Running in New Zealand has been a surreal experience. Having the opportunity to race a world-class field in such a wonderful country is one major reason why I do this sport. I realize that such distant travel is a luxury and a privilege and it’s not something that I take for granted. I’ve been very fortunate to not only get to race the 2013 edition of Tarawera Ultra marathon last year, but to also to be able to come back this year and successfully defend my title.
The night before the race I was notified by my pacer/crew (local legend) Kerry Suter that due to the weather conditions of the impending Hurricane Lucy the 100km course had been shortened to a 65km (it actually turned out to be over 70km ..or close to 45 miles). At first I was a bit disappointed, as mentally I had braced myself for 100km of pain that would include a final 40km on fast fireroads that I had never encountered before. But then I felt a huge sense of relief as the shorter course would actually have more big hills on runnable, smooth trail. My training since the Carlsbad Marathon had been a solid build-up, but I knew my mileage hadn’t been that high; Given my limited training and busy 2014 race schedule I was more suited for a shorter race anyway!
Before the race started I had decided that I would relax the first hour or two and run with the lead pack before making a break in the exact same location that I did last year: Millar Road. For the new modified course that we were running this was right around the 21-22 mile point in the race; the previous year this was around mile 16 into the 100km race and I moved far too hard given the longer event.
It took about a 4:50 mile effort (in terms of HR and leg strength as my actual split was over 6min pace) to take the lead from Mike Aish on this solid uphill stretch. With the sudden injection of speed and intensity I came through the aid station and chugged a cup of coke without stopping. Then at the top of the hill I basically inhaled two VFuel gels within 10min. Once I commit to the lead I never want to give it up!
NOTE: Earlier in the race I ran the first 35min purely on water before starting to take a VFuel about once every 20min. The idea was to start easy with more fat burning to spare the glycogen reserves for the more intense running later on in the race up the big hills. The VFuels are a good carb source as they are really easy on my stomach and they also have a source of fat/protein with fractionated coconut oil. I have been working on my fat burning capacity during long runs by limiting my carb intake strategically before certain workouts. For example, about 2.5 weeks before race day I did a 23 mile long run late in the afternoon after hardly eating most of the day and then running only with water. I ran a steady pace the whole way and closed down miles 20-23 at 5:30 to 5:20 pace without having to dig very much. That was a huge confidence booster being at altitude in Boulder. I also mostly eat giant salads for lunch dosed with avocados, nuts, and Flora Health Udo’s Oil or 7 Sources. I still drink an Avery Beer pretty much everyday and eat tons of pizza, but at times I will limit carbs for part of a day, coming off an overnight fast (easy!) then run in the morning relying just on plain coffee. I think that combination of diet and strategic, carb-restricted long runs has helped improve my fat-burning capacity so I am able to become more efficient in the long haul. It comes down to math and science: improve your Lactate Threshold, improve your Running Economy, boost your Vo2max, and get your Heart Rate reserve % up so that all these thresholds are closer and closer together!
At the turn-around point about 2/3 into the race it was a huge relief to see that I was up over 7min on second place and it appeared that everyone had become a bit spread out. I knew that as long as I didn’t blow a gasket on the return trip over the hills in the last 12 miles of the course (like I did last year), I could probably hold on for first. It really helped that I had a pacer for the first time (Kerry Suter) reminding me to keep good form and to look out for oncoming runners. I was also very lucky that the main part of the storm didn’t hit until about an hour after I finished the race as the strong winds and rain started to make the trails a bit muddy.
Three “notable” FIRSTS occurred during this race:
1. I pissed myself on the run. I know this is pretty gross and I’m not sure sharing this information is a good idea but what the heck. It was totally intentional too of course. I pride myself on staying hydrated during ultra races and so usually once every 2-3 hours I gotta go! Instead of wasting a precious 15-20 seconds at a time like I did at other races ( esp. with a tight margin of victory like at Speedgoat) this time around I just let it flow at full speed without a hitch in my stride. It was interesting because it took a lot of mental concentration. These days ultras are getting a lot more competitive and you never know how close your margin of victory may be (in this case it was totally unnecessary as I had a bit of a cushion on 2nd place with 19 minutes to spare …but at the time I was still worried about my lead!).
2. My headlamp totally failed from the start. This was not a big deal as I ran with the front pack of runners and followed their beams. There were a couple tricky sections in the dark with steps and rocks and roots around the Redwood forest for the first hour or so but I managed to not fall.
3. I got stung by a bee during the race… like a legit hornet/yellow jacket sting (no wimpy honey bee sting). This was also not a big deal but it was around mile 27 and I noted that it hurt a lot worse than the pounding of the steep downhills at that point in the race (the same downhills that trashed my quads last year). HOKA ONE ONE power?
Overall, I had a great experience over the 45 miles and nearly 8,000’ of climbing on beautiful lake and forest trails. Race director Paul Charteris really knows how to put on a world-class top notch ultra event and all the volunteers that I passed at the aid-stations were very friendly and supportive. Also, hundreds of fellow runners in the races that I passed along the way often offered a lot of encouragement and were polite enough to give me space to pass. Finally, even though he had to run the first leg of the relay, local legend (and previous 2-time Tarawera champion Kerry Suter was kind enough to crew for me and then pace me). All I had to do was pay him in Avery Beer. Thank you all!
Next up, the Lake Sonoma 50-miler. Hope to see you there!
Gear used/Shameless Sponsor Plugs:
Hydration: Ultimate Direction:
AK Race Vest 2.0 (had to carry a rain jacket).
20oz Quick-draw handheld
Jurek Endure waist belt (I had two that rotated at aid stations)
Shades: Smith Optics Pivlock V2
Socks: Drymax Max Protection
Shoes: HOKA ONE ONE HUAKA
Fuel: 17 Vfuel Gels (I counted the wrappers stuffed in my UD vest after the race).
Ugo Bars (mainly used in training…Sandi I didn’t want to risk bringing nuts/fruit over to New Zealand due to customs).