WUU2K 2016 - Race Report
Wellington 60km Ultramarathon
Would you like some hills with that?
Ultra runners are a masochistic bunch. Cresting the second to last climb to the summit of Mt Vic and the finish of the inaugural WUU2K my suspicions were confirmed. A crowd of spectators awaited above me at the finish line, perched strategically at the top of one of the steepest climbs in Wellington. Having guessed that race director Gareth Thomas would be sadistic enough to send us up the guts of this I had saved some fumes in the tank for the final sprint. As I approached the foot of the hill and the adrenaline kicked in my pacer, Laurence Pidcock, peeled off to let me soak it all in. It still felt unreal to be there and leading it home but I was stoked.
It was just the day before, shortly after getting home from registration, that I’d been on the phone to Laurence with doubts as to whether I’d even be a starter. I was crook, really crook. I’d picked up a bug about a week and a half prior to the race. No biggie I figured, it’s a cold, it’ll run it’s course in a few days and I’ll be good to go. I was happy with my training leading in and figured that it would just be a really easy taper. How wrong was I… What started like a mild cold had me home in bed running hot and cold just four days out from race day. It was about the time that I figured I’d be coming right, and things were just getting worse. The day before the race I wasn’t holding out much hope as I registered, leaving briefing early feeling nauseous and weak. On the phone with Laurence we decided that we’d plan to race and I’d get an early night and see how things went.
It’s amazing what a day can do. I awoke to my alarm feeling better than I had in over a week, I was in business! My heartrate was up from normal so I hadn’t kicked the bug but I felt like it was worth a crack. Time for coffee.
Arriving at Khandallah Park the pre dawn temperature was surprisingly warm and had me hastily stripping off layers. It was deep winter and I was starting in a t-shirt, who would have thought. There was an excited buzz amongst the athletes as a trail of head torches bobbed up the path to the start line and it was cool to bump into mates as they loomed out of the dark.
Running into the dawn
Stage 1 - Mt Kaukau/Skyline
We all joined in as Gareth counted us down and we were racing, a sea of head torches washing over the grass and heading for the start of the trails. We hit the trail and I found myself leading the climb as we ascended through the bush on our way towards the Mt Kaukau summit. In the dark it was hard to tell who was who but some friendly banter ensured that we weren’t pushing it too hard. Palmerston North runner Andy Good was on my heels as we hit the steps and was happy to sit back as I steered us through familiar territory in the dark. We were soon on the last grassy climb to the summit and conversation had petered out as the two of us had started to break from the rest of the pack. It was nice seeing a familiar face as Sharron Came appeared out of the dark and welcomed us to the summit as our first marshal of the day. Having wished us well, we were over and charging down onto the Skyline track, one of my favourite trails in Wellington. The views that opened up were stunning with the lights of Wellington twinkling below us as the city prepared to wake up.
So started a pattern. As we descended I would gradually pull ahead of Andy, which would give me time to ease into the climbs as he slowly reeled me in again. This was a blessing as my heart was still working harder than it should have been and I was really struggling with climbs that would usually be a piece of cake. Andy was happy to follow as I knew the terrain pretty well and we got talking. We’d raced together at the Mountains to Sea multisport event a couple of years earlier so it was great to catch up and have someone to yarn with. About halfway along the Skyline we got a good view back and saw the wonderful sight of a long line of head-torches bobbing along the ridgeline. It also told us that we’d already begun to put a reasonable gap on the field. This early on we both agreed that is was good to be racing with company and we were both feeling comfortable with the pace, so we’d try to consolidate on our break.
Light soon began to creep into the day and revealed panoramic views of Wellington with the city flanking us on our left and Makara wind farm framing the sleepy looking South Island on our right. We could also pick off points waiting for us in the distance, Makara Peak, Wrights Hills, the Wind Turbine and the steep south coast hills lurking below the Radome on Hawkins Hill. It was a stunning morning.
Stage 2 - Makara
Before long we were at the first aid station at the saddle of Makara Hill Road, ticking off the first 11km in just under an hour. Our constant chit chat had alerted the support team to our arrival... It was great seeing Dad there and I topped up on fuel and rejoined Andy as we headed into Makara Mountain Bike Park and the climb to the Makara Peak itself. Before long we were cresting the summit and starting our descent deep into the park. The second 11km was mainly sweet single track and again I found myself pulling gradually ahead on the downhill, concentrating on keeping my cadence high and impact low. It didn’t take long for Andy to catch me on the climb out of the deep gully we’d been sent into, he was clearly a good climber. It was a novel experience running up trails I was used to riding in the opposite direction and we eventually joined the marathon runners who had taken the direct route down the FWD track. Soon we were running down the flowy “Lazy Fern” and I focused on pushing the pace as I led into our second aid station at the lower car park.
Stage 3 - Turbine
Having ticked off the first hilly 22km in just under two hours I felt like the pacing was just about right as I eased into the long climb to the Wind Turbine. This is where Andy made his move. He’d been climbing well all morning and heading into the single track of Salvation he put on the afterburners. It was hard to let him go, but with an elevated heart rate I decided to trust in my pacing. It would either pay off for him and I wouldn’t see him again until after the race, or I would pull him in further into the hills, there was still a long way to go.
I was soon over Wrights Hill and onto the Zealandia fence line, which gave me a good view of the climb to the turbine and also to Andy who had maybe 400m on me and was climbing fast. I switched into power walking for some of the steeper climbs, recruiting different muscle groups and trying to save my legs for later climbs.
A brass band dressed as Jedi Knights heralded the turbine aid station where a wookie served me as I topped my bottle up and got words of encouragement from Dad who had been popping up at all of the checkpoints in support.
Stage 4 - Red Rocks
Andy was just leaving as I came into the aid station and with food on board it was time to start trying to reel him in. With the serious climbing out of the way for now it was great to be on the flowing single track of Carparts Extension and I was able to open my legs up again. Pretty soon I had caught and overtaken Andy, happy that my conservative climb had paid off leaving my legs feeling fresh to push the pace a little, some 31km in. Shortly before coming off Barking Emu I managed to overtake the leading marathon runner, before popping out onto the tip track. Here the Ultra course branched off again following the main ridge, covering some fairly technical trail down to Red Rocks. I’ve always been more comfortable descending and so I went to work at trying to put a bit of distance between me and 2nd while still trying to look after my legs. They were just starting to give little warning flutters and I was adamant that wasn’t going to allow them to cramp at any stage in the race, so I kept the cadence short and quick. Views of the snow capped Kaikouras lit by the morning sun had me shaking my head to myself in awe, it was beautiful. Popping out at the sea it was great to hit the only real flat section in the race, focusing on eating up the 3km around the coast to the next aid station. My legs loved the reprieve from the hills, and it was also a good chance to look back around the bays to see that I had made a big break on the rest of the field. I’d ticked the first 42km off in 3hrs 45min and it was great to be greeted by friendly faces of the volunteers, Dad and my pacer Laurence Pidcock, at what was the second to last aid station.
Stage 5 - Tip Track
We were allowed a pacer to join us for the last 20km, as moral support only, and it was great to have Laurence running with me at the business end of the race. We calculated that I had around a 5 minute jump on Andy and so I was happy to maintain my conservative approach to pacing the ups.
Turning onto the notorious tip track which we had to go up and back, I again switched into power walking mode, saving the legs for the descent back down. We got plenty of good views down and were able to make sure that no-one was making inroads.
Pretty soon we were being ticked off by the marshals at the top and back into run mode for the descent. After three minutes of solid downhill running we passed Andy on his way up and said gidday. I was happy with this as it meant that with a considerable section of hill still ahead of him I had extended my lead some more in the climb. A wee way further down we passed my friend Dean Ford and his pacer John Yu in 3rd, and it was choice to say hi. Shortly after that the woman's leader Jo Johansen came powering up looking strong. Popping out the bottom again with a little over 11km and three hill climbs left in the race, it was damage control time. With all over fatigue but no niggles I was glad for the big adventures in the Tararuas I’d done over the preceding months, I was used to this feeling and comfortable with it.
A nice easy climb over to the Berhampore Golf Course was a treat for the legs and we were soon being checked off at Adelaide Road where Dad and friends of mine, Kath and Ben, were there to cheer us on. The steep grade to Mt Albert had me power walking again and it was great to see a man in a banana suit and the final aid station come into view.
Stage 6 - Homeward Bound
With roughly 5kms to go it was time to hit the coke and I downed two cups in a gulp, sadly passing up the amazing looking cupcakes on offer.
Soon we were up and over Mt Albert and running across Melrose Park, where I got a friendly bum tap from my mate Anthony who was marshalling there. Shortly after that we were greated for the second time that day by Sharron Came marshalling at a road crossing, having somehow beamed across from Mt Kaukau at some stage during the morning. Laurence was great keeping up the banter as we finished the last bit of running before Mt Vic.
A little over 5 1/2hrs and we were at the base of Mt Victoria and my last climb of the day. My legs felt tired but good and it felt great to know the finish line was getting close. I was taking nothing for granted and we’d heard no splits since last seeing Andy so I was keen to push it to the end. At the last road crossing of the day I was stoked to see my wife Em and Dad, cheering me up towards to last part of the climb. As we ran through they clambered into the car to meet me at the finish and Laurence and I pushed on.
I’d learnt a lot from this race, trust in your training and trust your instincts. And so there I was, with one sprint left in my legs looking up at all the cheering supporters at the summit finish line. I thanked Laurence, the adrenaline kicked in and I let it wash over me as I drove it home up the hill and over the finish line.
Bravo to Gareth and his crew, thank you all. It’s easy to talk about these things but something altogether next level to follow through and make it happen. It’s amazing that in our capital you can hold a trail based ultra, 95% of which is off road. The vibe from everyone involved throughout the day was fantastic and for its first year up and running it had a very polished feel to it. I hope that this is just the first of many because it’s a fantastic event and a real jewel in Wellington's crown. Congratulations to all the other finishers, especially Andy for pushing me hard and Jo Johansen for taking out the women’s and storming home to an amazing 3rd overall. For a lot of people this was their first ultra and a formidable one at that, condensing a similar amount of climb to the Tarawera 100 into just 60km! Choice one fellas.
Biggest thanks of all to Laurence for his stellar pacing, Dad for the ever present support on the course, and Em, Mum & Ruby for helping me feed this healthy addiction, you guys rock.
For the Running Geeks
Distance: 61 km
Ascent: 2565 m
Finish time : 5hr50m55s
Shoes: Adidas Adizero XT Boost
Pack: Race Zero - Ultralight Prototype
Food: Horleys Replace
Full Results http://www.wuu2k.co.nz/results.html