Saturday, 5 December 2015

Kepler Challenge 2015

With the growth of trail running there is no such thing as an "off season". For the most part in Australia we don't have seasons which define the end of the trail running season, so potentially you can run all year round, year after year doing quality trail races. There are so many races on offer all year round now that it's necessary to create your own "off season" in order to allow the body to relax and reset the mind, both of which are necessary to be motivated enough for future races. For me I've already started to wind down and am doing the next couple of races for my own self interest and pleasure. To finish the 2015 calendar year I was once again fortunate enough to run the Kepler Challenge (60km), NZ. This was my third trip to Te Anau for the event, having run the Challenge in 2014 and the Grunt (27km) in 2011. For this trip across the "Ditch" I was accompanied by my parents.

My training for this year's race hadn't been very specific. I still did in excess of 100km weeks on the trails, but I hadn't been doing any long distance tempo runs. In the weeks leading up to Kepler I had started doing intervals once a week at the local oval, consisting of multiple runs at 90% effort, broken up with short recovery periods. I'd been doing these with faster friends in an effort to keep my efforts honest. Brian had been joining me for some of these sessions, even though he might have sat out one or two laps of the oval. 

At 6am the Kepler Challenge kicked off in the early dawn light. There is just enough natural light in this early stage of the event to distinguish the trail, and its occasional hazard, under the tree canopy. I was comfortably cruising along the early stages of the race as the trail ran alongside Lake Te Anau. I was happy with my early pace, which was no where near that of Ruby Muir and Zelah Morrall who quickly ran off out of sight. On this type of course they are two runners who stand above the rest. Zelah is the current course record holder, having set it in 2003, and there was speculation that Ruby might have been after the record this year, so there was no use in trying to tear off trying to keep up with those two. 

At Brod Bay (5.6km) the trail abruptly turns from near flat running to an incline that in places is just steep enough to want to walk, but is still runnable. Given my year of predominantly running Skyraces I wasn't going to walk unless I absolutely had to.
Lots of opportunities to see where you are going and were you have come from. Kepler Challenge Facebook.
I reached the Luxmore Hut checkpoint (13.8km) in third place. While I was getting my gear checked at the mandatory inspection, I saw Fiona Hayvice arrive at the checkpoint. We left close together and spent the next few kilometers, running along the exposed ridge line within sight of each other. On the descent, with seemingly endless switchbacks, down to Iris Burn Hut checkpoint (28.4km) I managed to close the gap to Fiona and we pretty much arrived at the checkpoint together.  
The views are gorgeous from the top. Kepler Challenge Facebook.
 It was along the back part of this course, where the trail is fairly flat as it runs alongside Iris Burn tributary where I lacked the speed, and probably the determination, to keep up with Fiona. I quickly started to lag behind and watched her depart into the distance, occasionally spotting her ahead on the straighter, more exposed sections of trail. Usually I'm more competitive and would chase after people, but my mind and body were in holiday mode and I was quite content to just enjoy my time on this gorgeous trail. 

A short way out from Rocky Point checkpoint (36.1km) I was caught and passed by Jean Beaumont. I'd met Jean at the Hounslow Classic a few months prior. Hounslow was more of an introduction, and running with her at Kepler was a good opportunity to develop that a bit further. Jean slowly edged out a lead and the gap between us slowly increased. As with Fiona I wasn't in any particular urge to chase after her, I was just enjoying the race run along the Kepler Track. Perhaps if I'd had Mick Donges encouraging me along this section of trail, like last year, then things might have been different.
I look way too exhausted for such a flat section of trail. Back Country Runner.

I was enjoying my run so much that it was a rather rude shock when I started to hear the finish line announcer's voice radiating down the trail. Crossing the Kepler Challenge finish line, and ending the trail running calendar year, in 6:31:46 was a feeling of elation and relief.  My focus for the year had been Oceania Skyrunning. I had focused on keeping myself fit and healthy for the entire year, while constantly fearing an unexpected injury. To get through my target races for the year without injury was very satisfying. There has been a lot of discussion about ultra trail runners burning themselves out by racing too much. I think this year I was able to train sustainably and peak at the right times, and fortunate enough to get results that I worked for and sometimes fluked. Now is the time to enjoy the festive season.

P.S. Brian thought that it was possible for me to run 6hrs at Kepler, given my training, however it turned out that I ran near perfect splits for 6:30. In hindsight I'm pretty pleased with the way that I managed to pace myself over the course. I got to enjoy the trail just that little bit longer.

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