Record. How crazy is that?. There have been already hundreds of analysis of the race, I liked this one I like the chart breaking the race into 5k splits and eigths or quarters.

The chart got me thinking on my own performance. The idea of breaking races into chunks is not new, and I have had a few races planned like that.

The problem is the implementation of the strategies come race day. If it is a triathlon, there's always the chance that the plans go out de window due to blowing up on the swim, or too early on the bike. On one occasion I went all as per plan, only to find myself getting hypothermic during the run and not been able to execute what I wanted. Another time it was the weather.

If it is a run race, there's the issue of having the competition dictate the pace and forgetting about listening to my own breathing. A few weeks ago I turned into a 18k trail run. I wasn't meant to be there, but someone offered me a spot and I would not refuse a chance to get out with the wife and friends. As it turns out, the early pace was set by guys that slowly disappeared and I found myself sitting somewhere in the front of the field following a very good climber up a hill. I soon realized that a wall was going to be hitting me at a very high speed. Then I slowed, gathered some strength and hit the last 4k's like a ton of bricks (sub 3:45 pace). It took me a while, but I passed the good climber, and I ran out of field to catch the guy ahead (15 seconds anyone?).

Back to the marathon, it takes a lot of self confidence to slow down in order to break the record. But being such a complete athlete, Kipsang knew that it would be all within reach. And the two sub 2:50min/km pace made up the 15 seconds of light between his glory and the former record. It is very small margins, and nailing it as he did is a commendable thing.

What's up in life? Uni finishing soon. Tri sieason starting soon. Sea swim season starting soon. Ultra run in 3 weeks!... with my hands full at the moment.