One would think that after years of races and running that I would be pretty experienced with nutrition and gear. This year’s Taupo Ultra was certainly not smooth running for me in more ways than one!
I was really excited to be running the 50km event this year and I felt that the HOKA Run Taupo Series over winter, along with a lot of mountain biking had put me in pretty great condition for a good race. On race morning I dutifully packed 5 GU Energy Gels, and a small amount of water in my bladder to get me through the kms between aid stations and headed off to the leisurely 10.00am start. The atmosphere at the start was awesome with over 300 athletes lining up for the 50km event on the Airstrip off Whangamata road. The music got us amped and to top it off, just before we started, we got to watch Nick Johnson – winner of the 100km, fly down the airstrip and head off into the distance. He made it look effortless and I hoped I would be running so freely after my 50km. Boy was I wrong...
I settled into a comfortable pace and enjoyed chatting to Ingrid who was running her first 50km. As it turned out I studied with her sister and would later meet her parents at the finish line who I had met a few times back in my University days. The sun shone and the cool air from the mountain made it perfect running weather. At all of the lookout points, Mt Ruapehu stood proudly at the end of the lake. What a place to be running, what a place to live!
I was feeling great at Kawakawa Bay and strong as I made the climb up and over to Kinloch. It was time for my second Gel, but when I reached into my pocket I could only feel one. I couldn’t believe it so pulled out my gloves, survival blanket and looked right into the bottom of the pocket. There was just one left. Bugger, they must have fallen out somehow. I decided to keep that Gel for a bit later and helped myself to a sandwich, banana and a handful of lollies at the next aid station.
Unfortunately, I didn't quite get through Kinloch before all of the 24km runners started. Although there is the mental boost of overtaking people for most of the way to the finish line, it is also pretty energy sapping overtaking and weaving your way through them.
I couldn't wait to reach the Headland loop as I knew there would be Coke and more food. By now, my quads were really starting to protest. My stride had shortened a lot and I was very stiff running downhill. My last Gel had also evaporated into thin air and I had no food left. Luckily, I still had plenty of water. Finally, I made it to the turn-off. I downed two cups of electrolyte drink and two of Coke – not ideal race nutrition! Off I ran, still wishing for the GU Gels I had packed the night before. I love the headland loop both for biking and running. It is just under 10km and has some stunning lookout points as well as beautiful bush and soft packed trail underfoot.
I only asked two people along the way if they had a spare Gel. I guess I was a bit embarrassed, but also thought I'd be able to get through. One guy only had one left so I told him not to worry as he would need it, the other was so very kind and gave me one of his. He warned me it was expired, but I was not in any position to complain! It may have been placebo but I did feel a bit better for a while. I got another placebo cure for about 2 minutes when I overtook the leading woman. She had passed me earlier at a great rate of knots and was I sure I'd never see her again. It didn't take long for my legs to protest again and I made my way down the hill to Whakaipo. The last 3km seemed to take forever, which was a complete contrast to two years ago when I flew down after running the 100km ultra. I shuffled my way down to the stile and painfully got over it with a few giggles and cries but knew I just had a few hundred metres to go. There was no way I could push any faster, my quads were like rocks and my adductor was about to cramp any minute. Geepers, what a run.
I think adventure racing makes you mentally tough, and that is what got me through this year’s 50km Ultra. I was reminded of what I already knew – nutrition is vital.
The top 4 women all finished within a few minutes of each other. I was lucky to come away with the win and love my Lava Glass medal. I had no idea who was coming behind me but am sure I would have been overtaken had it been much longer.
I will be adding some reinforcements to the pockets on my backpack and really hope I can be back at the Taupo Ultra next year – maybe I'll try the 74k