Saturday, 6 December 2014

Kepler Challenge 2014

The Kepler Challenge is a spectacular trail running event in New Zealand's South Fiord, starting and finishing at the outlet of Lake Te Anau. The course follows the 60km long Kepler Track along the shoreline of Lake Te Anau before heading uphill into the mountains before dropping down to the Waiau River and back to the start. 
Kepler Challenge course map.
I have previously been lucky enough to get an entry into the notoriously difficult to enter Kepler Challenge back in 2011, but due to an injury and subsequent lack of training I swapped my entry for the Luxmore Grunt, 27km, the smaller version of the two races. The Luxmore Grunt follows the same route as Kepler Challenge, however returns on itself with the turnaround at Luxmore Hut. I remember clearly when I reached Luxmore Hut that all I really wanted to do was to keep continuing along the track. It was a disappointing feeling to turnaround, however it kept the passion alive to return and run the Kepler Challenge in its entirety. 

As my last race for 2014, I looked forward to heading back to Te Anau for the Kepler Challenge. Racing in New Zealand is like racing in any other Australian state or territory. This race is no exception. The trail running community in both countries are much the same. The sport of trail running attracts the same friendly and enthusiastic crowd. There are friends to meet up with, and friendships to be made. This is what I love about the sport.

I travelled over with Mum and Dad this time, Brian was left at home to continue building our new home (and yes, he is really doing the building). It was Mum and Dad's first time to New Zealand, and as I write this race report they are yet to complete their travels around the South Island.
Kepler Challenge course profile.
Having never run the full Kepler Trail I had no idea what I was in for. All up I'd only traversed 14kms of the Luxmore Grunt in 2011 and a few short sections near the end along the river as part of an easy walk. I'd looked at previous finishing times for runners I know and estimated a finish time for myself. It was Brian's suggestion that I should be targeting 6:10. Easy for him to say as he wasn't doing the running.

Come race morning I did my usual thing of staying in bed until the last moment. Then with a flurry of activity I was out the door and headed to the start line. Race starts never leave me with a comfortable feeling. There is always too much anxiety and nerves to deal with. At least when the gun goes off the feelings are instantly replaced with the focus of whats ahead, namely other runners heels, sticks or rocks.

Though the race starts on a wide trail it quickly narrows, so runners go from running 4 or 5 abreast to 2 abreast in the space of a hundred metres. Positioning yourself at the start is therefore important. I positioned myself at the back of the front group, so when we started running I wasn't impeded by too many runners around me. As the trail is not technical the race start is very fast. There is not much self preservation going on amongst the lead group for an ultra. The intensity of running was high from the beginning.
Enjoying a little bit of downhill after the climb up. Backcountry Runner NZ.
In the early stages of the race, along the shoreline of Lake Te Anau, I tried to keep a decent pace along this flat section. Just before the first check point fellow Aussie Sara-Jane caught up to me. At this stage I had no idea where I was amongst the other female runners. I hadn't run with Sara-Jane in a race before and didn't know what it meant when she edged past me. I upped my pace to stay with her and when we commenced the ascent I started to edge ahead. I could see Ruby Muir ahead and Jo Johansen, two girls that I wanted to remain close to if I wanted a good finish time. Even though Ruby was nursing an injury, she showed no sign of weakness as she glided along the well manicured trail. 

As we turned from the gently undulating trail to the ascent to Luxmore Hut the pace dropped slightly, but the intensity did not. Everyone's breathing got harder as we slowly climbed the mountain and the treeline thinned out to reveal panoramic views over the fiord-land wilderness. Ruby started to edge ahead as we climbed, but Jo and I stayed close together. I kept my motivation up by pretending that the low flying helicopters following the event would catch me if I slowed down.
Jo Johansen closing in on me.
At Luxmore Hut (14km) the volunteers were there to inspect our mandatory gear and replenish us runners. The cold wind was reasonably strong and I was already wearing some of my mandatory gear. Jo and I ran into the checkpoint close together. Jo was much more organised,  as she transitioned through the mandatory gear check much faster than I, that resulted in me watching her develop a good head start while repacking my bag. After that brief interlude at Luxmore Hut, I was this year able to continue on along the Kepler Track. It is always good to run a new trail, but to do it in a race leaves me with lots of uncertainty. I'm usually nervous about exhausting myself before the end, which is silly given the relatively short distance of this ultra, and it's mostly unchallenging terrain. This run however was different. I had Jo to motivate me, and Brian's motivational words of, "don't hold back". With a little less uncertainty and a little more determination, I pushed harder than what I normally would. 

The trail stayed up high for quite a long time, longer than I thought, and even though it was very beautiful I was looking forward to the descent so I could get out of the wild winds that were buffeting me around. I was still running close to Jo along this Apline section and at the Hanging Valley checkpoint (23km) we started the steep descent into the valley. Jo was being cautious and decided to hold back a bit on the down hills to avoid risking an injury, which was a smart move. I took this opportunity to go ahead and make a gap between us as I knew she would likely catch me again on the flatter sections of trail still ahead. On the descent I overtook quite I few runners, which was surprising, maybe I wasn't as bad as I thought running down hill or I was just having a good down hill day. It always feels as though I'm getting overtaken on the downhills.
Fighting the wind, not the hill. Backcountry Runner NZ.
At Iris Burn Hut checkpoint (28km), I grabbed a bite to eat and a sip of water. I found I didn't need to fill my soft flasks at all throughout the event as the check points were close enough together to survive without any drama, so I was in and out of the checkpoints pretty quick. The next section was still down hill until Rocky Point, though not nearly as steep as the section down to Iris Burn hut. Jo caught up to me at Rocky Point when I had a much needed loo stop. She was with a couple of guys all running together so I tried to run after them and it took what felt like forever to catch them all. I eventually caught up and overtook Jo and the other guys she was with on a small uphill section. I was trying to run fast to keep in front and secure second place but was unsure if I could keep this seemingly ridiculously fast pace (my description might be a little over exaggerated). It was at this time that I caught sight of fellow Aussie Mick Donges ahead. Mick slowed down so I could catch him and we ran together for a bit. He was concerned about his girl friend (Sara-Jane) as she has never run this kind of distance before and has a dodgy ankle. I reassured him and said she was running fine although that was only 5km into the race and a few hours ago. 

Mick and I ran into Moturau Hut checkpoint (45km) together and not far behind was Jo. Mick gave me the "you better get out of here" look so I quickly stuffed one more orange in my face before we both ran out of the checkpoint together. That was when Mick said we should up that ante and run hard until the finish. I was worried that he would stick with me and that I would ruined his run but he didn't seem to care much about his result, he just seem happy being out on the trails enjoying himself. Mick picked up the pace quite a bit and I tried desperately to stick with him. I'm not going to lie, it was hard work trying to keep up with him and at times he would slow down and let me catch up which was very kind of him and much appreciated. 
Warming up as the pace increased.

We briefly stopped at Rainbow Reach checkpoint (51km) where I ate and drank something. I can't quite remember what it was though, as I could feel the exhaustion setting in.  We didn't hang around for long before we took off again with 9km to go. I turned around every so often and could see no one in sight which was a comforting sign. I was doubting anyone could catch us anyway at our new speedy pace.

Catching Mick was fortuitous for me. Though I was feeling the exhaustion of the run, running with Mick was good distraction and helped lift me. Sitting in second place I wasn't going to slack off and surrender my position. So, together we motivated each other towards the finish. 
Mick and I crossing the finish line. Backcountry Runner NZ.

Ultimately we crossed the finish line together (it will make purchasing race photos cheaper). I don't know if Mick was happy with his finish time, but I was happy with my run of 6:07:53 and second placed female. I'm glad that I put my self doubts aside at Luxmore Hut to then run hard for the remainder of the race.

I'd like to thank Salomon Australia for their continued support. It has been a pleasure donning their gear. Running ultras can be very uncomfortable at times, but its always good to know that the gear is not contributing to the discomfort. I'm also yet to have any gear failures, which is surprising seeing how rough and how much I ask of my gear.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Yurrebilla Trail Ultra Marathon 2014

When I last visited Adelaide 12 years ago I left with fond memories of fun times and friendly people along with a desire to return to experience it again. I'd been following the growth of  Yurrebilla Trail Ultra Marathon, a 56km trail run meandering through the Adelaide Hills, from a distance with a longing to one day be part of the event as an excuse to return to Adelaide. Subsequently, when the Yurrebilla race committee asked me to be the event's 2014 race ambassador I was ecstatic.
Yurrebilla Trail Ultra Marathon course profile.
Following my run at Western States back in June I took it pretty easy with my recovery in an attempt to avoid injury. My running had been pretty easy going, just enjoying the trails with friends.

A month out from Yurrebilla race day I was fortunate enough to visit Adelaide for a long weekend of all things Yurrebilla Trail Ultra Marathon. I was billeted out to Emma Barlow and her lovely family. There were a few social meals. There were private group runs. There were open group runs. There was even a girls' run with Adelaide's very own Chicks Who Run, whom were nice enough to teach me some of the finer points of koala spotting, something that I thought was very novel but I'm sure they all thought was an everyday experience. They managed find 10 koalas for me in our short run.
Chicks Who Run training run. Yurrebilla Facebook.

I departed the Yurrebilla training weekend with a feeling of excitement for the event ahead and a resolve to up my training. It's always good to be part of an event, such as Yurrebilla, that has an atmosphere which extends beyond the event day. It sustains the motivation to train and stay focused on the goals ahead.
Being initiated into Chicks Who Run. Chicks Who Run Facebook.
For race weekend I ditched Brian (who was building our new house) for my mum, Joan. Mum has proven herself to be a good travel partner and support crew/spectator. We flew down to Adelaide on the Thursday before race day which allowed use time to participate in the pre-race activities with plenty of time to also play tourist in Adelaide. Coincidentally, Mum and I were joined on our flight with Andy Lee who was also flying to Adelaide for Yurrebilla. Our meeting worked well as we were able to organise a course familiarisation session the following day together.
Course recce with Andrew Lee (calf whisperer) and Howard Norton.
The race start for Yurrebilla is one of self seeding. There are four start waves, all staggered with the intent of having the bulk of runners finishing together, sort of. The slow runners head off first with the faster runners heading off last. It is a similar format to my local running club's (Berowra Bush Runners) 10km road handicap. Having someone faster come from behind helps lift me while running, if only for a short while. It also makes for some very social running and minimises those lonely times in ultra running.

Mum and I stayed pretty close to the start line at Belair. I didn't quit know how close until I was leaving to go to the start line and noticed the first wave of runners running through the trails just a short distance away from our accommodation. Our accommodation was near the 10km mark of the race and I still had over an hour and a half before my wave started, so all the runners I saw all had a good head start on me.

Having gone over the entire course the month prior to the race I was confident on how I would run the course come race day. For courses I haven't been over before I find it difficult to know when to push the pace and when I should back off. This run however I was able to run it with confidence and didn't get concerned if I was being over taken or falling behind. I got into a good rhythm chatting with people around me and just enjoyed the day.

Lucy Bartholomew, Connie Richards, me, Tymeka Warburton. Yurrebilla Facebook.
I arrived at the start a good hour before hand and chatted with some locals and caught up with friends. I watched the B start group (8am) leave, then it wasn't long until my A group left. A quick count down from 10 and we were off to chase B, C and D groups. 
Group A start. Yurrebilla Facebook.

I started off at a nice pace and ran with Lucy Bartholomew for a while. I noticed she wasn't her normal happy self and thought she might have been struggling. Later I found out that she had been quite ill during the run but she showed her strength of character and still manged to finish strong. The first 10km flew by quite quick as it was mostly down hill and went past my accommodation (caravan park). The course climbed a big hill which revealed glorious views over Adelaide which marked the second check point, where I was met by my support crew (mum). I came into that check point equal first with Charmaine Symons. Leaving that check point the trail turned into a lovely green open paddock then single trail with more views overlooking Adelaide. Cleland was the next major check point that followed, where I ran in with Campbell Collins-McBride (son of Barry McBride, Yurrebilla race director). Campbell and I stayed together for quite awhile. It was Campbell's first ultra and he seemed to be pacing himself well. No wonder where he gets his ability from.
Cruising one of the short road sections with Dej Jamieson. Yurrebilla Facebook.

Was great to run with so many people during the race, especially those who I had met the month prior. One such runner was Dej Jamieson who kept see-sawing with me for quite a while. It was also a pleasure to see many of the women form Chicks Who Run throughout the event, both those running and supporting. Their encouragement and kind words were all very motivating. 
Nom nom nom. Yurrebilla Facebook.

The next major check point where I met mum was Norton Sumit, at about the 36km mark. It was good to meet mum again with all my gear, but I still took time to test out most of the food on the check point table. The event volunteers did an amazing job, not just at this checkpoint but all checkpoints, making sure there was plenty of variety with the food the locals often joked that it is the only ultra where runners can put on weight. One last quick drink and I was off to face the last 20km of the course which consisted of open fire trail and long stretches of single trail with more spectacular views of Adelaide.
So happy to see mum at the next check point. If only she had made it in time. Yurrebilla Facebook.
This next leg had a section called Black Hill, which is the biggest and toughest climb of the course. When I got to the base of Black Hill there was a marshal who asked if I wanted to be timed on the ascent. As one who loves a race within a race, I said, "yes of cause, how fun would that be." As it turned out the climb was not as fun as I thought it was going to be. It was a tough climb and the sun was hot on my skin after 50km but I tried to run as much as I could. When I reached the top there was another marshal who was also recording times. I continued on along the trail thinking 'yeah I'm up the top so just down hill now'. I had forgot this section of trail, as it did not go down at all, but it seemed to still be climbing. I ran along the top of the ridge for quite some time, thinking that the end was near, until finally the down hill single trail appeared, then I new I was nearly home.

Nearing the end I did manage to spot a koala beside the trail, however it wasn't too difficult as I'm pretty sure rigor mortis had already set in, or it could have been in a really deep sleep having just fallen from a branch, but I'm pretty sure it was the first. Poor little fellow.
Just before finishing. Yurrebilla Facebook.

Crossing the finish line in 5:53 wasn't a fast time, but I wasn't really looking at a particular finish time, nor splits (the warm windy weather would have made any goal time difficult to attain). During the event I ran in the moment when by myself and with company. It was a good day to share and enjoy the trails. The event to me  didn't feel like a race just a run with friends.
Always happy to finish. Yurrebilla Facebook.

From all accounts it looked like Yurrebilla Trail Ultra Marathon was a huge success. It's growth in participants is testament to it's previous years successes. The course is interesting enough not to intimidate newbies, but has enough variations in terrain and elevation to test seasoned ultra runners. The atmosphere surrounding the event is infectious and positive. Yurrebilla Trail Ultra Marathon is not an event for the bucket list, it's an event worth coming back for.
Yurrebilla Race Ambassador's Plate with No. 1 and No. 2 training partners.

Some take home Yurrebilla ceramic artwork by Jen Greeneklee.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Western States Endurance Run 2014

When training for long ultras you usually never train covering the full race distance in one session. Usually you try to match the race distance with multiple runs throughout a training week that equal the race distance or greater. When you are unable to run much more than half the race distance in a training week it can lead to some interesting experiences come race day, especially in a 100 mile trail run such as Western States Endurance Run. You cannot just turn up and run with the expectation of finishing, although that is how I felt going into this years event.
Brendan Davies and I at the shrine to endurance sports at downtown Auburn.
After completing my first run at Western States back in 2011 it was a dream to be able to go back and do it all again. Every subsequent year I'd register my name in the lottery and wait with baited breath for my name to be called out again. At the conclusion of this year's lottery draw my name still wasn't called and I resigned myself to it being another unsuccessful attempt. I was very surprised however when several months later I was given one of the six available spots through the Ultra Trail World Tour. My mid-year race plans were sorted, at least I thought they were.

Following Tarawera in March I started to develop a few niggles in my leg. I couldn't run it out and it just kept getting worse. My mileage slowly dropped and still my leg didn't get better. As a result I had to withdraw from the inaugural Buffalo Stampede ultra in April. I continued to drop my mileage to almost nothing and I started to notice a decrease in discomfort while resting (watching TV). After a few weeks I started doing some short runs of less than 10km's, but I could still feel that something was not right. I did a 50km run two weeks out from The North Face 100 Australia and at the conclusion of that run I knew I wouldn't be running that event either.

In order to get some training in I joined a gym and started road cycling a little. At least I was doing some cardio while not aggravating my troublesome leg. I tried to stay positive through these critical months, where I should have be averaging 140km of running per week, by remembering that the build up to my last Western States experience was equally as poor. Four weeks out from Western States I finally decided to get an MRI which confirmed a calcaneal stress fracture (stress fracture of the heel), although the discomfort was more up the leg than at the heel itself. At this point I felt even worse for knowing.
Western States Endurance Run Monument at Squaw Valley, with Brendan Davies.

Two weeks out from race day I flew over to San Francisco with Brian and mum (Joan Rowland), although this journey was not without its own problems in that our direct flight was cancelled and we instead had a three leg flight starting the following day. Arriving over a day late in San Francisco we met up with Brendan and Nadine Davies and started our journey to Auburn. Brendan is another Aussie who also gained entry into Western States through the Ultra Trail World Tour. Our plan was to spend one week in Auburn doing recce runs on the lower parts of the course to acclimatise to the heat (40C/100F) before relocating to Tahoe City to acclimatise to the altitude (+2000m/+6000ft), both of which I felt contributed to my troubles last time.
Brian setting the pace for our recce run at Deadwood Cemetery.
Every day in Auburn I did a run with Brendan on different parts of the course. He was pretty considerate and kept to a moderate pace, however I still felt as though I was being pushed and I definitely started to notice my lack of fitness. On a few occasions Brian joined us for a run and it was good to go at a much slower pace. During these runs however I could still feel my leg. It wasn't hugely troublesome, but I just tried to ignore it and enjoy the beautiful surrounds.
One of the peaks we climbed at Squaw Valley.
After Auburn we all relocated to Tahoe City which was a good 'taper' week. Most days Brendan and I made a trip to +2600m where we would just hang out for an hour or so enjoying the view. Each day I made the climb I could feel it getting less taxing on my body and my breathing. 
I didn't show any pre race nerves.
When race day came around Brian reminded me that at least I had the opportunity to start and what happens happens, but at least I was able to start. At the obligatory 'bang' from the starter's shotgun we were off and I was able to run most of the way up. I noticed no one around was running just walking fast and the lead guys ahead were walking as well. So I decided to walk like everyone else so I didn't look out of place and reminded myself it's 100mile not a race to the top of the hill, as the first 3.5 miles (5.6km) is predominantly uphill, climbing almost 800m. I ran/walked part of this section with fellow Aussie David Eadie. As we climbed together we admired the dawning day over Squaw Valley. It looked beautiful.
The three token Aussies: David Eadie, Brendan Davies and me (L-R).
After reaching the highest part of the course, the Escarpment aid station, the track turns into single trail and was enjoyable to run on. I was running in a congo line with some of the top women which was awesome to be running near them until I fell over in front of them all. I was so embarrassed and let them all pass and slotted in behind them and did what they did. Clearly they knew better then I. 

Lyons Ridge was the next aid station at mile 10.5 (16.9km). I gabbed some food, topped up my soft flasks and was on my way. Our congo line had disappeared and I found myself running alone. I was feeling good and was enjoying the views of the valleys beyond. At this stage I certainly felt that I was running within my abilities.

Early on. Ultra Sports live TV_Nate Dunn.
Nikki Kimball passed me at the next aid station Red Star Ridge at mile 16 (25.7km). I kept sight of her all the way to Robinson Flat, after which she was out of sight for good. My first crewed aid station was Robinson Flat at 29.7 miles (47.8km) where I was met by mum and Brian. They were full of support for me and reassured me that I was well within the top 10 females. In my mind I was perfectly placed with Nikki Kimball and Meghan Arboghast, both two very seasoned to 10 female Western States finishers, around me. Shortly after Robinson Flat I was caught by Denise Bourassa whom I ran with more or less until Dusty Corners at mile 38 (61.2km).
Robinson Flat. Nick Cifuentes_FB
After Dusty Corners the temperature started to rise as we descended towards the canyons. The river crossing under the burnt out Swinging Bridge was a pleasant relief before the steep climb up to Devil's Thumb at mile 47.8 (76.9km). I overtook a few people on the climb and everyone I pass looked pretty stuffed from the heat. At every opportunity I was looking to splash water over myself. I was running with my bandana which I would dip in creeks and at aid stations into their buckets of water to keep myself cool between other opportunities. After Devil's Thumb we ran past Deadwood Cemetery before we went back down into another canyon, El Dorado Creek, which was a long downhill stretch that seemed to go on forever, before an equally long climb back out which was hard work. A video of the decent can be found on Brendan Davies' blog here.
The climb up to Devil's Thumb. The burnt trees are from last year's fire.
At Michigan Bluff, mile 55.7 (89.6km), I was again met by my crew. While being serviced a guy casually walked by, excising himself, as he was relocating a docile looking rattle snake who had decided to check out all the commotion in town.

As I emerged at Bath Road I was joined by Adam Chase, from Salomon USA, my pacer for the next 40 odd kilometers, my motivation and my distraction. Together we climbed to the top of the hill where we were joined by Brian, then together we ran into the Forrest Hill checkpoint. Although I was feeling exhausted by this point, having run 62 miles (99.8km), I was feeling pretty good. I had passed the hottest part of the day without too much trouble. My leg wasn't hurting as it had in the months prior. I was 9th female. All was looking reasonably good.
The climb up to Bath Road was very runnable during our recce runs.

Between Forrest Hill and Rucky Chucky crossing at mile 78 (125.5km) it all fell apart. Both my knees started to hurt. On the inclines my energy levels started to drop and I was reduced to a slow walk. I sat down a while at Peachstone aid station, mile 70.7 (113.8km) and forced down some broth, at which time Meghan Arboghast passed me looking all too strong. I had just lost another spot. Even with Adam's enthusiasm, of which he has a bottomless pit to draw from, I was struggling. 

My crew met me at Rucky Chucky Near. Brian could tell something was wrong and scavenged a seat for me to use. I let him know how I was feeling and his reply was "do you want to pull out", an option which he has never given me before. As he explained later, it wasn't going to be an option, just a lead in to a motivational talk. I didn't really need it though. As much as I wanted to stay in that chair, give up, walk away, rest, chuck up, eaten by a bear, none of these were really an option. Another run at Western States was something I had wanted to do every year since 2011. I was also using the state that I was in as a form of transcendence. I knew deep down that there was nothing actually stopping me from getting to the finish line. It may be a slow and uncomfortable process, but I would get there. I would remember this moment in time to help me get though equally uncomfortable race situations in the future, and hopefully be better for the experience. 
Rucky Chucky river crossing. I'm following Adam Chase across.
I crossed the river without drowning. It was shoulder deep on me and extremely cold against my hot body. On the other side I was freezing, but that would shortly change with the next climb. My pacer for the next 15 miles, until Highway 49, was Kristina Owen, from Salomon USA.  She had waited hours for me at the Rucky Chucky Far aid station, but I was very grateful she had. Kristina's personality was a complete contrast to Adam's. On the climb up to Green Gate, mile 79.8 (128.4km) we power hiked but I was feeling pretty low. David Eadie passed me on the climb. I had not seen him since our climb to the Escarpment, something that seemed an eternity ago. It was great to see David and his pacer Nikki Wynd. David walked with me for a short while waiting for Nikki to catch him and gave me some encouragement. It made me feel a bit better and soon after Kristina got me back into a slow jog again. The sun had gone down and we were now in darkness. 

At Brown's Bar aid station, at mile 89.9 (144.7km), the medics taped up my knees in the hope that it would ease the pain. It didn't however and I was over taken by another female and therefore bumped out of the coveted female top 10.
We spent a lot of time posing for photos during our recce runs. This one at Highway 49.
At Highway 49, mile 93.5 (150.5km) I was met by my crew. As planned I exchanged Kristina for Adam who would rejoin me for the final stretch to the finish. It was slow going, but together we kept moving. My motivation this late in the run was to get to the finish without being caught by too many people. 

I was met at Robie Point by Brian who joined Adam and I for the run to the finish. This leg is entirely on road and is marked by red 'WS100' footprints painted on the pavement, leading tired and exhausted runners to the finish. It marked a significant moment as Brian and I helped to paint some of them the week prior. I didn't quite realise how slow my running was until I started running on the flat and Brian was still able to keep up while walking. As I approached a downhill I thought I'd show him, but he was still able to keep pace, so I resigned myself to a power walk. At least Adam humored me by pretending to run beside me. 

One of the WS100 footprints I helped to paint.
At the end of raced I don't usually get emotional, but it was quite an emotional feeling to cross the finish line at Placer High School in Auburn. For months leading up to the event I was wondering if I would even get to the start line. During the last third of the run I had to battle every emotion that told me to quit. At the end of 100 miles (161km) I was just relieved that I had put all my doubts aside to complete a dream. In the end 21hrs, 55min and 11th female didn't reflect what I would have liked to have achieved, but its an achievement that I can still be proud of. Essentially I still live in the pursuit of the perfect ultra race.
I finally got there.
I'd like to say a big thank you to Salomon Australia for all your support, as well as Salomon USA who helped me at the last moment with gear. Another big thank you to Adam Chase and Kristina Owen for sacrificing their own time to pace me and keeping me moving towards my goal. It was also great to hang out with Brendan and Nadine prior to the run. Brendan was a great source of encouragement and helped to give me confidence in the lead up when it was greatly lacking. A big congratulations to Brendan for his superb run where he finished 8th overall in a time of 15:56:49. Also congratulations to David Eadie for finishing in 20:29:14 and getting his third Western States buckle. And of course, thanks to Brian and mum for structuring their Californian holiday around my running. 

We even took selfies. This one above Squaw Valley with Lake Tahoe beyond. He was so chuffed to hang out with me.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Tarawera Ultra Marathon 2014

My first international race for the year was the New Zealand 100km Tarawera Ultra Marathon (TUM), at least it was supposed to be 100km. I had travelled over to Rotorua last year (2013 race report) and raced on the altered ‘fire course’. This year I was excited to hopefully race on the proper course in its entirety. Also with TUM being part of the Ultra Trail World Tour the depth of competition would be deeper and hopefully a good opportunity to race against some different girls.

My training for the TUM hadn’t been very specific. Usually I set aside at least one day a week to do a long run which replicates the course I’m going to be racing. For TUM it should have been long runnable hills covering between 60-70kms. Instead I’ve been a little more focused on time based training (6-7hrs) with lots of steep vertical climbing. I decided to make this choice with my training as I’ve got another event (ultra skyrace) only a few weeks later that is very different to TUM. So my focus was to train specifically for one or the other, but not both.
The trail at the start of the fun run.

The aura surrounding this year’s TUM had been just as good as last years with respect to the athlete information and enthusiasm from Paul Charteris and his team. The energy that exudes from the TUM Team is infectious and you cannot help but get caught up in it all.

I arrived at Auckland international airport with Brian on the Thursday before the race, and together we picked up our rental car and then proceeded to Rotorua, with just enough time to check-in at the Holiday Inn and get dressed for the afternoon fun run. We boarded one of the many buses with other excited runners for the short drive around to the drop-off point. Our bus was a-buzz with chatter which was not too dissimilar to a primary school excursion. The fun run was really well attended and the trails it traversed on the south side of Rotorua were superb. I fell into a gentle pace and found myself running near Meghan Arbogast. I introduced myself and we had a good chat for a few kilometres. Last year’s fun run I chatted to Timmy Olson, this year Meghan. These TUM fun runs are the best, truly. The fun run finished at the spectacular Te Puia. A few of us were herded to the side then taken onto the geyser plateau for a photo shoot. I hadn’t done a ‘running’ photo shoot before and it was fun following the conga line of runners being lead around in a figure of eight by Anna Frost. At the conclusion of the photo shoot I had a short pre-raceinterview with Bryon Powell of After viewing a lot of Bryon’s interviews it is kind of funny being in one of them. And no, I haven’t watched it yet.

Running photo shoot.
The Friday morning before the race Brian and I met up with Nick Smith (fellow Berowra Bushrunner) and his wife Andrea, for a recce drive over the course and its checkpoints. Nick and Andrea hadn’t been on the course before, and Brian and I hadn’t seen the back part of the course as last year it was removed entirely from the race due to extreme fire danger. The recce was time well spent and helped to refresh my mind on what was coming up and which checkpoints are worth refuelling at. 

Recce drive: (L-R) Nick Smith, me, Brian
We returned from the recce drive with enough time to attend the Athlete Q&A before the race briefing and check-in. A few days earlier Paul Charteris had made the decision that all runners would need to carry a waterproof jacket. For some the jump from no mandatory gear, as per the standard race rules, to the requirement to carry a waterproof jacket was too much which lead to some very entertaining reading on Facebook. The decision was made as a result of tropical cyclone ‘Lusi” which was slowly bearing down on the New Zealand North Island and was expected to hit the TUM course on race day. 

On my way to dinner I passed the race registration area and there was a lot of noise and chatter coming from the room. I stuck my head in to discover that there had been an announcement and that the course was to be rerouted and the distances originally on offer (60km, 85km and 100km) would now be altered to a ‘short course’ of approximately 59km or ‘long course’ of approximately 72km. There was a lot of speculation and pointing to maps which led to some interesting dinner conversation. Ultimately everyone was in the same boat and we would have to see what the following morning’s race and weather would bring.

Following my usual restless prerace sleep I got up, got ready then Brian and I met up with Brendan Davies for the short drive to the start line. Emerging from the Holiday Inn in the early morning darkness I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was only some light cloud cover and that everything looked remarkably dry. Perhaps the weather forecast was wrong, it is after all the only profession where you can be consistently wrong and still get to keep your job. On the drive to the start line rain drops on the car windscreen signalled the change in weather conditions. We arrived just in time to do a quick prerace warm-up to loosen the muscles and settle the nerves, and then it was time to manoeuvre ourselves near the front of the pack. After the prerace formalities had concluded I turned on my head torch then joined in with the countdown, then we were off and running.
I'm in there somewhere.

The pace was solid as we ran up the gentle incline of the fire trail through the redwoods. The higher we climbed the more the trail became exposed and we were rewarded with a glorious predawn view of Rotorua’s twinkling lights. As we rounded the hill and dropped back down to the Water Tank we were greeted with a small cheer squad. Brian was there and as I dropped off my head torch he let me know that I was 4th girl. We headed a little further along the trail before we hit a junction where the first of the event’s course changes occurred. At this junction the short course runners were allowed to continue along the proper route and the long course runners were redirected to do a big loop back to the start line. I joined the long course runners and once again had no idea where I sat in the field. I kept my pace up as high as I felt was sustainable for the expected 7-8hrs of racing. It was a bit demoralising having raced for an hour or so only to find yourself back at the start line to do the first climb of the day for the second time in short succession. It was as though our efforts were being judged and I had failed, so had to attempt the first climb again.
Through the start line again.
So for the second time I was determined to run to the top better than I had done the first time. My effort must have been deemed acceptable so next time round at the junction I was allowed to go on to Lake Tikitapu and the checkpoint beyond. It was along this session I turned my head to find that Katherine Macmillan was now beside me. “Wow”, I thought, she looked so strong and glided past me on the uphill.  I Kept her in sight and caught up to her again soon after, it was then when we both saw Shona Stephenson ahead so of course I had to catch up with her. I left Katherine and had a brief chat with Shona before pulling away a little then found my own rhythm. Now I could start chasing the short course runners on the proper course. At least I knew this section from last year. Every runner I caught I used it as a mental sling shot to shoot past them to the next runner ahead.  
Katherine Macmillan and me.
By the time I got to the Lake Okataina checkpoint the weather had set in well and truly. It was raining almost constantly and the strong winds were driving in every direction but upwards. There was no hiding from the weather so I ran on, like most people, with wet clothing. At the checkpoint Brian was there to help me refuel and then I was off onto the short road section up to the Millar Road aid station and turnoff into the forest. This next leg was pretty long (14km’s) and contains the biggest climbs of the course. It was along this leg that I was passed by the charging Claire Walton (2nd). It was still too early on to charge after her, so I focused on maintaining my own pace. The early part of this leg everyone was still heading in the same direction. By the time I got to the highest point on the course the first relay runner came charging towards me. Most of the way down the other side Sage Canaday (eventual race winner) came running up the hill. Shortly after Sage passed the flood gate of runners/walkers started to open and there was an almost constant flow of faces heading towards me.
Almost at Okataina Lodge checkpoint.
I arrived at the Okataina Lodge checkpoint and was again greeted by Brian. He handed me a small soft flask and told me there was a short 2km out, 2km back section to do before I returned to the checkpoint. So I quickly left him and proceeded out along the course. About halfway along I passed Jo Johansen (eventual female winner) on her return journey. Along this section I was passed by Ruby Muir and had an “oh crap” moment until I remembered that she was doing the relay. Soon afterwards I spotted Meghan Arbogast, Katherine Macmillan and Shona Stephenson all pretty close to each other. They all looked very strong and I knew if I slacked off or struggled in any way then they would catch me so I made every effort to stay focused.
Did I mention how wet it was?

Back at the Okataina Lodge checkpoint Brian gave me the rest of my food and drink then it was onto the last leg of the run, back up and over the big hill. I charged up the hill as best I could passing more and more friends, exchanging pleasantries as we passed. On the later part of this leg I was passed by a strong finishing Dawn Tuffery (3rd). Unfortunately I was lacking the speed to stay with her.

I did not wipe my nose with the flag. I promise.
In the end I completed the revised course in 7:18:54 for 4th place. I’m not exactly shore what distance it was in the end, possibly anywhere between 72-74km’s with 2600m of ascent, depending on whose watch data you chose to believe. I was happy to have maintained what I thought was a fairly constant pace, or at least effort. I felt comfortable running in the wet windy conditions, but as soon as I crossed the finish line I could feel the chill start to set in. The revised course was probably better suited to me as it had more ascent and decent than the intended 100km course does over an equivalent distance.  In a way I was glad that the weather conditions had deteriorated throughout the day as it meant Paul Charteris had made the right decisions regarding the waterproof jacket and revising the course route. So ultimately I am still to race the proper TUM course, but on the flip side Paul now has an alternate route for a ‘fire course’ and ‘cyclone course’. Oh well, there is always next time. 

Womens Podium (L-R): Paul (RD), Jo (1st), Dawn (3rd), me (4th), Meghan (5th).

My boxing kangaroos.