Hi squaddies! I was very grateful to run the Kepler trail this weekend. This is a race report of sorts, you may want to settle in with a cup of tea or electrolytes for the endurance read. I could write thousands more words on the tremendous spirit of the event, the dedicated volunteers, the organisers, the trail (views-terrain-atmosphere-nature), Fiordland, but I won’t for now. This is how my race rolled.
Aim was to have a cracking day out, enjoy a beautiful trail / experience, still be running 3 weeks after T50 / 9 weeks before T100, attack the hills.
Revised aims a couple days out noting a rough looking forecast. Keep it simple, stay safe, enjoy everything, finish and play with speed (in that order).
Time goals are for later. Like a geek I had my written out my goals with estimated splits on each aid station, had a map, had an elevation profile, and these were all tucked into my front vest pocket.
Nutrition would be gels and bananas and keeping it simple. Counted out my gels. Carried extra. Knew there’d be possibility of aid station food which would be a bonus.
Gear was all tried and true stuff. I was stoked with the mandatory gear list, just crammed it all into my tiny pack and knew I’d have what I needed up there should it all turn to crap. Had front pack bottles instead of a camelbak bladder simply for pack space. Last minute gear freak out on the morning had me stick with my trusty shorts, and the grippiest trail shoes I had with me.
Morning started with 4.15 wake up. Collected self and stuff together, very fortunate to be dropped at start line for the mandatory check in then 6am gun start. Seeded myself in with the 8 hour crowd, which looked to be mid pack ish. Friendly crowd and many cheerful volunteers. First 6km was pretty plush. Stunning. Bouncy trail. Starting heading uphill and I was maintaining a decent run effort on climbs. Checked pace carefully here and then hiked hard uphills instead. Steady running was giving me a 10:30 pace on the hard stuff; hiking was an 11:00 pace. Slowed down and tucked away the effort instead. At 9k we left the tree line to head out into the tops. Almost everyone stopped here to put on waterproof jackets before we got cold. Grateful for this! Ridgeline- boom! Very steady first hour.
Hour 1 – 2.
Hit the ridges. A bit of wind, incredible view over to Te Anau on one side and ranges on the other. Ranged from slightly sloping to flat to ups, runnable, maintained a steady grind wherever I could. This was head down stuff here. Foggy, windy, not too wet yet. Conservative but pushing uphill. Through both of these hours I’m taking in nutrition every 45 min like clockwork. Fluids. Was keeping an eye on pace but, eh. As long as I’m trucking uphill. Hit Luxmore Hutt at about 1:50 I think, and it was a total lift. Love those zoo animals at the themed aid station!
Hour 2 – 3.5.
More ridges. More climbing. It’s cool. I’m uphill at a steady climb but nothing fast and certainly not attacking hills like I might like to in sunshine. At some point I stop feeling my fingers. Decide to get gloves out at next aid station. Manage to put on one glove, and have to ask help from a friendly burly man with the other one, as well as him zipping up my backpack. My photos hit a black spot here because I don’t feel my fingers or my legs or my face for the next two hours. (I took 60 photos that day). The tiny needles of hail set in. I worry about the helicopters on the tops bringing in supplies. Runners stick together in trains of people which makes me feel safe. And warm. Or I’m imagining things. Shake my fist at the sky before seeing Lake Manapouri on our right. It’s beautiful. The beauty distracts me from my ankles bumping into each other from the cross winds, and the meanness of downhill steps. An optimism is already trickling through both on the day (this might end) and after (BEST DAY EVER).
Hour 3.5 to 4.
YES. Cruising beautiful downhill through thousands of zig zags. This is a dream. We’re warmer under the bush line and I think I can feel my fingers at some point again. My quads squeal. Sorry quads, good job. Almost trip a couple of times. I remember I haven’t eaten for a little while. Shake some sense into self and start thinking more carefully. I know I should be at Iris Burn on my half way point / goal, and I run in laughing at the red / green balloons and Santa + elves + fairies + all the joy. “Invest” precious minutes into said joy as well as getting rid of gloves / jacket, drinking, filling up bottles, eating, then get chased out of the damn place by sandflies.
Hour 4 – 5.
Feel fresh. Good. Warming up. Confused by my watch which says 27k and signs that say 30k but eh, we’re now halfway. I push on here and am surprised to see my pace at 5:30s.
I knew I had had a super conservative (lazy) first half. I knew I had lost some places in my changeover minutes at Irish Burn. For some motivation, and to keep up an OK pace, I decided to count as I reeled people in. I knew I had a little more in me on the flats and things felt good.
Hours 4 – 5 – 6 blended into one another in what became this sunny, warm, PLUSH (word of the day), ridiculously beautiful stretch of land. I thanked everyone. I felt physically lifted at aid stations. I was steady as. It was flat enough to run everything. I ate gels like a boring clockwork. Marvelled at the birds, the skies, the peaks, the trees, being here in these shoes.
(Sorry, on and on).
Hour 6 – 7
I got a heck of a surprise to see my husband running toward me. I’m known to hallucinate in seeing bears, cougars, lions, dogs, cats, on the trail after some miles so I wasn’t too sure on whether it was him. It was. He had parked at rainbow reach and chatted with me on the terrain ahead including bridges and a slip. I probably talked a whole lot of crap and enjoyed the company. He told me I looked fresh. I was grateful even if it wasn’t entirely true. More clocking of fast kilometres here, food, drink, do what you love. He leaves at Rainbow Reach with 9.6k to go.
I’m whirling round numbers at this point. I’m thinking about times and paces and goals and people overtaken. I shouldn’t. I try to push it to one side and enjoy the last stretch as much as I can. HOLY SHIT, it is amazing, please consider running the Kepler.
I overtake a couple of women here. They’re fast. I run scared hoping to keep in front of them. I start doing the countdown game. 7k is nothing – I can run 7k! Then 5k – a time trial or park run! I start hearing the commentator with 2.4k to go from the last water stop – that’s less than my usual walk home from work! I don’t get anything from the last couple of stations and blast through. Don’t do this. I drank half as much as I should have but was OK with the cold being what it was.
Something else happens the last couple of kilometres. It’s at speed and I can feel it within reach. I see two finish arches, aim for one with a bigger time (Kepler vs shorter Luxmore run) and trot in. This wonderful, wonderful woman holds me by my shoulders and congratulates me, looking right into my eyes and giving me my medal. A couple of boys offer me a drink and wordlessly take off my timing chip from my ankle. Chris is there – he’s only been on the finish line for two minutes. I was faster than he expected.
The counting overtaking thing?
I made up 70 places (10 women) over that last 30 or 33k and was not overtaken by one. I’m not sure if that tells me that if I played it too conservative early on but it was a day where I wanted to be safe. Tucking away that effort has been a slow learning for me. I have some work to do in what that looks like over the 100 for February. I had originally hoped for a 7 hour finish IF it had been optimal conditions, and alongside that in top 15 to 20 women. I revised that to “surviving” and a stretch goal of an 8 hour time. The three times I had written earlier in the week were 7:00, 7:30, 8:00. I came in with 7:28, inside the top twenty.
End note? We live in a spectacular place, and I am so grateful for the people out there that day who have created what they have, for us to be able to do what we love. Bit high on life really!