Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Tarawera Ultra Race Report – A Risky Bet

I am not a betting man. Let’s say there are enough risks out there to add the risk of losing to an uncertain outcome by the promise of easy wins. I’m talking about time and effort, not money. I plan my training to be in good fitness around the racing season and enter a few key events. One of them was the Tarawera Ultra, which I could have bet I would run in a time of 10:12:00 to 10:18:00. I was (am) that fit. Or that’s what I thought until mid-afternoonon Friday. But let’s start from the beginning, and my first bet.
This summer of racing was cut in half with the addition of the ‘big move to wellington’ thing in our life. The move took its toll in the amount of time I spent training long and slow for the race. I ran more in the first 10 days of Feb than in the month of Jan. I was cramming. And that is a very risky bet… you train in a very fine line with reduced recovery times and fatigue starts building up. A few days off here and there helped release some pressure and I went through almost 400k of running with no problems. Come March 1st I was in good shape and the big runs were all out of the way. A good diet and a few runs would see me ready to roll at Tarawera.

The weather goods threw in a weakened tropical cyclone that was still severe enough in parts of the country. That meant our race went from 100k to 70 (actually 72 and change)  kilometres. The organisers maintained the climbing in the reduced distance, which translates to a slower pace (at least for me). Given my training, this should have been an advantage, but it turned out quite differently.
The start:
It was fast, dusty and drizzly. I remember going up  and up and then getting more agitated than it’s wise for the first 10min of a potential 10hr run. Then I stuck to a group and managed to pass a few here and there until I realised I’ve left the water bottle with Nat at the start/12k aid station. As I was thinking that I took a fall with a root while bombing down a small hill. The adrenaline shot from the fall helped wake up and keep going through the first lap.  I stopped to get it and started drinking. An hour has passed and it was time to start playing smart. From 12 to 25km I slowed down on purpose, drank and had 2 gels to ensure a good rhythm.
The middle:
From 25 to 52km it was a slow slog. I could feel the left part of my body hurt (not much) and tried to keep checking my form for any signs of damage. Ate gels, some fruits and water and after seeing too many people pass me, I started to pass other people again. The road was getting busier with people coming and going. It was great to see many mates along the way. It was even better to see Nat at the 3rd aid station (which she was not supposed to reach) with gels and fresh socks. All went very slow at that aid station, but I managed to gulp down a full bottle of ginger beer, ½ orange and new socks from wifey.
The end
Was the best part of my race. It felt to me I went faster than the actual 2:19:00 time splits suggest. I felt like it was an hour and a half. I remembered this final leg from last year’s VTUM and I had secretely prepared for this contingency. My legs were not the fastest going up that mother of a hill that is the Western Okataina track, but they were good to take charge down the hill to Millar road and to the end. It was a blast and I started reconsidering earlier thoughts of not racing again on longer distances. I finished in 7hours 38min, which is a very good time but not the time I would have bet on. It was a wet last hour or so and another hour waiting for mates to do their thing… they all came on with a smile in their face, which is always encouraging.
Third time lucky?
In 2013 it was a fire course. In 2014 it was a cyclone course. What will be the Vibran Tarawera Ultra of 2015? I am not a betting man. So I won’t bet on it next year. But don’t quote me on that. I could be talking a lot of sh-t