51km's from Wanaka to Arrowtown

Motatapu Ultra Marathon was my second ultra run after running in The Kepler Challenge last year (60km).

I was nervous for this run as in order to get that ‘runners high’ at the end I have to be able to reach a goal or get a result I really believe is a good achievement. My goal race time was between 10-11hrs – ideally hoping for closer to 10 hours. It’s hard to predict a goal time when running over the mountains.

Race Start 6am - Glendu Bay

The race started at Glendu Bay at 6 am and I had the pleasure of starting with two of my housemates and a few other friends who were also competing in the race.

It was dark at the start so head torches were required, I tried to get a reasonable start to avoid getting totally stuck and caught up in the crowds on the narrow trail out to the first hut.

It took me a while to settle into the run, my head torch wasn’t bright enough for such a technical trail and I found myself having to concentrate so hard to be able to find my footing. Having rolled my ankle on this track before I wanted to be extra careful. As a result, as there were so many people around if I ended up at the front of a group I would drop back and follow someone which made it a lot easier to see.

I had really tight calves for the first 10-12km I’m not sure what the cause of this was. Was it the compression socks I hadn’t been wearing very often, was it the early morning and not warming up enough? This bothered me for a while but I soon forgot about it and they came right.

First Hut - Fern Burn

Fern Burn hut (9km) was the first stop, by the time I got there I had separated myself out from a few people and quickly got my gear check and filled up my soft flask with Pure Hydration.

Following the first hut, there was a steady climb up to the ridgeline, I didn’t really enjoy this part that much. My legs felt heavy which was odd as it was only 13km in, I tried to eat a cliff bar which took me nearly an hour, the gel I had made me feel nauseous and it made me concerned about taking nutrition for the rest of the run. In summary, I was a little mad/frustrated which was strange for me so early on.

Once at the top of the first saddle the views were incredible, this lifted my spirits quite a lot and I enjoyed the technical run down the ridge to the next hut. I had quite a big gap in taking any gels or nutrition but decided to wait until I felt a bit better.

Second Hut - Hylands

By the time I got to Hylands Hut I was feeling pretty happy, quickly filled up my flask once again and continued on. The next section, I’d heard was tough, and it really was, some of the steepest climbs you can imagine and just when you think you are done you have another gruelling climb. This was all enjoyable,  I put on some music and continued to take gels and hydrate as I went.

The downhill section before Roses Hut was quite hard and started to hurt my knees quite a lot. This was probably my least favourite part of the course. I could see the next hut, but it still seemed so far away. This was where we crossed paths with the mountain bikers. There was a flat section here that I really should have ran but didn’t really have the energy, so I compromised and walked quickly to the next hut.

Third Hut - Roses

This hut was the best, great vibes, the main volunteer was super friendly and making jokes, the food was great. I had a couple of oranges, filled up my drink bottle and prepared to tackle the third and final climb of the day.

I knew this climb was going to be rather tough, I was at 27km, and all I could see was a never-ending trail all the way to the very top of the mountain and a line of people scattered along it like little ants.

The fatigue in my legs was too high to do any running, but I didn’t see anybody else running either so I was happy with that, put my head down and hiked up the hill, I can’t remember exactly but I think this took a couple of hours.

The following downhill was ok, my focus was off quite a lot and I kept tripping up as the track was so narrow and technical, so I took a caffeinated gel hoping to clear my mind a bit.

Through the river

The next section was by far my favourite, I dropped down into the river and for the next hour or so was literally running in the river. I started off cruising along with a couple of other guys that I’d been running close to throughout the journey – I said to one of them ‘isn’t the river so much better’ his response was ‘it’s kind of cold’. I suddenly realised he wasn’t actually enjoying this section and it was a good opportunity for me to go a bit faster. The river was marked by bits of tape in the trees and you had to navigate along the river yourself, this was very enjoyable and took my mind off being tired and the fatigue in my legs.

Once I started going down the river I soon realised this was actually quite a strength of mine and I like to describe it as being like a baby elephant (haha) stomping straight down the middle of the river very quickly. I passed about 10 people through the river section and I remember thinking ‘this is so fun, this is why I do adventure races’.

Macetown

The river section really put some fire in my belly, I had 15km to go, looked at my watch and noticed my average pace had come way down. I decided if I pushed now, I could get a time I would be much happier with than my estimated 10-11hrs.

I caught up to a couple of guys who were running at a solid pace and decided I would just stick with them for as long as I could. This worked well for about 45 minutes and then they started slowing down, so I went ahead to keep the pace up.

The track through Macetown was great as it was slightly downhill and it was wide and flat so I was able to actually run, all day it had been either hiking up or trying to run down on very technical trail. It was nice to be able to just run!

I looked down at my watch in this section and I running around 4.45-5.00km’s which amazed me, I’ve never had the legs to be able to run at that pace at the end of a long run. This gave me even more determination and I continued to pass people in this section. I think I passed about 15-20 people in the last 17km of the race.

I set myself a goal of 9.30hrs as I got closer, and just missed it (41 secs), but I blame the course for actually being longer than 51km it was closer to 52km according to my watch!

I finished at a good pace, pretty exhausted but happy with my time.

I must have looked exhausted as the commentator said to me as soon as I finished ‘Why do you do it’ to which I responded with a big smile “I have no idea”

The highlight of the race for me other than the fun of running in the river, was the mental strength I had to finish the race so strongly. I knew this was something I needed to work on if I want to become more competitive, so I was proud of myself for pushing towards the end. I often settle for completing races, as opposed to pushing myself.

I learnt a lot from this race, I finished 17th out of the woman and definitely think it’s a race you benefit from having done before. Can’t wait to do it next year aiming for top 10 and breaking into 8 hours.

xx

Additional Notes

  • This was the first long race in Altra superior shoes which I believe are quite flat and good for downhill running. In other races, I’ve had excruciating pain in my knees and quads after a while and it didn’t happen this time.
  • I took Pure Nutrition electrolyte tablets in the morning and 6 during the races. This seemed to work well and is something I would do again.
  • In total, I had 9 gels, two cliff bars, two custard pouches and one orange throughout the race. I struggled to eat the cliff bars but it is probably good I managed to get them into me. Gels are definitely the easiest for me to take.
  • I had 1 litre of water in my bladder and a 500ml flask of hydration which I refilled a few times from the aid stations and in the streams. In total approximately 2 litres of water and 2.5 litres of Pure Hydration.
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