Written by Gene Beveridge - https://genebeveridge.nz
Woohoo! My first ultramarathon victory! And in no other event than the Tarawera Ultramarathon!
This stunning 50km has been my target since the start of October with a 19 week build starting after my recovery from ankle surgery, covering Kepler Challenge in December, my first delve into fasting and then finishing with a different approach to tapering. I felt fit and fresh leading into this A-goal race and was ready to give it all to see if I was making progress at these longer races.
A brief simplification of the course through my eyes:
- 0km – 15km: True single trail
- 15km – 43km: Sealed road, firm gravel road, and non-technical single trail
- 43km – 44km: Technical single trail descent
- 44km – 50km: Very firm foot path
I also had a nutrition plan below which breaks down when I planned to take on fluids, consume food and take on fluid from the aid stations based on my estimated paces. The purpose of this is to run with as little weight as possible, but still have fluids when I need them. Click to download the spreadsheet.
This planning hinges on having a fair idea of how fast I run on different trail surfaces at the planned intensity. I did an accurate pace prediction at Kepler in 2017, but my accuracy for Tarawera this year is off the charts. I predicted my finishing time EXACTLY. 4:18, on the dot, as calculated on Thursday night when I did the maths. Of course there is a lot of luck involved in this, as the early trails were slightly faster than predicted because they were so hard and dry, and I slowed towards the end slightly more than expected. But, the table below is proof that the more you pay attention to your heart rates and paces in different conditions, the more accurately you predict race day schedules, given good info on the course. I used the Strava segment times of people I know and also inspected the topo map, including counting every contour that the course crossed and looking at the type of trail on each part of the course. I’ve also looked at my previous 3 ultras to see how much I slow down as I fatigue at the end of these long races.
I started the race paying close attention to my heart rate and really taking the time to dial in to the feeling of 164 beats per minute. I pushed up to 170 to 175 on the short climbs and dropped to 145 to 150 on the descents. This was all as expected, telling me that my body is in control. I focused a lot on smoothness through the corners and over rougher patches and basked in the sense of flow on this stunning trail. The trail itself was so wonderful to glide on that I spent almost no time appreciating the forest or lake, which I expect was wonderful too. I was just wolfing up the trail for the first 15 km, but I was also eager to get into some thicker forest with more complete shade from the scorching sun.
I took 500 mL of water and 250 mL of Tailwind at the Buried Village aid station and hooned on up the road. I was still feeling invincible until 20km when I developed a strong stitch pain on the left hand side of my diaphragm, which migrated halfway up the side of my rib cage before exploding with stabbing pain. This is an old problem I haven’t had for years and I was very surprised to witness it raise its ugly head. I slowed on the downhills to alleviate the pain, but had little problem on the flat or hills. No biggie, I thought, as this slight decrease on the downhills wouldn’t ruin my race.
Apart from the minor slowing on the downhills, I dominated the next 10 km of the course. This was expected to be my strongest part, and the splits show that I put substantial time into my rivals here. The firm and flowing roads and trails allowed me to stride out with high efficiency. I think about trying to move as fast as possible without raising my heart rate. Things that help include keeping my breathing relaxed, but full and deep, keeping my stride long for a hamstring and glute-powered pull-back, but not over striding, and minimising vertical oscillations. On steep pinches I engage my calves and quads more to maintain an efficient bounce before shifting to my glide on anything less steep. I do running drills frequently to keep my brain tuned in to the subtly different gait patterns.
I kept the water coming on board and got into my second bar, at 2:30 into the race. 10 minutes later my gut was tying itself in a knot just like at Kepler. And just like at Kepler, this second bar of the race was a One Square Meal, not my preferred Awaken bars. At both Kepler and Tarawera I had found myself with only one Awaken bar left at home so picked up some One Squares Meals as a substitute. With the Green Lake aid station out of Tailwind, I was already behind on the carbs and once my gut was out of action I was a little concerned.
Over the next hour, I went through all sorts of bloating and pains, resulting in burping and finally some epic gas. Luckily I only had a third of a bar, unlike the whole one I munched at Kepler. I stuck with the water and resumed gel consumption as scheduled. Fortunately I had a back up gel to fill in for the remainder of the bar which I wasn’t going to touch.
Between the stitch and gut pains I was very uncomfortable, but going slower on the flatter second half of the race was not going to help the situation so I had little reason to slow down. I could feel my energy pick up after each gel, so I knew they were getting absorbed, unlike at Kepler where the pipes were completely blocked. With 10 km to go, I was feeling stable, but not as strong as earlier in the day. I knew what I had to do and I kept the intensity up to a level I felt was sustainable.
The final climb before descending in to Rotorua was a real enjoyment for me. I gave it a good nudge and was really happy to be moving fast enough to keep my efficient bounce up this final climb.
The last 5 km were more bleak however. I struggled a lot with the stitch, even on the flat now. I tried to focus my attention away from it, but yielded, and I settled on a slower than expected pace for this final flat section. Interestingly, I felt my energy fading in the final km, regardless of the pain in my side. This tell me my pacing must have been close to optimal, all things considered.
I crossed the line feeling jaded and wanted curl up on the ground. I held on for a brief interview with Kerry before heading away from the finish line to shove water melon down my throat and arrange my body more horizontally.
Because of the solo format to the race I had no idea that I was leading until I crossed the line. It was a surprise to beat athletes such as Sam Clark and Vlad Ixel and I’m very satisfied that my fitness has reached this level. This performance also gave me more confidence that my pacing settings are dialled in nicely for a 4 – 5 hour race.
Thanks to Awaken, I’ve been using their products for a few years for racing and general use.
Thanks to Sports Lab for the continued opportunities to learn about my own body as we work to keep the engine maintained.
Thanks to Trailblazer Nutrition for helping me get the nutrition planning sorted.