The Great Naseby Water Race is an annual ultra running event held in the South Island of New Zealand. The course is a loop tack which sees athletes run continuous loops of a 10km track. Not only is it a 10km loop, it’s also a figure of eight loop, so every 5km you pass through the same aid station. Competitors get the choice of running 50km, 80km, 100km, 160km, 200km or taking part in a 60km teams event. My chosen event was the 80km, having done 60km and not quite ready for 100km I decided it was a good step up in distance for me.
What's it like running 80km?
It hurts, there’s no doubt about that, but any running race hurts if you are pushing yourself. Within the ultra running scene 80km isn’t that far, but to the non-ultra runner it’s a hell of a long way. The ultimate ‘ultra’ distance that majority of the world’s best race are based around is 160km or 100 miles, 100km is also a well respected distance at many major events.
Once you get in to the world of ultra running, it’s very addictive and all ultra runners have similar mindsets about running and their love for it. Most ultra runners are addicted to the training, like challenging themselves, and will talk about their next race at the finish line. I am of the belief that anyone could run an ultra marathon if they wanted to, but the desire to ‘want to’ is not there for most people. I read an interesting article in a running magazine recently about ultra runners and how it’s actually quite unique to be able to tolerate such high levels of discomfort and pain. Supposedly only about 1% of people have the ability to push themselves through the demands of an ultra distance run – whether this is true or not, i’m not sure.
No matter the distance of a running event, your result will be reflective of your training. The pain of running 80km for me would be similar to someone running a half marathon with very little training – it’s all relative. With that being said you can wing a half marathon off little training but you could’t do that for an 80km run – you wouldn’t be able to finish.
I trained a lot for this race, with how everything fell into place it was around four months of training, from already being at marathon level fitness – it was a long time coming, the way it worked out I had a massive gap in races, and I had to train through the coldest months in winter.
This was the first ultra I trained for with a coach which made a huge difference and is very much a reflection of the result I achieved. I had no injuries, it provided great consistency and limited my competitive nature of wanting to overtrain.
The race started very early at 5 am, with the race briefing at 4.40 am, I stayed in Naseby the night before and had all my gear ready to go. Most ultras require a lot of compulsory gear but as this one was a loop course there was nothing compulsory so I just took my pack with the bare minimum in it – a couple of gels, soft flask, cramp stop, my phone and headphones.
The gun went off at 5 am and we all headed into the dark with our head torches, it was dark for the first two hours until about 7 am. The first lap I was a bit off, I ran a lot slower than intended, I had planned to average just over an hour per lap, and came in around 1 hour 10 mins. It’s quite daunting having a 9-hour run ahead of you and all the milers and 200km runners looked miserable out on the course as I passed them (they had been running since the previous morning). The terrain was also not that fast in the dark. This all seemed to affect my confidence.
After a couple of laps and once the sun started to rise I gave myself a bit of a internal pep talk and switched on a bit more. I was never going to make it in under 9 hours if I didn’t pick up the pace. I knew I had done the training so had to have faith in that and picked up the pace and got into a good rhythm.
I focused on half-way (40 km) for a long time as it seemed like an attainable goal. Once I reached the halfway point, I caught up to and passed a lot of other women in my race that at gone out too fast, this definitely gave me the spark I needed to keep focused and keep my pace up.
I was very quick through the aid station and didn’t waste any time, only stopping every 10km for about 30 seconds to grab a couple of gels and refill my flask. The nutrition goal was to average 60g carbs per hour (that’s about the max your body can ingest) and 500ml of fluid. This mainly came from gels and tailwind and the odd piece of banana, I had other food options but nothing appealed very much at the time. The simple act of chewing becomes way too much effort
Pushing Through Fatigue
I felt great for the first 50kms, averaging 6.20 pace (goal pace was roughly 6.30-6.45) it was after that particularly the 60 – 80 km where it got hard. Mentally I was fine, but pain hit and it changed from watching my pace to just focusing on keeping moving forward. I still ran the majority of it and used the hills as short hiking breaks. I still had really good energy but it was the pain with each step that was slowing me down, everything about my legs hurt. I took panadol at 4 hours and 6 hours to try and help or to at least have a temporary placebo effect, my right achilles, left ankle and quads were extremely painful. Two hours is quite a long time to push through high fatigue, especially when it’s so painful, but I just kept moving forward, focusing on the next section and keeping my nutrition up.
Adrenaline got me through the last lap and as I was determined to come in under 9 hours I had to push through the pain as best as I could – I managed to finish in 8 hours 55mins. The thought of nearly being finished on the last lap gave me a pretty big wave of emotion, but I swallowed the tears (one of my goals was not to cry lol) and just focused on putting one foot in front of the other.
The first female came in at 8 hours 9 mins, so I was very happy with my time, to finish in third place and as a bonus get the course record for my age group (18 – 30yrs).
Each race especially at this distance teaches you something new and I learnt a lot about myself through the training and during the race which I will use to build upon for future races.
The event was very well run, and the support out on the course was awesome – I’d do it again for sure.