This year's race was a stark contrast to the previous year. Notably, there was an unexpected addition to the 50km route that added a new element of excitement.
The weather also played a significant role in distinguishing this year's race from the last. Unlike the pitch-black and freezing conditions at the start of the race last year, this year's weather was mild and pleasant. I vividly remember last year slipping on ice on the bridge during the outbound journey and being extra cautious on the way back. Additionally, the extreme cold made it impossible for me to open my bottles at the second aid station due to numb hands. Thankfully, this year was much brighter and more temperate.
During the initial part of the race, I had the pleasure of running alongside an incredibly talented athlete. However, I noticed my heart rate increasing too much at one point, prompting me to slow down slightly and make a more calculated effort.
One highlight of the race was catching glimpses of Shaun, one of New Zealand's finest photographers, behind bushes, always sporting a smile and sharing amusing stories.
As we approached St Johns this year, I made a deliberate decision to walk, and it turned out to be the best choice I could have made. Not only did I surpass a few runners, but I also managed to run sections without exhausting myself. When we reached the top of St Johns, I comfortably descended and took a more relaxed approach on the paved road instead of recklessly rushing downhill.
At one of the aid stations, I received a quick update on the rugby score before continuing. I always appreciate the lively atmosphere at this particular aid station, with people clapping and cheering as you set off. The road section that followed proved to be quite challenging for my legs, as expected. Surprisingly, the road then led us through pastures and swamps, introducing a new segment of the course that added extra hurdles and tested the ankles. However, having more trail to explore is always a welcome addition. Afterwards, we made our way back to the lakeside, and this time, I found myself running alone. I was briefly caught up by another runner during this section, and despite the expected off-camber terrain, I began to experience cramping as I climbed over the fencelines. When we reached the next checkpoint, which I secretly wished was an aid station, I walked up the slight incline before resuming a steady trot. Unfortunately, this is where my cramps intensified. Last year, I started cramping at the 30km mark, but this year it hit me at 40km. Surprisingly, the last 10km felt relatively easy, but as soon as I attempted to pick up the pace faster than 5:30/km, my body resisted, causing my hamstrings and glutes to tighten.
Crossing the finish line was an incredibly heartwarming moment for me. I was greeted by my family, and my baby boy, who was just shy of 2 years old at the time, waddled over enthusiastically to give me a hug. This truly marked the pinnacle of my race.
Looking back on my race performance, I am truly happy with the outcome. Despite a few unexpected twists and turns, I was able to adapt and stay on track. There were some challenges along the way, such as missing a crucial training set during a firefighters training course and not being able to fit in the double long run as planned. However, this experience has taught me valuable lessons for better planning in the future.
In terms of nutrition, my training focused on being fat adapted, following the advice of Zac Bitter. This approach worked well for me during training, using mostly Tailwind. Unfortunately, on race day, I lost half of my nutrition when it fell out of my pack. I realized at the 30km mark that I was all out. The Tailwind provided at the aid stations was more diluted than what I used in my mix, and I couldn't help but wonder if this difference had an impact on the isotonic vs. hypotonic solution. Additionally, I made the classic mistake of not eating well the day before the race. It is usually a critical day, and I focused on advice to consume more carbohydrates to increase my glycogen storage.
Despite these challenges, my equipment performed well, with the exception of the nutrition mishap. I took a risk by purchasing a pair of La Sportiva shoes just two days before the race, which I wouldn't normally recommend. However, they served me well, and I believe it speaks volumes about the quality of La Sportiva products.
In the end, I achieved my personal goal of beating last year's time, shaving off an impressive 45 minutes. I also accomplished my second goal of completing a sub 5-hour race. However, I fell short of my third goal, which was to finish the race without any pain. Nevertheless, I am making progress towards this goal for my next race and plan to further explore Zack's advice, testing it on race day instead of making last-minute changes.
Participating in RaceTekapo is an extraordinary experience that I believe everyone should have the opportunity to be a part of. Running an ultra allows for deep reflection, especially in such a breathtaking location. Knowing that you are in a safe environment and supported by dedicated volunteers organized by an exceptional team makes it a remarkable journey. Personally, I intend to make this an annual tradition and extend my heartfelt gratitude to the team at Scenic Sports. I am eagerly looking forward to our reunion next year.
Lastly, I want to express my gratitude to my beautiful wife and family for supporting me in pursuing this race. I also want to thank the team at TrailAthlete for their honesty and camaraderie throughout this journey. And ultimately, I am grateful to my heavenly Father for blessing me with good health to enjoy the mountains.
To all the incredible athletes at TrailAthlete, we want you to know that we are incredibly proud of your accomplishments. As a personal touch, I made sure to speak with each one of you and make adjustments to our plan. It is our hope that we will see you at the starting line next year, ready to surpass your personal bests and continue to push your limits.