How did I end up on a stage in front of some of the fastest and most inspirational world long distance runners?
On Sunday the 10th of February, while we were still welcoming back to reality the most dedicated and passionate runners finishing 100 miles (yes over 160kms) in about 30 hours’ time, I had the privilege of being invited on the stage of the prize giving ceremony of Tarawera Ultramarathon with the top 5 finishers of the 50k race. The podium was composed of athletes who made their classes in various disciplines like Ironman, Multisport Adventure races (ever heard of Coast2Coast?), Orienteering and obviously trail running.
50k and 1450m of elevation later, I came 4th in 4h41m43s, well under my initial sub-five hours target with in mind to get as close as I could to 4h45 if the legs felt good – I knew that it would be more of a battle with my body to maintain the effort and my mind to push through rather than a race against anyone – and it’s EXACTLY what’s happened.
After 5 years in Sydney, 4 years of trip preparation, becoming Permanent Resident, Kitesurf Instructor and save money, I decided to hit the road with TCH00P my Landcruiser Troopcarier and travel anticlockwise around Australia by the paths less travelled.
One of the objectives of the trip was to share Adventures with friends – kitesurfing, running and simply exploring remote Australia. About 15 people came along from July-18 to February-19. Stephan flew over from France early January for one hell of a month. One more adventure together after Kitesurfing Morocco (2011) and Oman (2013) and Trekking to Annapurna Base Camp (2018).
Stephan just turned 30 (this week ) and he told me that 10 years after his first and only marathon, he was looking for a new challenge. Tarawera was the perfect opportunity to discover New Zealand and run his first Ultra in paradise.
The plan was ON – we reunited in Perth with the ambition to kitesurf and run while following the south coast to Adelaide. I established a training plan for the both of us and we ran about 350k in 5 weeks across the Stirlings Range, Albany, Cape Legrand, Port Lincoln and the Flinders Ranges before flying to Sydney and Auckland on our way to Rotorua.
Tarawera is my 3rd race on the distance, after UTA50 in May 2018 and Feral Pig 50 in November. I was hoping to validate the past 6 months preparation work leading into Motatapu early March (another 50k but a lot more technical in the mountains of NZ South Island).
- 20k / 794m D+
- 50k / 1,833m D+ (actually more about 1,450m D+)
- 100k / 3,089m D+
- 100Miles / 5,132m D+
The 102k race is part of the Ultra Trail World Tour and attracted many of the top runners international runners (Courtney Dauwalter, Cody Reed, Ryan Sandes and many other)
The Race start was across Lake Tarawera. Our time was recorded with a chip once crossing the line like a time trial. Due to a bit of congestion my start time was initially postponed by 1 hour so I went back to the hotel spinning the legs super easy on a bike at the gym to activate my body, eat more food then nap for 17 minutes.
Finally, we got on the bus and arrived at the jetty. We waited for another 40 minutes so I took a nap under a beautiful oak tree.
I jumped on the boat, enjoyed the scenic cruise, chatted with a few people including runners from New Caledonia and we reached our final destination.
A pontoon was leading to the start in the middle of a lush green forrest where the single track started.
This is it…GOOOO!
12:40 – Start line – Tarawera Lake
It was getting warm, about 25 degrees but most of the run was in the forest. My plan for the first 15k was simply to get into my race, maintain a good hydration and eat – cliff blocks a bit like gummy bears containing sugar (a lot), caffein and sodium (I stopped drinking coffee two weeks ahead of the race to enhance the effect of caffein) and a cliff bar – the only solid food I had the whole time. I felt good, the terrain was a bit more undulating than expected but with very few long hills, I could run all the way.
7k – I roll my right ankle – I hate myself at this moment as it’s usually due to a lack of concentration – no drama, mild pain, I keep running and the pain fades away. As we run alongside lake Tarawera, I pass many runners and walkers, all extremely supportive and making room as they heard me coming and saying “on your right” – anytime I could breath well enough I encouraged them too.
12k – Roll #2 of the right ankle – very similar pain to the first one so I keep going.
14:05 – Buried Village – 15.6k / 1h25 – Avg. section pace 5:28min/k
I arrive fresh at the first aid station – refill my two flasks (I’m only carrying one litter in a belt) – drink electrolytes and keep going. I wish I could stay longer to enjoy the scones and all sorts of treats – it was packed with people supporting us including the Frenchies waiting for their runners who were saying “Allé Bastien !!!” – Having your name and flag on the bib is great!
Obviously my pace improved by 30 seconds with the excitement.
We reached the edge of another lake – Green Lake – and a road section, I always tell myself that when it’s flat and easy, there is no reason to be slow so I pushed the pace to about 4:30min/km to anticipate for slower, more technical sections, the next KM was uphill but still road so I maintained the pace until I reached some fire trails – nice and smooth.
18k – Roll #3 of the right ankle – I keep running, limping for 100m, slow down, and accept that this is way too painful for now to even stand on my legs let alone walk or run. I’m sitting on the side of the trail, getting passed by runners I just overtook who kindly asked if they could help. I was shaking both my head and my right foot, swearing. It couldn’t be it…so much hard work, so many people involved and a story that repeats itself, once again no matter how much proprioception I do. I stayed there a couple of minutes, the pain eased and while spectators (we were close to the road) started to come and offer support, I stood up, walked 10 meters, checked which movements were the least painful and then started running again – pain WILL GO AWAY – I just need to be patient and super careful now.
I’m only 12k away from the next aid station, the terrain is rather hilly but with an even ground, I’m 100% focused on my steps but my body starts to shutdown – my legs are running but my head is asking for sleep, exactly the way I feel when driving too late at night – I keep pushing and eating / drinking – I wondered if I should take a nap but it’s a lot of time – sleep WILL GO AWAY.
15:27 – Green Lake – 29.7k / 2h47
I reach the aid station in a pretty poor shape, grab a chair to sit while I refill my flasks, drink and go again – I never stay more than 1 minute at the aid station but this one felt long.
I’m running again, in zombie mode, I keep pushing food and water down my throat. The only thing in my mind is to reach the next aid station in 7k mitigating pain. Luckily this section is quite rolling as well with enough space to overtake other runners without taking risks.
16:09 – Blue Lake – 36.5k / 3h29 – Avg. section pace 5:56min/k
After almost two hours fighting with my body, my energy and lucidity are back. I’ve lost a lot of time, so it’s time to come back. My pace on flat sections now varies from 4:10 to 4:30min/k, legs feel good and I run all the hills except a set of steep stairs. I dropped the belt with my flasks, go pro and extra food at the drop bag to only carry one flask in my t-shirt and three gels in my shorts. Feeling light and free to move improved the sensation of power a lot. By the way I actually think that the belt impaired my lower lungs breathing ability too much – I won’t use it again.
I knew that the next aid station was just on the other side of the hill with a couple of smooth uphills, a few stairs and a 2 to 3k downhill. I was now on track to be sub 4h45min and I really wanted to stick to it. It also meant that I would have to cover the last 5k under 4:30min/k – but I was mentally ready.
16:59 – Redwoods – 45.7k / 4h19 – Avg. section pace 5:28min/km
Down the hill, I recognized the section I checked the day before with Steph. I knew that those 5k could make the difference one way or another and I had to forget about the pain and give it all until I crossed the finish line.
I flew through the aid station, refilled 250ml of hydralites and set the pace at 4:10 – 4:20min/k.
I never experienced having so many people supporting me, for about 100m I could feel the energy of spectators clapping and shouting. The last 5ks were flat, we exited the single track in the redwoods forest and joined the sulphur flats trails in the open (photo below). Every road crossing was packed with people supporting the race – I was really focused on breathing so I responded to the mountain of support with signs and smiles 🙂
I decided to stop looking at my watch and just keep the pace as fast as my heart could go. From the other side of the lake, I saw the museum and the Energy Event Centre where the finish line was installed. I knew every step of the last section and 1km from the finish I decided to enjoy the moment, where the pain is at its maximum but the reward is really close. All my friends were waiting for me, Katie and Shae behind the fence, then Wayne and Stephan past the line. I clapped the girls hands three meters from the line and as usual, crossed the line and sat down.
17:21 – Finish Rotorua – 50.7k / 4h41m43s – Avg. section pace 4:22min/km
I couldn’t believe my time and it was at my biggest surprise, a few minutes later that Katie told me “you are 3rd” which became 4th as one time was missing but TOP 5!!!
When Steph came to congratulate me…the first thing I asked him…How long did it take you? 5h53 coach…and a Top 50 out fo 718 finishers…now I’m really happy we both performed better than we expected…our work paid and it’s a big validation of my training philosophy (which is pretty much a constant trial version this year but I will land on something)
I couldn’t tell how much time I’ve lost because of my ankle, a race is a race and events are part of the adventure, at least I didn’t get lost this time and I’ve learned one thing…the body adapts to almost everything just give him the time and believe in it!
Obviously while I went on the stage on my own to receive a wood medal and a hand shake from the race director in front of hundreds of runners, support crew, staff, volunteers…I would have needed the whole stage to share it with all the persons who have supported me over the past 10 months that I’ve started running again. From Australia, New Zealand, France or Spain, runners or not…you are my best sponsors, the ones that give me ENERGY!
I’m now back to Sydney where I’m working until end of March as an independent management consultant for a fashion retail company.
10th of March – MACPAC Motatapu – 52k / 2,750m D+
Then I will be back to France in April and May – running, skiing, mountain biking AND catching up with my family and friends…more about races and adventures soon…
TOP 5 – Check them out
#1 – Gene Beveridge – 4h18m01s – Trail Runner and Orienteer
#2 – Sam Clark – 4h30m19s – 3 X Coast2Coast winner and Multisport World Champion
#3 – Vlad Ixel – 4h30m42s – The North Face athlete / Elite Runner and Triathlete
#5 – Darren Ashmore – 4h42m43s – Team Altra NZ and lucky local of the stage