At this years Athletic New Zealand 100km Champs, hosted by the Sri Chinmoy Ultra Team, Barefoot Inc/ UltraSpire athlete Dawn Tuffery capped off an great summer of racing. Building on her success at the Kepler and Tarawera, Dawn won her 2nd ANZ 100km title, below is Dawn’s race report from the ANZ 100km champs, help again in Hagley Park, Christchurch.
I loved the hills and trails of Tarawera, so decided three weeks ago to do something entirely different – 50 x 2k at the Sri Chinmoy Ultra Trio, featuring the NZ 100k Championships. And the time had come.
My achilles issues had risen to the Tarawera occasion by laying low, but not vanishing. More details of that angst here. In the week before the 100k, I had a massage, and acupuncture session, and took the final four days completely off running. Perhaps the cocktail of rest, carbs and adrenaline would magically triumph again. I arrived in Christchurch Saturday and explored the loop at a slow walk, in some shoes I’d decided were the safest bet – moderate heel raise and structure, and padding for all that hard stuff. And still it hurt. Yargh! I was worried I’d have come all this way only to end with a bang and whimper around 20k.
Desperate measures were needed. Don’t do this at home, part one: At 5am I threw the shoes I’d previously picked under the bed and made some illogical intuition-based adjustments. My faded Santa-Run Mizuno Cursoris it would be – basically comfy pink zero-drop slippers. On the sorest side I put an old orthotic, and cut off part of an insole to give the other shoe a few mm raise. As I walked through the park in the dark, I offered my limbs a deal: hold together for just one day and I’d avoid ultras for a while. At least a couple of months..
‘Brothers in Arms’ came on my ipod and seemed right. I remember a moving earthquake news montage set to the song, which offered some perspective, and the title was also appropriate to the challenge ahead.
It was a still morning that seemed to get cooler as the sun rose. We gathered, chatted and shivered. At 7am they called for a moment of contemplation, and then set us off. I laughed at how intimate and relaxed it felt after the mammoth Tarawera start. It was great to be running with such a ultra-legendary bunch, many of whom I’d seen at the champs in 2010.
Russell Lake ran into the lead and stayed there. Defending women’s champion Shannon-Leigh Litt set out strongly, and held a big lead for some time. The rest of us settled in at points behind. I consciously held back, chatted to Val Muskett and enjoyed the early laps. Every 2k we’d come through the start again to much cheering and a distance update, buoyed for the next circuit. Despite not bringing any support crew with me, everyone became a support crew. It was brilliant.
I focussed on staying relaxed, but was still hitting the splits faster than intended. It was too easy to cruise and chat along the flat tree-lined path, and whoops, there goes another zippy one (don’t do this at home, part two). I liked the motivational quotes around the course, the stunning tree-lined avenues and the unusually literate graffitti (‘RIP JD Salinger’ was scrawled on a bunker). At least two people responded to ‘Hi, I’m Dawn,’ with ‘Yes, I saw you on TV.’ That’s a new one – the SKY Tarawera doco must be on high rotate. Vivian Cheng was rocking her trademark smile every single time I saw her, while making an 80k run five months after having a baby look easy.
Around 25k I passed Shannon-Leigh and mentally crossed off the first quarter. 25% down, 75% to go. You’ve got the lead now – just take it easy and keep plodding, advised Val. She’s a wise lady.
I was sort of taking it easy, but against my usual style, not enough so. The marathon mark came and went at 3.20, and the 50k at 4 hours. Faster than I’d intended but by now I was getting overly optimistic – everything’s going fine, and at this rate I might even make the world champs qualifying time…bonus. This plan came suddenly unstuck around the 62k mark. In the space of two laps, the legs got stubborn and my <5 minute ks became 6> min ks. It wasn’t a deadly seize-up, but dampened the pace. Concentrating on good tall form seemed to keep the quad cramping manageable.
This type of setup creates circles within circles as you pass people or go back and forth. I got to pick world-record holder Wayne’s brains on barefooting experience and strategies, and concluded I probably could have been fine with the FiveFingers on this course after all. However, the lopsided slippers seemed to be doing the trick. Nutrition was going reasonably well – pretty much VFuel gels, a bit of Hammer Perpetuem, and watermelon.
As the loopy loops headed toward single figures remaining, they got progressively tougher. The brain got dopier – there was one embarrassing moment where I got mixed up on a lap and queried the posted total. Small things become significant motivational markers – three more laps, and I’ll change my singlet/ have a drink/ nurse a gel.
It’s hard to put the last quarter of an ultra into words. There’s a blur of mind games and mantras, keeping the body teetering along a fragile line between collapse and decent forward progress. Everything is delicate. Everything is about here and now, and when you’ll finish running. There’s only 20k to go, but it’s going to be harder than the previous 80k. A dog jumped across the path and my leg spasmed in anticipation of tripping. The internal voice witters and whirrs.
Stop counting and run in the moment. Look at these beautiful trees. Keep moving forward.
Only 8 laps to go, 8 laps to go..
Oi, stop counting and self-transcend already.
Maybe I should have bought music after all.
When the going gets tough, the Tuffery gets going..?
This is one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life, I mused, with around 6k to go. I guess that’s what we all line up for.
The poin at which I was going to ‘speed up’ got postponed throughout. I’ll dig it in at 50k! The race starts at 80k. Well, 90k really. I could just sprint the last lap instead. Ok, the last 10 metres. Catch Bryan!, someone said once, but I just smiled – there was nothing extra left. Bryan had a great consistent run. I hope to be running like that in 30 years too.
Russell looked smooth and fast on his final laps, so I was inspired but seemed to have mislaid the sprint muscles. However, the finish finally arrived, with a PB time despite the decline: 8 hours and 42 minutes. I sat in a chair glowing for quite some time as the amazing team plied me with blankets and food. Watching other people finish was wonderful too. In the end, you’re more connected than competitive in this type of race, having all experienced something quite epic.
My slow lurch to the hostel once I’d seized up was quite epic too, in its own way. Shannon-Leigh kindly gave me a ride back to the prizegiving, which was highly appreciated as my legs had decided they were done for the day. She’d had some injury issues but finished solidly, and will hopefully be back strong soon. After the trophies, the organising team produced a delicious hot vegetarian meal complete with chai and dessert. To anyone tempted by this event, I heartily recommend it. They look after you in style.
Reading the cup, my run was the first sub-9 hour time since 1999 (8.06 by Winnie Cosgrove in Marlborough, phew) so I’ll take that. I think I could have a good crack at that Worlds mark, but that should come with more experience and training.
I particularly appreciated the support from Athletics Waikato/Bay of Plenty and my fabulous club Hamilton City Hawks. Plus of course family, friends and coach – without witnessing that specially choreographed ‘bum dance’, I might have stalled at 90k or something. The post-run support has been goosebumps-good and I’m really grateful for all the well-wishes and congratulations. Next move is keeping my promise to rest, and cheering on friends this weekend.
Results here > http://nz.srichinmoyraces.org/chch100k2014
My blog, Running Tuff > http://runningtuff.wordpress.com/