The first running of Taupo Ultra looked like a fine introduction to my ultra-running adventure for a couple of reasons: it’s 4 months out from my primary goal for the season (Tarawera Ultra Marathon in February 2017); it’s located in my old hometown and the course runs over some of my favourite tracks round the western bays of Lake Taupo.
My build up for the race was not ideal, aggravating an old calf injury on some gnarly hill reps up the Akatarawa Road in late August forced me to back the training right off through September. But I fixed myself up well enough to toe the line at 6am race morning round at Waihaha, scene of some of my dafter exploits from the old Great Lake Relay in years gone by.
I was under strict instructions from coach Kerry Suter to hold the pace at a seemingly pedestrian 6:00/km for the first section, let others go and run to my own schedule. As hard as it was to watch 20 or more runners disappear off down the pristine trail, the advice was sound. The early morning views around the western bays were absolutely stunning. I loved the trail and the feeling of running within myself.
At 25km or so, we popped out of the bush and trail, onto a section of farmland. After the 33km aid station, things got wet (underfoot and from the heavens) and I pushed quite hard and picked up some places. Onto the road section from 40-50km and I hit a looooow point. I was expecting to enjoy the road section but the combination of that expectation and the recompense for pushing over the farmland meant I struggled and started questioning just what the hell I thought I was doing running such a stupid distance. I was carrying a picture of my old mate Grant with me on the run. Grant died earlier this year and I will admit to invoking his memory, and his awesome endurance, to get me through that tough spell.
Back onto the single track down to Kawakawa Bay and things were looking up again. I’d got myself back into a good place mentally, was picking up a few positions and was over half way through. The ebbs and flows of ultra running are a strange sensation, quite how you can feel so good after such low points is beyond me.
Into Kinloch and I picked up my pacer, Sam, my boss from work. At the aid station, someone told me I was 3rd open male which was a good boost as I was feeling pretty poked again. Sam dragged my round the endless mud and hills of the Whakaipo Headland. Without him I reckon I’d have been running more like 8:00/km than the 6(ish) I was still holding. His support was immense. We picked up another place or two as well. Heading out of the bush for the final sprint across the paddock, just like the allies in Too Late the Hero, I was giving it all I had. Natasha and the kids were at the 99ish km mark and I had the pleasure and honour of running with two of my kids, Finlay and Amelie, while Sam and Tash shouted encouragements in the background.
We crossed the line in 10:03, 5th overall and 3rd open male. An almost perfectly paced effort from start to finish (something I couldn’t have done without Kerry’s tactical advice and Pacer Sam’s encouragement over the last 25km).
A quick Speights and sausage at the finish, a truly unique medal from the glass blowers in Taupo and a hug from Kerry was a fine way to end my first 100km. It’s given me confidence to push on and hopefully have a injury-free build up and awesome performance at Tarawera in February.
Huge thanks to Kerry and Ali for getting me in decent shape for the run and for the spot on tactical advice and to my pacer Sam for dragging me through the last 25km of mud and switchbacks. As ever, the biggest thanks go to Natasha, Finlay, Sam and Amelie for their amazing support before, during and after the run.
Taupo Ultra was an awesome event put on by Will and the Total Sport team and I’d love to head back in years to come.