It has taken me a few years, lots of training and plenty of races to finally achieve one of my running goals. That is I have now completed an ultra-marathon. An ultra-marathon is a race or run of any distance above 42.2kms. Some people say that 50km’s is about the minimum for a run to be classified as an ultra and I tend to agree with that thinking.
The “Great Lake Relay” is an event whereby teams of runners start in Taupo and circumnavigate their way around Lake Taupo. One circuit is 160kms in length. There is also a smaller version of the relay available in that teams can cover the distance from the bottom of the lake (at a place called Turangi) and head north to Taupo.
I originally started running by knocking out some 5 and 6 km races in Rotorua. Surprisingly I enjoyed them. I then moved up to some races a wee bit longer and eventually got up the guts to go to the half marathon distance. My first half I knocked at 1 hour 50 minutes which I was pleased with.
I completed about 5 or 6 half marathons and then took on the challenge of a 35km race around a local lake. I was warned it was harder than a marathon but at the time I thought – why not? How hard can it be? Well it was hard. Very, very hard. The first (and last time to date) that I gave up running and took up walking because I was over it. I then recovered and retreated back to the half marathon distance before moving up to the 42km distance.
In October 2011 I completed my first ever marathon. The Auckland Marathon was my first and one of the most memorable runs ever. I exceeded my expectations and hopes and decided to complete an ultra-marathon. Fortunately my wife’s common sense prevailed and she convinced me to commit do doing some more marathons before trying to leap into further distances.
So in 2012 I completed 6 marathons. 2 were A races ( I managed to break 3 hours 30 minutes once), 1 was a B race, and the other 3 were a mixture of training runs and fund raisers. All that time though I was thinking about and planning for a bigger goal. An ultra-marathon.
I had considered a few race options including the Tarawera 100 and the Northburn 100. But I was put off due to the high cost of the entry fees and the sheer distances. And I also want to make sure that if I am going to go longer that I am 100% confident I can do it. Those two events above are still a wee way out of my confidence levels (especially the 100 miles) but I will get there!
So the “Length of the Lake” became my number one race choice. At a very cheap entry fee of $75NZD ($63 USD) it is a very financially accessible race for the average punter. And it is also accessible for support crews and families to tag along. When I normally do an event I get dropped off at the start line and say goodbye to the family. They go off and do shopping and stuff while I run and then they come back to collect me later on. This weekend though the family were there at every transition point ready to help me along.
Any person who is serious about going longer needs to be serious about their training. If you look around on the internet there are plenty of different training plans you can download and use for free. That is how I have structured all my training in the past. I have often used the Hal Higdon training plans from 5kms through to marathon training plans. For an ultra though I went to one of the sources of ultra marathon knowledge – Bryon Powell of IRunFar.com.
Bryon has a book called “Relentless Forward Progress” which is an exceptional ultimate guide and reference book to ultra-marathons. I chose a training plan that was similar to my older training plans in that I am used to running 5 days a week and having two days off. So I chose the 40miles to 100kms on 70miles training per week training plan. Mainly because the longest weekday run was about an hour which meant I wouldn’t be spending copious amounts of time out of the house on weekdays. The longest long run was 50kms in length and there were back to back weekend runs where I would run up to 30kms the first day and up to 20kms the second day.
The training was very manageable. I know when I am ready to race/run when I get to the point that I am utterly and completely over running. When I lose all motivation and energy and can’t be bothered anymore – I know I am ready. I hit that point about 4 weeks out from this event. In the past I hit that point about 3 weeks out so I was a little nervous worrying that I had hit that peak too soon. Not to worry – taper is everything.
Vanessa and the kids were my support crew and faithfully drove the entire course ensuring I had what I needed at (almost) every stop. Yelling, screaming, thinking ahead for me with little things like making sure drink bottles didn’t have lids on them. Listening to what I wanted to eat and having it waiting for me.
And I must do a shout out to the fantastic Kate Townsley who is an absolute inspiration. Kate was competing in two relay teams (one walking team and one running team). We managed to cross paths at one checkpoint and she encouraged me. And then a couple of times later on I saw her waving out a car window or tooting the car horn as she went past.
The race starts at 7am in a small park in a place called Pukawa Bay. It is an idyllic little spot located at the very bottom of Lake Taupo with a few homes and a reserve there. The race is a combined start with both relay walking teams, solo walkers and solo runners all departing at the same time. From the start it is straight up. Seriously the road goes straight up a hill. I had heard from a person whom had previously done the event that I should walk the first hill. That was some very wise advice right there!
Once we got to the top of the hill (which took me about 15 minutes) the run properly began. The road meanders along with a slight climb to start and then works its way down to the flat. From that point on the run is entirely follow your nose. Provided you listen to the race marshal’s and turn left towards Taupo you’re on track. Otherwise your next stop isn’t until you reach the base of the ski mountains.
I managed to get through the first leg in about 1 hour 25 minutes which I was really pleased with. I had hoped to run the course in sub 6 minute kms and managed to go through the first checkpoint 5 minutes under that pace. The legs felt good, I was happy and I knew it was on.
When I run I usually focus solely on the clock. And on those around me whom I can use to pace me. With this race I didn’t really have either option. For a start there are no distance markers. I suppose I could have written down my split times per checkpoint a gone off that but as this was my first ultra I didn’t even consider that.
From half way through the first leg (about 8kms) I ran on my own. Pretty much the rest of the day. Occasionally I would sit behind someone for a minute or two but I generally passed people when I could as often as I could. I had a good pace going and I decided to go with it and see how I could make it.
I did manage to see one sign post which told me read “Taupo 40″ meaning that’s how many kilometers there were left for me to cover. That sign right there was the making of my day. I read it and knew that I had less than a marathon left to run. That simple fact was enough to tell me “I can do this”. And so I did.
Later on in the race (starting from about the 40km mark) I started to notice that I was passing people. I also had my support crew telling me to “GO!”. At one point Vanessa made up a lie that I was in something like 8th place. And then it was really on. I have a personal goal which is to finish in the top 20% of any race I enter. I thought there were about 40 runners so I calculated I needed to be top 8 to achieve that goal. And so I put the mental pedal to the metal and kept going.
At about the 30km mark I decided to take on my iPod. I don’t usually race with it in my ears but as I am used to running in the forest I am more used to it being very quiet when I run. However as we were on the main state highway the noise from the traffic really started to wear on me. So at this stage the iPod was more about shutting out external noise rather than assisting me in any way. That would happen a bit later.
As I carried on I started moving up on people and quietly overtaking them. Seriously – passing someone in a race is the most amazing feeling in the world. It takes some serious effort to pass someone in a race after you’ve been running for 40 or more kilometers. And then to make sure they don’t come back and pass you again – that’s some effort right there.
One guy in particular I snuck up on and managed to pass at the bottom of a hill. I tried to put a little distance between him and myself. When I thought I was safe I decided to slow up and walk the hill. I wasn’t going to waste my energy reserves running the hill to get passed by the guy again later. So he got ahead of me and ran up the hill. He wasn’t putting much distance between himself and me so I let him go. After ten minutes from the top of the hill I saw him pull off the course onto the grass. My eyes lit up big time!!!! And so I kept going. A few more miles down the road I saw my support crew again and I called to them “He’s cramping up! He’s cramping up!”. To which Vanessa replied “You’ve nearly caught the two guys in front of you! Keep going! Go!”. So I did and I passed those two guys.
It was at this time that the iPod started to come into play. Having the music was a nice break from the silence. What I also decided to do at this time was start singing. Now this my seem like a really strange thing to do but I figured that I would go for the bluff. That is bluff myself into thinking I was doing fine and bluff anyone trying to run me down that I had lots of energy left. I didn’t but it worked.
From that point it was a run into Taupo itself. Fairly flat, very hot and mostly beautiful scenery. It was here (about 10 kms out) that I managed to catch up to and pass another guy. At this time the guy was walking up a slight hill and I decided that if I would run the hill. I caught up on the uphill and then just decided to go. Down the other side of the hill we went and along the Taupo foreshore we went. 5 kilometers to go and my support crew were waiting for me. I dropped my Camelbak, collected a bottle of electrolytes and a Snickers then looked behind me. And there he was. Only about 100 meters behind me. I wasn’t stopping!
From that point through to the finish it was a case of follow the leader. Me in front and him behind me. I kept looking back when I could to see where my fellow runner was up to but due to the crowds along the lake front I kept losing sight of him. With 1 km to go he suddenly reappeared behind me! Scared the absolute bejesus out of me! I decided there and then there was NO WAY this guy was going to pass me. So I took every last ounce of energy and strength I could muster and started laying down some speed (which was pretty slow but this stage of the course!). I managed to get a gap on him at the last little hill and ran home across the finish line in 6 hours 16 minutes and 40 something seconds.
I don’t know what happened to the other guy but it took him longer than I thought for him to finish after me. I think the energy required for that last hill climb was just beyond him.
When I crossed the finish line I hit the ground. I think I stopped too soon and my legs went straight into crash mode. My quads locked up and down I went. (Albeit very melodramatically). Vanessa was able to push on my feet which cleared the cramp and I was able to stand up after a couple of minutes, congratulate the guy behind me (and the guy not too far behind him) and then get a photo done. And they gave out medals too. getting a medal was a fantastic way to finish the event.
I finished up in 9th place overall and 8th out of all the guys. Overall I was very pleased with my day. With the help of my crew I was able to stay hydrated, stay fed, keep focused and push through to achieving the first of what I hope will be many ultra-marathons or endurance type events.
Breakfast was a big bowl of oats (porridge) at 5am. I had one banana at the start line and that was it for pre-race. During the race I ate the following (quantities are approximate) -
4 bananas, 6 Em’s power bites, 2 Clif gels, 6 Snickers mini bars, 2 liters of plain water, 1 small bottle of Powerade, 1 bottle of sugar free Red Bull and 3 sachets of Cyptomax for hydration (mived in with 300 mls water per sachet). I can’t remember having anything else. And the Snickers mini bars were an absolute god send. One thing I found in training was I would get a hungry feeling in my tummy. With the Snickers bars that never happened so it was something I didn’t have to worry about or be concerned with.
And the bananas were brilliant. They were soft, smooth, easy to consume and light on the stomach. The power bites were nice and I had the peanut butter flavor which is nice but I have a craving for chocolate and the chocolate power bites are STACKED with chocolate chips.
The Clif gels were awesome. I didn’t plan it as such nut somehow I ended up with two coffee flavored gels. One was mocca and the other double espresso. These were great because when I started consuming them the coffee taste got up and slapped me in the face. My taste buds burst back into life and my brain was focused again.
I ran with my trusty Camelbak. It takes about 75omls of water at any one time so it is nice and light. It has a little storage room for gels and food and it was great.
Other bits and pieces
iPod music – Japandroids, Jessie Ware, d’Angelo, We Were Promised Jetpacks, Missy Higgins
- Adidas sun visor,
- New Balance race singlet, shorts and shoes (890 rainbow shoes)
- 2XU race socks (ankle size)
Watch – my daughters Baby G (because I left my very old Timex Iron Man watch at home by accident)
I managed to drink a whole lot of Powerade A Subway veggie pattie sandwich filled the spot nicely. And then we went to the swimming pools for a relax. I spent the entire afternoon consuming water and anything liquid I could get my hands on. Having eaten all the various foods through the race meant that I wasn’t dying of hunger at the end. In the past after my races I have always been SUPER hungry. Not this time so that was a really nice change.
Two days later
Two days later I can sit here and write this report. My quads hurt, my calves are sore and my shoulders are tight. I picked up two blisters on the usual toes. Nothing unexpected to be honest. Oh and I am having a day off work. I think I’ve earned it.
I think I will stick with a few events at either 60 kms, 6 hours or less. As I am returning to study in April there won’t be any time to train or run but I will totally be hitting the training again next year to build up to a 100km or more event for 2015!
And just for the record racing for me is about more than the physical output. It is completely emotional as well. So after a race like this one I am pretty much a wreck for a few days. But once I recover – its game on again!
If you managed to read your whole way through this – I thank you. That was an effort of stamina right there! Hahahahaha. To be honest writing this race report has been as therapeutic for the soul as a massage is for the body. I promise not to write too many of these in the future.