Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Week That Was

Ran the Manawatu Gorge Track the weekend before last.  Excellent trail that I have been wanting to run for ages.  Ran with Nneka.  The trail climbs steadily up hill for several km (with a few short downhill sections thrown in for relief).  Mercifully, the beaut native bush that shrouds almost the entire trail, provided a bit of relief from the heat.  Several look outs over the Manawatu Gorge, plains and wind-farm allowed us to get up close and personal with the turbines, as well as appreciate the view (and sneakily rest from the up-hill slog). After descending to the car park at the other end of the gorge, and failing to find a toilet, we refueled, and then made the return run.  At around km 15, we started back into the steeper down hill descent to the start.  The last km wound on and on (zig-zag after zig-zag, and sooo many steps) I was amazed (once again) to think that I had run up all of this!

Half way through the Manawatu Gorge track

Wind Farm, Manawatu Gorge Trail Run

I have been listening to a few running podcasts.  Initially I downloaded episodes with Anna Frost interviews, but have really enjoyed Talk Ultra, and Trail Runner Nation.  I have been finding the experiences of others both inspirational and educational.

It has been a bit of a challenging week at work (physically) and with sorting out the impending semester at Uni (frustratingly), so I eased off some of the tension with a hill run yesterday afternoon.  I tried out some of the technique tips for hill running that Anna Frost had discussed in an interview (mostly about using quads rather than calves for climbing), and found that modifying the muscles that do the majority of the work made the climb a bit easier, and my normally ragged (rabid) gasping for breath was curbed to a more seemly panting, I am guessing because my oxygen requirements were reduced due to more efficient muscle usage (but then again I might be just guessing).

It is nice to have running as a release.  If I have a good day - I want to run to celebrate.  If I have a not-so-amazing day - I want to run it off (note this is NOT running away from a tough day, but rather channeling that day's frustration into a run, an important distinction I feel).

As the semester kicks off next week, I am looking forward to getting into my studies again, and am hoping to continue to build on the fitness and endurance (and speed?) that I have worked on over the summer.  It is always very rewarding to take a run at the end of a long day of lectures and sitting in front of a computer.  I am also looking at purchasing a uni fitness center membership which gives me access to all sorts of yoga, les mills fitness classes, and the gym.  I also really want to join the local running club, so that I have some more running company, and some more comrades-in-running-shoes for advice and for training.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

AMI Round The Bays

I woke early on race day, and ate porridge in bed watching the sun rise over Wellington from the 19th floor of the hotel.  The morning turned grey and drizzle began. I struggled into my race gear and headed into the city.  I was excited.

As I walked towards the start area, other brightly-clad competitors emerged, and I joined a growing crowd of very fit looking athletes descending on the start line.  Ed Sheran's "Give Me Love" blared longingly from huge speakers.  To avoid the misting rain, I joined a cluster of runners huddling under the trees, and started scanning the crowd for my friend Kristy who was also competing (all be it in a much shorter time than I can hope for).  I spotted Kristy, and we wandered towards the start line, where Kristy found her spot in the front 10 rows (along with the other elite's), and I tucked in behind the 2hr pace runner.

Race officials led a cramped warmup (shuffle left, shuffle right, punch the air, avoid hitting your neighbors), we were warned to not run into on coming traffic, and a small cannon was fired.  We were off.

The field was enormous (some 2300 plus), and I was determined to stick with the 2hr pacer as long as I could, and I was managing the 5min 33sec pace that was being set.  About a km into the race the rain stopped, and my bladder started nudging me, I didn't want to stop, but I knew that the nagging sensation would distract me later on.  I figured that I might as well stop earlier on in the race (there would be less fellow relief seekers, and I would have more energy to catch up the pace group).  I pulled into a rest stop about 4 km in, along with about 7 others before me, well how long does it take to go? I had stopped now so I might as well wait, I would still be able to catch my pace group.

SIX precious minutes, and what felt like a lifetime later, I had made it out of the loo!  Countless others were still waiting, and many more had entered, sworn (ironically "shit") and left again.  I had read somewhere that if I was going to catch up my pace group, then I should do so gradually and not sprint (not that I could manage 6 min of sprinting to catch up).  I sped off, trying to keep my pace around the 5min 20sec mark, desperately scanning the runners ahead to see if I could see the familiar race garb of the pace group.

Fabulous entertainers and motivators lined the course, a jazz band played from a balcony, cheer leaders, supporters holding signs "Run like you stole something", smiling and cheering course officials, and drink station volunteers. Clusters of photographers snapped away.  I was having a blast, and I was keep up a fast pace.

As the course wound around the peninsular, new views of the harbor and city revealed themselves.  I was passing heaps of other runners, still desperately searching for my pacers.  The first of the fast return racers dashed past, two young men neck and neck and looking to me as though they were sprinting, I clapped and cheered, hearing runners behind me take up the cry - those runners are champions.  More runners coming in the opposite direction, and shortly, the first woman, Kristy was not far behind.  "Go Kristy" I screamed waving both arms in the air, the runners in front of me jumped at the sound of my yells, and then turned to look and shrunk away from my flailing arms.  I sped up and passed them.

By the half way point, I was feeling really good (porridge is the answer!) and I sucked down my first gel.  At the next water station I grabbed an isotonic drink (more syrup than anything else) and in the process of drinking while running, spilled the sticky solution all down my front, legs and arms.  The taste was dreadfully sickly, but was filled of energy and electrolyte-y goodness.  I was now scanning the runners coming in the opposite direction, still searching for my pacer, but I must have missed her, as the turn around came and went and I still hadn't found my group.

I tried to keep my pace at around 5min 30sec per km mark, but I could feel my energy levels starting to flag a bit.  When I reached the 16km mark my dreadful dehydration stitch had set in, and my pace had slowed to 6min 11sec per km.  I heard a pod cast earlier in the week in which the interviewee (a 100miler endurance trail runner) had said that if you could master your mindset in times of challenge, your body would keep going even under adverse conditions.  I kept telling myself to keep going, to push past the stitch pain, and to keep running.  It worked, and the next water station appeared, thank goodness, I would get a drink and everything would be alright.

No bloody cups!  The water station volunteers were pouring the water straight into the outstretched hands of runners.  I cupped my hands under the spout, and the distracted pourer tipped the canister, water filled my shoes, and soaked my clothes.  I sucked thirstily at my hands and ran on.

As we ran along the last few km I was able to lift my pace again (to around 5min 30sec), and ahead I spied the shirt of one of the runners that had started out in the 2hr pace group, the timer on my watch was only a couple of min off the two hour mark.  I ran on, putting in more and more effort.  I was waiting for the marker for the final km.  As we rounded the last corner, the half marathon runners joined the flow of the 7km runners all heading for the finish.  I sped up, and then sprinted the home stretch to the finish line.  I was tired, and my legs felt wobbly and a little as though my feet weren't really connecting with the ground.  I put in every last shred of effort and crossed the line in 2 hours and 1 min.

I never did find my pace group (although I couldn't have been far away from them).  I can't believe that I had managed to run so fast for such a long distance (I had basically maintained my 7km race pace for almost the entire half marathon!).  I had knocked 20min off my previous half marathon personal best. Considering that before I decided to run with the pace group I had wanted to try and maintain a sub-7min/km pace, it seems incredible that I can push myself to achieve a pace over a minute faster. Next time, if I don't have toilet troubles, I might make it in under two hours.

An amazing race and an incredible result for me.  I loved it.  AMI Round The Bays rocked!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Routeburn Classic Entered!!!

Tuesday morning of the second entry attempt dawned much as any other, no sleepless night, no angsty race-entering nerves.  As 7am came and went, it appeared that I still couldn't access the site for entering the Routeburn Classic.  I frantically refreshed the screen, and the minutes ticked by, I was going to have to go to work soon, and I thought for the second week in a row that I was going to miss out!  Then in a last desperate flash of inspiration, I checked Good Times Events Facebook page, and found a link directly to the event registration page...and it loaded.  I frantically filled out the registration form, payed the money, and dashed out the door...it was now in the hands of the internet-shaped gods.

After work, I check my emails, no confirmation email yet, had I only made the wait list, had those moments of fruitless page refreshing misery meant that I was too late.  Another helpful facebook update directed hopeful entrees to the Starters List page...and there at number 34 was my name.  I have made the starters list for the 2013 Routeburn Classic!

Buoyed on by this fantastic and exciting news, I went off to my Tuesday evening Super Sevens Race.  I have just received (as a belated Christmas gift) my GPS running watch, and I have used it on a few runs, and started to get my head around it's multitude of functions.  Tuesday night was my first official event for testing the watch and its capabilities out.  I figured that to beat my previous 42:10 7km effort, I needed to run faster than 6min/km (my long distance pace ranges from 6:30-8min/km), so this run is a good test of my ability to sustain a faster pace over distance.  We all started out, and I kept my legs moving quickly, and settled (or pushed myself) into a steady (and faster than usual) 5:36/km.  I reasoned that IF I could keep this speed up over the entire distance I would be sure to beat my previous time, even if I slowed up in the later km.  I pushed myself to maintain this speed over the entire distance (it was hard work, but not impossible), and I even managed to pick up speed over the last km.  I finished in 38:24 which I was very happy with and is my new PB over 7km.

Tuesday was a good day.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Routeburn Classic Entry Attempt #1

After a night of tossing and turning, and waking afraid that I had overslept and missed out, I rose early to prepare for entering the Routeburn Classic.  As the countdown to 7am progressed, I stood in front of my laptop, refreshing the internet page, and waiting for the agonizing last seconds to tick by until the entries opened.

7am came and went, and I couldn't access the page, refresh, refresh, refresh...still nothing, don't panic, the internet connection at home can be a bit dodgy, so surely I would be able to get through if I kept trying.

Seven fifteen and then seven thirty ticked by, still nothing, I must have missed out by now, and any way I had to leave for work.  I was bitterly disappointed. 

My better half kindly tried again for me an hour or two later, and apparently the server failed, entries were postponed, and I hadn't missed out.


Friday, February 1, 2013

Tussock Traverse

Standing at the starting area on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu in bright sunlight and the cool crisp mountain air at 9:30 in the morning, the central plateau stretching out behind, and the Tongariro Crossing in front - definitely the most picturesque place I have ever qued for a port-a-loo.

Waiting for the race start - Mt Ruapehu in the background
 We bussed off early from National Park, passing the steaming Mt Tongariro, and bumping our way across the volcanic desert onto the side of Ruapehu.  Several hundred competitors waited in line for their final pre-race loo opportunity (DOC had issued strict instructions to avoid mass bladder voiding at the start line much to the chagrin of the runners in the que behind me.

These complainers,middle aged men, boasted their impressive running C.V.s in between abusing DOC (for restricting a man's right to pee in the wild) and loudly stating that they had purposely chosen the line with the least females in it, women taking so much longer because there weren't mirrors in the port-a-loos in which to check/adjust/apply make up.  The women around me, hardened athletes every one, discussed their enjoyment of the scenery and recommended races, gear, food and travel destinations, managing to complete their pre-race rituals with little regard for applying anything other than sunscreen.  My turn for the loo eventually came just before the complainers behind me (everyone seemed to be taking their sweet-toileting-time), and I had to chuckle to myself, there WAS a mirror behind the door inside.

We had transponders attached to our laces, so once the starting horn was sounded, individual timing commenced as soon as we crossed the blue mats on the start line.  I had not raced with a transponder before, and had laced mine through the last cross on my shoe.  I saw that other runners cable-tied, or used string to secure their transponders, something that I will probably do next time.

Off. Up the hill (quite steep). I started running, but the press and pace of other runners was so great that we ended up walking after a couple of hundred meters.  Power walked to the top of the first climb.  Reddish-grey rock and gravel extended in front, and beyond that, the snow smeared sides of volcanic Ruapehu, sooty and dirty looking from recent geothermal activity.

Reached the top of the climb, the power walk nicely warming up my legs.  I had been walking with my friend from last weekend, chatting away, and taking photos, but on beginning the descent she shot away, and I got stuck behind another competitor, and I didn't see her again until the finish.  The downhill I quite enjoyed, it was steep and technical with loose rocks, sand and scrubby bushes.  I was able to travel quite fast, but my progress was some what impeded by other runners, who concentrating on their own descent, were quite oblivious to those behind who wished to pass.  I can not stand the feeling of someone traveling close behind me, and would much rather let them pass, I would hate to think that my bumbling running was holding up a faster, or more experienced athlete, so I endeavored to let anyone behind me pass where ever I could.

Reaching the valley floor was amazing, the alien landscape - like running on the moon.  I was able to speed up, and even though I had had almost no experience of running in such a rocky and sandy environment, I was able to plan my route ahead with my eyes, and really enjoyed the challenge of the terrain.

The volcanic-valley-moonscape gave way to slightly hillier vegetative landscape.  The track cut deeply (sometimes to shoulder height) into the banks in some places and widened into deep sand.  Sand running required a different momentum altogether, and it took me a few minutes to settle into the sand-running rhythm.  I kept thinking to myself, wow I am running in the most incredible place.

We crossed some streams, and started climbing again.  The first few km flew by.  I was feeling good, and was enjoying being fit enough to be able to power walk up the steeper sections.  The trail headed towards Mt Ngauruhoe climbing and descending through rocky and tussocky terrain.

Somewhere between the 12km and 14km mark I crashed.  My energy just ran out.  I stumbled on with my run, but every step my legs felt like lead.  The heat of the sun was beating down, and even slowing to a walk, I felt like I was in hell.  The run up to this point had been amazing, but now every step was a mammoth effort.  I guess that this was me hitting the wall.  I struggled on for about 4 or 5km, feeling a bit dizzy, mostly feeling gutted that I was going to have to walk half of this race.  Despite the fact that I was drained, empty and hungry, I was frustrated – if I had properly fueled I could have kept going.

In retrospect I can attribute my loss of energy to not eating enough pre-race, and not carrying enough fuel for the race itself.  

By the 16km mark I was aching to start running again, and made a few stumbling attempts on down-hill sections.  I persevered, and started running more and more, taking on great long sections, but still only able to walk up the steep sections.  Then my second wind came and I was away. Oh the bliss and the joy of being able to run again.  My tired and hungry brain rejoiced – I had passed through the fire and come out the other side, and I was running.  

Only 8km to go, and we were starting to climb again, the long uphill’s followed by the easier and longer down.  A welcome and refreshing mountain breeze sprung up.  More alpiney-tussocky ups and downs.  The sun beating down. I kept running.

ONLY 6km to go! Easy, I cover that sort of distance in a fun run.  I picked up the pace.  The trail was mostly descending now, and Chateau Tongariro came into view. I could practically see the finish line.
I descended about 700 (or maybe it was only 50) super steep steps, my tired eyes making the steps swim under my tired and not-going-down-steps-cooperatively legs.  Then a stunning waterfall.  I took a photograph without breaking stride.

Only a couple of kms to go. We plunged into bush and I sped up, galloping along, every turn, I was sure would reveal the finish line.  Keep going, keep going legs.  The bush was lusciously cool.

Still no finish line, these last couple of km seemed to stretch out longer than the entire distance I had thus far covered.  And, to add insult to injury, I was climbing again, and then into the blistering heat.  Surely, surely I must have traveled 4km by now!

A trail side sign "Look Up and Smile for the Photographer".  I looked up and grimaced madly at the lens.

Then I heard the loudspeaker, and rounding the final corner, crossed into the finish area. Runners and supporters surrounded the finish area and cheered while the compare announced "Kat - finishing with a big smile. And I did. And I had made the "sub-four-hour club"!

I met up with my friend again who had finished some time before me.  We lounged about in the sun, celebrating our accomplishment with chocolate milk and cheering on the other finishers. Wicked.


Post run feet and shoes - covered in volcano