Sunday 6 March 2016

Motatapu 51km Ultra - Wanaka Nz

******some of the photos I have taken below were from my recce run from the course******

At 51km with about 3000m ascent the race sounds a good challenge from the start, combine this with some quite twisty trails covered in roots, a lot of river crossings (and the best part of 3km actually in the river) and most brutal of all.... a 6am start time, it starts to sound like great fun!

Before the race I'd had a quick look at the route and recced the first climb out and back. I'd noticed that last years first place was over 7 hours and thought it sounded slow though after reading a blog it had been a wet day so I guess that costs a bit of time. The Motatapu track is a popular hiking trail and I read a description which sounded all good apart from one part which said 'at Xkm you can enter the river and follow it OR climb out of the valley and take the high route' ... I first thought ok, a dry river bed? Maybe with some water in there in odd patches?

So the race has about 2.5km on wide gravel road before hitting the trail properly. I decided after what happened at Shotover Marathon I best start right at the front as the track is pretty narrow and twists it's way undulating along a trail against a small river and it would make any overtaking difficult. There are 4 main climbs, the first goes from 300m to over 1200m in 12km and you'll notice from the profile that the last 20km is mostly downhill (although not quiiiite that straightforward) with 30km - 40km mostly actually in the river or along the banks and higher sections of riverbed out of the water before a relatively fast last 13km on 4wd track with numerous river crossings around knee deep.

So 5.45am about 150 of us gathered in the dark at Glendhu Bay near Wanaka. A brief briefing again mentioning this river business which at this point was still a mystery to me before we lined up ready to go. I set off running on the shoulder of a guy for a minute or so before moving ahead on my own, the sound of hundreds of footsteps behind as I headed into the darkness. I knew the first checkpoint and just beyond from my recce so was happy to lead and pick up the marker poles every few hundred meters as we weaved along next to the river. At a gate in deer fence there was a guy with me and then a gap maybe a minute at most to the next torches. Soon we were in the woods and the twisty, rooty, trail kept us on our toes, it's very narrow and weaves along undulating but generally trending uphill.

Suddenly the trail disappeared and I found myself dropping into the gully down a steep bank seeing the trail to the corner of my eye. I couldn't stop until the bottom and turned around as the guy just behind shouted and I scrambled up and caught back up. We stayed together and chatted a little on the way to the Fern Bern hut CP1 at around 10km and had to do a kit check so bags off and a quick run through of the 'extensive' kit list (more than I've had to carry on most 100 milers but as long as everyone is out having fun!) The daylight was breaking through and torches were off.

We were on our way within less than a minute I guess and continued to climb. About 30 mins later we hit the first decent descent and I built nearly a minute or so of a gap and started the next climb at a comfortable pace allowing Chris to catch up with a runner back in the distance visible. We stayed together up the climb, I was interested to see if I'd build another gap on the next descent or whether perhaps 2nd had just stopped briefly perhaps.

Again hitting the 2nd descent at almost 20km I pulled gap between us and again a comfortable climbing pace brought us together again. I didn't want to try and push a real gap until this much talked about river section if possible. There were some stunning ridge sections and some impressive valleys and peaks around us. I was itching to get my GoPro out but didn't want to get distracted again.

We dropped down from the 4th peak and down to the river. We were making good progress and then here was the river. Two signs one saying high water and one for low water level, so we took the low water level and I plunged waist deep into the river. After a bit of wading it was actually possible to jump from rock to rock in places and scurry along the bank from time to time though you were getting wet no matter how you did it. After a while we hit the penultimate checkpoint, we were able to take the 4x4 track that was parallel to the river although this still crossed the river numerous times.

I was pretty happy to stretch the legs out and push on averaging just over 7 min miles for the last hour of running and river crossings. I managed to build up a 6 min gap and 2nd place Chris who I'd run with earlier kept well clear of 3rd.

The finish in Arrowtown was pretty busy with plenty going on. Over 3500 athletes with the MTB race, Triathlon, Marathon and the Miners Trail 15km all finishing at different times after we all had staggered starts. I had about 6 hours to wait for the prize giving so walked into the old town and had lunch before coming back and doing some clapping, having a massage, lounging in the sun and catching up with friends.

Another stunning race in NZ. I think if I had to choose between this or Shotover I'd go with this one purely because it's a bit longer and finishes within easy walking distance of town (just about an ultra by about 11km ;) ) ideally though I'd recommend the both of them!

For me that's basically my last longer run before the Northburn 100 mile in 2 weeks. After that I'm back in the UK on the whole before hitting the Alps in June for the next trail run coaching week (see for the details if you're interested.

Shotover Moonlight Marathon, Queenstown NZ

At around a month out from my next 100 mile (Northburn 100mile) a trail marathon with 2700m ascent is ideal for a long run, basically like doing a quarter of the 100 mile distance and ascent wise. This is one of the most stunning trail marathons I've done! A lot of the route is more 'off piste' than easy trail, some short steep climbs and some fantastic ridges, and narrow water race tracks.

The whole experience is pretty special starting out with a bus into the start at Shotover Canyon, the mountain road is barely wide enough for a small bus and is carved into the side of the cliff in places. Originally dug out around the gold rush times of Otago I believe.

On to the race we start out in a river bed and there's a 20m dash across the beach into pretty much single track for the majority of the first 10km. I didn't expect it to be quite like that and ended up stuck in the line of runners until we eventually got into a little bit of open space over an hour later. I made the most of the steady pace as there literally wasn't room to overtake, you're skirting around the mountain side. I got a few videos and lots of photos.

Along with the marathon there was a 30km which had our start and finish but took out a few of the climbs so it became a little bit confusing as to positioning but I never even saw the front of the field by the time I started over taking people I came across on the way to the halfway point I guess I'd reached around 10th.

Generally, there was a lot of river crossings and twisty trail through the trees, some short climbs thrown in and all in all it was fantastic scenery. Even a short section through a river to climb a ladder beside a waterfall! I moved a few more positions ahead as we hit a 500m climb to the 30km point before another ridge on sheep tracks and a decent descent to follow.

The later stages we reached a 4x4 track and a good climb out and over a hill before I guess around 6 or 7km with river crossing after river crossing which was sooo refreshing the first time but had had just enough after nearly 20 of them! I picked off a few more runners though I think they were all in the 30km race eventually rolling in 6th in 5 hours 20 odd mins. With reflection I did get a bit carried away with the GoPro-ing but I had a great time out there. The race was awesome, the only thing that would perhaps improve it could be a slightly staggered start.

You'd do well to find a more exciting trail marathon anywhere, if you know of one, let me know!

Buller Gorge Road Marathon - New Zealand 2016 1st

Before I planned my trip to Nz I had basically shortlisted all the races that sounded worth a run, this one made it on the shortlist although I didn't really research much further than date, distance and location at that point. By chance I got chatting to a German triathlete a few days before the race who was travelling up for it. I made a quick email to the organiser and got a late entry and also managed to organise a trip to visit friends in the north of the South Island at the same time. It was a mere 7 hour drive from Wanaka to Westport the night before the race, registration was easy it was pretty quiet. I then found out that I was in a road marathon not a trail and realised I had no running shoes that were reaaally fit to wear and definitely not road shoes....

Being a late entry it wasn't really in my plan to race a marathon that weekend so opted for a steady 3 hour pace and started out pretty much last. We were bussed out to the start ready for an early start I hadn't seen a map of the course beforehand but basically we started on a road in a gorge (very scenic!!) and ran 8km inland, then hit Berlin Cafe and turned around before running 34km back to the finish in Westport.

I set out near the back, a pretty gentle first 10km in about 46 mins and had chatted to a few runners aiming for varying times from 3.15 to 3.45 even. I'd not eaten breakfast beforehand and was just running on water. Interesting how the body can adapt... Just 5 years ago running sub 4 hours was a big ask but do able. Now I'm pretty happy running sub 3 without too much effort on the road but I reached the half way point in around 1.34 according to the timing guy stood with a stopwatch shouting our times.

I'd moved through a good chunk of the field but had to make a quick portaloo stop before getting back to the run. I remember seeing some serious looking types and one particular wearing red shorts and a yellow vest who stood out purely for the bright colours. It wasn't long after halfway before I saw him up ahead. There was some sort of relay happening on the day along with a walk on the same course so looking on the longer straights into the distance it wasn't easy to tell who was doing what until I caught and passed a guy who was really enthusiastic and said I was now 3rd only 3 mins behind the lead! I was quite surprised as there is often some very competitive times around the course. The other part of me also thought that quite possibly that wasn't an accurate bit of information....

The amount of times someone either race crew, competitor or even innocent bystander has told me 'Ohhh yeah next guy is miles ahead' when they're about 1 minute ahead or even 'yeah well done, last mile' then ten minutes later someone else shouts '2 miles to the finish' Turns out shortly after the lead car that would drive us into town came up and said I was around 2 mins behind with just over 10km to go. I picked the pace up and caught sight of the leader between the various other walkers and relay people.

Putting in a sub 40 minute 10k at the end was enough to pass the leader around 2km from the finish as you hit the long bridge into town and I finished up almost 1 minute clear in a perfectly timed 2.59 and some seconds.

There is a big marquee and entertainment on throughout the afternoon, I hung around for about 6 hours to wait for the prize giving which was very generous and also received a very large trophy for the overall win. Definitely worth a look if you're after a challenging road marathon, there were a few undulations, probably quite hilly compared to your average road marathon although after recent training I'm moving strong in the mountains it felt pretty fast to run on the road and not gravel or trail for a change.