Tuesday, May 28, 2013


It has now been just over a month since I ran the 2013 Routeburn Classic, and now here is my advice (as an amateur) for anyone else planning to embark on this adventure of a life time:

Train For The Terrain

The terrain on the Routeburn track is technical (as we in the business put it), in other words, it can be rough as hell.  Your knees, ankles and hips need to learn to balance and negotiate over shifting gravel, loose rock, slippery surfaces, ankle-breaking-tree-roots, mud, and steep slopes.  The more training that you can complete over similar terrain, the better prepared you will be.  All off-road, trail type running is beneficial in preparation.  Try seeking out some tough trails in your training territory, or look for alternative ways of strengthening and preparing your legs: try practicing running on rocky river beds, rock-hopping around rock-pools at the beach, or even running in pugged (rough, rutted) paddocks or 4-wheel drive tracks.


Go The Distance

For me, the Routeburn was going to be my longest official race distance, and I was scared that I wouldn't have the stamina to make it.  So to be sure that I could do it, I took myself off of great long training runs (40+ km), and also upped my weekly distance to around 80km a week in the lead up to the race.  Covering those sorts of weekly distances was something that I had to build up to, and I did some yoga and strength training to help.  Rest was also important, so days of running and plenty of sleep were also a priority.  It took a while, but after training for a few months, I finally felt that all the leg-work (pun intended) had paid off, and with about a month to go, I knew that I could go the distance.  As Kiwi ultra, and trail running legend Malcolm Law says: "you have got to have the miles in your legs to be a successful endurance runner".

Walk The Walk

I did boat loads of running training for the Routeburn Classic, but I neglected my walking training.  It is possible that you might end up walking some, or lots of the Routeburn Classic, so it is advisable to train your walking muscles as well as your running muscles.  Once again, training for terrain is key, so try to go for some challenging day walks, or tramps that will get your walking muscles going, and stand you in good stead for the race.  I am not so sure about advising for frequency of walking training, but I did read a training plan for the Kepler Challenge that recommended completing walking training at least once a week.

Enter Races

I found that entering races was an excellent training tool for me.  Not only did I get to see and run in some spectacular parts of New Zealand, I met some really cool people and learned lots from the experience of others.  Entering races helped to keep me on track when I started training, by giving me mini-goals to aim for while I was training.  Because I do pretty much all of my training solo, entering races gave me an opportunity to get more used to running amongst other people.  Racing also gave me ample opportunity to trial my gear, race routine and nutrition before the Routeburn Classic.

Racing is different to training.  I always get a flash of nervous excitement before the start, and probably push a bit harder than I do during some of my training runs.  I also found that racing taught me to focus on what I was doing while I was running, and not worry about the speed or progress of others.  Some people choose to only run a couple of races every now and again, but I run as many of them as possible.  Mostly racing is just as a part of my training, so I am not as attached to the outcome, but from time to time I think that it is fun to try for a personal best - this is a nice way of affirming that my training is amounting to something.

Practice, Practice, Practice

As my wise mother once (or maybe many times) said: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again".  Practicing for running is really important-and not just the putting one foot in front of the other.  Learning to eat and drink enough while I was running was/is something that I am still perfecting.  I have practiced with different sorts of food, and drink, as well as different delivery systems (solid food vs gels, Camelbak vs drink bottle, Powerade vs water, being able to carry the weight of the compulsory gear etc.).  I also did lots of trialing of different running clothes and shoes, finding what was comfortable and what chafed and caused blisters.

One example of practicing, was when I decided to give running in merino a go.  I was a bit dubious about running in wool, thinking that it would be uncomfortable and that I would overheat, and get drenched.  I tentatively bought a merino base-layer running top on clearance, and wore it on a freezing trail run...and instantly fell in love.  Not only was it supremely comfortable, but it was an incredible temperature regulator.  Now I am hooked on merino gear, and have quite a lot (although I still have a few items on my wish list).

Never try anything new in an important race.  Always know your gear and your food, and consider having contingency's for if things turn to custard (sometimes, and quite randomly, energy gels upset my tummy, so I carry GU Chomps, as they don't cause problems).  If something is niggling at you early on, change it or fix it.  Early minor discomforts can turn into painful disasters over distance.


Get yourself a nutrition plan from Trailblazer Nutrition.  These guys offer excellent value for money, as well as tailored nutrition advice, meal plans and race day fueling information.  I learned heaps from my plan, and will continue to utilize my nutrition plan for training and racing.  Nutrition plans are usually available at a specially discounted price through the Routeburn Classic website.  Try and purchase your plan at least a couple of months before the race, this will give you a chance to practice during training and under race conditions.  The nutrition package involves further consultation after you receive your plan, allowing you to have your questions answered and iron out any niggles well before you run the Routeburn Classic.

The Routeburn Classic is an amazing event, and I highly recommend it to anyone with a passion for trail running through the ridiculously beautiful mountains of New Zealand.  I have decided to leave this blog here, as a detailed log of my journey to running the 2013 Routeburn Classic.  If you want to find out about my latest running adventures, check out my new blog : The Thrill of the Chase.

In the mean time, if you have decided to run the Routeburn Classic, all the very best with your training.  I hope to see you there next year!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Routeburn Classic 2013

The day dawned slowly, the light seeping into the sky, the mountains and lakes emerging in a muted shades, and dozens of runners peering through foggy bus windows, itching to see what the weather was doing.

In reality the morning had started much earlier, in my case with a buffet breakfast in the harsh light of the hotel dining room (light, of any variety is always harsh at 5am).  At the race briefing the previous evening, race director Evan, warned of impending weathery doom, with forecasts so severe as to require potential race postponement.  It was quite a relief to hear the announcement on race morning that the race was going ahead.  Let the excitement begin.

Alighting from the bus at The Divide, I joined ques of other nervous and shivering runners waiting for the port-a-loos.  The air was chilly, but there was no rain.  Steep, bush-clad mountains rose on every side, their peaks shrouded in dense mist.  Everything dripped in that characteristic way of Fjiordland.  Runners pondered the eternal question of jacket or no jacket.  Lollies were passed around.  Helicopters dramatically descended like giant insects, disturbing the stillness of the morning with their thumping blades  The keenest and most serious of the runners trotted back and forth across the parking lot, lunging and stretching.  My pre-race warm up included a port-a-loo hover.  It was a pity that I drank so much Powerade before the race, I had to visit the facilities twice!

We all trotted off down the road, lining up against our "Classic Character" race finish time projections.  Each of the half hour finishing times named after a super hero from "Flash" at three hours, to "Elton John" at seven.  I was hoping to finish in around 5 hours, making me an "Autobot". One of the runners near me had the coolest running leggings I have ever seen, a bright flame pattern in reds and yellows on a blue background - very cool!

The starting horn sounded, and we were off! This was it - I was running in the Routeburn Classic.  All of the training and planning and preparation all came down to the next few hours.  I knew I could do it.  It was time to get stuck in.  We all surged off up the hill.  The 500m road start was designed to spread out the field before reaching the narrow track, but there was still a bottleneck at the start.

The first part of the track climbed steadily through native bush, the track here wasn't steep, but lots of the people in my vicinity were choosing to walk the uphill sections as a part of their running strategy, and for long stretches my pace was forced to match theirs until I could find a spot to pass.  I know that walking parts of a race is an excellent plan, and can help to increase stamina and exertion time, but I really wanted to run.  I had focused all of my training on being able to run up and down hills, and although I am the first to admit that I am not very fast, I really wanted to be able to put that training to good use, especially on such a runnable section of trail.

After a few zig zags, the track leveled for a short while before descending to Howden Hut.  I streamed down
hill really enjoying being able to pick up some speed, and pleased to  find myself a little "bubble" of running space to myself.  At Howden Hut the first of many smiling, clapping and encouraging trampers lined the trail, urging everyone on as they passed by.  The trampers were fantastic.  I came across heaps of trampers from all age groups and nationalities, and with out fail they smiled, offered encouragement, and were careful to let the runners pass.  It was really lovely to have such a thoughtful and mobile cheer-squad for the day.

Heading out from Howden Hut
The track climbed again, rougher and muddier than  before.  I found sections of this area too rough to run, having to resort to a ragged power-walk (why, oh why had I not added some walking to my training regime).  Most of the clearings were hemmed in by cloud, but as the rain-foresty bush started to give way to more alpine foliage, I could feel warm patches of light starting to filter through the fog, the sun was trying to shine!

My calf muscles had been aching for the entire run.  I had hoped that as I warmed up the pain would subside, but nothing seemed to ease them.  I attributed the burning to having not run (and consequently stretched) very much over the week preceding the Routeburn Classic.  I hoped that stopping at MacKenzie Hut and giving them a descent stretch out might help.

Earland Falls
Approaching the Earland Falls I could see sheets of waterfall mist drifting horizontally out from the base of the falls.  Runners paused to don jackets, or took the flood detour below the fall zone.  I nearly took the detour, but at the last minute, changed my mind, and plunged head-long into the roaring, freezing air, and the icy water.  Breathing in the frigid down-draft shocked my lungs in the same way as diving into cold water.  I felt as though my chest might collapse (rather melodramatically in retrospect), and I gasped away, splashing through the thigh deep pools and slithering over rocks.  Looking up I could see the water plummeting towards me from what seemed like miles away, a weird sense of reverse-vertigo took hold, and I focused on following the path of the runner ahead of me, until I could exit the thundering void and return to the track.  The magical side effect of the Earland Falls was that the cold water worked wonders for my sore legs, and I had no more pain for the remainder of the race.

"The Other Side" after passing under the Earland Falls
The track continued to climb for a while, and I scrambled over rock cuttings and increasingly rougher track, running the sections in between.  Runners and walkers were compacting back up again, and as the track started to descend I found myself trapped in a single-file snake of about 50 competitors, all caught behind someone that wanted to take the down hill very carefully.  Passing was impossible and futile - dodging past a couple of people ahead, only to tuck in behind more people that were heading slowly downwards wasn't helping anyone make faster progress.  Views of Lake MacKenzie and the surrounding peaks emerged during the slow climb down,  the weather seemed to be improving all the time.  Shifting patches of sunshine highlighted the brilliant pallet of the surrounding bush and geology.  I was so glad that it wasn't raining.

Lake MacKenzie

The group of pent-up runners snaked its way towards MacKenzie Hut.  Upon arrival (at just under the two hour mark) I took the opportunity to shed my outer layer of longer leggings and check on the water levels in my bladders (both physiological and hydratory - har har).  I figured that lagging back a bit might give the field ahead a chance to spread out, and when I set off, I was alone, and could enjoy setting my own pace, and soak up a bit of the beauty.

Climbing above Lake MacKenzie
I vividly remember the climb from MacKenzie Hut to the Harris Saddle from one of my high school tramping trips.  I recalled a hellish and never ending ascent , that at the time had seemed inordinately steep and difficult to negotiate.  But whether my fitness had improved, or my memories had been skewed, I found the ascent quite runnable, and not as steep as I had been anticipating.

Traverse above Hollyford Valley
One of the things that I love about the Routeburn is the vast and vivid colour pallet that the whole landscape is drenched in.  I don't know if it is some sort of exercise-induced oxygen deprivation, but rich colours of the alpine plants, the brilliant blue of the sky and the shock of white snow contrasting against the blackest peaks always takes my breath away on this trail.  It is always stunning, and as the weather continued to improve, the valley below and the mountains around were revealed in all of their awe-inspiring glory.

Even though the track gradient was not too steep, the mountainside we were climbing reached cliff-like proportions towards the top, the drop away from the track so sheer, that it almost felt as though I was running along on nothing.

Hollyford Valley
Rounding the top of the climb and beginning the undulating traverse along to the Harris Saddle, I was exposed to the alpine wind, which was freezing despite the sun.  The view of the mountains across the Hollyford Valley continually changed with the shifting clouds, and I could see the valley floor winding away towards the distant ocean.  Trotting along the towards the saddle, I felt as though I was making good progress, as were a lot of other runners.  I found that I had to concentrate hard to watching my foot placement on the track, while simultaneously keeping an ear and an eye out behind me to ensure that I could let the faster runners pass.

Snow-dusted Peaks
Cresting the Harris Saddle, the wind was at it's most bitter, sapping my energy levels, just before the technical descent to the falls hut.  Here, draped in plastic, with just the lens of his camera peeking through, was an intrepid and hardy photographer, bravely snapping photographs of the runners against the alpine back drop.  By God he must have been freezing!

Harris Saddle - note the stream running down the trail
 The final section of the track is one that I have walked many times, and thought I was familiar with the terrain, but the loose rocks, rivulets, and rough bed rock made this section the most challenging for me.  I had thought that I would be able to maintain a cracking pace from the Saddle out to the finish, but my lack of training on such technical terrain made me very slow (and a little demoralized).  I battled on downwards, wrestling with the hunger induced daemons in my head that were chastising me for my ill-preparedness, and my pitiful progress.

Valley below the Falls Hut
Finally, after slithering over the last exposed rock section, I reached Falls Hut.  A table laden with lollies and water greeted me, along with a band of smiling and friendly marshals.  I took stock of my fueling supplies and refilled my hydration pack.  With knees and ankles protesting, I started off down the track to the Flats.  I spend the first five minutes tucking into my Awaken bar and Em's Power Cookies that had been included in our race packs.  Up until this point I had been mainlining Gu Gels, but the last couple just hadn't given me the energy hit I needed.  I have never actually eaten solid food while running, but the chocolatey, oaty and flavorsome goodness of this new fuel certainly hit the spot.  I started running again, looking forward very much to reaching the valley floor.

For the first km after reaching the bottom, I was making quite slow progress.  A few other runners passed me by, each one kindly checking on my progress, making sure I was doing OK - something I deeply appreciated, it was nice to feel that everyone was looking out for each other.  Crossing the swing bridges was weird, the wobbliness of my legs and the wobbliness of the bridge making me grasp for the guide wires to steady myself. Then, for no apparent reason, my second wind came and I was off.

My energy burst, no doubt thanks to the food I had eaten, co-coincided with a particularly exhilarating song on my iPod, I pushed repeat to ensure that my auditory exhilaration carried me a long to the finish.  Even the lyrics seemed to get into the spirit: "Even though it hurts I can't slow it down, Walls are closing in and I hit the ground, Whispers of tomorrow echo in my mind,  Just one last time".  The last few km flew by and I raced along through the bush (and loving the now gloriously smooth track), taking great long strides (and possibly looking like some sort of run-away windmill).  I really loved those last few km, I was feeling good and strong and energetic, I kind of wished that it could go on an on forever (while also looking forward to reaching the finish).

And then all of a sudden there it was.  I hurtled across the final bridge, and then ran uphill towards the finish line, crossing in 5hrs 30min 12sec.  I had freaking done it - and I felt as though I still had energy to keep going (though probably not as much as Whitney Dagg, who ran all the back to the divide straight after the event!).  I nearly cried with happiness.  This was my longest official distance, and it was over one of the more challenging courses in NZ.  The race director, personally congratulating each runner (so very cool!), and handing out the medals shook my hand, and then my sister grabbed me in the biggest hug, shortly followed by my parents.  It was so good to have my family supporting me at the finish - I am so grateful to have had them there.

The prize giving dinner at the Skyline in Queenstown was lovely.  This was the first event that I have attended with a more formal prize giving, and it was nice that so many competitors came together to congratulate the place getter's and to acknowledge the runners who had completed the Classic 5 times.  A special Perseverance Award was presented to honor the first runner to have run the Routeburn Classic 10 times: Mark Douglas who ran this year on an injured hip and is a machine and a hero!

And then it was all over.  Except that it also kind of isn't.  Back at uni no one knows what I secretly achieved, although I do feel like dancing around a shouting out "I ran 32km over a mountain range in the Routeburn Classic".  I secretly wore my medal under my shirt for a couple of days.  I think that the whole experience is still sinking in a bit.  It was such a privilege to share the 2013 Routeburn Classic with everyone who was there, and especially with my family.  And it isn't over, because through all of the training and prep for this race, I have grown a love, a passion, and an addiction for trail and mountain running.  I am inspired to run further and try more challenging events.  I don't think that I will ever be a particularly fast runner, but I know that I can go the distance...and I fully intend to...watch this space.

A massive thank you to the race organizers,  marshals, photographers, sponsors and other runners that made the Routeburn Classic such an amazing event - you guys and gals did a sterling job.

I would like to dedicate my achievement to my wonderful family who have supported me so much - here's to you Mum, Dad, Annabel, Laura, Ben and little Oscar dog - Cheers!

Monday, April 22, 2013


With only five more sleeps to go until the Routeburn Classic, I am super excited and also getting a bit nervous.  For the last few weeks I have been focusing on longer training runs (averaging around 20km every couple of days).  Apparently this is a lot, but for me that sort of distance feels good, and quite manageable.  I have also been working on ensuring that my 12km uphill time is well under two and a half hours.  I have been practicing my fueling and fluid intake.  My confidence of my ability to run the distance and conquer the mountains has grown over the last few weeks, and I know that I have done about as much as I can in training and preparation.

When I look back over all the months of running, the races and the training, I can still remember the first run that I went for after I actually made the decision to run the Routeburn Classic.  I remember wondering how I would look back on that moment.  I don't think I imagined that I would be as fit as I am now, or that I would be able to cover as much distance as I can.  I hadn't planned on becoming addicted to running, and I hadn't even thought that I would actually love running hills.

Since that day I have run just over 950km, can't go past a running store without checking out the shoes and gear, enter every race I can get to, and hate missing out on a chance to lace up and run up a mountain.  My poor better half, Ben, has learned to listen patiently to long descriptions of trail runs, and endless snippets about running, racing and nutrition.  He even buys me books about running, as well as trail gear, and always give heaps of support, including fantastic home cooked meals after races and running the bath.

And then there is my wonderful family who has supported my 100% as my dream of running the Routeburn Classic took shape.  When I first decided to run, I was unsure if I would be able to do the distance or the challenge, but the sureness of my ability and the reassurance they have given me, has helped me get to where I am now.  Thank you so much for believing in me, buying me amazing running shoes, and helping me get to the Routeburn.  I am so glad you will be there with me at the finish line.

I am so looking forward to Saturday.  I can't believe that the race has come around so fast.  This is going to be amazing.

Xterra Wellington Trail Series - Mad Makara

What is it about Wellington and great trail running events?  Splendid scenery, wild weather, terrific terrain and challenging courses seem to come standard with most Wellington Events, and Mad Makara was no exception.  This was another event with a fabulously well marked course, excellent organisation, and smiling, friendly, encouraging marshalls to brighten the trails.  There are still three races left in the series, and heaps of event options for different levels of experience, so go and enter right now, if the first race is anything to go by, don't miss out - this is insanely fun.

Pouring rain, and grey skies didn't deter heaps of runners for all three courses.  I was doing the long course option, and my plan was to take it pretty easy, the last thing that I want to do in the final week before the Routeburn, is put myself out of action.  Runners set off in three waves to spread out the field before hitting the narrow trail.  I was happy to hang out near the back, and soon found myself running through bush, and climbing gently into the mountains.  The bush periodically gave way to views of folding hills in every direction.

Shortly after the long course runners departed, the medium course leaders came charging through.  I found it a bit hard to be always checking over my shoulder to make sure I wasn't holding anyone up, while simultaneously keeping an eye on the tree roots and stones that were begging for an unwary ankle to twist.   I wished that there was more of a gap between the two courses, but as the fast and fit men and women tore past, I enjoyed running briefly in their wake, pretending that I was part of the elite and supremely fit front runners, before they dissapeared ahead of me out of site.

The climb got really steep about 7km in, but the steep section was only short, and then the long course branched off and descended into a valley.  This was where the mud began.  Dozens of feet pounding over wet soil had turned the first down hill section into a bit of a hazard, and I slowed right down, more intent on keeping my balance than maintaining any sort of speed.  Little did I know what was to come.  The course followed the valley floor, crossing a stream that was a just a little to wide for me to leap over, so I splashed through (first trail run"river" crossing successfully negotiated).  The climb begain again, and the mud increased, I would place my foot down to take a step upward and it would slide right back to where I had started.  My trail running repitoir was expaning to include dancing along the treeline, feet hugging sparse patches of ground that still contained grass, and clinging onto the shubbery for balance.  Some of those bushes were really prickly.

The climb up to the summit was glorious, the incline was shallow enough to run comfortably, and there were was plenty of cross-backs so the expanding vista could be appreciated from many angles.  Reaching the summit and plunging down the other side, the trail became increasingly muddy and tretcherous.  Long scrapes in the mud indicated where previous runners had madly scrabbled for purchase, and failed miserably. The ground was so slick in places that I practically skied down on the mud, bouncing off trees, the tread of my shoes, and infact my entire feet caked in so much mud that I couldn't see them.  About half way down this descent my ipod died (probably forever as it turns out), but I am getting more used to running without music, so I wasn't too worried (I did consider banging the ipod against the trees as I ran past just incase some violence would coax it back to life, but I think that it's spirit has left it forever).  I am now in the market for a new MP3 player before next weekend, eek!

The climb straight back up the mountain was steeper and even more muddy than the descent.  I actually fell over going uphill a few times and revelled in both the softness of the mud-cushioned landing, and the resultant coating of mud I recieved.  There is something fabulous about ending up so filthy during a run.  The slippery ascent was challenging and long, I managed to run everything that I didn't have to scale on my hand and knees, and am loving being fit enough to run slowly up steep slopes.  I could hear expletives filtering down from the track above, as other runners negotiated slippery and well trodden, expanses of track.  I wished I had crampons on more than one occasion, but by god it was fun!

Once reaching the summit (for the second time), the trail followed the ridgeline before heading back down hill towards the finish.  The rain was turning the trail into a small stream, and I had long since given up avoiding puddles, rivulets and waterfalls, happily splashing right through the middle.  A long puddle lay ahead and I plunged into it with gusto, only to find that it was nearly knee deep, maybe a little more caution to avoid hidden sources of injury should be employed!

The final kilometers zigzagged along well groomed bush covered tracks, and I was able to speed up a lot as the quality of the trail improved.  It was lovely to finish the race with such gusto, but even better to feel that I had so much energy in my tank after nearly 20km, this bodes well for Saturday!

Thanks to Xterra Wellington for such an enjoyable event, I am definetly looking forward to the rest of the series!

Levin Great Forest Event

After the joy and challenge of the Porirua Grand Traverse, it was going to be hard for any race on a flatter course to be as impressive.  I enjoyed the run of the Forrest Event, but the lack of spectacular scenery, and the flatter course didn't light my fire in the same way that running over mountains increasingly does.

The weather was pretty miserable, and I expected a small turnout, but there were hundreds of people, and many had travelled from quite far away to run.  I had initially intended to take the run at an easy-ish pace, and just add the distance to my training, but as the start approached the excitement of the crowd got the better of me, and I decided that I would try and beat my personal best for 21.1km.

I started out way too hard, running the first 7km in well under my goal pace to beat my pb...I just couldn't help myself, the music I was listening to got my adreneline pumping, and the guilty delight of passing lots of other runners got the better of me, and I streaked around the crowds, keeping up a pace of well under 4min 40 a km for quite a while.  I didn't even know that I could run that fast, let alone maintain that pace for any sort of distance.  The interval training must be to thank for that.

The entire race was run on forrest logging trails, and while running through dripping wet forrests, and through some quite muddy patches was fun and picturesque for about 5 min, I quickly longed for the changes in scenery that you get in a city race, or the magnificent views and sense of achievement of mountain running.

For the middle 7km I slowed down a lot, and planned to pick up the pace again for the final third of the run, but as km 14 came and went, I still wasn't feeling energetic enough to push hard again through to the finish.  With only about 4km to go to the finish line, I realised that I could just about beat my PB if I dug deep.  I ramped up the pace, and supprised myself myself by flying along for the last few km.  I crossed the finish line 1 min slower than my PB, and was pretty happy with that considering my hapazard racing plan, and having not really tried that hard for quite a large portion of the race.

I am not as attached to the time that I cross the line in, or beating my PB's as some people are.  I like improving, and my inner competitive self still has a whistful dream of one day getting a podium place, but for me, at the moment, completing challenging courses (most importantly, right now, the Routeburn), and the rush of covering huge distances, and seeing this amazing country through a veil of sweat and sometimes rain is so much more fun.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Porirua Grand Traverse

WOW! What an event. I didn't think it was possible to smile my way around a 18km mountain run, especially in howling winds and rain, but on Sunday, that's exactly what I did.

Firstly I have to say this I highly, highly recommend this event to anyone who loves running off road, or who is interested in multi-sport eventing (mountain biking, kayaking options available).  The brains behind the event organization and coordination really know what makes a great race: everything from venue, through to post race food options and availability of free massages to competitors had been thought out wonderfully.  But the star(s) of the day were the smiling and encouraging volunteer marshals that braved some pretty rough weather conditions to ensure that the course was safe and enjoyable for the competitors.

Then there was the race itself, 18km of pure bliss.  Even in adverse weather conditions.  I think (in my so far limited experience) that this race was the most quintessentially "kiwi" feeling race that I have done.  The variety of landscape from native bush, through rugged farmland and along wild cost lines (all shrouded in moody weather), with the fringes of the South Island nearly close enough to touch, the Porirua Grand Traverse is a beautiful showcase of running in New Zealand.  This is definitely a race worth traveling to participate in.  Highly recommended.

The course started out by the water front, and headed towards the hills through suburban streets.  The pack didn't spread out much over the early stages of the run (or at least I seemed to be keeping pace with other runners - an unusual event in itself).  We turned onto a bush lined path that rose gently for quite a while.  I was determined to maintain my new philosophy of running as much as possible, and zoned into my own performance, trying not to focus on, or thing about what anyone else was doing.  A lot of runners (in my proximity) chose to walk the uphill sections, a good choice for pacing, but disastrous for me on the narrow path.  I was forced to practically jog on the spot (trying to maintain my running rhythm), while a line of people shuffled on a head, unwilling to let me pass (or oblivious to my presence).

I persevered however, maintaining my uphill pace and speeding up on the flatter and down hill sections.  The
trail descended for a while before reaching a series of steps, that led back up to the mountain top.  The steps were steep, and never ending.  I slowed to a walk on the steps, but picked up my running pace when the track flattened between flights.  The steps went on, and on, and on.  I was feeling really good, and kept climbing away at a steady pace.  Eventually the hell-steps came to an end, the bushed thinned out and the trail widened.  I picked up my running pace again, and plowed my upward.   The ridge-line was much more exposed to the elements, and a chilly wind and squalls of misty rain kept me cool (frozen) on my progress.

This was the first properly cold weather that I have run in, and it gave me an opportunity to trial some of the thermal gear, hats and gloves that I have been accumulating.  All of which seemed to do their job's excellently, balancing my body temperature against the cold without overheating inside the layers.

I clumsily hurdled a fence at the makeshift style, and dashed off across farmland.  I must again thank the marshals that were braving the cold to point us on our way.  My relentless running (albeit sometimes quite slow-on-the-steep sections) seemed to be reaping me rewards.  I was passing other runners (almost unheard of for me, and not at all the name of the game, but a nice boost for my running esteem all the same).  When I neared a runner ahead of me, I refrained from pushing hard to pass, and instead focused on myself and my own progress, if I was traveling faster then I would eventually  pass, and I wasn't needlessly tiring myself out in the process.

Running over the farm land was the most challenging, but provided the most rewarding views.  Not only was the terrain steep, but the ground was pugged from animal traffic, and I had to focus super hard to plan out the route of my foot falls.  The wide expanse of the folding green peninsular petered out into a stormy grey ocean, Kapiti Island visible through the mists to the north, the South Island across the Cook Strait.   It was breath taking to run along such a rugged and beautiful coast line.  I could see the tiny shapes of faster running traversing hillsides off in the distance, and for once, the vista of bobbing bodies winding up a hill didn't make me panic - "wicked, I get to run there too!".

I was really feeling as though my training was paying off (FINALLY!).  The course climbed steeply again before descending across more technically challenging farm land right down to the water edge.  It was magical to run along beside the ocean.  I figured with the distance we had already covered, and with only a rough idea of the layout of the area where the race was held, that there would be one more hill to climb before heading back to the finish area.

Reaching the top of the last hill, I was still feeling energetic.  I charged off down the hill, letting my legs run away from me, and keeping up a good speed.  The downhill lasted for ages, and on more even ground than the previous sections of the course, was easy to run fast on.  The final few hundred meters to the finish was flat and back on paved streets.  I picked up the pace, keen to put every shred of effort I had into finishing strongly.  Friends and family of other competitors lines the course and generously offered their support to everyone that passed them by - so very appreciated.  

With the finishing line in site, I came to one last road crossing, where I had to stop to wait for traffic.  Runners were held as they came down to the crossing, and the intersection was major, so we had to wait for a red light to cross.  This was frustrating so close to the finish when I had been so ready to sprint on to the line.  I jogged madly on the spot, trying to keep everything pumping for when I was allowed to carry on.  The lights finally changed after what felt like an eternity, and I ran on.  My nearing-the-finish-line adrenaline rush had passed, and I had to really grit my teeth to keep up a cracking pace to the end.

I crossed the line in exactly 2hrs 30min, which was the best-case-scenario goal that I had set myself.  The course had been so challenging and enjoyable that the kms had passed without me really noticing, and I hadn't really kept an eye on my pace, just stuck with running the whole thing, and it worked.

Post race showers were blissful, and the well though out BBQ meal (beef, rice, salad, yummy sauce) was healthy, warming and ticked all the boxes for post race carb and protein requirements.  Free massages were on offer, but my legs felt ok, so I didn't partake.  An excellent jazz band kept the crowds entertained.

All in all, a brilliant, and highly enjoyable event, and one that I will definitely add to my race calendar for the future.  Fueling during the run seemed to be perfect for me, and my running strategy and training seemed to pay off.  I hope that I can tick all of those same boxes for the Routeburn Classic - this is exactly how well I hope that "the Classic" goes.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Windfarm and Other Adventures

A beaut week of fantastic runs.  I have done some interval training, the first in ages, thanks to a timely reminder about the benefits from Mum (it makes such an improvement to my lung capacity and speed).

I ran the Gorge track again, knocking half an hour off my previous time, and loving getting my teeth (or feet as the case may be) stuck into some good climbs.  I chose a cooler, and slightly rainy day for the run, and was protected from most of the weather by the thick forest canopy.  On the return, the evening was drawing a bit closer (although at around 6pm, its not particularly late, or dim) but the dense foliage cover and the grey weather, meant that I had to really strain my eyes to see the trail and dodge the tree roots and negotiate the slippery board-walks.

View from the look out just before the descent
After the recent 'experience' of the Mt Lowry Challenge, I have decided that a slower and more steady approach to some of the steeper hill work, will give me more energy, and allow me to keep up a steady up-hill pace without exhausting myself. "Relentless forward progress".  I utilized this philosophy for the steepest sections of the run, and was impressed with how I was able to maintain a run without gasping like a fish out of water.

The run went really well, and I was able to run very fast on the downhill sections.  I find that keeping my knees bent, my center of gravity low, and the running posture of my arms wide from the middle of my body, I am able to stay very stable and balanced on down hill sections.

In the middle of the week, after a morning of hard study, I decided that it would be interesting to explore a trail that I had read about a long time ago, a mountain bike course that travels the length of the mountain range where the wind farm stalks it's way along above the plains.  I love the wind farm.  Apart from my appreciation of harnessing the wind for electricity, I find something intriguing and alien about the massive, stark turbines.  Its just my opinion, but I have always found the contrast between the man-made and the natural landscape strangely beautiful.

I found directions to the trail on a mountain biking website, and cross-referenced the route with Google maps to work out the distance I would cover (I planned 30km in an out-and-back course).  I had packed plenty of gear, but checked the weather forecast which predicted fine sunny/cloudy weather with rain at night.

The road up to the point that I chose to start my run wound up above the plains below, and from where I parked my car, I could see the ocean of both the East and West coasts.  The sun was shining, the sky close, and a brilliant blue with cotton wool clouds drifting between patches of sunlight.  I set off up the road, and
into the mountains.  The wind farm was all around me.  The track, providing construction and maintenance access to the towers and turbines, followed the ridge line, turning in and out of bluffs, and running within meters of the foundations of these monolithic structures.  Throughout the first section of the wind farm, the turbines were smaller, the towers constructed of scaffolding, less imposing than the gargantuan solid structures.

The big turbines have blades that rival the size of the wings of large planes.  They really are enormous.  The blades slice through the air, making a sinister, deep swishing sound.  I found them a little terrifying (and thrilling) to be so close, but I have to admit that on more than one occasion, I wondered where I would escape to if a giant bade fell off!

The further I ran, the greyer the sky became, clearly the forecasted night time rain was closer than predicted.  The wind was constant, and although not particularly cold, I was wearing a long sleeved poly prop which kept me comfortable.  I could see the first wisps of rain breaching the horizon, and I was grateful that I had my waterproof jacket in my pack.

The trail climbed steadily (though not steeply) for several km, following the ridge line. By the time that I reached the 10km mark, the weather was really starting to close in, and as I had started a bit later than I  had originally intended, I was worried that I would end up trying to negotiate the mountains in the dark.  As the ominous gun-metal-grey clouds boiled over head, and the curtains of driving rain began to advance across the plains, I made the call to turn back early, and run only 20km instead of 30km I had originally intended.

I have been trialing some new flavours of Gu Gels, and gobbled down a "Chocolate Outrage".  Not as sickly as I thought it might be, and very chocolatey, I think I have found a new favourite.  Incidentally, I have been looking around to find the best price for buying these gels, and MACPAC turns out to be by far the cheapest, but sometimes only have a limited selection of flavours available.

As I pressed back, the wind grew, and on the loops of trail heading into the gusts, I struggled to maintain momentum, the wind was really getting strong (adding to my fear of toppling turbine blades).  I put on my jacket, an instant relief from the wind, and tightened the hood around my face.  I had to fasten the hood-cords so tightly to hold it in place against the wind, that I could only see out of one eye.  I ran on as a cyclopes for quite some time.

The trip downhill back to the car was faster that the assent, and I was pleased to get back to the car and out of the relentless wind before the worst of the storm hit.

In other news, I have also been orienteering a couple of times.  I really enjoy thinking and map reading while running, and it is fun to do a shorter, faster run while being so distracted.  Yesterday marks three weeks till the Routeburn Classic, and tomorrow I have the Porirua Grand Traverse. Love it!