Make yourself a cup of coffee or hot chocolate, this is going to be LONG (a bit like race day as it happens)
My ultramarathon really started at 12.30pm on Friday as I left work early to get the car packed and take the three and a half hour drive down to Taupo. Packing the car was straight forward as I had most things already organised and besides, packing to go away for a race is something that I’m getting quite good at. I ended up leaving home at around 1.15pm …
… I then turned around and came back home to pick up the stuff that I had forgotten!!
I eventually got on the road by 2pm and headed straight into Auckland traffic. This proved to be pretty much the story for the whole drive down to Taupo. I had traffic in Auckland which took ages to get through, then I ran into some major road works about half an hour south of Auckland, the I came across some police cars that had blocked off the state highway and had to go through a detour along a narrow, winding country road along with hundreds of other cars!!! Suffice to say it took me a bit longer than three and a half hours!
In the end I got into Taupo at 7pm, thoroughly worn out by the drive. The plan had been to get into Taupo and have my tent set up by 6pm. I’d then go onto the course and stash some aid while it was still light (this race was going to be completely self supported, not plan “A” but sometimes you just have to go with the flow ..). After that I was planning on having enough time to register, attend the race briefing and get to bed early at around 8.30pm.
That plan went out the door thanks to the slow trip down. Instead I set up my tent, went straight to registration, stayed for the race briefing and then headed out, in the dark to find a place to stash my aid. I eventually got to bed at around 10pm.
My humble abode
At the registration I met another guy who was doing the 100k for the first time and we got talking. He’d done Ironman a few times and, like me was giving the 100k a go as a new challenge. The conversation went something like this:
(Ironman Guy) “so how many Ironmen have you raced?”
(Me) “Just one”
(Ironman Guy) “Oh really, I’ve raced three plus the usual other stuff, what was you time?”
(Me) “Arrr, just under 13 hours”
(Ironman Guy) “Oh yeah, I’m nudging 10 hours. What kind of training have you been doing?”
(Me) “Well actually my training has been a bit weak, but I’ve strung together some long runs and think I can go the distance”
(Ironman Guy) “I’ve been doing 50k runs in training, reckon I’m in for a good time … blah blah blah, its going to be a mental game blah blah blah”
I saw Ironman Guy a couple of times out on the course zooming along in his tri suit (yes, a one piece tri suit).
However the next time I was to actually have a chat with Ironman Guy was at the 75k mark. He was sitting on the side of the road with his head in his hands, looking pretty broken. He told me he had the trotts and had been unable to keep anything down for the last 4 hours (that one piece tri suit was looking like a very bad idea – note for future Ultramarathon runners, don’t wear a one piece tri suit!)
Anyways as I’ve mentioned above, I went to bed at around 10pm. I dozed a little but didn’t really sleep and was steering at the top of the tent when my alarm went off at 1.40am, time for breakfast!
“Breakfast” was a bowl of muesli, I wasn’t feeling very hungry so left it at that. After eating I got dressed and made my way across to the race start. I parked my car fairly close to the start / finish line (and right on the course) and set about preparing what was to be my major “aid station” (the boot of my car). My chillie bin was full of ice and drink, my food was ready, I had a change of clothes, shoes and socks laid out, and my blister kit all ready. I hung around for a bit and waited as long as comfortably possible before putting my shoes on (after using lots of baby powder on my feet).
There were 50 people starting the 100k solo, plus an additional 20 2 x 50k teams making this the largest ultramarathon ever held in New Zealand (gives an idea of how small this aspect of running is in New Zealand). Interestingly enough this was the first time that prize money had been offered, there was a prize pool of $12,000 paying three deep (male and female), just goes to show what a little bit of sponsorship money can do!
The start of an ultramarathon is a strange thing. In most races, there jostling at the front and when the starting gun goes everyone’s off like a shot! In this race however there was a countdown from ten “10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 …” and then everyone just kind of shuffled on off down the road …
We stayed fairly bunched up for the first 20k’s. I kept my pace in check with an average heart rate of bang on 150 bpm, which is about what I wanted. I also got on the shoulder of a guy who had recently won the New Zealand 12 hour championship, so I made sure that I didn’t get in front of him, figuring that my ideal pace would see me on the course for at least 12 hours (the sub 10 hour ultra dream had a reality check a couple of months ago …). Its weird running at night, especially as there was only a crescent moon during the run, so not a lot of light coming from there. It almost feels as if you’re running in a bubble which comprises of the couple of metres lit up by your head lamp. Looking ahead I could see the red lights from the other runners (we were all given red flashing lights to wear on the back of our shorts), but it was quite hard to get a sense of depth, so it seemed kind of surreal.
At 22.5k’s I came across my stash, which was thankfully still safely stashed. My biggest worry up to that point was that my stashed aid would be missing. I was a little concerned when I topped up my camel pack with only 750mL, as this meant that I was not drinking nearly enough (just over a litre drunk as I was also carry a small water bottle, I also picked up a new water bottle from my stash, I was using the camel pack to carry sports drink). From there it was a short little jog to the 25k turn around which I got to in a time of 2 hours 54 min, so far so good.
The 25k mark is right at the bottom of the biggest and longest climb on the course, the famous Hatapi Hill. My plan was always to walk every hill and what I really noticed going up this hill was that the chaps who were trying to run up it weren’t actually going much faster than me, but they were using a lot of energy!
About 30k into the race, looking tired, but thats because I've been running since 3am! - Yes that is a LONG road behind me!
At around 35k my stomach started to feel a little funky, so I stopped to, um, answer natures call … which made me feel a lot better. I’d also promised to call the kids at 7.30am and managed to keep that promise, although it was looking a little dicey for a bit as the cell phone coverage dropped out for about a 10k stretch. Talking to the family gave me a boost and I was able to truck on through the 42k (marathon distance) mark. My stomach was starting to feel funky again so I broke out my “dodgy bag of pills” which included some ginger caps. These were brilliant and settled things down really fast, I wish I had bought some more!
Things were still pretty low key at the start / finish line (which was also the 50k turn around point). The official there took my time (6 hours 3 minutes), said “well done” and “good luck” and I was off heading back out of town again. I was still just about on target at this point, however I thankfully stopped in at my “major aid station” (my car boot) to do some running repairs and try and eat some food.
My feet had started to develop some big blisters on the side of each heal. I had a hollow needle and some “compeed” to fix these so set to work. The trick with draining blisters is to make sure they don’t simply refill, that’s why pricking them is no good. The other thing to be careful of is to not tear the skin, as things are going to get really sore if the skin comes off – hence the hollow needle, it puts and nice round hole in the skin.
Now (and this is a little gross, so be warned), these two blisters on the heals were under a bit of pressure, and when I lanced them they shot their juice out in a fascinating but somewhat disturbing arch. The blisters were to big for the compeed, so I simply smeared them with lots of vas. I treated some blisters on my toes in the same way. It was then loads of baby powder, fresh socks and shoes, and my feet were set!
Next was some more sun block and vas (tip:- it helps to have a list to work to when you’re doing it all for yourself).
Eating was an altogether different problem. I’d forced down some gels on the way in, but my gut really didn’t like it, and the thought of eating anything made me feel quite ill. In the end I managed to down some pretzels, a bottle of Red Bull, a muesli bar and a banana. I also unloaded a bunch of stuff from my camel pack that I now knew I wouldn’t be able to eat. I topped up the camel pack with sports drink again (a bit more than last time, but still not enough), grabbed a bottle of water and headed off.
After about 1 k I realized that I’d left my sunhat behind. It was an overcast day and there was no way I was going to head back to get it trucked on and prayed that the sun wouldn’t come out to much!
I think that after the 50k mark is where the race really starts. This is where things that are a minor pain during a marathon, become big issues in an ultra. One such problem for me was the fact that in 8 hours I’d only pee’d twice, and the last pee did not have a good look to it (sorry if that’s a bit crude). By this time I was 60k’s into the race and just about ready to call it quits. I’d even started to ring a friend who lives in Taupo to ask them to come and pick me up. As the phone was ringing I had a moment of clarity and hung up. I looked up the road and saw a big hill and so resolved to have an extended walking break and concentrate on drinking as much as possible. Which is exactly what I did.
5 k down the road, as I was walking up the hill happily sucking on my camel pack I came across my first ultramarathon causality. It was a lady who had been in front of me all day. She got to the top of the hill, wondered to a grass area on the side of the road and laid down. Her crew were following her pretty closely and quickly came over. They said that she was “having a rest” but it was obviously game over for her.
By this point the relay teams were starting to come through and so the crowds (made up of the teams and their supporters) were building up. One of the neat things that they do for this race is to give all the solo 100k runners a different colour race number with our names printed on it. This is so that everyone knows who the solo runners are on the course, the race organisers make sure that a big deal is made of the ultramarathron runners and they we got plenty of vocal support from the relay teams. This proved to be really cool, especially when the teams noticed that there was no crew following me along. The result being that I got loads of support, cold sponges and drinks given to me, and I got bumped to the top of the queue at the port-a-loo’s.
The last 30k’s of the race was a mix of really high “highs” and really low “lows” that came in quicker succession as time (and distance) worn on. I’m sure that if I had a crew I would have dropped out, the temptation to jump into a car and be finished would have been too much. A 100k ultramarathon is WAY harder than Ironman, I have a whole new level of respect for anyone who does 100 milers!
Its all starting to hurt
By the 80k mark I was most definitely not in a happy place! My feet hurt, my stomach wasn’t happy, my legs were sore and my armpits were getting chaff. On top of that I just was really tired. My eating plan had gone out the door and I was well into calorie deficit. Eventually I found myself lying down with my feet up on a fence just trying to take some of the pressure off my poor abused feet. Eventually I regained a sense of self and got back up and started to chug along again.
With 10k to go I was down to walking and was feeling pretty sorry for myself. Happily I ran (or rather walked) into a chap (Anthony) who was running the full relay by himself (155 k). He had some crew around him who were pacing him into the finish. They invited me to “jump on” and promised to get me to the finish. So the last 10 k went by with more running than walking, with the guys cracking lots of jokes and getting me and Anthony through to the finish.
In the end I finished the ultra without throwing up (or at least my stomach contents didn’t get any further than my mouth!), in a time of 14 hours 40 minutes and 39 seconds. I was the 34th finisher out of 50 starters, (although only 35 made it to the finish line – that’s right, close to 30% of the starters DNF’d). My heart rate monitor records calorie output as well and it clocked out at some point at 9,999 calories, so I had a big deficit to catch up.
After my post race massage I hobbled down to my car and made my way back to the camp ground for a well earned hot shower. Dinner was a big fat greasy pizza (super supreme, yummy!) chased down with some sparkling grape juice followed closely by bed. I had the offer of a nice cold beer, but figured that would not be a very good idea as I was feeling kind of weird before tucking into my pizza.
WHAT HAVE I LEARNT?
I’ve learnt that an Ultramarathon (or at least a 100k ultramarathon) is way way harder than Ironman. I really thought that it would be easier than it proved to be.
I’ve learnt that having crew can be a huge advantage. One of the things I struggled with was carrying an extra 3kg plus at the start of every 25k. The end result being that my shoulders and neck got quite tight (in addition to having a world of hurt happening from my waist down).
I’ve also learnt that having good pacers makes a huge difference, and could quite easily be the difference between finishing and DNF’ing.
Lastly I’ve learnt that I have a heap more endurance that I thought I had. I know this because I didn’t have enough drink, I didn’t have enough food, but somehow I managed to push on. Next time things get tough I’ll have to remind myself of just how tough I can actually be.
So what’s next? I’m not sure, what I do know is that I’m going to take the time to fully recover from this weekends “fun”. I’m not planning on anymore races this year, although I do plan to keep up some running. I’m also going to swim more, particularly as we move into winter. We’ll just have to wait and se what next year brings.