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.

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