Tarawera Ultra

Ultra 2 done and dusted. Tarawera delivered another tough challenge and another great learning opportunity. I wanted to back up my 3rd at Kepler with another strong race and I was highly motivated all summer to make this happen, putting in some of my biggest weeks ever. With my philosophy, the training process is more important that the race, but it seems people want to hear more about the race, so I’ll meet halfway.

This block took me from the start of October to Tarawera, 19 weeks, 37% of a year. I pulled a similar stunt last year, implementing my signature conservative progression to hit the best form of my life by staying injury free for longer than ever before, but failed to replicate the results this time around. Although I staved off injury, I peaked over the new year period in week 14 and then felt burned out until the week prior to Tarawera. My interval times have also stayed very consistent over this whole block and based on all my past experience they should have improved steadily, but I was left well short of the sub-3-minute 1 kms I was knocking out this time last year.

It’s hard to see route causes, but these are some possibilities:

  • Not enough sleep
  • Too much training in the latter part of the block
  • Training in the heat too much

These are far less likely to be contributors since they remained unchanged in the previous 5 blocks, but it’s not impossible:

  • Training block too long
  • Suboptimal diet

Here is my training program, feel free to download and look around. This program is a similar style to the ones I have been making for myself for the past 2 years since I started coaching myself. I do improvise a little bit and often move things around within each week, and I took the liberty of extending 2 of the long runs as nutrition tests.

My training program: Download and take a look around. Let me know if you are interested in trying anything similar or anything at all really.

Onto the big race, my A goal for this block, Tarawera Ultra 62km. My race plan was much like that of Kepler, run my own race based on heart rate, focus on energy intake based on my nutrition plan from Trailblazer Nutrition and adjust fluid intake as required. This was a little harder than Kepler as the aid stations were further apart and I did run out of water and Tailwind in a few places around the course. I did maintain more than 60 grams of carbs per hour though, by taking some gels and Awaken a little earlier than planned when I was out of tailwind. Next time I will be less skimpy with what I am carrying and have more fuel with me, as opposed to up the road with my support crew.

The start was fine on the flat, but as expected the front pack went up the Tarawera Falls climb much faster than I wanted to, so I hung back with Chris Dunell. I noticed my heart rate was 5-8 BPM higher than expected given the effort I was putting down, which could mean 2 things. Firstly, I could easily be pushing my body too hard because of race day excitement, and secondly my body might be working unexpectedly hard in the background. My heart rates had checked out perfectly against my pace and effort all week so this was surprising.

Vajin Armstrong leading the pack out of the blocks, I was happy to stay with him until the base of the first climb.

Chris and I cruised on, trying to stay relaxed and not expecting company for some time. I edged away unexpectedly on some of the more technical parts of the trail, but kept working at 166 BPM (86% of max). From the Humphries Bay aid station to the Okataina aid station I pulled in the pack one by one. As people realised that they were being overly optimistic and settled for a more sustainable pace based on their own body, and not those around them. Chris was on a similar buzz to me and was not far behind me and the remaining lead group of 3 coming into Okataina.

All sorts of interesting things were going down at this aid station, Lucy Bartholemew roled through quickly, as did I with a quick drink swap from Imogene (girlfriend and support crew), Vajin was sitting down on a chair (???), and I didn’t even see Dominic Perry, who came hooning back past me on the early slopes of big climb out of the aid station. Vajin also came hooning past Lucy and I on the early slopes and quickly took a solo lead. Dominic came drifting back and Chris came drifting forwards on the way up, then backwards on the way down and Lucy and I hung out some more. Despite the fact we were all close together here, we were all doing our own thing by moving most efficiently where we felt we could.

Race on Strava, excuse the GPS error in the middle.

The race really turned for me at the end of the Okataina Walkway, around halfway. I started getting the stitch on the long descent, an ominous sign that my body was not in the shape required to meet my expectations. I sacrificed some speed and successfully kept the pain from escalating as it historically has. Along Miller Road, Chris came past me again. While his pace was just perfect for me biomechanically, right in my efficiency sweet spot, my body was not producing the energy required and I had to settle for a notch down. At this stage in Kepler I was sitting pretty, one notch down from maximum and ready to strike, but this time I was fading away, not hitting the sudden wall, but just fading away slowly.

Help me Imogene, I’m dying!

From Miller Road to Blue Lake I lost 4 minutes to Lucy and Chris, and then another 6 minutes in the last 20km. I was still chugging along, the longest and most lonesome of struggles I ever experienced and doing 4:50 mins/km for the final 6km on the flat was bleak. Imogene paced me for 5km into the finish, which was fantastic and with her help I know I did my absolute best on the day all the way to line. 4th place, 3rd male, Behind Vajin, Chris and Lucy.

Chewed up and spat out by a tough course

Always happy to finish


At the finish with Chris who ran the race I was hoping to run.

To sum up, I still need a bit more time to get my head around racing this distance before I take on longer courses because I wasn’t feeling as emotionally concrete as I expected once things got tough. I expect there is a lot more to learn about physical preparation and I look forward to making more connections and learning from all the experience of the other athletes who have been in the scene far longer than me. I don’t currently have plans for another ultra before next summer, but I could be tempted if I get some more support because they are quite expensive.

I had very little muscle soreness from this race, which confirms that I was working below the level I am conditioned to handle. I had a massage this week with Sports Lab and it told a very different story than after Kepler, where I had the energy to push my legs much harder.

It’s been a tough block, but with Sports Lab working hard to keep my body together and Trailblazer Nutrition stepping in to help me prepare for these long races it has been a great success. Thanks also to Icebug for the shoes, Awaken for the bars, and GKO for the rest of the gear.

This entry was posted in Racing.

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