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 :)