We were running through the single track bush in the first few km’s of the race and I told the guy behind me to just let me know if he wanted to pass before the trail opened up, and he said he was fine and asked what time was I hoping to do? …time?? I thought … I was just stoked to be out there running!!
The T42-24km was a race I had raced and won 2 years ago and was actually where I was first introduced to Hoka One One shoes and brought my first pair to try out. So I thought it was fitting that it was my first race back after the birth of my first son.
The road back into shape has been quite a roller coaster of a journey for me. I have never been this out of shape before and my body just felt so weak and foreign to me after his birth. The concept of having to start from so far away from where I used to be and from where I wanted to be was quite overwhelming and despite trying to be very careful and smart about rebuilding, with very little sleep and hours of sitting around breastfeeding, I ended up having a few issues with my back and knees that have made the process even slower then I imagined it would be.
However thanks to some great bodywork and support from the fantastic team at Sportslab and Dr Bill at Real Health, I have managed to get the body going again and feel like I am starting to make some progress with regaining my full fitness and strength again.
I wasn’t sure if I would be up for a race at this stage but when the opportunity arrived to do the race I jumped at the chance, and despite not feeling as race ready as I would like to be I was super excited at the prospect of just getting out there and doing what I love again.
In the weeks leading up to the race, I was so excited about getting to do something adventurous and competitive again. The race would be quite a bit further than anything I had managed to run in training yet, and due to the difficultness of the terrain a good hour or more longer then I had run in a about 10 months so I knew it would be tough, and that I would be a bit wrecked after it but if I paced myself I definitely knew I had a whole new element of mental strength since the birth of my son! And so was keen to just tough it out.
The excitement started to waiver a bit about 3am Friday morning when I was up yet again trying to settle my son Noah. I had been up a large majority of the night already, and it wasn’t looking like things were going to change much before sunrise. The little guy isn’t a great night sleeper and they can be tough and tonight he was really struggling and I presume the pesky teeth were starting to bother him again.
The athlete inside me was mulling over the whole concept of the theory that its the sleep two nights before the race that is the important one and never to worry if you can’t sleep the night before … and I was wondering to myself… mmmm, what if you just don’t really get to sleep any nights before the race…
It had been a mission trying to pack everything the day before and I was beginning to wonder what I was thinking wanting to do this race…there is no way I can compete feeling this wrecked!!
But we had it all organised and I tried to rally myself with a positive attitude and remember just how excited I had been about this race for the last few weeks. I just needed to get out there and do it regardless of what state I was in.
Come morning and a big coffee… the enthusiasm returned and we all managed to pack up and set off to National Park. The little guy is a pretty good traveller and to be honest getting to sit in the car and rest and sleep felt like a day off!
The night before was hugely focused on getting Noah settled and ensuring he slept as well as he could so I could get as much sleep as I could. The pre-race evenings are definitely not how they used to be but hey nothing is like it used to be!!
The following day's logistics also had to be sorted out, as not only did I have to get myself ready to race, Noah had to be organized and breast milk feeds and solid feeds and timings of sleeps all needed to be planned in as well. My nutrition as well as Noah’s, and so on and so on!!! So, to be honest, there wasn’t much headspace left to be nervous, (especially when you're breastfeeding 20mins before the race starts!) When the gun went off it was a relief to be running off into the stunning native bush and on an adventure…. It was the first time in 7months that I had had the whole morning off… that’s an achievement in its self!
I took off at the gun with the first group of guys, but I really didn’t know how far the fitness I had regained would last so my goal was to go as hard as I could but to pace myself so that I wasn’t completely spent before we hit all the hills!
This race is run through some of NZ’s most beautiful native bush and is such a
special place to run. But sticking to its true kiwi routes it is a very challenging course! As we headed off, into the first part of bush tracks, I found myself starting to worry about Noah and I lost focus on what I was doing and then suddenly I was brought back to reality with a sharp pain and a rollover on the left ankle! Oh, bugger, thankfully I managed to catch myself and stay upright but as I gingerly tried to keep running I knew that If I rolled the ankle again that would be it, so I had to ease off a bit and concentrate and let it settle before I could push hard again.
I guess that’s a new Mum worrying for you!!
I made it through the first part of native bush track and over the river and then the climbing began. I remember thinking how much better I had felt at this part of the race last time, and then just having to shrug that off and focus on just doing the best I could with what I had. It’s about 3-4km of gravel road climbing and then a sharp right into a very steep rugged 1km 4WDrive climb to the plateau. It reminds me of the concrete monster in the Waitaks and after a solid block of climbing already its tough! The lungs were burning and the legs complaining, and I felt like I was barely making snails pace but I just put my head down and pushed till the top and just had to trust that I would still have something left for the 8km loop of mud, clay, water and cutty grass at the top.
True to form the clay was thick and slippery, the puddles knee to waist deep and it was a bit of a hard slog around the loop. At one point I passed a group of dirt bikers that had passed us earlier on the gravel climb and covered us in their petrol exhaust fumes. They were now stuck in the clay on a steep hill, needless to say, it was rather nice to pass them now even if I was reduced to my hands and knees crawling at that point!
Thankfully there were a few other runners around and so for a lot of the loop I was either running with someone or could hear them behind or see them in front, which made a big difference as in the parts by yourself, it can feel very isolated and super quiet in the middle of nowhere in the mud and slush.
I had to be conservative through this part to make sure I got through with the ankle still intact and it was a huge relief to finally run through into the clearing and start the descent back to the finish.
With the 8km left to run being largely downhill, I knew that whatever state my legs and lungs were in I could just tough it out to the finish and I did, which was awesome… the only thing that I forgot was just how long and just how steep the last hill back to the finish was and yes it was tough!! But as I made it to the top and the last 500m into the finish with both lungs and legs burning (and a chest full of breast milk!) I was so excited to have managed the race. The endorphins were running and the smile glowing. It’s been so long since I have raced and so long since I have felt much of anything from my pre-baby life that it was just such a high to have done the race.
The excitement and challenge of racing were all there just as I remembered, but the cool thing about this race was just how excited I was to get back to the finish and to see Noah and tell him about my adventure and share it with him.
So my first race back as a new Mum…. Hurt big time, but extra special on so
Hannah Lawrence wore Hoka One One Challenger ATR 3
See more from Hannah HERE>>
We chatted to Caitlin about how they make their relationship work around their heavy training loads and transient race schedules.