On Sunday 21st August 2016 was the Xterra Trail Series. It was a Waharau Regional park in the Hunua Rangers. It is 21.1km, with 950m of revelation climbing, from sea level to 688m, Auckland’s highest peak/point. The course goes straight up to 688m, and then down. Of course there are a few undulations along the way.
This was my first ever trail race (I don’t count the Hillary, cause that’s so slow). With everyone looking the part in all their gear I was quite nervous.
I started about 1/3 of the way back. I meet Bronwyn just after the gun who I did the last part of the Hillary with. So we chatted about this and that, it was good to catch up. But as we got to the hills, she dropped away. I was over taking people. It was a struggle to do this, to over take, because I don’t like being re-overtaken. So I was nervous, was I going out too strong? My heart rate was constantly hovering around where I do a fast (tempo) run, and I was certain I would crash. There was the occasional dip where I could slow my HR down as I went downhill, but it was much higher than I thought it should be. And I continued to overtake people. When we came to a really steep bit, I would quickly accelerate past people, the track was narrow and it was the only way to overtake. I worried that I was going too fast, but it felt right. I worried about crashing, but it felt right. At one point I overtook 4 fancy runners, all in their sponsors gear, and that was a worrying moment, they looked so flash. I never looked behind me though, I wasn’t going to show any weakness. The struggle in my head was huge, I just had this vision of me walking and all people over taking me. But I pushed. Eventually we came to what looked like it would be a long downhill, it was clay and mud and deep, so I did what I had been practicing and ran through the middle of the thick sluggy stuff. After about 100m I picked up the pace even more and over took 3 people. This was turning from a training run into a race for me. For about 800m I went downhill as fast as I could. Feet lifting high, turnover up. Your feet eventually would sink through the mud and hist something solid. It was surprisingly easy to go fast. There was a bunch of us all running together at the top before the decent. At the bottom there was a stream. I didn’t realise I had to cross streams! What do I do, try and jump it? Crash through it? Go around? Stuff it! I crashed across it, and came out with shoes full of water, only to see a big hole and stream I would have to go down into. It was full of mud and water, and another person 10 metres in front was scrambling out of it. I looked behind me, but there was no one. Where are they all? I got thick mud in my shoes this time. I scramble out on all fours and carry on. I can’t see the person in front, so I power off. I catch him on a hill and he pulls over to let me past. It’s hard going past, what if he overtakes me again? And this continues on all the way up. I eventually catch a guy called Matthew and we chat, his pace picks up a bit. Eventually he pulls over and lets me go. I catch another guy Dan. I didn’t realise at the time I was faster than him, it didn’t occur to me that I caught him, not the other way around. We pass various people, I stay close in his wake so I can zap past these people too. Eventually we catch a group of 4, who he can’t get past, after 5 minutes or so, they let him go, and I go too. We are pushing. My HR is still really high, still tempo level and I wonder when I’m going to crash, surely soon? We’re only 8k into this race. Then he has to stop and “tie his shoes” I think of waiting, but realise he’ll catch me up and we can go for it together again. I then catch someone else, and let him lead, until he pulls over and lets me by… And that is the ongoing story, people pull over and let me by the the whole race. I constantly overtake, and each time I get nervous, because it shouldn’t be me doing this, this is just a training run, and my HR is too high and I’m going to crash soon. The nerves never left me the entire race. I eventually pass everyone (so to speak), and I’m leading my grouping, which is nerve racking, because it’s the first time I haven’t been overtaking. In my mind, people are now chasing me down. It’s like the Hunger Games in my head. We get to the top, and there’s a look out. I briefly consider going up it, but carry on. Blasted races, I should stop, if it was a ultra I would. But I carry on. I come to a hard clay downhill, and see someone about 100m in front, he looks behind at me and I pick the pace up to overtake him going down, it’s slippery. I slip a bit, but find my style and comfortably continue down quickly. Then next thing you know I lose my feet around a left hand corner and bang, I’m lying on the ground, most of the impact was on my left shoulder, and left hip. My right wrist is hurting and finger are hurting. I quickly get up and start running. I don’t want anyone to see that. But there’s no one behind and the guy in front is round the corner, I tear off down the hill, and I’m about 40 metres away by the bottom. My heart is racing, I slow it down, and glance at my watch to see the bad news of how high my HR is. But there’s no watch, I check the other wrist, it’s not there either. I stop. I should go back, no it’s a race carry on, no it’s too expensive… I start running up the hill, there’s about 600 metres to where I fell. I power up the hill, I run hard. And ask each runner I pass (I’m going the wrong way now) if they’ve seen a watch, none of them answer. Eventually I see it there in the clay, I pick it up, the strap is broken and I decide I’ll hold it for the rest of the race. At least that way I’ll know my HR, pace and time. I give up on that idea after 30 metres, and decide I’ll put it in the top of the pack. When I get to the bottom and crash through the mud, I unclick my pack and while running up the next hill swing it off of my back, and chuck it in the top without losing stride. It’s another 5 minutes till I catch the last of the 5 people that I ran past the wrong way. I pass 4 of them, then the last of the 5 asks if I found my watch, to which I can say yes, I fell and lost it, but got it again. Eventually I find the guy that I was trying to overtake, he’s still looking over his shoulder. He’s picking his way around mud, and I charge him down, by going through the middle. I get to a place where I can pass him, I go through the middle he goes to the right. I’ve passed him. He’s hot on my tail, I can hear him. There’s some more bog, I go through the middle. And then hear him try to go through the middle this time; I hear the squelch, and then the swearing as he falls. I power up the next hill, and when I get to a gentle right, I turn around I can see 20 metres behind, but he’s not there; good. There’s no one to see now. It’s just me again, and I push. My brain does somersaults as it tries to figure out how long I’ve been running, what the pace might be, and what my HR might be. How long have I got to go? I mean, my HR is high, this is hard. When will I crash and get re-overtaken? I can’t answer any of these questions, so I concentrate on what I can control. I ignore it all, and decide to just run. To run as hard as I can. To be mindful of my form, and to control my breathing. So I push, that’s all I can do. It gets lonely, there’s just me. Then I re-join the long course (I’m on the super long) and start over taking the long people, which is not satisfying as they’re in a different race. I have no idea from this point onwards if the people I overtake are super-long people, or long people, as there’s no way to tell, other than looking at bibs, and that requires too much distraction. Eventually I catch a friend, doing the long, and ask her what the rest is like, she says it’s all downhill until the end where there is a little hill, then its flat till the end. I ask her how far she has to go, and she says 5k. That’s cool. I can do this, I can run another 5k. There will be no crash! With this info the race evens out for me. I carry on the climb and then power down the hills. I managed 4:05, 4:34 and 4:16/km (according to my watch later). It is incredibly steep and fast. Its hard to go down fast, but it’s harder to run slowly as you have to brake, and braking uses too much energy. I know my HR is very high, probably around maximum, I’m panting now as I descend, I’m going so fast. So I try to bring down my HR a bit. This requires all my concentration. The ups are hard too, but I try and carry my speed, and by and large I manage to maintain my speed up the hills. Then there’s a water crossing, I’m running about 4:30/km and decide I’ll walk across, but there’s a photographer, so at the last minute I decide stuff this, and power through and out, I carry on running up the hill. Heck, he even had a flash; hope it’s a good photo. And that was my race. Those last 5k were mundane. I pushed, and weaved my way through many people doing shorter distances. With 100m to go, from a ridge I looked over my should for the second time in the face. But there was no one in sight. I crossed the line, smiled and sat down. It was another 2 minutes until the next person crossed the line, and Dan and Matthew who I spent time with were, 8 and 4 minutes behind. A great day. I couldn’t help wondering (with hindsight) if I should have pushed even harder in the first half going up the hills. The first half was about 1:37, and the second half 1:05. The first being slow (9:06/km), because it was mainly uphill and the second fast (6:04/k) as it was mainly downhill.
Looking back at my watch download, I’m fairly certain I lost my watch at 11km. Also, once I lost my watch, the HR graph says I pushed harder than I had up until then. If you believe their analysis, I spent 67% of the race at “threshold,” (163 – 178bpm) and then 32% at “tempo” (149-163bpm) and 1% at “moderate.” I would normally consider A/W (Easy) to be up to 155bpm and A/Tempo to be 155-165 (with an attempt to average 162-3bpm).
What I’ve learnt; I’m fitter and can push harder than I thought. My calves were tired towards the end, but I could have gone on.
So, that was one great day!