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!