That. Was. Epic.

I should have realized that when Stephanie Grace Berry and George McNeur, two highly experienced and nature-loving trail runners, decided to put on an ultra marathon, that it wouldn’t be a regular sort of an event.

Indeed, the name of the race was Krayzie Kapers and, in a style that lived up to its name, the course profile was a little mad. I’ve run a 100 mile race once before, earlier this year, so I realized that 100 miles was doable, but what I didn’t know about was the elevation. This race had around 7,500 metres of vertical gain. For the statistically minded, that’s like going from Base Camp to the summit of Mount Everest, two and a bit times. That’s a lot of climbing and since going upwards isn’t my forte, I wasn’t sure how I’d go.

Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained and I got my entry in and joined a small group of four runners doing the miler. Tony Sharpe is a running buddy who also did the Hanmer miler with me so I knew he was a solid runner, but the other two competitors were dark horses. Some internet stalking taught me that Michael Stuart is a veteran of a number of epic races, while Luis Carvalho is a fitness instructor from Wellington who has never done an ultra marathon before – talk about a baptism by fire!

Anyway, Friday morning dawned cool and clear and the four of us toed the line nervously waiting to set off. I’d seen the course profile but despite the opportunity to have a walk around it, I didn’t. Sometimes ignorance is bliss and I didn’t really need to know just how bad it was going to be.

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The start – a small crew of seriously Krayzie folks

Michael took off at a great rate of knots and after running alongside him for the first few kms I decided to button off and just relax. I knew that meant that I’d be running alone for the entire race but since I train alone, and day-to-day I’m blasted with constant communications, I was quite looking forward to the time alone.

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In the first few minutes, which was the only time I ran with Michael (who appropriately looks like a blur in this pic)

The course

The race was 13 full laps of around 12.5km each, with each lap consisting of two loops. Every lap passed through the aid station after the first loop before setting out on the second loop.

Loop one was longer, steeper and more exposed, but actually easier. It started almost straight away with a climb of around 250m over 2km. That’s pretty steep, especially considering that we were going to be tacking it 13 times. The climb was in three sections – the first section was up a steep 4WD track before we entered a forest section which was full of loose soil and dried leaves so it was pretty loose underfoot. It was also the steepest part of the climb so there was a bit of slipping and sliding. At the top of the forest we came out onto a 4wd track with another kilometer or so till the summit. At the top we had a couple of kms of undulating terrain through the farm. It was fairly technical underfoot – lots of holes and clumps of grass to snap unwary ankles! We then had a steep zigzag descent down the the valley floor. From here it was a generally flat kilometre or so to the aid station.

Loop two started of with an easy meander along a mountain bike track. From here however things got real with around 250 steep steps to ascend. There was also a lot of rutty, rocky terrain to get through and a couple of stream crossings. At the top of the steps there was a very welcome track marker sign, at which we turned left and meandered through farmland and a bit of forestry land for another kilometre or so. We then cut back onto the track which had some more rocky, tree-routey terrain and a short section of super-slippery mud for good measure. Coming out once more onto farmland, it was just a short section of ankle-snapping open land, before a little loop around the mountain bike track and a sprint up to the start/finish line. And then to start it all again.

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Early on and still sprightly, a small stream crossing near the end of loop 2

My race

160 kilometres is a long way. Especially when the loops are slightly longer than estimated and that 160 kilometres turns out to actually be 165 and change. Over that sort of time and distance, every strategy that you had at the start goes out the window.

That was certainly the way it was for me as the reality of the situation gave way to naïve ideas of being svelte and gracefully. I made the mistake of starting the race in Salomon trail shoes. I’ve worn these shoes in half a dozen ultramarathons and every single time I’ve gotten blisters from them – you’d think I would have learned by now. I lubed my feet and changed my shoes and socks (actually, I got my incredible wife and ultra-widow to do it for me) at 50km, but by this time the damage was done and I’d spend the next 20 hours or so with increasingly tender feet.

Despite it being a pretty technical course, I reverted to Nike Vomero road shoes – I’ve been wearing these shoes for 10 years now, on and off road, and I’ve never had a problem with them. I’m starting to think that the theory about needing specialist off-road shoes is bunkum – I didn’t have too many issues with a lack of grip with them. One thing is for sure, the Salomons are being given away. Salomon is a good brand, but for some reason my feet don’t work with them.

The first six laps or so were all during the day and it was just a case of conserving energy and making my way around. It was warm but luckily there were a few clouds in the sky which kept the temperature down a bit. At this stage my stomach was still handling food OK and so I was downing the odd energy gel and bar to keep me going. I was also drinking copious quantities of R-Line electrolyte replacement – at previous races where I’ve drunk it I’ve managed to avoid my regular cramping curse so I was keen to try for the same result. Yonni came out for a recce on the first loop of my lap three – it was nice to have some company for a bit

As evening came, the temperature dropped a bit and we even had a few spots of drizzle. It wasn’t really cold, I never wore more than a merino and an old cycling jersey, but up the tops there was a bit of a wind which cooled things down a little. My training mate Andy, who was racing the 50km the next day and Yonni, who was doing the 25km, came out with me to do a recce of loop two. I wasn’t particularly good company, and I was moving pretty slowly, but while it might have been a drag for them, it was nice to have them entertain me for a bit. Actually having company on the odd occasion was pretty refreshing. New training partner Kevin Grimwood was a trooper and came out to do a full lap with me at about 2am – I wasn’t in a particularly good space but Kevin seemed happy with my monosyballic grunts in answer to his questions! Yonni and Omri both did bits with me and Viv did most of the last two laps with me – we don’t often get to run together since our paces are a bit different, so it was nice to have some role reversal, she had to slow down for me!

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Running with Yonni about three hours into the race. Still wearing Salomons – my mistake

After about 12 hours I wasn’t really able to eat. The very idea of downing a gel made my stomach turn and while the taste of pieces of bier stick or peanuts was OK, I found that they all gave me reflux – I guess it’s not surprising that after half a day running the stomach starts to shut down. From here on in I was pretty much just drinking Coke – I only ever drink coke while racing, and it seems to do the trick and stave off the bonk.

I quite like running at night – I enjoy looking at the stars, only seeing the beam of my headlamp and generally being in solitude. On the lap that he did with me Kevin shot the video below. Pretty much imagine this for an entire night and you have a picture of what my life was like on the weekend!

I’ve never actually seen the dawn after a night run before – my Hanmer miler was quick and I finished at 4am so still in the dark – and I’d long heard that the rise of the sun on day two sees runners get a second wind. I was pretty down before dawn, and seriously doubted whether I’d be able to finish the race. My feet were shot, I was sore and I really felt like sitting down for a sleep. But as the sun rose, and Viv joined me for a lap, I reflected on the fact that while I’d been running for 24hours already, I only had a few hours left. That old saying “pain is temporary, glory lasts forever” came to mind. And really I don’t like pulling out of a race if I can ever avoid it. So I resigned myself to battling on through.

By this stage it was clear to me that Michael was going to take the win. He certainly looked stronger, and other than me catching him on one occasion at the aid station, he’d been ahead of me or the entire race. I was quite keen to avoid being lapped by him, though, so I kept looking over my shoulder to see if he was coming up on me. As it happened he didn’t lap me, and I made sure that I was quick on my final aid-station visit – I didn’t want to hear the cheering for him finishing while I still had a lap to go!

The final kilometre was pretty sweet, and it was awesome seeing the big crowd at the end. Despite being forced to walk for much of the race, I managed to pull out an admittedly slightly douchey sprint as I came up to the finish line. My longest run ever, my second 100 mile race this year, and an interesting exploration of some dark spaces.

For those interested, or with a running statistics fetish, below is my GPS trace from the event. Final time was just over 29 hours on foot. Today I’m resigning myself to sticking to the sofa!

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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