Last weekend marked a turning point in my build towards Tarawera Ultra, where I’m racing the 60km race and hoping to replicate my performance from Kepler in December. Training has built steadily to some tough weeks with my usual slow progression and some extended long runs to practise my nutrition strategy. The next 3 weeks will consist of a gradual taper and hopefully deliver me to race day on good form, whereas right now I’ve found myself to be a bit flat.
At Kepler I consumed 50 grams of carbs per hour for 5 hours, and I was very pleased with this, but Trailblazer Nutrition has been trying to push me further. I did a long run the Kaimais in late December pushing up to 60 grams per hour and last Sunday I knocked off a long run with 70 grams per hour. The goal of these train high runs is to push my gut to absorb carbs faster by further developing glucose and fructose receptors in my gut. On race day this will allow me to replenish my energy reserves fast enough so I can keep burning hot all the way to the finish.
My mission in the Kaimais took me from Tuahu Track south of Te Aroha, over to the east of the range and eventually back to the western side finishing over Mt Te Aroha. There was a good mix of trails, some slower than expected, and all up I ran 37km with 2400 metres of elevation gain. I was getting pretty tired in the last hour and coming down the steep 900m descent of Mt Te Aroha was pushing the limits of my failing coordination. I managed to consume 60 grams of carbs per hour with Awaken Bars and gels. Sports drink providing carbs in liquid form would have made this much easier as I was feeling very full after 3 hours. Knocking this off was a great outcome for me and gave me a lot more confidence in my body to survive the distance and also in my mind, as the more I do these longer runs the shorter they feel.
I did another solid bash last Sunday in the Hunuas on top of some big weeks and this one was even more wild that the Kaimais run. I was happy to keep it under 4 hours as I was getting destroyed in the heat and also started on tired legs. Getting down 70 grams of carbs per hour was easier than expected for most of the run, but as I was getting tired it was definitely harder to get down the solids, as I found in my Kaimai mission. With a long ridgeline section in the middle of the run I ran low on water and so relied on easily swallowed gels to keep fuelled. It wasn’t so much the mental side eating when you have no appetite – I have become accustomed to this and don’t find it to be a problem – it was more that my mouth was getting dry and chewing was a real struggle. I think this was important to experience because if Tarawera is hot then my ability to get down solids is highly dependent on taking on enough water to stay hydrated. It’s easy to see the cascade of problems. I will also be trying Tailwind to provide me with more options to maintain a good solid-liquid mix on race day.
Other notable mentions over summer were Cape Brett and Sprint Auckland Day with AOTC. We did Cape Brett just before new years on another brutally hot day. This was a stunning run both for the views and the ruthless trail, raking in 2200 meters of elevation in 32 kms. I felt fine on this run and pushed a few climbs on the return for a negative split. Sprint Auckland Day was another toughie, knocking out 17 half-distance sprint orienteering courses at race pace over the course of the day. I held together pretty well over the day and was still running strong towards the end, although not as explosively as in the first few efforts. All up I was at race pace (3km – 5km race intensity) for 1 hour and 44 minutes!!! With another hour and a half of jogging to keep warm between efforts. This certainly wasn’t great specificity for ultra marathons and it looks hard to justify on paper, but it was great day out and certainly worth swapping a long run for.
This week and the 2 upcoming weeks are part of my taper, and hopefully I will feel some more speed come into my legs. I’ve been on a progression very similar to this time last year but haven’t seen the same sort of improvements. It’s hard to say why, but it doesn’t change the process in the short term and I will reassess what worked and what didn’t after Tarawera.