Tarawera Ultratrail 102km 2nd female 11th overall in 9.49.

In November 2018, I had started back with some consistent running after my stress fracture and I got the opportunity to pace my friend Lou Clifton in her 100mile run. Doing the final 56km with her I was so inspired to go long…I had nothing to lose and thought it was a great way to prove to myself I was back and my body and mind was strong again.

So Tarawera it was. I knew it was a runnable course so suited me, it was close by location and it was a stacked line up with Courtney Dauwalter, Amanda Basham and Cecilia Floria to name a few! So no pressure on me I could go I could enjoy and run freely. I had heard magic things about the trail too, through the forest and lots of single track, that the aid station had themes, that there was the Haka at the start…plus it was before the 6 foot track (a good lead in) and I could use 2 bays as a training run ..perfect ☺️

My training had gone pretty well despite my best efforts to hurt myself! The day before 2 bays I had fallen off my mountain bike and hurt my ribs- not broken but so sore and the 2 bays run had been in extricating back and rib pain. That had got better over 2 weeks but then, the Sunday before Tarewara, after swearing I would be careful and not do anything silly on my bike in taper week, I go ride a new trail and go over the handle bars and ended up with 2 stitches and a glued arm 😩 Thankgod it was only my arm! Aside from a sore hip my legs were functioning and by Thursday I was pretty good. I could run with stitches!

I had also managed to get a killer cough in the week before but I was ok- I just sounded bad! My flight had then been cancelled the night before we were meant to fly but thankfully it could be changed!

With all these bumps I stayed so positive through out and was proud how I had remained so calm despite the little hiccups…but nevertheless I was relieved once I got to New Zealand!

I think I had remained calm because I have been listening to a lot of Ross Edgley of late…I find him so positive and inspiring! He had a few sayings I have adopted leading up to this event including “performing at my best when feeling my worst” and “cheerfulness in the face of adversity” and “jump and build your wings on the way down”

Also Motor Magic and Mongrel from Caroline Buchanan has been a theme I wanted to base my race on! This and using the book Magical Running I certainly felt mentally prepared for the task ahead!

So finally Mum and I got to NZ on the Thursday and we pick up our Jucy camper and had a great 2 days exploring the course, seeing awesome waterfalls and lakes, meeting locals and making sure Mum could navigate to the checkpoints!

Something about sleeping in a camper was good too and we were able to eat when we want go to bed early and I could just chill out with Mum.. perfect pre race activities!

Finally it was race morning- a 4.35 wake up in our free camp site 1k from the start. I made a cuppa has breakfast got changed and walked to the start with Mum. A quick photo and hug with mum before I lined up 1 row back. It was still very dark and I was initially regretting not taking a headlamp!

We started with the Haka which was cool and gave so much energy! It was cool to see it up close! Next minute it was go time and we start running through the fields (thankfully fields are ok to run in the semi dark) before we hit the trails after 4K.

I had to be sensible- everyone had said don’t go out to fast or you will cook yourself for the end so I just ran very comfortably and went through the 10k mark in 3rd place. I had let Cecelia and Courtney go- I could see them up the road- but thought to run with them would be a sure way to blow up and have a bad experience!

The other advice I stuck by was to eat as much as possible early when I felt good (thanks Lou!)

So I settled and the kilometres just rolled by- I ran alone then with people- Joe and Andy- through the open forest and all of a sudden 2hrs/25km was done.

At 35k I ran past the falls which me and mum had visited got to the outlet checkpoint and was told I was 8mins down (which I thought was good!) before we got on to more navigation focused trail with a fella named Kyle sticking to me like Glue. I ran comfortably and lightly through the forest track- it remind me a lot of Kokoda trail and I had to concentrate on my footing and going the right way. I still felt good and I was running not shuffling and just focused on being light on my feet enjoying the scenery and I was looking forward to seeing Mum at 58km checkpoint.

I worked out by now that my watch had been out too- at the checkpoint before I worked out I was maybe 5k out- it was like super positive splits making me feel like I’m running faster!

It’s weird now I think of it I didn’t get one song in my head, I didn’t think about work or life really.

I just ran.

I passed Cecilia on this trail section she was walk running and said she had hurt her leg but was ok. This was a mental boost as I was now 2nd!

At 58k (or 65 on my watch!) I turned up at the aid spot me and mum had visited the day before- it was the one before the big climb.

There were lots of people (it was called Everest base camp which I thought was funny before the big hill!) Mum was there and I filled my water bottles and grabbed more sandwiches. I had felt good but it was hot and I knew the real race started here. I said bye to mum and started up the hill.

I ran the next part alone- I was good up the first hill and the first bit of the main climb until about 1k from the top where it really kicked up and I started to feel sick- I kept thinking about moving forward and hiked a bit until it was runnable and even though I felt yuck I started to jog and after a few minutes and reaching and cresting the top I felt better.

I knew these moments would come- I just stayed calm and kept moving forward and took on water.

There was 14km between checkpoints here and it was the longest part of the race for me – it was hot I was alone and just seemed to go on and I knew I was low on water and energy..but I knew I could salvage myself once I got to the next point! It’s so important to stay present at times like these and not worry about how far to go!

So I kept shuffling forward and ran as much as I could on the down and shuffled the ups and flats and didn’t walk unless it was too steep.

I finally reached the aid station and felt so relieved with the team there spongeing me cool- I filled up my bottle and grabbed more sandwiches and let my legs carry me on the next downhill.

I just thought about the next aid spot where I could see mum and how I had managed to rally through that hard patch.

It was quite warm by now so I kept my fluids up and tried to stride out (to use other muscles!) I had no idea where I was in the field except Courtney was ahead but didn’t worry too much- I had to focus on me to get through to the next stop.

After zig zagging streets we popped out at blue lake and I realised I was only 5k to the checkpoint (round the lake) and I had started to pass 50km runners.

I ran the next bit fairly strongly (no stacks either so far which I had been proud of!) and was relieved to pop out at horror checkpoint with 14km to go!

It was hot and I filled my bottle and asked mum how far the girl was behind- she said ages! And that Courtney had been through maybe 15mins earlier! This was positive to me and I walked and then ran out of the aid station – I was getting close!

The next 5km I ran strong and was surprised at how good I felt through the flat runnable trails.

I hit the wall again the next 5k with some uphills and stairs before we dropped into the final aid spot. I was running here with another fella in the 100k who I dropped before he caught me again.

The last 5km was hard- it was hot and I started to feel sick again with 2k to go so slowed a lot (I think I should have eaten at the final aid station!) but I knew I was going to make it!

Running past the lava like sulfur fields was hot and smelly (like me?) But I could see the event centre getting closer.

I was finally on the final stretch and they were saying my name. I smiled a lot here and was so relieved to cross the line!

9hrs 49! 11th overall and 2nd lady! Only 21minutes behind Courtney!

I got my medal and sat down for an interview and mum came over for a big hug. So good to see her!

I was so happy and relieved! I knew I could do it and had proven to myself and the world how good a runner I could be!

My legs hurt a lot now and I felt washed out but so happy as I hobbled into the recovery area.

They then had to weigh you after the event- in shoes before the event I was 47kgs and even though I had eaten so many sandwiches, bars watermelon lollies and drank so much I only weighed 44kgs at the end dripping wet!

But I felt good (well…relatively!) and that my energy had been good through the day- I had raced not just ran 100k and I was smiling and chatting to all the others as they came in..doesn’t mean I can’t improve but I had done not too bad for my first 100!

Mum was stoked and it was so nice to then call my grandparents and James to let them know how I went!

The aftermath is always funny but messy – I walked like a tinman to the shower (chafing is not good!) and I got a smoothie before hobbling back to see a local runner from Cooranbong Josh finish. Walking afterwards is better than stop starting! As soon as you stop you stiffen up so moving is good!

We then got some ice for me to eat (that’s what I wanted!) and some yogurt and frozen fruit and some wine for mum to celebrate and headed back to the caravan park.

A spa and another shower and some yogurt and lots of fluid went down well and a big chat with Mum before it was time to try and sleep. What a day! (115000 steps later!)

I didn’t sleep the best- the camper doesn’t allow for heaps of movement! It hurt to roll and I was too hot and wired so just dozed on and off until 630 where I was too thirsty and had to get up- it hurt to move but once I was up I was ok. Me and mum then went on 2 short walks in the morning before driving back to Auckland.

My legs hurt but not in an injured way…more like you ran 100k way and my cough is now worse than ever but I have drank as much fluid as I could- I wanted to promote good recovery and flush all the bad stuff out!

Milk yogurt and smoothies are going down a treat (whole food is making me feel sick!) so I am just rolling with what my body wants at the moment!

So thanks for all the support…to my family, James, my running family and friends on the Sapphire Coast, my sponsees Salomon and Suunto and Wilderness wear, my workplace, Dr Nott… so many..it means a lot ❤️

And where to from here?

Initially my goal was to run every day of 2019..but after 100k and the year I have ahead that is silly! So I am focusing on recovery this week, easy jogs bike and swim and stretch then a build week next week to do snowies on the Sunday and focus on intensity and speed before a taper into 6 foot track ☺️

What the second half of the year holds? Who knows! 🙂

Until May I am organised and planned after that I will see where my legs take me!

And what is my take away advice after my first 100k?

– eat a lot and eat early! sandwiches bars fruit whatever works just keep putting fuel in as long as you can! I had a normal breakfast of yogurt and fruit and coffee, I then started eating at 40minutes.. I think I then ate 2 cliff bars, atleast 3 or 4 sandwiches as a mix of jam peanut butter vegemite honey and Nutella (whatever I could grab!), 1 gel, 2 handfuls of lollies, 2 revvies lots of watermelon and water and I think I needed more than that! I would have loved ice out there just from a temperature perspective but grab what you can!

– don’t worry or think about the whole distance just think about the next aid station! I was 10 or 14k at a time.

-do expect to feel horrible multiple times! Sometimes your legs hurt sometimes your feet hurt sometimes you just feel plain sick but it is normal and it will pass! Try and keep moving forward! I kept telling myself you feel best when you run so keep running..I also tried to eat often and drink or back my effort off- I would think why do I feel sick? What can I do to feel better?

– stay relaxed and enjoy the scenery and laugh at yourself if you do something silly and take energy from the trail and the volunteers!

– have things to look forward to- visiting the course before the race was a good way to mentally break up the run! I also looked forward to seeing Mum- although it was fleeting it was so reassuring to see her.

– have mantras when it gets tough- stay positive! I would tell myself I am strong I am fit and I am made for this. That I will feel better soon..and that I’m doing great! Also a lot of the time I didn’t think I just ran which was bliss.

– always believe you can make it.

– be grateful for what your body can do- 100k is a long way! So take care of it before and after- for me I knew I needed to move and eat but was struggling to do both! I stuck to walking and simple foods like water milk yogurt and fruit- easy to digest!

– smile 🙂 it does help!

Get out and play 👍☺️

Steph

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