Friday, 28 November 2014

Simple Hydration Bottle

Fill it up with water, 

Tuck it into your shorts,

Go for a run!

There's not really too much to say about the Simple Hydration Water Bottle hence the name. I caught wind of these bottles  at the Lavaredo Ultra Trail where a couple of my American mates were using them. I forgot about them until returning to UTMB and heard great things about them once again. Once I got back to Perth I spoke with the Australian distributor and ordered one for myself.

The reason I personally love this piece of kit is that it enables me to take that extra bit of water on runs and keep my hands free. It's also a great alternative to a handheld for shorter runs or mammoth stair repeat sessions where I can refill water. 

Once tucked into my shorts I barely notice it's there and especially so when I am wearing my Compressport Trail Shorts. Liz asked me at the top of Jacobs Ladder the other day how the bottle was going and I'd forgotten it was on. 

Simple product, great functionality and a new mandatory piece of gear for my training and racing. 

For those in Australia contact Roy at to purchase one and he offers super quick delivery too!! 

Any questions please ask 😀

Monday, 10 November 2014

What the Huaka you lookin at?

So you're trying to tell me that these shoes weigh less than 240g each and I'm going to get the same awesome Hoka feel that I've become accustomed to?

These are my actual shoes, they like to go fast!
After watching Hoka team mate Sage Canaday tear up the Tarawera Ultra  earlier this year in a pair of ridiculously bright Hokas I was instantly intrigued as to what he had on his feet. Being blessed with size 8 feet on a good day means I'm not able to get any of the demo shoes on my feet until they are released to the public which is why Sage had them on at Tarawera. Despite Cyclone Lusi bringing a heap of rain, Sage's time of 5:33 for 73km of hilly, muddy and slippery trails suggests that these Huakas were a pretty darn special shoe.

After returning from Italy and the Lavaredo Ultra Trail I instantly got in contact with Hoka Australia and requested some Huakas as they had just been released here when I was away. I was like a kid at Christmas, I couldn't wait to get these bad boys on my feet and take them for a spin.

The upper of the Huakas is a feature that I noticed instantly. Fitting like a glove and really feeling like it conforms to the shape of your foot was great. They feel more breathable than other models which living in Perth I am thankful for!

The sole of the Huakas is what people all over the globe are loving right now. Hokas new R-MAT material is basically a foam and rubber blend that enables runners to feel both the amazingly soft cushion that Hoka wearers have been experiencing and also has the added benefit of crazy amounts of spring and boing!

The grip on the Huakas is another fantastic element to this shoe. They are actually filed under the "Road" category on the various Hoka One One websites but they are equally at home on the trails. I've found myself looking down as I'm working my way up some steep hills quite amazed at how much traction I am getting for a "road shoe".

A last minute sign up for a local road half marathon a few weeks ago enabled me to find out first hand how fast these shoes really felt. They offered a responsive and smooth ride. Each time my foot was landing it didn't feel too soft or too firm which is essential for any running shoe in such a short race. Overall I was very happy with how enjoyable they made my first and only road race of the year.

I see myself running in the Huakas more and more. I think that for smaller runners and runners who have good form they will be a great everyday shoe and also suitable for anything up to 100km on race day. For larger runners I would suggest bringing these speedsters out on race day or for specific weekly sessions.

Hopefully that shows some insight into the new Hoka One One Huaka running shoes and if you have any questions regarding these shoes or any others please feel free to contact me via my social media.

Facebook: Scott Hawker - Athlete Page
Twitter: @scottyhawker

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

UTMB 2014 - What an adventure!

As I have mentioned earlier, it has been a dream of mine for a couple of years now to one day run in the UTMB. To actually be standing on the start line of what I regard as the biggest and best ultramarathon race in the world was so special.

An Athlete signing event with my Compressport teammates.
L-R Nuria Picas, Seb Chaigneau, Julien Chorier, Fernanda Maciel, Zigor Iturrieta & Me. Photo: Compressport

The atmosphere on the line was absolutely electric and everything I had imagined it would be and more. In true UTMB style the clouds gathered together and the rain started to fall thick and fast. Looking around it was quite comical seeing literally hundreds of people simultaneously take off their packs and get their waterproof rain jackets out. Whilst all of this was going on I kept reminding myself of how hectic the start was going to be and how important it was for me to control my ego early on and settle into the race at my pace.

Crazy times at the start line. Over 2300 runners charging through the streets of Chamonix. Photo: Xtof Aubonnet

The first 8km or so through to Les Houches was full on. People lined the streets of Chamonix and as we made our way out of town the cheering and support from hundreds of people didn't ease. The first climb up and over to Les Contamines was good, I settled into a good rhythm and got the job done. Being the first climb of the day it was always going to be easy over-doing it, but I kept reminding myself how far I still had to run. Remembering that I had over 140km to go after this climb made it pretty easy to take things comfortably. The grassy descent was tough, it was here that I watched several runners I had been cruising along with take off down the grassy banks. It was terrain that I had never run on before and saying I felt uncomfortable on it is an understatement.

Coming into Les Contamines was like running into a concert. Despite the heavy rain there were people lining the streets 2-3 rows deep in places. Les Contamines was also the first point I got to see Liz who was a welcome sight in the ever deteriorating weather. She gave me coffee and some more Tailwind to get me through to the next crew access point in Courmayeur.

I felt really good from Les Contamines and was hiking strong up to Croix du Bonhomme (2443m) and through to Col Chécrouit. I bumped into a Danish runner and we hiked and ran together for a large chunk of the climb. Turns out he's spent time in both New Zealand and Australia over the years, it was great conversation that ensured time passed quickly.

The relatively steep and switchback style descent into Courmayeur didn't go as smoothly as I'd hoped. Things just didn't quite feel right. That said, it was really nice looking down towards the town and seeing all the lights and the glow in the valley. Once I hit the valley floor things resumed to normal and I ran into the Courmayeur aid station feeling great. Once again I didn't hang around for long, just grabbing the necessities before heading off again.

Courmayeur Aid station, I've got how far to go? Photo: Ian Campbell, irunfar.

The climb up to Refuge Bertone was short and steep and then there was some more runnable or what should have been more runnable terrain through to Arnuva. It was around 85km that I lost concentration a little and didn't quite lift my foot high enough when running on some technical trail. I banged my foot pretty hard on a rock and fell to the ground like a sack of potatoes. I got myself up slowly with my whole foot throbbing and sharp pains coming from my outside 3 toes. The first step I took I nearly fell over again as the pain was so bad. I gathered myself for a few minutes before I started walking along the trail towards Arnuva and the start of the tough Grand col Ferret climb.

The tough climb up Grand col Ferret turned out to be the biggest march I've done all year. Foot sore and ego destroyed, I slowly dragged what felt like a broken body up and over the monster climb. By this stage I'd nearly been running the longest amount of time I have ever run before and I was definitely feeling pretty sleepy. Running through the night is a really fun experience but I'm still learning ways to keep alert and focussed as the new day emerges.

Little did I know that my race was about to take a turn for the worse on the descent from Grand col Ferret. Without going into too much detail, I've now learnt how bad chaffing can get and how painful it is trying to run when this is going on. It seems so ridiculous that it wasn't my legs or even my bashed up foot that was halting my progress in the mountains. Along this descent I was caught by eventual 3rd place female Nathalie Mauclair. I set myself a goal of doing whatever I needed to do to hang on to her and keep moving. I figured even hanging with her for a few minutes was better than going at my own pathetic pace which had to be a positive.

It hurt, I mean it really hurt. I was forced to almost completely change my running stride and gait in hope of finding a jog/shuffle/hike technique that enabled me to keep moving forward. It must have been around La Fouly (107km) that I almost fell down a muddy descent and pulled away from Nathalie. I felt completely out of control sliding down the muddy slope but I was moving the fastest I had in many hours so I wasn't asking questions about my methods. After what seemed like a lifetime I stumbled my way into the Champex-Lac aid station. It was so good to see Liz again after what had been quite an eventful few hours in the mountains.

Wondering how on earth I'm going to finish this race. Photo: Xtof Aubonnet

Liz reassuring me that I'll get there. Photo: Xtof Aubonnet

I took more time than usual here, making sure I had everything I needed and also trying to ensure I left the checkpoint feeling better than when I had come in. This proved to be quite difficult as I was feeling absolutely rubbish. It was here that I looked down at my elevation tat and just about fell over in shock at what I saw. From Champex-Lac there are basically three big climbs to the finish with the last one being the biggest of the three. I spoke with Liz and explained the situation. My current situation at that point made every "tough spot" in every other race I have done this year seem incomparable. I said to Liz that even if I could somehow drag myself up and over the first climb, I still had two massive climbs to go.

Whilst all of this was going on at the aid station I was trying to make sure that I was constantly holding onto something as I was feeling light headed and a little wobbly in the legs. I decided that the longer I hung around at the checkpoint, the longer it was going to take me to get to the finish line. Kissing Liz goodbye, I shuffled my way out of the checkpoint.

A painful 200m later I got my phone out and called Liz. I told her I didn't think I could go on. I'd never felt pain like this before but I didn't want to pull out of my first 100miler. Liz put things into perspective for me, reminding me that in every 100miler there are going to be lots of low points, but if I wanted to finish I just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other. She explained how long it would realistically take me to finish at the pace I was going at and said that if that's what I wanted to do, then she'd be there waiting for me at the next checkpoint. This gave me the boost I needed to hung up, put my phone away and keep moving forward.

In summary, the final three climbs were really tough. Not much more than a clumsy shuffle was going on as I tried different methods of moving across tough terrain the fastest I could. By the time I got to these three climbs it had warmed up quite a lot so I also now had to ensure I carried enough fluid to get me through to the next aid station. Just before I got into the start of the first climb I was just about broken. I'd taken my pack off, laid down on some stupidly rocky and rough terrain and planned on having a sleep. Liz must have known something because as I was about to put my head down she sent me a really lovely text that provided me the motivation I needed to get myself off the ground and put one foot in front of another again.

The final climb proved to be a whole different beast. I'd done the final 17km of the course about 6 days earlier with my good friend Timo, but for whatever reason nothing seemed familiar at all. The final climb seemed to have a dozen false summits before finally reaching the top of Tête aux vents. From here I remembered it being pretty technical but downhill to La Flégère and then a mixture of tight singletrack and 4wd trail to Chamonix. I remember the traverse across to La Flégère to seemingly take a lifetime. Constant ups and downs and the technical terrain was playing havoc on my bashed up feet and toes. It's the first time in nearly 2 years I have had sore toes in any run regardless of the distance but the aftermath of UTMB ensures I will likely lose 7-8 toenails. I believe it is likely a combination of long downhill sections and also some really slippery terrain where I was probably clawing my toes in order to try and maintain traction.

I'd wanted to see a mountain goat the whole time in Chamonix, so seeing this guy near the top of Tête aux Vents gave me a real boost.

It wasn't until I reached the streets of Chamonix that I believed I was going to finish. I was out on my feet. Running the final few hundred metres being cheered on by hundreds of supporters was an absolutely incredible way to finish what was truly the toughest challenge I have ever faced both physically and mentally.

Seeing Liz at the finish line waiting for me just about brought me to tears, it had been an epic journey and I was so happy to finish. I am so thankful of her staying up for over 28 hours to support me and look after me when I wasn't able to make decisions for myself. I vividly remember saying over and over to Liz "I did it". For the last 13hrs or so I was really unsure of whether I had what it took to finish. I'm so glad I dug deep and although I didn't quite have the 100 mile debut I was hoping for I can look back happy knowing that I finished UTMB. I feel like it was both of us combined that helped me get to the finish, I definitely didn't feel alone out there on the trails.

A special moment with Liz at the finish line. Photo: Xtof Aubonnet

It was so great finally running under the finish arch. Photo: Xtof Aubonnet

Over the past two weeks since UTMB I have sat down at the computer several times and attempted to write this race report but I just hadn't had time to process the race and break it down into manageable size pieces. I still don't feel that I have found the words to express how difficult and challenging this race was. I knew going into the race that I had indeed chosen one heck of a race as my debut 100 miler but I really had no idea how tough it was actually going to be. Regardless of how much pain UTMB gave me, I will hopefully be back in 2015 for another crack with all of the experience I gained from this year's adventure.

Thanks to my amazing sponsors Hoka One One, Compressport, Tailwind Nutrition, Ay-Up Lighting Systems, and RaceReady for enabling me to take part in this amazing race, I'm so thankful for the continued support.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Ay-Up Run Specific Kit Lighting System Review

"Dude move over there's a car coming". This is what I heard as I approached a group of runners as I ran along the trail towards them.

Photo credit: Carole Pipolo

All jokes aside though, my new Ay-Up Run Specific Kit quite possibly has a brighter light beam than that of my 2003 Hyundai. 

When I received a neat wee package in the mail I was pretty excited to finally have my own set of Ay-Ups to try out and use. Several of my mates own them and all rave about how fantastic they are, so after having a bit of a play around with theirs I couldn't wait to have my own set.

I thought it would be of use to go over some different components of the Ay-Up and explain in more detail how they work. 

Putting it together:
When I first attached the battery pack to the head strap and connected the cable to the lights I was surprised at how simple it was. This gave me confidence leading into the Lavaredo Ultra Trail where I wasn't sure if I would have to swap the battery over during the night. I had no issues with having to do this in the dark as it really couldn't be any easier. No mucking around with AA or AAA batteries for this trail runner!

The fit: 
I'll be honest, when I first looked at and then put on the Ay-Up, I noticed that it looked a touch bulkier than my current head lamp. I knew this before I received it though as I was able to compare specifications from the relevant websites. 

Then I put it on and WOW! Despite being ever so slightly heavier and bulkier the Ay-Up Run Specific Kit fits like a glove. It feels like the design team have really nailed the "harness" that the lights and battery pack are part of. The back part of the harness has been cleverly designed as it feels like it really balances the weight of the battery pack well while also providing a really secure attachment. I have used the Ay-Up for over a month now and have found there is absolutely no bounce when fitted correctly. This is something I was weary of on technical terrain especially. I was pleasantly surprised. 

There are adjustment straps on either side of the harness and also one on the top too. These provide great personalisation as far as fit goes and I have also found this very useful when running in cooler temperatures or varying temperatures where I might have a buff/beanie on and then need to take it off. Within a few seconds I am able to adjust the head straps to have yet again another great fit.

The light system:
This is the make or break part of any head torch for obvious reasons.

It doesn't matter how comfortable, how cheap or how great a set of lights look if they don't perform in the field.

This is where Ay-Ups really shine!! (pun 100% intended) I'm not really a technically savvy kind of guy, I prefer to leave that side of things to the experts who write about lumens and power output etc etc.

I'll give my own basic run-down of how the lights performed in my experience. I'm guessing that this is what people are wanting to know about in relation to trail running at night. 

Firstly, there are three light beam settings to choose from. Low, medium and high. Seems pretty basic huh? That's because it is. In my opinion, Ay-Up are able to use a relatively no-frills approach with regards to their run specific lighting system. Because there are two light sources with these units there isn't much need to complicate things with diffusers etc. 

Secondly, and most importantly, the ability of the Ay-Ups being able to point one light beam at your feet and one slightly further in the distance is an absolute master stroke. Running fast on technical trails during the day time is hard enough as it is, so now that I'm able to attack the trails at night with the same intensity I couldn't be happier! 

I will explain the benefits and how I go about using the different settings during a night time trail run:

  • Basically when the trail isn't demanding too much attention because of the terrain I will generally have the light on the lowest setting. Main reason being saving light power.
  • When the trail is quite technical I will often opt for the medium or high setting. If there are big rocks/boulders around I will go with the medium setting as if on high sometimes the bright light beam can cause unwanted shadows on the trail from the bigger objects. 
  • I also take into account factors such as fog/mist or whether I'm running behind someone else. If I'm behind someone the Ay-Up on medium or high will cast a pretty big shadow and often drown out your mates light!
The fact that majority of the time you are able to use the low or medium settings is a huge bonus when it comes to the battery life. It means being able to run for longer without having to change batteries. And we all know how much fun it is running for really long amounts of time!

You can find more info here:

Hopefully that gives a basic insight into the Ay-Ups and how they perform on the trails. 

Any questions please feel free to leave a comment. 

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Lavaredo Ultra Trail 2014

Normally in any story there is a beginning, a middle and an end. My race at the Lavaredo Ultra Trail felt like it also had three different parts. 

At the start line talking with friends.

The beginning...

Walking from where we were staying at Hotel Cappaninna down to the start line was exactly how I envisioned it would be. My European race dreams of walking down a cobblestone street lined with cheering supporters to the start was literally unfolding before my eyes and I was struggling to take it all in. 

Once we got to the start line there were literally thousands of people cheering, camera flashes going off left, right and centre. There was a designated roped off area for the elite athletes to congregate which was where I headed after Liz had found Marie who was going to be helping with support for the race.

The atmosphere was electric as the announcers started the countdown and before long, roughly 999 other competitors and I made our way through the streets of Cortina and out of town. We climbed gradually for a few km on sealed road where I was able to catch up with fellow Hoka mate Dave Mackey and others. I remember Mike Foote making a joke about running out of water which emphasised the relaxed manner we were running in. 

The first section through to Ospitale at 18km was quite surreal. Leading up to the race I tried to imagine what it would be like running through the night with many other runners during a race. I must admit the first 18km ticked over before I realised how far we'd gone. The first section involved a mix of smooth single track and 4wd trails and also some quite tight and technical single trails that ensured you were paying full attention. It was through here that Dave caught up again and asked if I'd heard the splash? Turns out Dave needed to cool off in one of the lakes en route to Ospitale at 18km.

The Ospitale aid station was busy with many supporters and volunteers but it still seemed organised as I found Liz easily. After a quick bottle change I was off on my way through to 33km and the Federaveccia aid station. 

This section was quite uneventful but still offered the sounds and sight of amazing waterfalls and creeks as we wound our way through some beautiful single trail sections. 

Arriving at Federaveccia I once again had a rather quick stop only getting the bare essentials before heading off up towards Lago di Misurina and the next aid station at Rifugio Auronzo.

I was secretly looking forward to the climb up to Rifugio Auronzo as I had covered it in training the week earlier. I enjoyed running around Lago di Misurina and Lago Antorno with my new Lithuanian friend Gediminas Grinius.

The middle...

I was feeling pretty good along the road climb up to Lago Antorno and slowly pulled away from Gediminus. I felt great and was running free. All was going well for the next 10minutes or so but then I started to have really sharp pains in my stomach. Exaggerations aside, it felt like I had something sharp being pushed into my stomach. I eased off the pace and told myself to let this come good before starting with any kind of intensity again. 

I slowly made my way up the climb and as I started to hit the steeper grades it felt like I was moving backwards. Even the tension in my body caused from walking was giving me magnified pain in my stomach. About here was where Mike Foote, Freddy Thevenin, Gediminas and some other runners made their way past me like a Congo line of mountain goats. I knew that if I could hang on the back I might get helped up the climb but I had no response. I felt like the climber being dropped on the Pyrenees stage in le Tour. 

The next 30mins or so up to Rifugio Auronzo wasn't pretty. I felt almost lifeless as I dragged what felt like a broken body up the climb. Each step hurt and I was only 48km into a 119km run through the Italian Dolomites. 

It was great to arrive in the warm Rifugio where hot tea and fresh supplies awaited. After following Liz to where my gear was I received an update from Marie, after I'd had a moan and groan about how sore my stomach was, that I was only 8mins behind the race leader, Anton Krupicka from the USA. 

I left the aid station with what felt like a bit of wind in my sail finally and was optimistic after hearing the time update. A slight hurdle literally 15 metres outside the Rifugio was that it was damn cold out now (it was about 4am) and I had to stop to put my jacket on. 

From Rifugio Auronzo to Cimabanche at 67km it is all a bit of a blur. I remember running the flat section underneath the majestic TRE CIME du Lavaredo with Spanish runner Yerey Duran and then trying for dear life to keep up with him as we started the massive descent down the valley. It was as we started descending that I found the pain in my stomach had gone but I had a similar pain now in my chest but it was far worse. 

Literally every time my foot landed I had a breathtaking pain in my chest that wasn't going away. I stopped to walk many times on this descent and twice sat down asking myself the question of what I was going to do. It seemed a little dramatic to be considering pulling out of the race at the 50ish km mark but I was in a real state. 

Along here I was passed by more runners than I can remember with every one of them offering their support and assistance. I kept telling myself that it would pass and that it couldn't possibly last forever. FINALLY I hit the bottom of the climb and as I was walking along a slight incline my friend Antoine Guillon from Team WAA (France) approached asking if I was ok. I told him I wasn't great and that I had pains in my chest. 

Little did I know but this was the defining moment in my race. As he jogged past I said to myself that if I could run with Antoine to the next aid station at 67km I was going to be able to pull out quicker and end the pain. 

The next 8km or so was probably the toughest 8km I have ever run. I was struggling to breathe properly and the pain I had in my chest was borderline unbearable. I kept saying in my head, just  hang on Scotty, it'll all be over soon. 

Whether it was the excitement of arriving at the aid station, my lack of short term memory or something else I'll never know but for some reason I ran out of the checkpoint with a smile on my face for the first time in nearly 30km. 

After looking at the elevation profile cut out I had with me I knew we had a long gradual (by European standards) climb ahead. It was here that I felt like I just got to work and made my way up the long slow climb as efficiently as possible. I ran this whole section with Vincent Dellbarre another good friend from Team WAA. It almost felt like we were working together as we climbed, with one of us always taking charge and ensuring that there was no slacking off. 

The descent into the next aid station at Malga Ra Stua was a lot of fun. No chest pain at all and I just followed Vincent's lead down the technical slopes to the aid. We chatted about my next race the Ice Trail Tarantaise which is an all time favourite of Vincent's. 

Another pretty quick stop here grabbing the essentials before heading off to tackle the next 20km section which was going to be a tough one. Over the next 20km we would climb over 1200m as we made our way through the the amazing Falzarego Valley and up to Falzarego Pass. 

Not far after we left the aid station I slowly pulled away from Vincent and was now jogging the gradual climbs solo. This didn't last long though as Antoine and Christophe le Saux (Team WAA) caught up so we all ran together for the next 1.5hrs or so up the valley.

The valley was one of the most incredible things I have ever seen. Waterfalls that burst out the side of mountains with so much power and force, creeks that required more than a slight glance to see up the whole way. Through here was a section that brought me back to when I did the Coast to Coast in NZ back in 2011. There was a long flattish section of running over rocky boulders and crossing rivers that was just like running down the Deception River heading towards Klondyke Corner at the end of day one of the race. 

Here I pulled away from Christophe and Antoine and I got to the water point at 88km with a bit of a gap. The volunteers here, like every other aid station were so friendly and full of support. After a quick exchange I was off on my way and as I looked ahead I could see the red shirt of Nuno Silva from Portugal. 

This gave me a massive boost as I slowly but surely reeled him in. As we hit the steeper part of the climb heading up to Passo Falzarego I managed to jog a section he was walking and passed him offering moral support.

Then came the undulations and then the descent to Rifugio col Gallina which was easily my best section of the race. Through here I caught up to and passed my friend Cyril Cointre (Team WAA), the strong Italian Ivan Greonazzo and the two French brothers Sylvain and Sebastien Camus. 

I came into the aid station at Rifugio col Gallina feeling phenomenal. My race felt like it was back on track and I was having an absolute blast running through the Dolomites. It almost didn't seem real at times, almost too perfect. 

Cruising up to the summit near Rifugio col Gallina.

The next few km after the aid station was really muddy and technical before we started a short but oh so steep climb that had the legs working hard. Somewhere along the tops near Cinque Torri, another iconic landmark in the Dolomites I looked back and saw some figures in the near distance getting closer. Whether it was being up above 2400m or something else I'm not sure but I felt like I had the wind taken out of my sail. 

It felt like my legs wanted to work but my breathing got heavier and heavier. Along here I had another real rough patch where I felt sluggish and light headed. I remember at one point I laid down in the snow and as my eyes opened I swear I was seeing stars. In my daze I pulled out my emergency gel from my pack and got that down. I needed some energy and I needed it fast. Before I knew it though the Spaniard Queral Ibanez Remigio (eventual 6th place) and Italian Ivan Greonazzo (5th place) passed me so I came into Passo Giau in 7th place. It was a little demoralising to have those two re-pass me but it's all part of the game. 

As I was leaving the aid station I could hear people cheering as more runners were coming in. I glanced back and saw Cyril come flying down the hill obviously feeling good again. Here we go I thought, this top 10 finish is going to be hard work to hold onto. 

Not long after Passo Giau I was caught by Cyril but I managed to climb with him to the top of a nasty 200m+ climb in 1km. From the top it was pretty much undulating/downhill to the finish line at Cortina. 

The End...

Little did I know but the race was far from over. I was pretty keen to just cruise the last 16km with Cyril and enjoy the last of my Dolomites experience. This obviously wasn't going to happen as Cyril informed me that Italian runner Marco Zanchi was fast approaching behind us. I was feeling good so I decided to pass Cyril as I wasn't keen on losing another place this close to the finish. As I tip toed my way through the incredibly technical terrain I reminded myself to be smart and not over do it. 

It was this kind of muddy & rocky terrain where I fell and banged my knee.

Literally 10 seconds later my race threatened to fall apart one final time. As I was running through a really muddy and rocky section I took a fall and instantly I felt my world come crashing down in front of me. I lay there in the mud holding my knee and shin yelling in agony. I'd never fallen this hard before, let alone 110km into a running race. It hurt so bad. Cyril was there trying to help me up but as soon as I put weight through my right leg it buckled beneath me. 

Within a few moments Marco caught up to us. I told them to go and that I'd be fine. Cyril gave me an anti-inflammatory tablet to take for the pain which was an absolute race saver.

I pulled myself up out of the mud and leant up on a big boulder as I contemplated how I was going to finish this race. I remember my mind wandering when I somehow came across thoughts of my pre-race chat with my Dad who always tells me the quote "Just Do It" before races. Dad has always loved this quote whether it was when I was struggling to wake up for work in school holidays or struggling to find motivation to go to soccer practice. 

A limp turned into a walk and then a jog and finally a silly shuffle/run. I was moving again despite my knee throbbing and aching every time my foot landed. I kept telling myself that this wasn't how it was going to end. I was now in 9th place running scared from 10th place and wondering if I could hold on for a few more km.

I just about fell over again when I looked up and could see Cyril and Marco only a few hundred metres in front of me. I didn't know how that happened but I felt I had a chance of regaining 7th place. 

The technical terrain then gradually eased off into wider smoother trails as we wound our way down the switchbacks into Cortina. I caught Marco with about 4km to go and then Cyril a few hundred metres later. I kept telling myself "you want this more than them". The last few km as we left the trails and began descending through the back streets of Cortina were hectic. I was running as fast as my fatigued legs and throbbing knee would let me.

Over the final 2km I kept glancing over my shoulder to make sure I wasn't going to have 7th place taken from me. Running back through the town of Cortina along the cobblestones with the crowd cheering was incredible. It was exactly what I thought it would be and more. I was in a bit of a daze the last few hundred metres as children supporting gave me high fives and cheered Bravo!

I crossed the line in 13:46 for 7th place. My coach Andy DuBois had said to me before the race to give it everything and to get to the finish line barely able to take another step. I definitely achieved this as my legs had had enough by the time I got to the finish and decided to call it a day there as I fell to the ground. I was so happy that I could stay off my feet now and the pain was over. 

Crossing the line was the best feeling!

The feeling of finishing my first race in Europe still gives me butterflies and makes me smile. In a way it was quite fitting that it wasn't a perfect race. I feel like it was a real physical and mental battle out there and that's a big part of why I run trail ultra marathons in the first place. They aren't easy and it's all about the journey and what happens on the trails that makes it a truly holistic experience for me.

I can't say how thankful I am of Liz for staying up for nearly 14 hours as I played in the Dolomites. Her warm smile and kind words were gratefully accepted during the middle of the night as I came into the aid stations. 

Also thankyou to Marie Sammons from the Ultra Trail World Tour for firstly getting me a late entry into the Lavaredo Ultra Trail and for secondly providing so much help and support on race day and crewing with Liz. I think the girls had just as much fun as I did by the sounds 😀

Thankyou to Christina and Simone for having me at the race. I knew from the first few emails that you were both great people and after catching up during race week I knew I was going to be taking part in a truly incredible race put on by amazing people. 

Finally thankyou to my sponsors Hoka One One Australia for flying me to Europe to be able to take part in the race. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to run in Europe and I can't wait to race here again! 

Me and my new running buddy Gediminus from Lithuania.

Gear used during the race:

- Hoka One One Rapa Nui Trail Shoes
- Compressport Trail Shorts, Calf          Sleeves & Arm sleeves. 
- Hoka Logo RaceReady tech shirt
- Ay-Up Head Torch
- Ultimate Direction SJ Vest
- Tailwind Nutrition
- WAA Ultra Equipment Rain Jacket
- Injinji Run 2.0 Toe socks

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Tailwind Nutrition...Just drink!

Surely this isn't going to be enough to get me through the next two hours....

These were my thoughts when I was making up a 500mL bottle of Tailwind Nutrition for the first time. I'd heard great things about the Tailwind product but was still trying to get my head around the idea of just simply drinking whilst out training. No sticky gels, no gel wrappers and no constant chewing of chomps or chews. This Tailwind stuff is way simpler, just drink!

My first impressions after a couple of weeks of trying this new product is that it has simply blown me off my feet! Here's a few key reasons why I have been so impressed by the Tailwind product:

Reason #1 why I like Tailwind:
I have never had such constantly awesome energy levels throughout training sessions. There seems to be no such thing as bonking during hard (and I mean really hard) training sessions now. I am training harder than ever leading up to the Lavaredo Ultra Trail at the end of this month and can't fault Tailwind for it's constant, steady supply of energy. An example of this was last week on a 3hr hill session in a torrential downpour of rain. After the run based on how good I was feeling I presumed I'd maybe gotten 1000m+ vertical gain in. After uploading the data to my computer I was blown away to see I'd gotten over 1700m+ vertical gain. I think because I had no low patches whatsoever during the 3hrs despite the challenging weather, I was able to climb strongly and climb well for the whole session.

Reason #2 why I like Tailwind:

"No gut bombs: Stomach problems? You’ll love Tailwind. Unless you enjoy being doubled over, retching" 
- Tailwind Website.

I can drink it whilst running at high intensity without following it with a burp and a tummy grumble. Seriously though, Tailwind is sweet but not too sweet. It goes down super easy and there haven't been any signs of an upset tummy at all. At the moment this is like gold for me as it was crazy stomach issues that derailed my last 100km race at The North Face 100 Australia.

Reason #3 why I like Tailwind:

As I mentioned above, Tailwind is so simple. The idea of knowing that as long as I drink this bottle in the next 1hr, 2hrs etc it will cover all of my nutritional requirements for this training session or race.

Reason #4 why I like Tailwind:

IT TASTES AMAZING!!! Mandarin, Berry, Lemon and Naked... I still chuckle that they have a flavour called naked. They all taste awesome and I literally look forward to being able to take a sip as I'm running along. None of the "oh heck, not another gel!"

I'm really excited that I am now back to feeling 100% confident in my nutrition leading up to two of the biggest races of my life in Italy and France in the next two months.

Check out Tailwind Nutrition at for more info and for any order enquiries if you need.

Packing for my last training weekend away

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Another race, another lesson learned - TNF100 Australia Race Report 2014

"Hey Tom, have you been outside yet bro? It's real mild out there ay".

As the sun started to rise in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains I felt a really special day was ahead. The days leading up to the race had been much more relaxed and quieter than they usually are before races and I was in a really good head space.

We were lucky enough to be staying only a couple of kilometres from the start line at Scenic World in Katoomba. Liz, Tom and I decided the night before that we would jog down to the start line as our warm up and to also avoid trying to find a car park along with roughly 2000 other runners & supporters.

Running along Narrow Neck
Photo credit:
Lyndon Marceau, Marceau Photography
Not too long after arriving at the start area we assembled below the TNF100 banner before race director Tom Landon-Smith sent us on our way. The first 4km or so was an out and back along Cliff Drive which was intended to break up the field a little before heading down Furbers Steps. The pace initially was a little hectic but soon settled down as the lead runners assumed their positions on the road. The first leg was only 10.5km from Scenic World through to Narrow Neck Aid Station. Through this section I got a little frustrated with the stop start running through the technical "Landslide" section so I decided to jump to the front and enjoy the trails from there. I didn't pick the pace up through here, the other lead guys were all within seconds at the top of the Golden Stairs climb and then onto the aid station.

Once at the aid I refilled some water and it was here that Stu Gibson (eventual winner) took off with real purpose and made a distinctive break on the rest of the field. The run along Narrow Neck through to Tarros Ladder was fantastic. I ended up running this section with mates Andrew Tuckey (2nd place), Brendan Davies (3rd place) and new mate Jono O'laughlin (4th place). I kept really composed along this dangerous section of the race. The reason I think of it as dangerous is because it is by far the flattest section of the course and would have been very easy to get carried away with running too fast. Tarros Ladder was awesome, descending down here was epic and one had to have their wits about them when heading down the ladder.

The next section from here was out along the out and back section along Iron Pot Ridge. Andrew was kind enough to explain the details of this section as I wasn't able to check this section out in training as it is on private land. He told me that the climb was quite similar to Mt Solitary which we did at the Mt Solitary Ultra a few weeks prior. I was instantly excited at the prospect of a climb like this. I love the steep stuff and hiking. Myself and top French runner Quentin Stephan (6th place) who lives in the Chamonix/ Mt Blanc region ran this section together. Quentin is a top bloke who I enjoyed running much of the first 50km with. I've recently found out we'll cross paths again at the Ice Trail Tarantaise in France which will be great.

Yes I love trail running!!
Photo credit: Roger Hanney

Approaching 6ft Track Checkpoint
Photo credit:
Lyndon Marceau, Marceau Photography
The section from Dunphy's Camp Aid Station to the 6ft Aid Station was pretty uneventful. There seemed to be a heck of a lot of fire trail road that made time pass a little slower. It's my least favoured type of terrain but fortunately I had speed demons Brendan and Quentin to tag along with. Not too far from the 6ft aid Quentin and I slowly pulled away from Brendan along Megalong Valley Road as it started to climb a little. Soon after though we hit the flat/downhill into the aid and Brendan literally came flying past which was pretty darn impressive. Once I arrived at the checkpoint it was a quick bottle swap with Liz and a quick kiss before heading
down the trail.

Cruising along Megalong Valley Road with Brendan
Photo Credit: Moritz Auf Der Heidi
Because of such a quick aid station stop I passed Brendan and Quentin here. Soon after though I stopped to get a stone out of my shoe so Brendan caught up and we ran the next 40mins or so together which was great. Getting to spend time on the trails with good mates is what it's all about.

Once we were approaching the start of the well known 'Nellies Glen' climb I looked down at my watch and worked out I needed to take a gel pretty soon. I decided we were about 5mins away from the start of the Nellies climb so took a gel and didn't think anything of it. After 100m or so I passed Brendan who was just in front and continued my way up the climb. Not long after I caught up to Jorge Maravilla (8th place) who is also the USA 100km Trail Running Champion 2014. We briefly exchanged words before he kindly let me past. I continued up the climb feeling awesome and thinking how great it was that I was taking things easy, playing it smart and I was now in second place.

About 200m after hitting the top of the climb was where I went from feeling absolutely fantastic to then leaning with hands on knees dry-retching and then looking at all of my race day nutrition on the ground in front of me. I tried to compose myself and once I felt I had stopped I walked along the trail before breaking into a jog again. Soon later I hit the road and then disaster struck again. There I was, in 2nd place in The North Face 100 leaning up against a post uncontrollably dry-retching. My stomach hadn't hurt this much since the Tarawera Ultra in 2013 where I was really sick. My stomach hurt, I felt light headed and really wasn't enjoying myself. It was here that Andrew, Brendan, Quentin and Jorge passed me. All of them were kind enough to slow down to ask me if I was OK to which I kinda mumbled saying "I'll be right, just having a few stomach issues". This kind of camaraderie in a race just re-iterates to me that I'm in the right sport. Even in such a competitive race, fellow runners are so kind and thoughtful.

I then dawdled my way through the back streets of Katoomba to arrive at 57km and the Aquatic Centre Aid Station. I asked Liz for powerade and coke as I wanted to get the poison like flavour out of my throat from spewing for the last 20 minutes. This wasn't a smart move but had to be done, I regretted this about 2 minutes after leaving the aid station when it all came back up again. Soon after Jono passed me with some kind words of encouragement as he took off up some stairs near the Echo Point car park. Not long after here I saw my good friend Lyndon Marceau who was the photographer for this year's event. I passed him before only being caught up again as I had to sit down on the side of the trail on a big boulder. By now I was feeling really sorry for myself and wondering how I was going to get myself out of this situation.

Lyndon hiked ahead as I got up to follow him, it's not every day you find yourself walking behind the photographer on course. I think bumping into Lyndon gave me a bit of a boost as we shared a laugh or two before I stumbled my way along the trail towards the top of the Giant Staircase. As soon as I started descending I knew something was up. I started feeling really light headed and it felt as though my legs were going to buckle beneath me. I think I used my upper body and arms more than my legs to get down the stairs and it felt at times it was only my arms keeping me from falling flat on my face. I got to the bottom of the stairs where another helpful course marshall was directing me which way to go. As I turned left at the bottom I noticed some seats that looked far too good to go past so I took a seat and tried to work out what was going on. After a minute or two of sitting I still felt light headed so decided to lie down across the bench seat. The marshall asked several times if I was OK, I mumbled back saying 'I'll be right'.

Feeling that my rest on the seat had done something to help I decided to get up and shuffled my way towards the Leura Forest and then onto the stairs heading up towards Prince Henry Cliff Walk. As I dragged myself up what seemed like endless flights of stairs my Team Hoka mate Ben Duffus (5th place) caught up to me. Ben was simply flying along, he seemed to be effortlessly going up the stairs and I just had to watch and think that I was supposed to be doing the same. Ben offered some words of encouragement and before long he was completely out of sight. With the speed in which he passed me I knew he was in for a big day so it was no surprise to see him climb to 5th place overall.

At about the 66km mark there was a water station that I was pretty excited to get to. It basically gave me another reason to sit down while I filled up my water bottles. It was here that I was able to finally eat something, those gummy snake lollies were amazing. I think the fact that I was able to eat at least something gave me confidence that I was going to be able to get this done. It seemed that I got myself through to the conservation hut climb quite quickly and things really started to pick up from there. Every time I did the conservation hut stairs in training I really enjoyed this climb so I was sure to remind myself of this as I made my way up. I ran the whole way up which indicated that it was now game on. I knew I was never going to catch the lead guys because of having to sit down for far too long and the 2 hour patch leading up to and after the Aquatic Centre.

Enjoying some smoother faster trails
Photo credit: Lyndon Marceau, Marceau Photography

Just before seeing Andy @75km
Photo credit: Lyndon Marceau, Marceau Photography
Seeing my coach Andy and the guys from Ultra168 at the 75km mark was another boost and added more fuel to the fire as Andy commented that I was starting to look good again. He told me that the other guys were quite far ahead and that I was going to have a big effort ahead to try and catch them. The road section for the final 3km to the Queen Victoria Hospital aid station was awesome. I really enjoyed the increase in pace and it was feeling seemingly easy again. The crazy leg fatigue that I had on the way down Giant Stairs was now a thing of the past and I started to think about the final 22km that I had ahead of me to the finish line.

Seeing Liz at the checkpoint was as always a shining light. She was full of smiles and positive words of encouragement and gave me everything I needed to get the race finished. I think I only needed to get one or two gels from her for this section as I already had a handful left from the previous section where there was no chance my stomach could handle eating. I took off down Kedumba Valley Road with a bit of a spring in my step knowing this race was only going to end one way, on a high note.

The run all the way down Kedumba to Sublime Point Road was great, I looked after my legs on the descent and then climbed with purpose when I needed to. As I started climbing towards Jamison Creek I decided to put some music on to give me a little boost. I haven't used music in a race in a long time but listening to some of my favourite tunes was awesome. Despite how the previous 9hrs or so had gone I was in a really happy place. I started catching up to 50km runners who were absolutely fantastic and full of smiles. It seemed that I got to the emergency aid station before long where I quickly filled water and was on my way, no sitting down this time!

I knew the first 2km or so from the aid station was going to be steep so I got into a good rhythm quickly and ticked off the km's. Not long after getting back onto the Federal Pass I caught up to Jorge. I was quite surprised to see him as I figured he would have already finished. We spoke briefly once again before I passed him and continued along the trail. Thinking I was moving quite well I decided to glance back to see how far behind he was, to my shock he was literally 30 metres behind and not going away. I thought to myself how much I didn't want it to end up being a slog up Furbers Steps to decide who was going to take 7th place so I decided to pick up the pace a little as we approached Furbers. I decided not to look back again as I felt I was moving well and didn't want any negative thoughts to creep in. The climb up Furbers was actually quite fun as 50km runners would move aside to let me past as we exchanged words of encouragement and trying to decide who's idea it was to end the race by going up here.

Pretty happy to see the finish line
Photo credit: Lyndon Marceau, Marceau Photography
 Reaching the top felt like a weight off my shoulders. As I ran up the boardwalk towards Scenic World I knew that soon the day would be done. The crowd was electric as I ran up the finishing chute and crossed the line in 10:15:26 for 7th place.

She keeps me going even in the toughest times
Photo credit: Lyndon Marceau, Marceau Photography

Enjoying being at the finish line with
Marie Sammons from the UTWT and Paul Charteris the RD from the Tarawera Ultra
Photo Credit: Roger Hanney

Men's top 10 TNF100 2014 with RD Tom Landon Smith in red. Absent: Jorge Maravilla
Looking back on the race now I am once again left with a feeling of "if only". This race for me was unique in the sense that I was finally injury free standing on the start line and my training had gone very well in the build up. Over the last week I have been thinking of what caused my stomach to play up and race to fall apart and there are a few different reasons why this may have happened. Initially I was really frustrated and upset that once again I couldn't run to my ability, but with the help of speaking to Liz and Andy I have put it behind me and into the experience basket. I'm now already looking forward to building again for Europe.

Thanks to Tom and the crew from AROC for putting on a world class event that definitely did Australia proud and it was a great addition to the new Ultra Trail World Tour. Thanks as always to Hoka One One, Compressport, RaceReady & Ryders Eyewear for your continued support, it's fantastic having gear that is comfortable, functional and that I can rely on.

Thanks to Liz again for being the best support crew, you always know what to say and often know better than I do what I need during the tough times. I can't wait to share some more amazing experiences racing in Italy and France together.

Gear used:

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Tarawera Ultra 2014

Tarawera Ultra 2014 was always going to be a special one for many reasons. Firstly my wife Liz was attempting her first Ultra marathon which was really exciting for us both. Secondly I had two Uncles competing in the race, Mum and Dad had flown up from Christchurch to support me and some more awesome Aunties and Uncles and Liz's Mum were there to support us too. 

The Tarawera Ultra once again threw another curve ball in 2014 in the shape of Cyclone Lusi. Last year we were informed we would be running the fire course due to high fire risk related to the last 40km of forestry roads to the finish. This year we found out at around 6pm on Friday night about the new course and that the distance would now be about 69km.

My initial thought was that I was gutted we would now be running a shorter course. Then Dad said something along the lines of "Everyone is in the same boat, readjust and make the most of it." That night involved reassessing my hydration and nutrition plan to suit the shortened race, but other than that it was pretty uneventful.

The start got underway not long after 6:30am and we headed off on our way to complete the first loop through the Whakarewarewa Forest. This section was pretty uneventful with the main contenders for the race all settling in to a main pack who were in pursuit of kiwis Sam Clark and Marty Lukes. I was feeling pretty average during this first 12km mainly due to quads and hammies feeling like they were still asleep... possibly something to think about with maybe doing a pre-race warm up or something similar for my next race. They soon came good as we headed off towards Blue Lake.

Between the start/finish line and Blue Lake, runners began to string out a bit on the flatter sections. I was pretty content on running my own pace on the flat as I know where my strengths are and fast flat running isn't really my forte. Fortunately around Blue Lake there is some slightly more technical running and slight elevation gain so I was able to reel in the front runners. It was also great to be able to catch up with and chat to good friend Marty Lukes on this part of the run.

As we then made our way to Lake Okareka there was a bit more running on flatter stuff and some small sections running on the road. It was about here that lead runners Vajin, Yun, Sage, Mike A and Mike W all slowly pulled away from me. I was in two minds whether I should have gone with them, I decided not to but in hindsight I think I should have as this was the closest I got for the rest of the race. From Okareka to Okataina I started having recurring ITB related knee pain again. It seems to be an overused term in relation to my running lately but here we were again.

I battled my way through to Lake Okataina aid station with the plan of running well when I could and when the pain became too great I would resort to my now well practiced shuffle/jog technique that reduces knee flexion. About 5km from the aid station I caught up to fellow Hoka teammate Mike Wardian from the USA. Knowing Mikes pedigree it's pretty safe to say I got a momentary spike in enthusiasm levels as we briefly exchanged words before I shuffled on. The spike in enthusiasm soon passed as mere minutes later I had pretty bad knee pain again and I was imagining Mike flying past me probably wondering what I was doing.

The descent into Lake Okataina can only be described as brutally painful. Descending the mountain with my leg in the state it was in really sucked. Then as I reached the aid station I was told we had to do a bonus out and back to add some distance. As I headed out I then had Sage running towards me looking super focused which I took motivation from and this put a bit of a spring in my step. As I continued along I soon came across Yun, Mike and Vajin. They were a good few minutes ahead of me so I just knuckled down and tried to run as efficiently as I could with my knee feeling how it was.

As I got back to the aid station I told Mum I needed a quick massage to try and sort things out. Everything near my left knee and lower ITB was super tight. During the brief massage I had a quick swig of coke and then I was soon on my way.

The climb back out of Okataina had been in the back of my mind the whole race. I knew it was going to be tough and indeed it was. I was in a unique situation where my legs muscularly felt pretty good but any time I really loaded up my left leg I was feeling sharp pain. I got to a point where I felt the pain wasn't going to get any worse so I just pushed through. Coming to the top of the climb things started to get much better. I managed to keep a reasonable pace from there and once the terrain levelled out I was able to open up a little and run well.

The next 15km or so were awesome fun. I knew that soon enough I would cross paths with Uncle Shane, Liz and Uncle Ag. It was such a boost seeing my family out on the course and even better to have a mid race hug and kiss with Liz.

I swiftly made my way to the final aid station at Millar Road where I grabbed a quick cup of water and then hammered it all the way downhill to the finish. I was running quite fast in the final few km clocking roughly 3:30min/km.

Crossing the line at Tarawera this year was really special. After a disastrous DNF last year it felt so good to finish and it was awesome having Mum and Dad there to see me finish. Running for me is the ultimate, so getting to share amazing experiences with my awesome family is so great!

A few hours later I decided to run back up the road and onto the trails to wait for Liz to come through with the plan of running the final few km together. Soon enough Liz came flying down the trail through the mud and we ran the final stages of the race together. This was such a special experience that I will always remember.

Thanks to all my family who made the journey to Rotorua, you all made it such a fantastic family weekend. Thanks to Liz, you continue to blow me away with your determination and passion which I take great motivation from. It was so amazing to be there to share finishing your first ultramarathon together.

Thanks to my awesome sponsors as always, Hoka One One, RaceReady, Compressport and Ryders Eyewear.

Here's a few photos from the race:

The Tarawera whanau. Photo: Graeme Murray

Me and Liz before the race start.
Photo: Lyndon Marceau, Marceau Photography

Looking for the stars :)
Photo: Lyndon Marceau, Marceau Photography

Photo: Zero Seven

Photo: Graeme Murray

Photo: Lyndon Marceau

Tarawera Ultra Top 5, L-R: Sage Canaday, Yun Yan Qiao, Vajin Armstrong, Mike Aish & Me :)

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Vibram Hong Kong 100 2014

The Hong Kong 100 was a race I had planned on doing since October 2013.  Liz and I were super excited that I was going to be doing an international race and that it fit in so well with our other travel plans for our summer holiday.

The build up to this race was going to be quite similar to the Tarawera 100 last year with plenty of media opportunities including interviews for local newspapers and magazines.

On Wednesday the week of the race I was also fortunate enough to be asked by Eric LaHaie from Hoka One One Hong Kong if I was available to be in a photo shoot with a local Hoka One One runner. Liz and I met up with Ying (the local Hoka runner) and Fai from Hoka HK who is also a photographer. It was a heap of fun working with Fai and Ying and there were definitely a few laughs along the way.  The photo shoot was for the Asia Trail Runner magazine; keep an eye out for me on the cover of the March edition.

The newly formed Ultra Trail World Tour (UTWT) that the HK100 is now part of planned for media and the elite athletes to attend a press conference and Indian lunch on Thursday. This was a really busy afternoon with interviews, photos and presentations from Janet Ng & Steve Bremmar the Race Directors and Marie Sammons from UTWT. There were also a couple of Q&A interviews with some selected elite athletes. It was a really fun experience and also great to meet some of the other runners and also catch up with some mates who were also doing the race.

After the press conference we all made our way out to Sai Kung which is where the race starts, and where we were staying for the next three nights. Thursday night before the race a few of the runners including good mates Tarmo, Vlad & Vajin and I decided to head out for an easy jog to shake out the legs. It was really nice to get the legs moving and explore one of the trails close by.

Friday was basically a free day to relax and organise any final race preparation. Liz and I ended up catching a taxi back into the city with new mate Jez Bragg from the UK. It was great to hear about his trip last year to NZ where he ran and broke the Te Araroa trail record.  A really top bloke who I look forward to catching up with again soon. We had to go and pick up my new RaceReady singlets that had been temporarily lost in another building in Sheung Wan.  I was pretty stoked to finally get them as I thought they were gone for good.

Friday afternoon involved catching up with Lloyd Belcher, an incredible photographer/videographer from HK. He was putting together a video of the HK100 including interviews and footage from race day. This was a really cool experience that I am very thankful for.

The morning of the race couldn’t have gone any smoother. Fai picked us up right on 7am and we met Caroline from 2XU at the start line. The road to the start line was absolutely jam packed with taxis. There was such an amazing atmosphere at the start line and seeing everyone smiling and looking so happy was a real buzz.

Before long we were making our way to the start line under the big HK100 archway. I’d heard pre-race that I wanted to be near the front as it went onto singletrack after only 400m. If I got stuck behind slower runners it could mean losing valuable time. The start gun went and we were off.

The pace over the first few km was fast but nothing too crazy. We eventually settled into position and I began chatting with HK local Jeremy Ritcey. Jeremy has done the race a few times now and mentioned that despite the international competition this was the slowest start in the years he has done the race. Running along the top of the East Dam was incredible. I had seen photos from last year’s race of this section and it definitely lived up to my expectations.

I’d settled into a second chase pack by the 11km support point and was in about 12th place. I was keeping an eye on the pace early on as it was really flat and fast and I wanted to ensure I wasn’t going out too hard. Leaving the support point I was running just behind Hoka North America runner Dave Mackey and The North Face runner Jez Bragg. We started running on a pipeline heading up the mountain alongside the stairs. It was here I had my first moment where I was second-guessing my ability. Dave and Jez appeared to be moving up the mountain effortlessly and with real intention. I was hoping like anything they didn’t pick the pace up any more than it already was!

Literally 300m later I was in my happy spot. The nerves of running alongside two of the best ultrarunners in the world had worn off and I was going up the first climb just doing my thing. I was now keeping pace effortlessly and was happy again. Between 11km and the first checkpoint all of the frontrunners were brought together. It seemed like the pack would get strung out on the downhill and then pull back together any time we started climbing again.  Dave was definitely the man leading the charge on the downhills, he made things look so easy and had crazy speed going down!!

Passing through the 1st checkpoint was absolutely chaotic. Because we were in a fairly large bunch there seemed to be people everywhere. I managed to refill my water pretty quickly despite this and left the checkpoint soon after. A mere 7km further and we were at the 2nd checkpoint at Wong Shek (28km) which was the first place I was getting to see Liz, Fai & Caroline. All I needed was a new water bottle as I had decided before the start that I wanted to take enough gels and chomps to get me through to the halfway point of the race. I came into the checkpoint in about 6th place and left in 2nd place. A credit to Liz and her super smooth crewing skills, we even managed a quick kiss before I was off on my way again. We have our checkpoints pretty sorted these days ;)

Running through to Hoi Ha (35km) there seemed to be more road than trail, which I wasn’t really keen on. It seemed to be causing me a bit of ITB related pain in my knee again like at the Great Ocean Walk 100km last October. It was the exact same sequence of pain coming on which had me feeling worried that things weren’t going to pan out well. I arrived at Hoi Ha but didn’t say anything to Liz about my knee as I thought by trying to block it out it might help things.

The trails through to halfway at Kei Ling Ha were really cool. We wound our way through small villages and along the beautiful coastline of the island. I think I was lucky there was such beauty around us as by this stage my knee had gotten much much worse. If it sounds like a repeat of my GOW race report then that’s because it is. Any downhill or running where my knee was flexing more was excruciating. It felt like a knife being stabbed into the side of my knee.

I arrived at Kei Ling Ha in 3rd place in 4hr46min, roughly 2mins down on Ryan Sandes 2012 course record run. Liz pulled me to one side and asked what I wanted. I grabbed more gels and fresh water bottles but then sat down. I had to explain to Liz and Fai that things were really not good. I told them that my knee had been sore since before 35km. The thoughts going through my head from about 45km onwards weren’t positive ones. I thought that this was the end of my ultrarunning career, obviously I don’t have the body to be able to do this kind of running. I was so angry and upset with the situation I was in.

Liz being the incredible support she always is was the logic and composure that I needed. I wasn’t really thinking straight and I needed direction. She told me that it was just my ITB and that I wouldn’t do any permanent damage. She said to stop being soft and keep pushing through. Fai ended up giving me some massage and I had some nurofen to try to reduce the inflammation on the side of my knee. This all took about 6-7minutes and after a quick slap on the butt from Liz I was on my way smiling again.

Making my way to the next checkpoint at 65km was hard. It was a really tough section and I think after the first few km leaving 52km and feeling a bit better I was back in a dark place. The only respite like at GOW was when I was hiking uphill. I arrived at Gilwell Camp (65km) and grabbed a seat straight away. My knee felt like it was throbbing and had that same sharp pain again. I sat here for another 5mins or so and had about 3 cups of coke, 2 oranges and a jam sandwich. The medic at the checkpoint asked me after 5mins whether I wanted any medication or ice. I said I’d just had some anti-inflammatory medication but agreed to the ice. As I sat there I thought that if I do put ice on my knee I was going to be at least another 10 minutes. During the first 5 minutes Stone Tsang a local favourite had passed me. I quickly got up out of the chair and said to the volunteer that I should probably get going and that it would be boring if it was easy. As I left I saw my room mates, French Hoka runner Pascal Blanc and Freddy Thevinin. It was great to see them and made me smile.

I caught Stone at about the 75km point just past Beacon Hill. There were literally hundreds of monkeys everywhere. Not the cute cuddly type you would think either.  After saying hi to Stone he told me to make sure I didn’t eat through this section or make eye contact because the monkeys would attack me. I won’t repeat what I said but I quickly put my sunnies on to reduce the chance of making the dreaded eye contact. Catching Stone gave me a real boost of confidence. I didn’t fly past but was feeling strong as we made our way up the gradual road hill.

It’s amazing how quickly things can change during an ultra. I soon came into CP8 at Shing Mun Dam (83km) feeling awesome. The knee pain had settled down and I soon got word that there were about 3 runners around 10 minutes ahead which put even more wind in my sail. Another quick massage from magic hands Fai and I was on my way in pursuit of the guys ahead. 

I had been out one week earlier with an old school teacher from High School checking out this final 17km so I felt I knew this section well. Mind you, as soon as I left the checkpoint I was left wondering where the hell I was, as it looked unfamiliar. As I started the climb up Needle Hill (532m) and caught glimpse of Hong Kong’s highest peak Tai Mo Shan (957m) I suddenly knew exactly where I was!

I didn’t feel worried or concerned about the peaks above, I felt like I was so in the zone and was ready to work hard to get to the top as fast as I could.  I soon came across Jeanette Wang from one of the local newspapers who mentioned that I looked far stronger than the guys who had gone through only 5 or 6 minutes before me.

After Needle Hill is Grassy Hill (647m). Not too long after descending off Grassy Hill I caught up to Dave. He was walking up a steeper section of the road and I soon passed him. A quick few words and I was then in pursuit of the Nepali runner Ram Kumar Katri who had just passed Dave before me.

I caught Ram quite quickly but he refused to let me go. It was pretty much a yoyo battle for around 6km until we reached the undulating volcanic trail section after the climb out of the 90km CP at Lead Mine Pass. As we were nearing the top of this crazy stair section I made a bit of a gap on Ram and as I looked up I could now see Japanese runner Shunsuke Okunomiya not far ahead.

I felt more at home as soon as we hit the trails along the volcanic section and soon caught Shunsuke. I made a gap quite quickly which took me into 5th place. The only problem with this situation was that Ram had got his second wind and caught me again before we hit the super steep road heading up Tai Mo Shan. Again we locked horns and battled our way up the hill. About 300m from the top Ram made a burst and gapped me by about 50m. I let him go as I felt I had the speed to catch him on the downhill. My plan worked out as after a couple of switchbacks on the downhill I had caught Ram as I was cruising along at about 3:20min/km pace. He hung on for a bit but I wasn’t planning on staying around.

This crazy race wasn’t done yet though, even though there was only 3km to go. As I looked down the mountain I could see fellow Kiwi Vajin Armstrong ahead. As ridiculous as it sounded in my head I thought I might as well give it a crack and try to catch up to him. I had visions of catching him and being the first Kiwi home. I absolutely hammered it down the road leaving nothing in the tank and with about 1.2km to go I caught Vajin. He had headphones in so I figured I had one shot to take him by surprise. I got a jump on him by about 30m before he realized it was me. He then cranked up the pace to 2:55min/km and made a decisive move. My legs had nothing else to give as I watched him pull away. I remember laughing out loud and thinking at least I gave it a shot.

I crossed the line in 10:18:56 for 5th place overall. I ended up crossing a mere 27sec behind Vajin who had a cracking race also. I was absolutely over the moon at what I had achieved and I was so happy to see Liz waiting there for me at the finish line. Because I was a fair bit behind Vajin at CP8 they had no idea I was going to come in so quickly. I soon got word of the other placings and was absolutely stoked to hear my good mate Vlad managed to take 3rd place behind two Nepali runners.

I can’t thank everyone enough for your kind words and love Liz was passing on to me during the race. It was so incredible knowing I had so much support behind me. Thank you to Fai, you kept me going mate, quite literally. Without the massage I don’t think my legs would have got going again.

Thank you to Eric from Hoka One One Hong Kong, and again to Fai (and Carol) for being the most amazing hosts. You welcomed Liz and I and we are so appreciative of that. Also thanks to Caroline for your support on the day of the race.

Steve and Janet, you have a truly world class event here. The course is phenomenal and the whole event ran so smoothly and is a true testament to your hard work.

As always, Liz. You are truly my shining light whenever I am down during a race. You know me better than I know myself sometimes and always have my best interests at heart. You are caring and loving when I need but also the kick in the backside (quite literally) that I need during races too. I can’t wait for our next adventure together and seeing you at the checkpoints along the way.

Hong Kong is a fascinating and incredible place that we have both thoroughly enjoyed. The race itself, but also the culture, attractions and all of the friendships we have made over the past couple of weeks. I can definitely see us heading back to Hon Kong soon; let’s make this happen Eric ;)

Until next time J

To be able to get to do what I love on the trail and then see who I love at the finish is what it's all about for me.
Photo: HK100

Photo: Lex Axe

After the day I'd had, I was pretty stoked to see the finish line.

Fellow Hoka Team mate Pascal Blanc & Freddy Thevinen from France. My roommates, stoked to see them come in together!
Photo: HK100

The atmosphere at the start line was buzzing!!
Photo: HK100

Me, Francesca Canepa, Vajin Armstrong. Crazy to be rubbing shoulders with some of the world's best!
Photo: HK100

It's concrete but it's still good :)
Photo: HK100

Photo: Lex Axe

Vajin and I chatting to Steve the R.D after the epic finish!
Photo: HK100
Heading up more stairs on my way up to Needle Hill.
Photo: Jeanette Wang

Me, Dave Mackey, Pascal Blanc - Team Hoka
Photo: HK100

Early on, fun times coming down more stairs.
Photo: Daniel Chung

Me followed by Ram & Shinsuke.
Photo: Bernie Kwok