My first 100km was also the inaugural running of this race – awesome to be one of the first runners to do an event. That was awesome, but the race itself, at least for me, was awful.
I’d met Will Samuel when doing a bit of work with the Taupo District Council where he used to work. When we first met, we were sitting down doing the usual “get to know each other” thing and we realized that we both like to run off-road. A few months later, Will pinged me to tell me that he was planning a new event to take place around the beautiful Lake Taupo.
Given my relative success at The Old Ghost 85km (I did say relative, but top 10 overall is good for this old bugger), and a desire to up my distance a little, I signed up. I also managed to twist Will’s arm to let Yonni, my eldest son, race the 50km. In theory, he was a couple of years too young, but since he’s already done a couple of full marathons, including a Sky Running race with over 3,000 of vertical elevation, I managed to convince Will to let him in.
So we winged our way from Christchurch to Auckland, rented a car at Auckland Airport and drove the three hours or so to a grey, and increasingly wet Taupo. Despite the best intentions to have a small shakedown run on the course, the weather convinced us to slack off and we pretty much spent the afternoon before the race being nervous and watching the increasingly grey skies.
6am on Saturday saw us on the start line and my strategy, similar to my previous 85km race, was to start conservatively, slow down in the middle section and leave some gas for the end. In the heat of the moment, and with hindsight, I probably went out a little hard. The first 20km was on some absolutely mint single track with the sun slowly coming up. I found a great pace group and we carved that out relatively speedily. We then entered a long section on a farm which, due to a couple of weeks of heavy rain, was a quagmire. I actually had my shoe ripped off a couple of times when it got stuck in the mud.
At this stage, I was feeling the pain due to my earlier pace. I had sore hips and my legs, while not fried, were a little tender. I decided to walk for a bit, expecting a second wind to come in. Alas, the 10kms or so running in the wet played havoc with my feet and despite liberally lubricating them with vaseline before the event, I felt the telltale hotspots that indicated blisters were in the making. With around 80kms still to run, this wasn’t a fantastic situation. I decided to keep walking, and the long gravel and road sections which stretched off into the distance felt interminable.
Just after the 50km point, we entered a beautiful stretch of singletrack and I caught up with a couple of runners from the 74km race. They were setting a lovely pace and chatting with them for an hour or so took my mind off my pain – we ambled along, slowly, but consistently. They took a long break at one of the aid stations and I got ahead of them when the 100km race did a detour they got in front of me and I didn’t see them again. At this stage my blisters were really getting bad, every half hour or so I would feel a strong “pop” as another blister burst and that familiar tingling feeling of fresh irritation started.
From here on in it was a death march. It was nice to see Steve Neary and Vicki Wooley at the 76km aid station. They gave me an update on Yonni (“oh yeah, he passed through HOURS ago”), and gave me a bit of moral support which was nice. The truth, however, was that the next 24kms or so were going to be epic – my feet were agony and my ankles were screaming at every step.
The next few hours (many more hours than I would have expected) were a bit of a blur. There was actually the odd little bit of running and, surprisingly enough, a couple of people that I actually passed. I then broke out of the bush and saw the lights of the finish line (darkness having already come by then). Alas, there was still a few kilometers of winding in and out around the bays before I got to cross a fence and stumble under the finishing arch.
Yonni was a legend and helped me with my gear, even putting my socks on for me after the medical team spent awhile ministering to my gross feet. He even waited awhile before telling me, justifiably proud, his time in the 50km (5:44, a stunner for a 16-year-old.)
I got the beautiful, custom-made glass medal, a hug from race organizer Will Samuels and then it was into the car and home for a shower. Most of all, though, I got the satisfaction of completing my first 100km ultra. As a friend said to me, the time is of secondary relevance, it’s the getting it done even when things go pear-shaped which is the real achievement.
The Taupo Ultra was an amazing event – and my poor performance simply means that there is unfinished business – I’ll be back next year, in all likelihood with a young 17-year-old whippersnapper ready to step up and challenge the 100km course as well.