Friday, 22 March 2013

Just one of those days... Tarawera Ultramarathon

Mixing it up with some of the worlds finest on the start line.

I'm not quite sure where to begin. My four days in New Zealand for the Tarawera Ultramarathon were truly fantastic. From the moment we got off the plane in Auckland it was all go. There was so much hype around this race due to some of the world's best ultramarathon runners coming to NZ for the race including Sage Canaday, Jason Schlarb, Timothy Olson (USA), Vajin Armstrong (NZ), Brendan Davies, Mick Donges, David Eadie (AUS). They were all representing various companies and sponsors so naturally there was going to be a media presence there.

The Friday before the race was quite busy as the elite runners had a media conference at the amazing Te Puia Centre in Rotorua which had some incredible geysers and mud pools and also a live Kiwi enclosure. It was pretty cool hanging out with some of the internationals and them seeing a Kiwi for the first time. The media conference itself was fun, hearing different runners' ideas and thoughts on the upcoming race was invaluable for me. It was a real buzz being part of a group that included the calibre of runners that Paul Charteris and the Tarawera Ultramarathon had attracted.

Another highlight was the Q & A session before race pack pick up at the Rotorua Holiday Inn. It was a relatively informal chat facilitated by Ultra 168's Marcus Warner. The questions asked of some of the elites, and in particular the answers, were great. Not one answer was the same regarding various aspects of trail and ultra running including shoe choice, nutrition, pre race prep, tactics on race day etc etc. This was great for myself to hear and I imagine the couple of hundred people who attended got a great deal out of it as well.

After picking up my Dad and Uncle from the airport we went out for some dinner and then it was back to the hotel for some final prep for the big day.

The big day started really really well! I managed to get a pretty good sleep and was feeling really happy and optimistic about what the day might bring. I knew I wasn't at 100% of where I would have liked to have been with my fitness due to a slow build up to 2013, but I was definitely fit and race ready. After some light early morning drizzle, head torches were mounted and we were ready to rock n roll.

Paul counted us down and I must have looked so stupid with a smile from ear to ear. I was so pumped about running my second 100km race let alone getting the chance to run with some really talented runners. We took off up the trail and soon after I settled into a good rhythm. The first 5-8km went well, only putting in very minimal effort on the hills and climbing really well. The pace I had settled on had me sitting in 5th/6th place alongside Timothy Olson with Sage, Vajin, Brendan & Mick ahead of us. This is where the fun started to fizzle out relatively quickly. I took a gel 42 minutes into the race and instantly I felt something was up, or more the case about to come up. Instantly my stomach felt really unsettled and a k or so later it was hands on knees and the gel was coming back up. A quick  drink of water to freshen up and I was off again and hadn't lost too much ground on Timothy. Soon after we were again cruising along the trail together and running around the side of Tikitapu (Blue Lake).

Happy times at the start line.  Photographer: © Lyndon Marceau / marceauphotography
Just before the big downhill leading into the 19.5km aid station I had another hands on knees bad stomach experience and it was after this one that had me worried. I came into the aid station feeling a bit queasy and glad to see my support crew.

From the Lake Okareka Aid station at 19.5km through to the 37.5km Aid Station at Lake Okareka I had a really rough time. My stomach was getting worse and worse and it seemed that any time I tried taking any gel or fluids my stomach would churn before even getting it to my mouth. I had my last half gel for the day at approx. the 28km mark. At about 25km in to the race Ricky Gates came past giving me a sympathetic pat on the back letting me know he was just a relay runner and to keep the legs going. It was nice to see a familiar face at this point as I was starting to hit a fairly sizeable low. The final few km before seeing my crew were damn rough. Basically the time in between vomiting was getting shorter and shorter enabling me to run less and less.

After Lake Okareka the wheels were well and truly falling off. Pretty safe to say I was in pretty bad shape at the Humphries Bay aid station at 43 ish km's. Marcus from Ultra 168, Bryon Powell from and Race Director Paul Charteris were all there and all I could do was take a knee and try and get whatever hadn't come out of my stomach yet out. Marcus was a massive help in trying to get me back on board and get at least something down. I ended up sitting in a chair that at that point was way too comfortable for about 10 minutes in which time the first female in the 100km Ruby Muir came flying into the aid station. All I could do was watch her go hoping that I might catch her at a later time. In the end all I could keep down for a short time was some flat coke and half a banana. Marcus advised me that the next section was quite technical and hilly which would enable me to do a little more power hiking as opposed to real running which might help the stomach settle. He was bang on correct and I was sort of kind of happily walking the technical parts. It was in this section that I was glad I had gone with my Hoka Bondi 2's as before the race I couldn't decide which ones to go for out of them and my Stinson Evo's. The Bondi 2's were more than handling the terrain and my feet were probably the happiest part of my body at this point.

I arrived at the Outlet aid station and was pretty happy to see Grant Guise who had been giving me massive support through the race to here. I stayed there for a few minutes trying to keep it together as I had managed to get a little bit of quality running in just before the aid station. After a quick break and another dry reach I was off and Grant had advised me that Ruby had left about 5 minutes earlier. A couple of km down the trail I caught up to Ruby and had a brief few words before carrying along the trail. This 3km stretch from 55-58km was the best I'd had since 6:30am when the race started some 5hrs ago. In this time the top 6 had all passed heading back to the finish line. It soon came to an end and I was back into a relatively well known hands on knees position. The 60km aid station volunteers were so supportive and caring but I still left there feeling deflated and knowing that my race must be nearly over. I was starting to feel really lethargic and light headed which I knew weren't good signs.

The final 5km from Tarawera Falls back to the Outlet were not pretty. I would almost go as far as saying they were the worst 5km I have ever run/death marched in my life. I was now going about 200m before needing to stop and empty my stomach and repeated this all the way to the Outlet. It was here that the Doctor grabbed me and sat me down to do a few tests and analyse me. She gave me some fancy pants anti-nausea tablet that supposedly took 20 minutes to kick in. Geez it was a long 20 minutes. It seemed like just trying to stay awake for that time was hard enough as I had been wrapped in blankets, emergency blanket and beanie to keep me warm.

About 10 minutes into this waiting time fellow Hoka teammate David Eadie came into the Outlet aid station. I thought if I got up now I might be able to hang with David and hopefully bounce back and cruise along with him for a while. So I got up and put my vest back on but it seemed that by the time I was on the trail only 10 metres behind David I was already dropped before my legs even got moving. Back to my throne and some more waiting to see if I was going to have a second chance. This second effort came not long after where I got up and thought "c'mon Scotty, let's give this one more crack". That crack lasted 250m which was where I took a seat just off the trail after a dizzy spell and feeling like my legs were about to fold underneath me. I sat here for a while feeling frustrated and upset that I knew my day was officially over. I slowly picked myself up and dawdled back to the aid station to be greeted with smiles and words of support from the volunteers who quickly wrapped me in warm blankets and clothes again.

It's hard for me to put into words the emotions I was feeling at this point. Part of me was angry, partly upset but mostly frustrated that it all had to happen today. I think the most frustrating part of it all was that despite the situation with my health and stomach, my legs had only started to feel the effects of no fuel or nutrition in the last 7km or so. It seemed that in between vomiting if I was feeling OK I was still running quite strong.

Despite the sad ending to a wonderful trip to New Zealand and the Tarawera Ultra, there is so much that I have taken away from this experience. From meeting and hanging out with some international ultra running superstars and also meeting some of the top Aussies in Brendan, Mick and David and also Vajin from NZ. I learnt that despite whatever efforts and preparation you put into something, it can all turn pear shaped if its not meant to be. If it's not your day, then it's not your day. I also now know and feel that if I had a better day on the trails as far as my health goes then I can definitely match it with some of the best.

The Vibram Tarawera Ultra is a truly world class event and I cannot speak highly enough of Paul and his massive team of volunteers that put this incredible race together and put NZ on the ultramarathon world map. I am excited and already planning for next year's race as I definitely have unfinished business in Rotorua.

Special thanks to Hoka One One Australia, RaceReady Australia and Peak Podiatry for their continued support, keeping my feet happy and making sure I keep this Kiwi tan of mine under cover.

Running around the side of Blue Lake

Concentrating on the terrain early on

Around Lake Okareka

I wish I felt as good as the smile suggests.

Trying to stay focused through a rough patch.

Early on loving the scenery.

Some sweet single track. Photographer: © Lyndon Marceau / marceauphotography

Trying to explain to Liz how bad I was feeling.

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