Some events just seem to call out to you proclaiming “you need to run me”, and I don’t know why but the Taupo Ultramarathon never had such a siren’s call to me, at least not with any urgency. But thanks to winning an entry from Wild Things, it was now on my calendar, and I’d chosen the 74km as the next step up on the ultra-distance ladder.
It certainly turned out to be an event of two halves and of 2/3rd’s:1/3rd, but before we get that far along the day, it all started with a boat ride to the start line on a tiny little beach known as Kotukutuku Bay. At briefing the night before we’d been told to be at the boat harbour at 6am for our ferry ride. So nice and early we boarded our vessel, and looking back to over the lake to Taupo town we were treated to a lovely sunrise along the way. Thankfully the inclement weather of the past week had broken, leaving us with a nice calm lake while we waited half an hour for the tardy boat which would transfer us to the beach (he’d apparently slept in).
Once ashore it wasn’t long before we began our hike up and out of the bay, which quickly got the legs warmed up. The delayed start meant the carefully timed meeting of the 100km’ers blew out and we soon were meeting the front of their pack. But this was a chance for some high fives and way to go’s with a few familiar faces.
After about 5km, the lovely single track came to an end and we were alternating between farm land, gravel roads, and black top for the next 22km. While it certainly didn’t make for the most interesting running, it sure ate up the kilometres and quite quickly I was at the Airstrip at 27km and my first drop bag.
I’d learnt from prior events and this time had a checklist in my bag of what I needed to do before I left. I’d highly recommend this, as it made sure I didn’t forget something important like reapplying anti-chafe spray, again. With new socks, 2 litres of my Infinit mix, a new flask of Napalm, and the smiley face reapplied to my hand, I headed out feeling pretty good both physically and mentally. As I was leaving, I was told that Liz (on her first 100km’er) was not far behind, and I was determined to make her work to catch me.
Tracking along nicely on the rolling mountain bike tracks, I was enjoying the light rain, which was taking the heat out of the day nicely. But after a pretty good first half, somewhere around 35km-ish, there was a twinge of pain around the hamstring/groin area of my right leg. It didn’t seem too serious as I could still run and walk but it did slow me down and I started to compensate with me favouring the right leg. Though I wouldn’t feel the effects of that until well into the second half. This was where I got stuck on my metaphorical rock, do I keep pushing on or call it at Kinloch? We’ll see when we get there was my decision.
At what must have been around 5km to Kinloch, I met one of the 100k’er who was done, he hadn’t been able to keep any food or drink down for about 30km and was going to drop from the race. Since misery loves company, I asked if he wanted to join me and we’d walk to Kinloch together. We made it to the marshal station on the outskirts when I left him when he stopped for a rest. As he still had about 90min to the cut off, I suggested that he should have a wee nap and take his time before he decided to drop out. A veteran of multiple 100k events, he was proof that no mater your experience you can still get slapped down at one of these things. Then it’s up to you to make something out of it, it was here that I decided that I was going to finish this thing sore groin or not.
Kinloch was a welcome sight when I got in. There were a number of friends waiting there, some crewing and some ready to run as pacers for the last 24km over the infamous headlands. Chatting with them took my mind off my sore leg, as I ran through my drop bag check list again. Also no one was willing to help me with an injury in that area, so no choice to forget about it a bit (some friends right?). With change into some dry gear, another 2L of Infinit mix, another flask of Napalm (highly caffeinated this time), more antichafe, poles, a can of V downed, and a course card saying “fuck all to go, get it done” on the back, it was time to leave. But not before collecting fellow TRA/BBCM runner, Greg, for the last push of this thing.
I’d been warned about the final third of the course, The Headland loop, but I didn’t appreciate how much of a complete mind fuck it would become. I wouldn’t say that it was anywhere close to the most technical trail I’ve been on, nor was it the steepest, but it was up there for toughness. As the trail winds in and out around headlands the signals from those orbiting GPS satellites cut in and out, leaving you with no idea of how far you’ve travelled and thus how far to go. You’d be powering along for 30min, to then see you’d travelled only 400m. Combine that with night closing in and you have the longest 24km in the world.
All along this section we would have headlamps loom up from behind as people made their last dash for home. We were both expecting any one of these to be Liz and her pacer Hayley, repeating their last-minute overtaking from Breca last year. However, one of these lamps shouted out as it caught us, “I had a rest, some soup and coke”. What the hell was this guy on about? But as he pasted me, I realized it was the guy from before Kinloch. He’d heeded my advice, not dropped and was on for a strong finish.
A constant battle for me in ultras has been blisters on the balls of my feet, and somewhere between 55 and 65km I felt the little buggers starting to form. I’d been swapping my socks at each drop bag, I’d used spent a fortune on “the right” socks, I was using new socks, but here we were again. Greg was also feeling it in his legs and feet, so we made a delightful duo as we go to the last aid station and 8km to go.
Here we added to our little pain train with a chap who had been slapped down by his step up from 44 to 100km. We told him that walking out was the only option, either now or when the tail ender gets there, but either way there was no car coming. He did slow us down a little, but focusing on motivating him to keep moving distracted me a bit from my own increasingly sore body.
As if the darkness and GPS glitches weren’t enough, to further mess with our minds we began seeing the lights of the finish line, accompanied by the somewhat questionable musical selections. Then we would turn away from it all and head back into the silence of the night. Then it would reappear again, then disappear again, teasing us but at least it got a little bit louder and little bit brighter each time.
Finally, when I got a decent GPS signal, we teleported back onto the map and were now about a kilometre from home. Once out of the bush Greg and I picked up pace, leaving our new friend having a short break before his last push. The closer we got the quicker we seemed to get, feeding off the music and the biggest hype man in New Zealand, Jason, announcing our imminent arrival. Somehow, we mustered a run for the last few metres to the finish line.
I’m so used to an empty finish that I was expecting it to just be George and girls waiting for me, especially as it was now around 11pm. Boy was I wrong, there was a party going on in that finish chute, and so many of my favourite people were invited. I lost track of how many hugs there were, it seemed never ending.
Before too long old mate finished his day off, and while waiting to get my blisters sorted in the medical tent, Liz arrived. This time I’d managed to hold her off, even if it was only a few minutes, I’ll take the win this time (though I had run 26km less). It was however sad to see that the other Hayley had missed the Kinloch cut off on her first attempt at 100km (key being first, I don’t doubt for a second that she won’t be back).
It might have taken me an hour (or two) more than I’d planned, and the last section was hard on the body and mind, I ultimately super happy with my day. I know I’ve said it a few times now but once again nutrition felt spot on. I didn’t feel hungry or drained at all, the raspberry flavour of my custom mix didn’t get old, and mixing it up with the apple Napalm was nice. Though I did loose 3kg during the race which wasn’t too bad as I was the heaviest chap out there, (I did the maths and, apparently, I burned 8467Cal and took in 5625Cal).
Something I’ve been reading about lately is the mental side of endurance sports, and I think that this was a key factor in the successful enjoyment of my day. Having a positive mind frame helped me to keep pushing on when I tweaked the groin. I like to think it rubbed off on the two broken guys I found as they too pushed through their dark spots to finish. While the road was a bit lack luster, it was a real boast to have passers-by beep and wave, and friends along the course are always a winner.