The Kepler Challenge- My Way

Over the years I have written this for several people in several forms usually tailored to some degree depending on who is asking for advice on running the Kepler Challenge.

matt-bixley (1)

Matt approaching the Hanging Valley Shealter

In 2004 I ran my first on the alternate course (Luxmore/Moturau out and backs). I ran 7:29 and came 224th out of 386 Finishers. I ran my fastest (so far) in 2011 when I managed 10th place with 5:50. My first run was from a Fatty (I have lost nearly 20kg) to starter in 7 months, I did 3 long runs, 2 of them were half marathons and the 3rd was 22km. My 1st Kepler hurt, as did my 2nd, 3rd ……. and so on. I have run it the week after racing the Heaphy 50 mile, I have run it 2 weeks after the World Rogaine Championships (24 hours), that one really hurt. I have run it with 8 weeks training on an MTB due to a stress fracture, it broke/unzipped again just after Rainbow Reach, now that hurts.  I have run it averaging 135km/week and 0km/week. This will be my 10th race and 13th lap. In all those years and variations in preparation, one thing has remained constant. Getting to the start line is the hard bit, finishing is easy.

Start to Brod Bay ~6km
If you can’t run a half marathon in under 90 minutes there had better be at least 50 people standing in front of you at the start. If you don’t think you can win, you’d better let at least 2 rows of people be in front because they are going to run 4:00min k’s for the next 20 minutes. The track goes from 8 wide to 2 wide within 100m, being too far back is a blessing in disguise. Whilst it might be frustrating, the 2 minutes it costs you getting to Brod Bay will almost certainly save you 30 minutes at the end of the day.
If it feels comfortable and easy, stick with that.
Grab a drink and a snack at Brod Bay

Brod Bay to Luxmore Hut ~8km
None of you are Jono Wyatt. Therefore don’t expect to run uphill for 8km like he can.
edit: OK turns out one reader is actually Jono Wyatt, feel free to run up the hill like Jono then.
WALK. Even when I finished 10th, there was walking, not much, but it was there. Walking is less taxing on your legs, it gives your running legs a break and when you can run, it will be faster. Anyone planning on taking 7-8 hours should be walking at least 50% of the hill. Anyone taking 8+ should be walking ALL of it. I don’t care what your mate/coach/ego says. The bigger picture is how much you can run in the last 20k, not the first 20.

Three quarters of the way up the climb you get to the bluffs, if you don’t understand what that means, you’ll find out. Not long after that you break out of the bush, it flattens off and there is a quick sprint to Luxmore Hut 2km away. IT WILL BE COLD.
Eat/Drink at the Bluffs if you’ve forgotten to already. Do the same at Luxmore Hut.
If it feels comfortable and easy, stick with that.


Above Luxmore Hut

Above Luxmore Hut

Luxmore Hut – Forest Burn Shelter ~6km

A trick for novices is they think they’ve got the climbing done. There is another 400m+ to climb followed by a descent to Forest Burn. You almost certainly need to have put on your Jacket or Long Sleeve top Hat and gloves. If you haven’t, I think you’re stupid and you’re burning needless energy trying to keep warm and probably forgetting to take in fluids and food as well. In my time I have seen snow and temps of minus 5 through to Gale Force head winds. The warmest as probably been 10 degrees. I think I have run the alpine section only once without a long top on. WALK UPHILL
If it feels comfortable and easy, stick with that.

Forest Burn – Hanging Valley ~4km
More climbing and descending, very short section. A key point is to make sure you refuel well at Hanging Valley as the downhill puts less stress on your gut and allows it to digest food well in preparation for the 2nd half.
If it feels comfortable and easy, stick with that.

Hanging Valley – Iris Burn Hut (24) ~6km
A friend once walked this in reverse and counted 87 corners/switch backs. So on the descent you have to slow down, brake and accelerate about 87 times. That can be very taxing on the quads and could be costly if you’re not prepared for it. Be as efficient as you possibly can.
Refuel as much as you dare, jog to the base of the short climb, walk to help relax and digest your fuel.
If it feels comfortable and easy, stick with that, because you’re running out of time for feeling comfortable.

Iris Burn (24) – Rocky Point (75) ~9km
From the top of the terminal moraine it’s now downhill all the way to Rocky Point on some excellent very fast trails. If you’ve been looking at your surroundings you will have noticed little pink triangles starting at the Bush Line above Iris Burn. They are numbered and sequentially increasing, they are placed almost exactly 200m apart. Iris Burn Hut is #24. Use them to judge when to have some food and drink or just to help pass the time between checkpoints.
If it feels comfortable and easy, stick with that, because you’re pacing it right. Those who are hurting have already got it wrong.

kepler_map-lrgRocky Point (75) – Moturau Hut (113) ~9km
Some short rises, mostly flat, now it hurts and you’ll be wishing you knew where Moturau was. This is traditionally the section where multiple winner and perennial placer and all round good guy Martin Lukes would start to think about working hard and trying to win. It is no different for the rest of the field. You need to work out how to get past Rocky Point and preferably Moturau before it gets ugly and uncomfortable. Hence – If it feels comfortable and easy, stick with that. The hating yourself, promising never to do this again thoughts and feelings will come all by themselves. In the first 40+ kilometres you don’t need to encourage them by pushing too hard. After freezing over the tops, it might now be 25 degrees for some people.

Moturau (113) to Rainbow Reach (144) ~6km
Undulating and fast. If you’ve been running “comfortable and easy” you will now start passing a lot of people. Feel good about yourself, suck energy from them, your plan is better than theirs, do whatever it takes to stop that happening to you. Karma is a bitch though and some of them will come right and kick your arse when you go through a bad patch. Be cunning, stash a bottle of flat coke behind a tree near Rainbow Reach the day before. If you are struggling, set goals, run 2 walk 1 of the pink trap markers. Or just simply walk 1km and refuel. If it is your gut upsetting you it is most likely stressed, so slow down and let it relax.

Rainbow Reach – 5km Water Stop ~5km
Sorry, no more pink triangles facing you, they are all numbered going the other way. So count minutes. It will/should take slightly less time to get to the 5km station than it did to get from Moturau to Rainbow Reach.

5km – 2km ~3km (I’m good at maths)
With luck adrenaline will start to kick in, the hurting will dissipate and you will start to love yourself again.

2km – Finish ~2km (I really am good at Maths)
Run and run hard, you can smash a lot of people who are barely moving. You will feel good about that, even if you are 364th at the time. Hopefully your legs and feet are now numb and you won’t feel the damage you are doing to yourself.

Hugs for the family, have a little cry (I HAVE), don’t do anything stupid like say you’ll never do it again as you will renege on that before Wednesday.

Gear and Practicalities
Use the gear that you think you will get the best value for money from. If this is a one off, beg steal and borrow the best and lightest you can get.

Wear the shoes that are comfortable on YOUR feet not someone else’s. An athlete sponsored by a particular brand is in no position to recommend a particular shoe. At best they should give advice on the tread/sole and what they might use in certain conditions. You’re an idiot if you take their advice and don’t try on something similar from another brand. Go to the Shoe Clinic or Frontrunner and talk to the owner, run on the treadmill, talk to them about your experience and what sort of running you like to do and the type of shoes you think you’d like. I have run the Kepler in big bulky trail shoes and road racing flats. If it’s wet I’ll run with more grip, if it’s dry, then the lightest shoe I can get away with.

Wear something that allows access to Food without having to take it off. My preference is a pack with bottle holders in the front. You need to be able to compress the pack so that things don’t bounce around. I don’t like bladders as you can’t tell how much you’ve had to drink and a 2L bladder is just bloody heavy, especially if you refill it at Iris Burn.

For me it’s a combination of Bananas and Jelly beans from the aid station topped up with a small supply of gels, mini-moros and jelly snakes. For an 8 hour runner, the longest gap between aid stations is 75 minutes. That is the climb to Luxmore and the 1st two sections after Iris Burn. Adjust accordingly. I take a cup of both Water and Leppin at EVERY aid station and walk out drinking them. This means not having to carry more than one bottle with 500ml for the entire day.

GPS – leave it at home, it’s wrong. 20 Measurements with various devices last year had a range from 56 to 63km. The only thing it will tell you is the time. The course has been officially wheeled at 61.3km, that’s wrong too.

Ipod – leave that at home too. Enjoy your surroundings and talk to your new friends. They are going to help you finish.

3B or Vaseline, there are others but 3B is my go to for 24 hour races. Vaseline is good if the chafe has already started. Use liberally before the start and get it right into those places that you don’t want to mention. WASH YOUR HANDS. Boys – the race can get exciting so tape your nipples. Lycra – learn to love it. Unless you are very experienced, if it rains and your shorts get wet, they will lose all their softness. The stitching in the seams swells with water and rubs hell out of your inner-thighs. Vaseline will not fix that problem. For ball chafing, use a sanitary pad. No I am not kidding; I’ve done it several times. If you run far enough, you learn to leave your ego behind and do whatever it takes to keep going (editors note- we don’t advise leading out your “lube” of choice).

My Gear
Shoes – Salmon Sense
Pack – Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra
Jacket – Montane Lite-Speed (discontinued- Minimus Smock is replacement)
Pants – Montbell Peak Shell (discontinued- BCR recommends the Montane Minimus Pants)
Thermals – Standard Polypro (rolled and taped up)

Grants 2 cents on gear- what ever you are carrying- the lightest or heaviest gear around, it is important to pack it smartly. There is a gear check at the Luxmore Hut, where you have to show all your compulsory gear. Two things you don’t want to do- completely unpack your bag, or hand your bag over for the volunteers to go through. Both of these will result in you having to re-pack your bag and this takes time. I pack my bag by stuffing each item in the pack so there is a pant leg, or arm of the thermal hanging out. Then I rubber band the pant legs, or top’s arms together. This way all I need to show is a small bundle (naming each of the items)- this way you get through the Luxmore check point in 30sec- not 3mins! If you want to see this pre Kepler, come along to the BCR/Ultimate Direction Pre Kepler group run at the Control Gates, 5pm on Thursday December 5th before the Kepler.

FINAL PREPARATION, STAYING POSITIVE- Well worth a read is this story we published last year, written by 6x Kepler winner Russell Hurring.

About Mouth of the South

Matt Bixley has written 24 .

Outspoken and opinionated- which is great cause we never have to guess what is on his mind. “The Mouth of the South” started his love of trail running with a 8hr+ Kepler in 2004. Since then he has run 220+km in 24hr while representing New Zealand and now has 5hr50, top 10 finish to his name. You can follow him HERE on his personal blog

6 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. Some good tips here.

  2. Cheers Matt for sharing such great information and an overview of the course. For a rookie like myself (half marathons being my longest race, did a 51k-er in training though) its information like this that really helps and is confidence boosting. Awesome!!!!!!!

  3. All good Matt. Have a great day.

  4. Thank you very much! This is my first Kepler and my longest distance :O. I’m very nervous.

  5. Cheers for the article Matt. Used it to pace myself at the weekend and it worked out exactly as you’d said. I was moving up the field steadily from iris burn onwards and not getting passed

    • That’s great. I was unable to follow my own advice. Was uncomfortable all day even though I was very slow to Iris Burn, I still went backwards. Oh Well. Next Year.

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