Sunday, April 11, 2010

60km running race

In March 2010 Jason and I were in New Zealand for a wedding and a family holiday. Jason was really excited that this was going to be the first trip that we were going to have without any associated sports trips. Little did he know I was busy google searching for events to do while I was in New Zealand. In my search I came across what was going to be a major challenge for me. A 59.8km trail run starting in Rotorua. The race was a week before the wedding. It was perfect. I just had to tell Jason.

Lets just say, Jason wasn't 100% happy with me finding a race to do while on holiday. In fact, I can't really repeat his words here, I'll leave it to your imagination.

Back to the race...I asked my triathlon coach to write me a programme to finish the race and late December I started my training. The training started off pretty easy, only about 60km per week.... that was scary, in the beginning my weekly training amounted to what I was trying to achieve in just one day!

My peak training week was around 142km, with a 45km run. A key achievement for me was running a 3 hour 25 min marathon in training (I wonder what I could achieve in a race).

I was stoked to get through the training totally injury free and consider that my running is so much better for the training that I had to do for this race.

I couldn't have made it through the training without the help of some very good friends:
Sandy- my new Perth long run training buddy, having you there for nearly all of the long runs really made the time go so much faster.
Kat and Rich- other run buddies through the training.
Kallie- the ultimate ultra marathon buddy. Thanks so much for all your knowledge. I learnt so much.
Jason- putting up with me when I was grumpy and joining me for some recovery runs.

So on to the race now. The photo below shows the course that I was to follow for the day. Around lakes, up mountains, and alongside rivers.
For the week leading up to the race I was based in Taupo. I only had short easy runs each day in that last week. Around 4km in total, enough to keep the legs ticking over, but nothing that would tire me out. It was good as it meant that I recovered from the flight and my massively long week at work relatively quickly.

The day before the race we drove to Rotorua for race registration and some aid station scouting. The race registration and race start were both based in the Redwood Forest in Rotorua. The Redwoods contain some wicked mountain bike and running trails. An outdoor enthusiasts dream!Here I am at race registration. Nothing fancy, just a few people, boxes and the forest. So different to a triathlon race. We got a good race pack with some nice goodies. We were also given the detailed maps so the rest of the afternoon was spent scouting the aid stations to make Jason's support crewing role much easier. I will briefly outline the course, but more detail on the actual race will follow.
The first aid station was approximately 13 km into the race and was at the bottom end of Blue Lake (Lake Tikitapu). Here is the view from the aid station.
It was then a short 5km run to the next aid station and the last time that I would see Jason on race day for 18km. The run to the second aid station was also the only section on tar seal. I had decided to start the race in my road running shoes and then change to off road shoes at this second aid station.

The third aid station was at the bottom of the Western Okaitaina Walkway. No support crew were allowed here as we had to run up a relatively narrow gravel road. Here's Jason checking out the start of the walkway.
It was about 18 km to the fourth aid station at Lake Okaitaina. This was a lovely spot.

See that hill on the right side of the photo below, I had to run along that ridge essentially... and it just kept going up and up...
Here I am checking out the maps for the rest of the course. We didn't drive to the last 2 aid stations or the finish line. It was enough for one day.I stayed the night at my Aunt and Uncle's house in Rotorua while Jason drove back to Taupo for the night. Around 6pm my Uncle took me to the race briefing. The previous year's winner did a great speech and had some awesome points that would prove to be very useful for my race:
  1. The most important thing in the race is hydration and nutrition. Have a plan and stick with it. Also, take some time to re-fuel at the aid stations. A minute re-fueling will ensure that you can continue going strong near the end of the race.
  2. Secondly, appropriate pacing will be a key determinant in how the race goes in the latter stages. He noted that for every 10 minutes that you go too fast at the start you lose 40min at the end. He also said that if at any stage you are puffing or sweating profusely you are going too hard.
  3. The race start will be slower than any race start that we have ever done.
  4. No matter what, if you are running, jogging, walking or crawling, you are still getting closer to the end point. Its just one foot in front of the other.
  5. When you get tired really concentrate on technique. Concentrate on picking your feet up for every step, and keeping good form.
  6. The day is a journey for everyone. There will be good points and there will be bad points. Its about getting through them all.
  7. No matter what, whether you are first or last, there will come a time where you will want to pull out. Everyone goes through it.
  8. No matter how good you are, you will probably be the most sore that you have ever been in your life at the end of the day.
After the race briefing it was time for a big dinner and some time with the Rotorua branch of the family.

I probably slept the best that I ever had before a major event. 9.30am - 3.45am solid. I was stoked with that.

I was up and about by 3.50am and had breakfasted by 4.05am. I then had a 2 hour wait before I was due to leave for the race start. This time helped to digest my food. I managed to read about 6 magazines over this time. Very pleased that my Aunt had a lot of light reading on hand for me. I was also pleased with how calm I was feeling. I really wasn't nervous about the race at all.

I arrived at the race start at 6.30am, and then it suddenly felt like we had no time left until the race was due to start! Jason arrived with the rest of the support crew (Blossom and Melissa), and finally we were nearly ready to start.

The race started at 7am, about 10 minutes before sunrise. Therefore headlamps were needed for the start of the race. I am number 110 in the pink top in the middle of this shot. I was hanging round with a triathlete that I raced pro with at the long distance worlds in 2006.
After 15 weeks of training, my biggest running was about to start. Here we go...check out the girl in the white running skirt, hehehe. Totally inappropriate clothing, but she seemed comfortable.
The race start was really slow. It was totally surreal starting a race this slow it felt like I was walking. I had to resist the urge to go faster as well. I knew that the day was going to be long so I just worked really hard to conserve as much energy as I could. Here we are heading through the trees.
After about 500m the course started to go up, and up, and up, and up.... I was now glad that I had started out as slow as I did. We had about 500 steps in the first 4km. It was now that I got a little worried about what may be ahead of me. Steps, steps, steps...
And then more was about now that my GPS signalled the first KM was done. It took nearly 7 minutes, and I was withing the first 10 - 15 athletes of 200! Boy was it going to be a long day.
Still climbing... a slightly worried look on my face here.
And finally a smile for the camera (still climbing by the way).
Nutrition is key for these types of events so I took in my first gel at 3km. I was also sucking down lots of my electrolyte drink.

After 4km of uphill and steps we started a pretty gnarly downhill. Its been a while since I had a good proper down hill so I was a little tentative to begin with but then I got my rhythm going and I started flying. I was loving this part of the race. Check out that grin!!!
Just after this downhill was the first time that we got to see spectators. It was at the water tower and my uncle was there cheering me on. I found out then that I was in 4th place overall for the women, including team runners. I headed off my headlamp and carried on.

The next part of the track was great we had lots of viewing spots and heaps of support. These kids were making so much noise, it was amazing and really uplifting.
Some really nice running later we made our way round the bottom of Blue Lake and then on to the first aid station. Here I am getting ready to hand over my camelback to Jason for my fuel belt. At this stage of the event I was still feeling pretty awesome, but only 13 km in there was still a very long way to go.
So unfortunately Jason didn't bring my fuel belt... he didn't check off the checklist I gave him for his support crew work. So here I am heading off down the hill with the fuel belt again (I was really looking forward to running without the camelback for a bit though).The next section of the race included 5km approximately on the road. As I was a little mad with Jason and due to the fact that there was about 6 runners around me I probably ran this section too fast. We were pumping along at 4.30min/km pace. After a km or so I got over being mad at Jason and just got on with the task at hand. I really enjoyed this section of the race as I have done so much of my training on the road and it felt nice and familiar.

Here we are coming into aid station 2. It was here that I had planned on changing into trail running shoes. I was really pleased that this aid station was where it was as I really needed a toilet stop.
And here I go ducking off into the toilet....
Changing the shoes to my trail shoes. It was nice to just stop and talk to Jason for a bit here. Its soooo different from triathlons where you are in and out of transition as fast as you can.
On with the camelback and off I go. I was a little sad as it meant that I wouldn't see any support crew for more than 18km. But the benefit of that was once I saw my support crew again I would be well over halfway in distance.
Aid station three was about 3km up the 12km climb that we had to negotiate. I stopped here and really tried to force some food in. I really struggled and made a mistake by not forcing it down. I would pay for that later in the race I think.

So from there we headed up, and up, and up, and up.........a little after crossing this bridge I had my first fall for the day. I stood on a bit of cutty grass and tripped myself up. Hahaha! I needed a wake up call. Following this I started concentrating more on my technique, and lifting my feet. I was lucky to fall on a soft surface so no damage at all.

So we continued running up and up, and up through beautiful bush....I was playing cat and mouse with a male runner, he would pass me on the uphills and I would get him on the downhills.And up and up and up..... do you get the point! A little way into this run I came across two old hunters, about 70 years old. They had tramped up there with their old school steel frame back packs and billies. They had missing teeth and just looked like they had lived in these hills. They looked at me very strangely, but as one of the leading women I did get lots of extra comments and support.Following 12km of uphill (and very solid uphill) we descended over a very fast, furious, technical and dangerous 4km downhill. I LOVED it. I simply adore running downhill. I passed about 10 people on the downhill. I love it so much, but in hindsight I think that I pushed too hard through here as well.

Running into the Lake Okaitaina aid station was probably one of my favourite parts of the race. It was so special. There was so many spectators there and the cheering was amazing. For a little bit all was forgotten, the fact that I had run 37km flew from my mind for a bit.

The first thing I said to Jason was "there was some major f****en hills in that section"... and to be honest with you, my language was probably stronger than that!!! The next lot of photos really are here to show the emotions that I went through at this aid station.

"GIVE ME FOOD".... "MMMMM, smarties!!!"
"Get these fricken stones out of my shoes" and "ouch it really hurts to stand on one foot"
"This coke is good"..."I'm in a little pain right now, just give me a chance to get this down"
"Do I really need to continue on with this, I guess if I have to I will"
"I'm off and I'm smiling, bring it on"...
The next bit of the track started off innocuously enough, but it didn't last. This is by far the toughest leg. It starts off OK, with the Eastern Okataina Track throwing some short steep uphills and gentler downs. It's all in the bush though so I needed to be nimble (something that wasn't too forthcoming after nearly 40km of running). There are some nice views of the lake in places. The Northern Tarawera Track is tough. There's zero net elevation gain/loss but the overgrown nature of the track and abundance of roots and rocks make this section really tough.

Here we go... can you see the track here, it goes up and over these rocks. Starting to climb over things was getting really tough. My legs would cramp every time I tried.
More rocks to negotiate...
By this stage of the race I was in a little daze and not 100% with it. I was struggling to negotiate the tricky trail running. At times we had cliff on one side of us and a drop to the lake on the other. I was terrified of tripping and falling through here. I had pushed further than I ever had in my life in a race at this stage. Everything in my body was totally hurting and I was wobbling all over the place... I was in a bad spot...and then I had to step over this rock. What the.... it took me about 5 min to negotiate this!!!

I also came across a downhill that I literally didn't know what to do to get down it. My legs had absolutely no muscle strength at all and I just couldn't do it. A man passed me and said (really encouragingly) just take it one step at a time. I just got on my bum and slid down it in the end. I guess I still had some problem solving skills.
I could glimpse the bay from here that we were running lifter my spirits and I picked up the pace a bit as I really needed some company. I had been on my own for a while now. I was also starting to hallucinate and was unsure of the track in places...
I was crying a lot through this stage which led to nopt being able to breathe, it took every ounce of mental strength I had left to hold it all together.

We had to keep on eye out for these markers in the tree and every time I saw one I literally forgot about it the next second and then I would get all worried about being off track... seriously, what was happening to my mind? Yay, I finally made it to the next aid station. This one was accessible by boat only and not as well stocked as some previous aid stations.

It was here that I took a seat and ate some pikelets, smarties, lollies, drank coke and had some Ems Power cookies. I also took some time to chat to a few men who had congregated at this aid station. It was here I my reserves began to build up as well. I felt a lot better leaving this spot.
I started the run again from this aid station with a fellow runner from Brisbane. We talked and ran together for about 5km which was really nice. I did run into a tree branch sticking out and hurt my arm, but I continued on with "Brisbane" as he was setting a nice maintainable pace and the company was keeping me sane.

For a while we had this really nice moss underground, I was running on this for a while rather than the track and it was heaven!!!!
That didn't last and we were soon back to the tricky track!!!! It was about here that "Brisbane" left me. I carried on at about the same pace, but he started heading off faster with a team runner that passed us. On that note, team runners were amazing, they kept on telling us how awesome the individuals were and it helped sooooo much.I needed to really concentrate through these sections so that I didn't trip and fall on all these rocks.
I was now over and above my limit but every step I was making I was getting closer to the end. The track had opened up somewhat which made the running a lot easier.But let me tell you, as I came into the last aid station I was in no mood for talk...
In fact I said, while crying, I just can't carry on. Jason's response (much to the horror of some onlookers) was to "just get the hell on with it would you women"... And so I gave Jason the fuel belt and I was off. As I ran through the aid station I heard "good work Perth"... "Brisbane" was sitting in the aid station looking very worse for wear. My pacing had paid off (in that stage anyway).

This is looking back over the last aid station

I was really stoked though as the track really did open up and I could just run freely for a bit. I was uninhibited, I only had 5km to go, I had no extra weight with the camel back and I felt like I was flying... and in comparison to what I had been running at, I was flying!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Woohoo, I was going to do it.
That feeling lasted until I came across these steps.... was someone playing a cruel joke on us.... seriously who thought it would be funny to have these steps, this far into the race. At the time, I was pleased that they where up stairs though as I didn't think that I had the ability to negotiate a set of down stairs. So I dragged myself up these....

What the hell... a little while later I had some down stairs to negotiate. I wasn't very graceful heading down these stairs, let me tell you.The race was due to end below the Tarawera Falls, so when I heard rushing water I was starting to get really excited. I know that I wasn't far from the end of the journey.
Here are the tarawera falls. We were due to finish in the tarawera falls carpark. SO I was in touch with the finish line....4 months of hard work and a mission day was nearly over.
Just after the falls there was a sign that played with my mind, it gave two routes to the carpark. One said, for the shorter route turn here. But no, this race didn't let us take the shorter route. We had to take the long way!!!!

This water was amazing to look at and run pass. I knew that once I was over the race I was going to be swimming in here.
and fianlly, after over 7 hours and 59.8km, here was the finish line. So close, only 50m to go... I had so many supporters on the finish line as well... what a great finish, there was:
Jason, Ken, Rona, Leza and Melissa Papps;
Pat, Shirley, Rhonda and Briar Tickelpenny, and Brent (Rhonda's boyfriend);
Carol, Marts and Mike (Blossom) Taylor; and
Lorrie, Nicci and James.

That was WICKED to see so many people on the finish line for me!!!!
So, close.... I am just thinking of each step at this stage.
So close.......p.s. it was hurting real bad at this stage.
Finally I'm done!!!!!!!!!!! WooHoo! Crazy stuff! For a little while all the pain went away.
I just needed a little time to collect my thoughts and have a little rest.
Boy, what a big day. But I made it. Here I am with my Uncle Pat. I was just reflecting on what I had just achieved. Finally it was time for a little swim in this amazing water. It was stunning!! and sooooo refreshing.

After the swim I did a little stocktake of my body, I was sore all over but nothing major was concerning. I did have some pretty gnarly blister though.Here it is in close up for you:
So a few weeks on the pain is all gone, but not the sense of achievement. Not everyone can run 60km. I am so pleased to have taken on the challenge and for coming third in the race.

Thanks to everyone for all your help and support. I couldn't have done it without you.

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