Monday, February 23, 2015

The Tarawera Ultra Everywhere Man

Warning - this race report contains nuts!  All of the characters are real but my belief in myself is entirely make believe!  Also, words: some of them are big, wrong or out of order, others may offend.  Or not.  Enjoy!

Much can be said about the 3 day lead up to the 7th Tarawera Ultra.  Best perhaps captured by the word busy repeated 3 times thusly - busy busy busy.
  • Pre-Elite-BBQ noise control for the only two people at Paul's house when the complaint was made.  Sssshhhhh Hoogeveen!
  • Aussie sausage-fest at the Thursday night 'secret spot' candle-light romance.
  • Fridays Elite Q&A "who here thinks the Nazi's were bad people?"  Can't believe I'm still in charge of this thing!

The race start was the usual chaos.  The media coordinators had asked me to get the clowns off the front rank so I pulled the usual suspects back and pushed last years defenders and real race leaders out front for the challenge.
The first few hundred meters that followed the hooter were brisk as always.  I settled into a pace behind the big guns briefly before squeezing ahead as we entered single track.  Somewhere prior to the climb around Tikorangi I caught Kugs.  Hard to imagine how he didn't win that 60km race, I mean.... he had such a good lead at the 1km mark....
Stephen Day, a very capable runner from Wellington Scottish pushed me along and I suffered my way around to the back of the Blue Lake with only a narrow margin.  The revisions to the start had meant for a fast course and for me a 4min leg record.  I owe a lot of that to the much better application of gradient over distance  Tim and the team implemented.  I thought I was in TERRIBLE shape but I guess even on a fast course a good time should be celebrated however undeserved it feels.  So.... WHOOP!

I consider it a perennial humbling to run my guts out over 18km then to look back and realize I've established no significant margin ahead of the gang of guys that would hold this pace through to the 100km finish.  Wow, I suck.

I would've stayed at Okaraka to help dispense some high-fives but sadly I needed to get straight onto a bus and haul arse to my car.  My next engagement required I get to Okatina to crew Bowman, Britton and Wardian.  Being in one of the lead relay teams and committing to support some of the elites, who obviously can't use the drop-bag system, made the frustrating car/bus/car/bus thing barely adequate to the urgency of beating people on foot who are somehow traveling faster than all manor of transport. This said, I managed to make it through to Okatina in time.  Just.  I realize the requirement for this so I'll begrudgingly endure the frustration provided it's a burden everyone abides without exception.  This being my only minor gripe of the day.

Dylan got his 'gels-in-water' combo, the lovable rogue Robbie Britton received his "rice balls" and Wardian was helped on his way through the fantastic Okatina aid station and on his way around the lake.

Once more, buses, chaos and urgency was required to beat those trail-juggernauts through the to the forest.  I arrived at Tarawera Falls ahead of Bowman who was on a tear having given Lake Tarawera its biggest thrashing in almost 140 years.  I awaited Michael Wardian for the first of my pacing duties.  He would arrive in about 8th and was a little low, battling through a trough caused by those long unaided sections around the last of the lakes.  Despite this we rolled through to Titoki in good spirits.  Picking up the Spaniard Pau but conceding to Vajin and his pacer Grant Guise.   We all ran together briefly but the guys were taking it pretty serious despite my entertaining banter.  And singing, I think I should mention the singing.  I am an excellent singer...

I parted with Wardian at Titoki where a Pro Triathlete mate would take on the pacing gig to help him around the loop-of-despair.  My next job was to tag back in again at Fisherman's and run Wardian through to the finish.  Sort of a pacer/relay gig with the capable Swedish Triathlete Marre Cusin (11th Challenge Wanaka 2015, whoop!)

Seriously, google this guy, world records an' sh1t.
I was fortunate to have a little time at Fisherman's with Prasasha who was crewing for Vajin.  Fortunate also to bust a couple' sweet bombs off the bridge.

Wardian arrived in 6th to his surprise as I explained Yun had dropped ahead of him.  By this point in the day Dylan had already won the race (freak) and Jorge was not far off picking up his 2nd place.  Vajin was 8min ahead and a fading Robbie Britton 4min away meant we still had something to chase.  GAME ON.

Wardian and I flew through it.  Picking up Robbie with his hands on his knees as he revisited those precious rice balls.  We gained 2min on Vajin by the finish but he beat us comfortably.  Caliber of that guy should not be underestimated.  5th place was a good improvement over last year for Wardian.  It's a thing.  5th place is a thing.
Next stop SPARTA!!!!

I didn't even stop to take in a drink, I went straight to the information tent to get my next pacer number while I had Tim try and locate Paul.  "Last seen bobbing up and down in Lake Tarawera near the outlet" was the reply I heard as I flagged down a random car at the bridge into the forest.  Two teenagers let me in their truck.  They were hoping to sneak off to the Falls for some romance.  There would be something going on at the falls but it wouldn't be romance.

I arrived at the 60km finish with time to spare and delighted in the company of the hugely entertaining Margo Southgate.  Eventually Paul emerged from the trail, he was wet but moving OK.  A large crowd was gathered and it would've been nice if Paul could have afforded himself the luxury of taking in a little of the applause and support that was being offered his way.  Instead he ripped right passed the ample selection of treats, watermelon, cookies and nuts to deal to his nuts.

lerk lerk lerk
As undignified as it may be to see a man palming vast amounts of vasoline onto his undercarriage, this scene is 'par for the course' in an Ultra Marathon.  I watched him throwing lubricant like he was on the set of an Aliens movie while I considered what this meant for the remainder of our journey.  Stopping briefly in a chair to center himself Paul was quickly ushered on by the crowd and we rolled off knowing the job of making that Titoki cut-off loomed large.  The rules would not be bent for anyone today, not even the man himself.  (unless you count the number of pacers anyone can have at any one time but... come on.... it's Paul)

Paul's movements were encouraging at first.  Jogging most of the time, walking only the steeper assents.  I believed him to be in good shape but I read that wrong.  What followed were some LOOOOOOONG hours in the pine forests of Kawerau.

We rolled in to Titoki with time to spare, he was fueling ok but starting to look a little desperate.  Ice sponging to cool off but careful not to risk too much water sneaking down to the skunkworks of exposed skin and lubricant.  I had the sense that one of his primary goals had been to make this cut-off then just see the end out at any cost.  He was mostly quiet, had an MP3 player on and was talking very little as I tried to gauge what he needed in terms of guidance and motivation.

We were soon walking all assents regardless of incline.  We walk much of the flats as well.  I'd remind him we're still running the downhills and he'd do this despite the omnipresent suffering of cumulative fatigue and the swag of a man working around an accident involving his favorite dangly bits, a belt-sander and a cup of lemon juice.  With smart application of residual fitness and some super clean racing lines through corners meant we were actually making some in-roads into the field.

Fellow competitors would hear my musings long before Paul and I would eventually draw level with them.  Most would recognize Paul and attempt to engage him in conversation.  FOOLS!  This was a stupid endeavor and while he never actually verbalized his desire that they Piss.Right.Off, his short manner made it clear enough.  On occasion I would drop back out of earshot to apologize to them for Paul's state.  Typically they'd reply they understood but I assume most were still surprised by his demeanor.  To say he was a different person would be an understatement.  He was a different species. I can only liken it to when you're petting a cat that suddenly just bites you for no reason other than to remind you that it's a cat, and cats can be dicks.

In the days leading up to the race I could see Paul's serious transformation from race director to competitor and I knew going into this job that it wasn't going to be the cuddly teddy bear Charteris I'd get to take for a trot in the wilderness.  You gotta let the lion outta the cage every once in a while.  He'd previously discussed how we were to track all runners down, chew them up and spit them out.  A scene from Conan our secret mantra.

We were moving, but moving slowly.  When he was up to a jog it equated to my brisk walk.  A walk I would've been comfortable however a pacer should never walk next to their jogging runner.  So I had to jog as well.  I had to jog slow.  Slower than I would normally walk.  And it hurt.  I shouldn't complain though, my legs were still surprisingly fresh.  I was approaching 70 kms in a weird 20km race, 20km tempo, 30km 'walk/jog' day. This was the longest cool-down in history.

We strolled up the 'loop of despair' which in the 4 years since my last visit had taken on a new form.  The burnt wastes of dust and death had been replaced with cool comfort.  Overhanging juvenile pines and track-side shrubs giving the climb a lovely calming feel.  Maybe it need be renamed the 'magical fairy loop of serenity and happiness'.
All the same, our assent here was slow.  Even at a gradual march I'd lose Paul.  I found a stick and was hitting dirt balls into the woods to pass the time.  I wasn't a pacer, I was a bored 8-year old, and I was getting thirsty.  My attention deficit disorder was making me twitch and I needed my meds (alcohol) or someone new to pester.

Mark Ingliss
The exit from Awaroa was the usual affair of making sure Pauls needs were met then attempting to tend to mine without letting him get so far ahead that he thought I'd lost interest in my job.  Conscious that I too had been on moving for a long time I decided to do something about getting my fuel sorted.  I drunk a 2l of water, made some sandwiches, ate some nuts, stole 2 gels and taxed an apple before rolling back up to Paul for the stretch to Fisherman's.

The long straight sections were the worst. The twisty bits were equally as bad.  We would've lost a foot race to Mark Inglis (no mean feat).

I should point out that I was actually having an awesome time.  I was doing something I loved in good company and being a positive person I was well focused on all that was right with each and every moment of the beautiful twilight of a perfect summers day.  This even in the moments where we were moving at 'stab-your-eyes-out-frustratingly-slow'.  Cptn Kirk never asked Scotti for warp factor zero but be certain it exists.  If light is the fastest thing comprehensible, we were grinding toward Kawerau at the speed of dark.  I'm no astrophysicist, but I'm pretty sure that's how the speed/light spectrum works.

Somewhere in the kms prior to reaching Fisherman's out of the wild emerged Bryon Powell of irunfar and the mood immediately lightened.  Somehow the darkness lifted a little and there was music in the woods.  Was it just me that heard it?  Is that gay?  Am I gay now?  Please don't tell my wife.
No, it was music.  Fisherman's Bridge Aid station music.  And sure enough, around 2hours later we were there.

OH MY GOD PIZZA!  New fueling strategy, get a piece of hell pizza, any flavor, apply generous amount of sour cream to top of pizza, mush another piece of pizza on top.  Sour cream pizza sandwich Awww yessss.

It was dark now so I found myself moving under headlamp for the 2nd time that day.  An appropriate bookend to a fantastic day of running and general goofin' around from sunrise to sunset.  Perfect.

I see you gang sign, I see you...
Paul was wearing some famous headlamp that once saved a village from a marauding dragon or something, Bryon had the brightest thing since the big bang, and I had a $20 hand torch that you'd typically give to your kids in the full knowledge that it'll be broken or lost long before the shitty battery wore out.  Still, the mood was as light Powell's headlamp and even Paul was in a better place with the chirpy optimism that we now brought to the evening hours.  It brightened even more when an oncoming runner identified themselves as none other than Tim Fucking Day!!!  Our 3 became a 4 and you could tell Paul felt a million bucks.  A million bucks that had been hidden in a music festival portaloo.  WHO THE HELL STEALS A PORTALOO!?!?!??!!

In the midst of the finishing stretches now and 85km runners were around as well.  Some would recognise Tim and comment on what a fabulous day they were having.  Recognise Tim.  Really?  DO YOU NOT KNOW WHO I AM?!?!?!

Eventually as is with most things approached with such unrelenting persistence and perseverance the distance finally yielded and presented a broken man upon his final destination.  Paul had closed out the final kilometers at a respectable speed and while I was not the first to congratulate him my heartfelt admiration of his achievement would hopefully not be lost in the maelstrom of emotion that enveloped the moments following his arrival.
Epic moment.  I'll always have this.  Thanks again Paul.
The midnight hour was fast approaching and I remember little of what followed Paul's finish to my eventual collapse in a tent on his lawn.  I rested well in the knowledge that my day had been full and complete and few experiences would eclipse another magnificent Tarawera Ultra.  Special thanks to Paul for sharing this with me for the 7th time.  Shout out to my long lost brother Bryon Powell and huge massive man-love and crazy respect to the nicest guy you'll ever meet and fasted dude grey-side of 40, Michael Wardian.



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  2. Kerry, I knew you could sign but write...well, now I really impressed. Thanks again for keeping me moving and getting me under the old course record. Looking forward to moving up again and having a blast doing it. Stay well man. Cheers, Mike