What a way to finish my 2017 season!! For me this race was a chance to practice so many aspects of running, taking a risk, following a defined race and nutrition plan, respecting the course and distance, resetting in the face of demoralising moments, watching the pain in my body and learning not to “suffer” and some other aspects of mental toughness I wanted to explore…. Along with embracing the unknowns of this adventure… and I had a ripper of a race – my first 50k was an unforgettable experience and to come away with 4th female was also really rad (I have no other word for it!).

Spectacular (& stinky) start line at Pohutu Gyser with friends – SO excited!!

I did sign up for Tarawera with the idea that it would be an end of season adventure, but that I would still go in to the race being well trained for it. When October came around though, and Melbourne Marathon was on the cards I just couldn’t let it go by – so instead of hills and trails I was marathon training to mid October (which by the way was worth it, with a new PB of 3:03:09 I was rapt!!) – and only a month for the ups and downs of mountains before I was on the plan to New Zealand! In the end I had to have faith that my solid running history and two marathons in the past 3 months, along with a very specific race and nutrition plan, and a bit of gung-ho attitude and a splash of mental toughness would see me through. And it did…

Monitoring my heart rate in specific sessions and also in Melbourne Marathon gave a rough idea of the zone I should maintain for the race. Keeping my heart rate at around marathon effort and no higher (even on steep hills) felt slow especially at the start – however it allowed me to have something other than pace to monitor, allowed my body to quickly absorb calories I took in and also finish the race as strong as I started, slowing down less than others and moving up in placings towards the end.

What helped me keep control of my effort was trusting my plan, and taking the advice of my trail/ultra runner friend Jill – I thoroughly respected the course and the distance. There was no way I was going out too hard, respect, control, smile, enjoy every moment. The first 7km was flatter and I just used this to get in a rhythm, my heart rate was higher than I thought which made me a bit nervous, but I guess it was just the excitement of the start as it settled… there were lots of spectators in these kilometers and I appreciated this as I knew it wouldn’t be like this the whole way… After that there were some steeper climbs and even some parts I had to pull myself up, and this is where I needed to really keep my heart rate under control – I walked when it elevated to 160 (even though sometimes I didn’t feel like I wanted to)… and used this time to take on Tailwind and enjoy the trail and scenery, and kept reminding myself that this control would pay off.

Fun, not fun…grass for  miles…

Then came the farm loop! For me this 8km was the toughest of the course with knee high grass that you could not see where your foot was landing – uneven, cattle trodden ground – I faltered and rolled my ankle so many times, and got entirely frustrated with myself as I couldn’t run as fast as I wanted to, having to tread lightly and be careful, and was freaking out my ankle would go and that would be the end of my adventure. Also two women passed me, zooming with a stability I was thoroughly envious of – argh… a low point in my race comparing myself to others…. On and on these grassy paddocks went, and after passing a stiff dead sheep, which was quite a shock, still with it’s fluffy white wool – the farm finally ended… With huge relief and another climb I decided I wouldn’t let this part of the race get to me. Like a tennis player moving on to the next point I reset myself mentally, put those rolling green (beautifully evil) paddocks behind, and decided that I could now face anything this race threw at me. 21km down, 29 to go!!

Leaving the farm flicked a switch in me, and the next 15km was running each moment, facing each moment. I didn’t know what was around each corner, up or down, stairs, creeks or aid stations. One thing I did know was that there was a few kilometers of road, actual road and that it was slightly downhill. When I got on to that piece of road I flew like the wind… on the road I could assess my body better and I felt great, I felt strong and I knew I could do this. At the aid station at the buried village I had a drink and looked up to see one of the women that had overtaken me – right, I knew it was just the grass that held me back. For the next 5km we ran together, well I ran behind her as I didn’t want her being behind me which I was sure would mean I would push too hard – it was a bit of cat and mouse, I did think I could overtake her but I was also going to a place, distnace-wise, that I had never been before.  For this race, control and respect was more important that being competitive, and I am happy to have run with her for that time. In the end I think she ran through the last two aid stations to get away from me and finished 5 minutes ahead, a credit to her as she must have steamed ahead. After she disappeared with around 10km to go, my calves started to become edgey – they didn’t actually cramp but all the signs were there that they may. This also happened to me in the final few kms of the Six Foot Track Marathon so I decided not to panic… I believed I could run through it, if I managed it properly. I changed my foot fall to a little bit flatter and walking didn’t make it any better so there was no point in stretching or slowing, I just kept pushing on. I also had the same thing with my adductor and also the top of my foot, as well as (believe it or not!!) my triceps – not actually cramping just protesting heavily – I put this down to not having enough specific training for the race!

At the 35-40km stage the plan was to let go of controlling my heart rate, however it didn’t go up anyway because I just couldn’t run fast enough on the trail or go hard enough uphill for it to go over 160… so I just went for it as best I could from here. The final aid station was themed with vampires and weirdly I said “I am drinking coke like blood” (I say some weird things late in races) and we all had a laugh haha, I thanked them and got on my way. I believed this last hill was 2km up and had made it out to be Mt. Everest in my head – I think it wasn’t more than 1.25km and I was so pleasantly surprised and it somehow made me feel stronger, maybe because I had prepared for a struggle and it wasn’t as hard as I had imagined.

Mentally the last 10km there were a few things I practiced. Feeling the pain and really accepting it. Knowing it wouldn’t get worse. I spent a lot of time on my own running and pondering this… really experiencing this feeling of pain but not having to suffer which is optional…(actually I also think this helped my semi-cramping calves loosen up as well, but that is just an idea?)… I know that this practice is essential to slowing down the least toward the end of in endurance races. I repeated this to myself and pushed on and on through the burning and legs that didn’t want to. I felt tough as. I feel really grateful to have had the chance to work through it in this race and I know this experience will help me in the future.

For me, the weather was also perfect, cool and cloudy… I couldn’t have asked for better. The scenery was spectacular, forested lakes and hills all around and the course gave lots of opportunity to really appreciate the beauty of the area. It really was spectacular, the most amazing and magnificent experiences for my first 50k. I know that taking this time out from my family isn’t easy and I do feel guilty, I am not going to deny it. I am grateful for every second that I was taking part in Tarawera, the time to be myself and do what I absolutely love to do is a priviledge and I know I am so very lucky. Out on course alone in the beautiful environment running, I actually cried at one point thinking about my girls and hoping they will know and understand one day for themselves in their own way, the strength that I felt on this course.

Right now I feel honoured to have had this experience, one of the highlights of my running journey so far!!