Archive for the ‘trail running’ Category

This week sees the start of my training programme for the 2013 Tarawera Ultra.

I am following a back-to-back long run philosophy this time around, with a long, flat run each Friday morning followed by a long, hilly run each Saturday.

The idea behind this approach is to build a solid endurance base (the Friday runs) and to enhance stamina during long hill sessions (the Saturday runs). I use back-to-back runs in order to get good mileage each week without running myself into the ground. The aim is to cruise through the Friday run (easy pace), and then push myself during the Saturday run (easy pace, but pushing myself on the hills).

The Tarawera course is not known for its hills – there is really only three or four climbs of note – but hill training in general is excellent preparation regardless of the amount of climb on race day.

You can download my training programme by clicking here: Tarawera-2013-training-programme
It is in MS Excel format. Read it, change it, share it – but please let me know if you intend to follow it 🙂



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Everybody needs a long-term plan. Five years ago I built-up to running my first ever marathon. A year later I ran my first ultra, two years after that I ran my first 100km. When I first started running I could never imagine what I have accomplished now. I haven’t set any records, and only rarely feature in the front-runners of a race, but I have gained immense personal satisfaction by setting an audacious goal, training my butt off, and successfully pushing my physical and mental boundaries.

My next goal is definitely the most ambitious yet. I want to qualify for, compete in, and finish…..Ultra Trail Mont Blanc!

This 166km race takes in three countries, nearly 10km of vertical ascent, stunning alpine scenery, and crazy-good support from the numerous villages that the trail weaves its way through. Every year 2,000 racers line-up for the ultimate trail running challenge. The race celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2012, and enjoys a reputation of being “the Olympics of trail running”.

Ultra Trail Mont Blanc -click to enlarge

I am not kidding myself in terms of what is required to qualify for and complete this race. I am allowing myself the best part of four years to achieve this goal. My rough plan for building-up to the event is as follows:

– Tarawera Ultra 2013 (100km)

– Tarawera Ultra 2014 (160km, if it goes ahead!)

– Northburn 100 2015 (160km, 8,500m vertical ascent)

– Ultra Trail Mont Blanc 2013

I intend to track my progress to qualification on this blog in the years ahead. Wish me luck, and I’ll see you on the trails!

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Okay, so I have been very slack with updating this blog over the past year and a half. My biggest omission over this time is not posting about the Tarawera Ultra race. This 100km event takes runners from Rotorua to Kawerau in the centre of New Zealand’s North Island. The course follows some of the country’s most beautiful single track, taking runners through Redwood forest, around (and sometimes through!) stunning lakes, and passing dramatic waterfalls and gorgeous rivers.

Satellite view and elevation profile

Satellite view and elevation profile

The race has an entry limit of 400 runners, which looks like being reached for the first time in 2013. This is great news as 100km races are few and far between in New Zealand, so it is wonderful to see Tarawera meeting such tremendous success. It is one of the few races in the country where mid and back-of-the-pack runners can rub shoulders with professional rock-star class runners in a truly international field.

Me with good friend Brendon Keenan at the start of Tarawera 2011

Me with good friend Brendon Keenan at the start of Tarawera 2011

There are plenty of race reports available for Tarawera – so I won’t provide a full race report here. Suffice to say that if you enjoy well organised, brilliantly supported races with bags of stunning scenery, then this is the race for you.

The Damage Done - the aftermath of Tarawera 2012

The Damage Done – the aftermath of Tarawera 2012

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Much to my surprise, there is a local 60km ultra marathon, and the course that it follows runs less than two blocks away from my front door. This is kind of embarrassing, as I have frequently complained that one of the problems with ultras is the shortage of local events!

The event was in its fourth year, although I understand that the shorter distance events (marathon, half marathon, and 10km) have been running for a few years more than that.

The course

The course, with markers each km (click to enlarge)

The course starts at Cross Creek, near Featherston. The first section follows the Rimutaka Railway Incline all the way to the Kaitoke entrance, climbing at a gentle rate and taking runners through a series of old railway tunnels. From there the course takes in Tunnel Gulley, going past the start of Tane’s Track and through another tunnel towards Maymorn.

Section three introduces runners to the Hutt River Trail, which they follow from Harcourt Park in Upper Hutt all the way to Petone. Like the rest of the course, this section is mostly on gravel roads, with the occasional section of single track and only a small amount of sealed roads.


Elevation - gentle climb at the start, all downhill after that

I thoroughly enjoyed this race, and not just because it was my first win on the ultra circuit. It had a good sized field (25 in the ultra, many more in the shorter events), and was well supported all along the course. I’ll definitely be back in 2012 to have another crack, and hopefully get my time down from this year’s 5:19.

The trophy

The trophy - no idea who the guy in the background is!

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Well, I did it – my first 100km foot race, completed!

On the course at Naseby

Looking tired, around the 80km mark.

Videos of the race

Here are a couple of links to some video that was shot on the day of the race. It is a family-shot movie i.e. it is more about me during the race than the race itself, but it shows a considerable amount of the course and will be helpful for anyone wanting to know more about the terrain.

High-res version (recommended): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ydexXiq8CZc

Low-res version (for slow internet connections): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dCYrE3Pr7Bg

What was it like?

The day was a great success. Weather was perfect, a cool day with no wind and only a very few spots of rain. The pre-dawn start saw us running the first lap in darkness, head-torches bobbing along the forest track as we ran. It was difficult to run the first lap in the dark, and at least one entrant became lost after missing a course marker. A good reason to stick with a bunch I reckon!

Dawn came midway around the second lap, and what a beautiful moment it was. The sight of snow-covered mountains greeted us as we reached the top of a raise, and it was hard not to be taken by the awesome beauty of Central Otago.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about the race, but I do want to share a few small tidbits.

The Course

A 10km loop track, the course is an even mix of gravel road and forest trails. It was dry for us, but on a rainy day it would have quickly become quite muddy. With the weather on our side I was able to switch from my off-road shoes into my regular road shoes – there were no problems at all with traction. The course contains 230 metres of climb (i.e. a total of 2.3km of climb for the full 101km race), which was a bit more than I was expecting. The climb is well spread-out though, and there are no long “grunts” uphill.  I liked the variety of terrain no the course, from standard gravel roads to easy forest tracks to rock-strewn mountain bike single track.

After I while I began to feel quite dizzy.....

The Organisation

Everything was run very smoothly, as you would expect for a race that has been going on for several years now. The organising group were very professional and friendly, and the volunteers on the course were amazing. Such an enthusiast bunch, I sometimes wonder if they realise just what a huge difference they make to the competitors in terms of motivation and support. The halfway mark was manned by the sprightly Liam, who always had a small and an encouraging word. He even took requests for the song to be played as you ran through his aid station for the final lap. The start/finish line was constantly buzzing with support crews (all very friendly), time keepers (always a smile and a laugh), and officials (checking that runners had a clear path through the supporters, and chatting to runners as they paused to restock).

Trying to stay awake at prize giving

The Challenge

Some basic stats:

Distance: 101km.

Ascending: +2,304 metres, 34.26km

Flat: 30.94km

Descending: -2,283 metres, 35.89km

Don't be fooled - the inane grin is just to mask the extreme pain!!!

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After sixteen weeks of training, the big date has finally arrived – the Great Naseby Water Race is less than a week away.

My training has been tapering for the past couple of weeks, so I am feeling good and have plenty of spare energy building-up.

I’ve been  back over the stats of my training programme (thanks to a combination of my Garmin Forerunner 305 and SportsTracks). Here’s a quick breakdown….

  • 16 weeks of training completed.
  • Running five days a week.
  • 1,420kms of running distance.
  • I ran the marathon distance (42km) seven times during my training (two of those runs were also ultras at greater than 50km).
  • 132.5 hours of running time.
  • 13,500 metres of vertical gain during my training runs.
  • Average pace of 5:36 per km (which matches my target pace for the race).
  • July was the biggest month for me, with 452km running distance.
  • Over 130,000 calories burnt – time for a burger!

It’s been a big commitment in terms of time – I am very fortunate in that my family are very understanding and patient. Probably the biggest adjustment has been the early morning starts during the week – I have typically been getting up at 4:30am to do my midweek runs.

The back-to-back long runs have been successful, at least in terms of my ability to complete them 🙂  I only really had one incident attributable to the double long runs; on my last “big” weekend I had a 42km on the Saturday and a 50km on the Sunday. I had done the same distances the previous week, but this time around I found it much more difficult. At one point I found myself hunched over on the trail, vomiting and struggling to breath, tears running down my face. All part of running an ultra (some call it a rite of passage), and after a few minutes I was able to laugh about it and carry on with my run.

So, looking forward to the big one now – my next post will cover the race itself and my thoughts on whether or not my training programme was a good one.

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Sunday Run

Sunday Run

Training for the 100km is really starting to ramp-up now. A key part of my training programme is to spread my weekly “long run” out over two days. This allows me to cover a very long distance, but makes it much easier for me to recover and therefore not have an extended recovery time.

Two long runs over the weekend (or “backing-up”) means a run of 3 -> 4 hours on Saturday and 3.5 hours on Sunday. This allows me to cover approx. 75km over the weekend, much farther than I would typically run on a single long run. I have been mixing it up on my runs, taking the Saturday run in the hills and the Sunday run on the flat.

Saturday Run

Saturday Run

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