It also seemed like the right time in my running career to be having a shot at the 100mile distance. I had started running in my late 40s (about 14 years ago) with the Christchurch 1/2 marathon and had been steadily improving over that time. I had clocked up quite a few marathons and had done the 100km distance 4 times so it was only natural to want to step up to the next challenge
I had allowed for a 9 week buildup in which time I stepped up my training volume to peak with a 160km week and a few weeks of about 140km. 4 weeks out I caught a heavy cold and I noticed that I was losing weight as well. A couple of people even asked me if I was ok as I looked so thin. After a good taper in the last 3 weeks I felt I had done all I could and it was now just a matter of rocking up to the start and getting the job done. Funnily enough I wasn't nervous like I normally am before a race - probably because this was going to be long and slow and so lacking the intensity of shorter events.
A cold southerley front had swept up the island during the week but luckily the snow stayed away in the nearby hills and race day was fine and warm but with the prospect of a good frost overnight. Not so bad for the runners but certainly a factor for the supporters and officials who would have to wrap up very warm once darkness came. Race start was at midday on Friday which allowed for a leisurely breakfast and time to set up a table for food and drinks. I realised that a lot of other people were super organised with tents and gazeebos and these would have been essential if the weather had turned bad. Note to self for next time - bring some form of shelter!
Midday came and without any fuss the countdown was on and we were off. I settled into a steady pace of just under 6min Ks and was careful not to get drawn into keeping up with anyone. I knew that Marty Lukes was most likely going to win and lap me a couple of times in the process but other than Marty I wasn't sure who was going to fill the next few places. I thought that if I had a good day then I should be fairly near the front of the field.
The course was a bit rough underfoot this year due to recent earthworks on the water race and so there were some muddy and slippery areas which needed nimble feet but otherwise conditions were great. The first few laps went by quickly with the marathon 42km coming up in 4hrs and 5min. I knew that this was only a quarter of the distance and tried to think of it as the "warmup" before the race really started. On the next lap as I came past the tents I saw that Andi had her running gear on and she then proceded to slot in and run with me. Now this was someone who had had foot surgery 3 months ago and to my knowledge had not been running since. Sure she had been on the bike and in the pool but she had also been doing some early morning runs when I thought they were only walks! After my initial double take it was around again with some company this time.
The club I run with is the Chch Marathon Clinic and we had a good group of down for the weekend but the rest were all starting the next morning in either the 50km or the 80km distances. Despite this they all came down to see how I was going before heading off for some pre-race dinner. Bryan McCorkindale offered to run 5km with me even though he would be doing the 80km in just a few hrs. By this stage I am still running all the hills on the course and in his own quiet way, Bryan suggests that I would be hardly any slower to walk these and would save the legs. Now Bryan is someone who I really respect as an ultra runner and I made a mental note to do as he suggested the next lap.
By now I had done 60km in 5hrs 51 and all was well with the world. The sun was going down and I was about to step into the unknown, running through the night. I had done this about 10years ago in a 24 hr adventure race but that was more walking and navigating. I grabbed my headlight and Tim's i-pod and set off for 12 hours in the dark - and I mean pitch black darkness. In the end this was not as lonely as I had feared because one of our running club members (Mark Mulqueen) offered to stay up all night to keep an eye on me and help in any way he could. Wow! Mark had done the 100km himself a couple of years earlier and so he knew some of the issues I might face.
The 100km mark arrived just before 11pm. During the night the frost had been steadily turning the ground white and it had also had the benefit of freezing the muddy sections so that the underfoot conditions had improved. It was nice to hear the sounds of croaking frogs as we went around the lake edge and always good to see the lights of the tents each lap. By now things had become harder. The legs were getting tired and I was definitely slowing down. Even running the downhills was hurting the quads and I was becoming aware of pressure on a big toenail. On top of this my stomach had become queasy from the Perpetuem and Heed I had been drinking. At about 10pm I had asked Andi to dilute these drinks by 50% as I thought that would help. In the end I hardly touched these again as I realised that the organisers had a wonderful assortment of treats. I started with potatoes dipped in salt and the fruit loaf went down well too. Clearly the body was craving some real food and my tummy settled pretty quickly.
Another milestone passed at 1.00am with 115km ticking over. This was the longest I had previously run and it was quite exciting to have gone over this knowing that I was hurting but not badly. By now I was looking forward to having Tim join me at 2.00am but just on the lap before I felt my sore toenail come loose, or that's how it felt. When I got to the tents I sat down for the first time in the race and took off my shoe to have a look. Bad idea. There was a big blister under the toenail which had burst and the nail had separated at the base. Nothing to do but get Mark and Tim to tape it up and pretend I hadn't seen it. It wasn't really a problem after this although I took 2 paracetamol at this point.
Before long the sky was lightening and I was heading into the last lap. I had spent the last few laps content to coast along, walking the steep little hills and running the rest and had decided that there was no point speeding up in the last lap or two. That attitude changed (thankfully) when Mark pointed out the runner just ahead of me who was walking. That was all I needed to do what I should have done earlier and was pick up the pace and feel like I was racing again. It is very easy to let the mind convince you to slow down when you are capable of more! I passed Wayne Baxter with purpose and kept up the pace, revelling in the feeling of running quicker and feeling strong. The finish line arrived at 7.26am, 19hrs and 26 minutes after I started and Andi,Nick,Tim and Mark were there to share the moment with me. I ended up in 4th place (5th overall).
7.30am is a great time to finish a race. I didn't waste much time before I headed back for a soak in a nice warm shower and a leisurely breakfast. Despite rapidly stiffening legs I wanted to head back to the race venue where all the other runners were hard at it, some still doing the 100mile and a lot doing shorter races.
After a quick massage It was a joy to sit down and cheer on the other Marathon Clinic members. The day had dawned warm and clear and it was a great atmosphere with a constant stream of runners, some very fast and some very slow. I really felt for those who still had 4 or 5 laps to go on the 100miler and tried to give an encouraging word.
One thing that surprised me was that I had felt no signs of sleepiness during the night. I had fully expected to have a sleepy patch but it never happened. The other was that at no point did I go into some deep dark place because of the 160km distance covered. Despite my longest training run being only 50km I finished with the feeling that the distance was more doable than I had imagined and I really do understand now when people say that the human body is capable of much more that we imagine if only we are willing to take it there and find out.
Many thanks to Eileen and Jamie for putting together an amazing event and to all my support crew. I think it is time for a rest now before deciding on the next challenge