Sunday, 17 April 2011

Oxfam 100k (not race) report

Earlier in the year my friend Dee got a bunch of us together for a coffee to talk about running a 100k for charity.  Four weeks after Ironman and I wasn’t planning on taking anything too seriously, a bit of a road trip up to Taupo and the chance to tick a 100k run off the bucket list seemed a good idea.

Fast forward to last Friday and I was rushing out of work to drive 4.5hrs to Taupo in time for a compulsory briefing at 9pm, followed by a 7am start the next morning, and that was just after landing from six days in the UK the day before.  Suddenly running 100km didn’t seem quite the cruise I had hoped for.

Coming out of a decent Ironman training block I’d been a little complacent about training. Individually we’d done a fair amount, but as a team we’d hardly run more than 10k together.  Three of us had done 35k on a Saturday and 25k on the Sunday a few weeks back, but that was the peak of our training / adaptation.

Of the team Dee has done 10+ Ironman, me half a dozen, Steve a fair amount of running, including a 60k earlier this year, and Tom although a newbie triathlete, has a marathon and few seasons of rowing under his belt.  For all of us this was a step into the unknown.

Thankfully the team had managed to keep my enthusiasm (competitiveness) in check and my 10hr aspirations had quickly been knocked back to around 14hrs.  We’d had a good chat about nutrition and all knew to keep at each other to keep eating and drinking.  Probably most importantly we had a fantastic support team.  All our respective partners (Mel, Mike, Sarah and Cat) were along for the ride and we’d loaded up the station wagon with food, beach chairs and spare clothes. 

Along the 100k way there were seven aid stations, so the longest leg we ever had to run was 20k.  Then we could have a sit down, change our clothes, reload camelbacks and stuff our face with whatever would get us through the next leg.

After my good day at Ironman this year I have been thinking about the impact on performance that positivity seems to have (certainly personally) so I consciously tried to keep positive throughout the day.  My positivity may have appeared as an irritating and persistent nagging at time – sorry about that team – but the intent was to try and keep moral high and not let doubt and negativity take over, which it so easily could for this sort of challenge.  At the back of my mind I was pretty convinced we’d have at least one crashing low point during the run, probably once we hit survival mode which we anticipated would eventually come about.  Incredibly, although we had some low points and we were all exhausted there was never any team-wide negativity.

Our race started at 7am with the second half of the field and the first leg from Kinloch towards Taupo was stunning, a beautiful 16k trail around the headland with the lake in view the whole way.  We whooped, sang and hollered our way through the other teams to the first stop.  Only 16k in we all felt great, took a quick feed, kissed out partners and fired through for the second and hardest (as billed by Oxfam) leg. There was quite a bit of climb in this leg as we rose up to the days highpoint somewhere around 600m.  That said, we were buoyed on as we realised we were in the top 5 or 6 teams by checkpoint two. 

As an indication of pace we’d been on our feet for nearly 4 hrs when we got to 30k, already my longest run (duration) since Ironman in 2010.  The day ahead was starting to dawn on me, we weren’t even a third of the way in I’d run longer than pretty much ever before! 

Out of Stop Two we had probably our biggest low point.  I was leading the team out and wasn’t following the map, relying instead on the trail markers.  A few kms on we turned off road and came face to face with the lead team (from the 6am start) going in the opposite direction. They helpfully told us we were going the wrong way - thankfully we only had about an 800m backtrack, but losing over a km and realising the leaders had hit 49k in 5hrs was a bit of blow. 

The day was also starting to get hot.  Although we were thankful (probably nearly as thankful as the support team) that it wasn’t raining, 20+ degrees was a bit more than we’d expected and we were drinking a lot and had to keep topping up the sun tan lotion.   We got into a great habit of shouting at each other every time we ate or drank to make sure each other were doing the same.  I think I actually put on weight through the day from eating so much.

The rest of leg three and leg four passed without incident and we tramped on at a pretty consistent pace, occasionally trading places with two or three other teams.  Checkpoint 4 was at 52k and we had scheduled a decent rest.  The timing plan we’d drafted before the race had us leave here at 2pm, in the end it was about 2:30 when we left, I was certainly pleased that we’d got this far pretty much on target. 

One of our supporters was allowed to accompany us for one leg so we picked up Mike at this checkpoint and had him to entertain, map read and open gates for the next 13.5k.  For me this was probably the hardest leg, crucially we passed through the point where we had less than a marathon left to go which was broken into one big leg (19.7k) followed by two short legs of 8km and 6km which seemed like nothing.  For me the back of the race was broken.  We had a good break at checkpoint 5, the girls (support team) were in great spirits which undoubtedly lifted ours and although we headed out to start the next 19k pretty slow, spirits were high.  Apparently we looked pretty beat up by this stage but actually we were moving nicely. 

The first 10k of this leg seemed to pass ok, both Steve and Tom were starting to feel their feet but a little open shoe surgery got them going again quick enough.  I’d swapped shoes at 30k and again at 66k, the change seemed to have done enough to avoid any blisters and although my feet we tired there was no pain. We got to Huka Falls for the second time, snapped a few pics and kept rolling up the valley in the dying evening light hitting the first aid stop at 80k.  On with the head torches and we set off for the last 6k over a bridge and back down the other side of the valley to our fantastic support crew at checkpoint 6 and 86k.

Running in the dark took a bit of getting used to, we were still off road and although the trail was perfectly marked with glow sticks and reflective tape, with very tired feet and legs it was pretty draining knocking over the uneven surface.  The support team had rang in to see if we wanted pizza and although it was getting a little cool by the time we arrived it was the most welcome Hell’s pizza ever.  We noshed down and I adopted official ‘pain in ass’ status by telling everyone we were only stopping for 10 minutes.  With only 14k left to run I was hoping to be done in an hour, in reality I knew we still had close to two left ahead of us. 

It was now properly dark and with the cool and the fact we could smell the finish line I was feeling pretty good and perhaps a little more empathy could have been in order.  Testiment to Dee for her strength of character, and many thanks for not punching me in these last couple of stages!

The two or three k out of checkpoint 6 to the 90k mark were tough, we headed into pretty deep push and the path was off-camber and wet so we were reduced to walking alot.  The call of ‘jog-on’ was adopted (pronounced “yog-on’), once we’d negotiated a tough section or steep hill the call would be made and reluctantly we’d up the pace to a slow jog.  At 89k we meet up with the tail end walkers who were about 45k behind us working their way to the 52k checkpoint 4 which was also the finish line.  It was great to see some others, but I felt pretty awful overtaking these guys know we had 10k to go and they had over 50 and had nearly 15hours of tramping ahead of them.

Another 4k and we hit our final checkpoint (6) at 94k, heading indoors to a cosy rugby clubhouse, with a tv and sofas I continued my motivation campaign and didn’t let anyone get to comfy.  We could have all rested there indefinitely but with 6k left I wanted to just get it done. 

The last leg there was probably more walking than running, 10min km’s meant it was another hour on our feet.  Once we got into the outskirts of Taupo and down a miserable flight of steps we just a km jog along the river to the finish. 

It was a pretty emotional finish, it was fantastic to see the support team again, sit down and not have to get up again.  We all grabbed a free massage, nursed a beer and then departed for some hot food, hot tubs and warm beds.

Turned out our time of 15:11 gave us the 4th team finisher and 3rd mixed team with the team ahead of us (who started an hour up) only seconds ahead.  The winning team we met at 49km did a fantastic 11:13, easily finishing in daylight.  

We smashed our $2k target and are still taking donations, so please if you meant to donate visit our page and give a dollar or two -

I’d been pretty concerned about the damage a 100 km was going to do - the day after I was stiff, but it was my hips and feet that were especially sore.  Muscle damage wasn’t as bad as Ironman; I guess the intensity is much lower.  After a week’s complete rest (I’ve certainly been very tired), I feel I could ease back into training now.

Would I do it again?  A lot of people have asked that this week.  Dee announced the day after she would definitely not, but has been the only one this week who has mentioned it seriously for next year.  I’m not sure.  One day I could be tempted to try and race the distance, but that would be a very different day.  What made the day for me was doing it as part of a team and having such an incredible support crew.  The mental side of a solo 100k would be very different and not something I’m in a hurry to try…

Thanks again to our fantastic support crew, especially Mel – I owe you.

Good luck to everyone in the UK running London Marathon today.

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