As usual Krystle and I had everything well organised before Saturday the 8th of September 2018 (race day). Even though I have such a competitive side to me I tried not to bring that to this race. Being my first ultra-marathon I wanted to enjoy it and appreciate it for what it was my first ultra-marathon. When I look back on my Ironman racing and think back to the races it’s not the podium finishes, 70.3 worlds or even the Ironman World Championships it’s my first long distance event that means the most to me. Canberra 70.3 back in 2012 that’s the race I always think of. It was the unknown that excited me and after that every 70.3 or Ironman was the same to me. Same race, same distance just different location. So given that I live right at the bottom of the GNW (Great Northern Walk) I wanted to make this race my first ultra-marathon that way when I look back on my memories they are closer to home.
Of course when you have such a competitive personality it’s hard to hide that side of you. It just finds a way out. So here is how my day unfolded.........
Krystle and I rocked up to the start line pretty much five minutes before registration closed which back in the day would of had my bipolar peaking at threshold but I reminded myself it’s my first ultra-marathon just soak it in.
All the runners lined up on the start line and before I knew it the race Director called 3 2 1 GO! Ha I thought what a chilled race start and a perfect way to start my first ultra-marathon. Like I said earlier you can’t hide or lock away a competitive personality. It only took 200m before I located Scott Baker a strong local runner who finished 2nd in the GNW100km in 2016. I knew he was going to be the runner that would potentially win the race. So I thought if I was anywhere near him I am doing well. Before I knew it my competitive side had taken over my entire body. It’s GO TIME... I wanted to take the lead straight away but flash backs of me pulling groups of weak riders to the front of age-groups during the bike leg of triathlons had me check myself. So I decided to sit behind Scott and let him set the pace, while I took in hydration and nutrition while I could. The pace for the first 15km was controlled not sure if it was Scott’s pacing or if he was waiting for me to pass. I was happy pacing off him it was making me stick to my hydration and nutrition as planned. We both hiked to the top of the gap towards the Coms Tower having a joke talking about the wet weather.
Before I knew it we hit the rain forest section. Scotty had good skills through the tight single trails which had me on my toes. He would put in little surges and drop me which had me focused to find his heals again. This cat and mouse game played throughout the whole section of the rain forest. By the time we popped out of the rain forest I was thinking there is no way I can beat this guy at the end of the course. It’s very similar to the rain forest section tight switchbacks and lots of technical running which he obviously had more experience with than me. Once you exit the rain forest you have a 2km forest road section before checkpoint 1 then from checkpoint 1 to checkpoint 2 it’s 23km of rolling hills where you can hit more of a tempo effort. So when Scott and I started running towards check point 1 sitting around 5.00min pace I decided to turn the screws a little down to my Ironman run effort to see if he would stay with me or stick to his pacing. I noticed he dropped back slightly which left me thinking if he was being disciplined or if he didn’t like that pace. I came into CP1(29.9km) just in front of Scott and there was Krystle in perfect view with the perfect set-up which gave me a perfect transition. I was in and out (1min) and before I knew it I was running again.
At this point I was thinking there is going to be three opportunities for me to put time into Scotty the next 23km then Congewai road then later at the top of the Congewai climb. I remember watching a short interview with Braden Currie about when he saw an opportunity to gap Gomez at Cairns Ironman and he knew it was now or never. At that moment I looked over my shoulder and didn’t see Scott running with me out of CP1 so this was my time to attack. I reminded myself I have a long history in endurance events, I know I can recover from harder efforts set at my own intensity. I came up with a plan 2 x 15 min efforts at my marathon run pace with a five minute recovery in between. If he could come with me at that effort then I am in big trouble and I will have to figure out another way to beat him. I took on some nutrition, hit lap and opened up for the first 15min effort at 4.05min pace and before I knew it was time for the recovery. I looked back for the first time with a massive relief as there was no sign of Scott. More hydration more food and I hit lap again. Second 15mins again at 4.05min pace by the end of the second effort I was sure I had put time into Scott and other potential podium finishes so I started to run at a more controlled mid zone 2 run pace just to maintain the damage I put into the other runners. At this stage I was relieved to see I was approaching Congewai road another section I could take advantage of my road running skills. I started thinking of my next attack and thought no way I am running 4.05min kilometres again as I was already concerned if that would come back to bite me later. I came up with a plan to run 4:30-4:40 pace along the road. I would then get a short rest at check point 2 followed by a couple more road kilometres then head up the Congewai climb which is pretty much un-runnable so I knew I had sections to use to recover from my next I attack. Along the road sections runners must wear a high vis vest for safety reasons so I popped mine on and hit the road. At this point Krystle knew where I was going to pop out of the bush. As I popped out of the bush there she was standing there ready to greet me. As I was about to hit the road I put on the high vis vest and instantly started cooking. Wow I thought this must be why they call Congewai the oven. I was so hot. I had just hit lap and decided to start my next attack. I started feeling hot and uncomfortable from the heat and wasn’t prepared for it I was only ready for the effort of the attack.
At this stage I had just ran the most I’ve ever ran, decided to start an effort and I started cooking from the mandatory high vis vest and then on top of that there was Krystle looking as beautiful as always “Go babe” she yelled then “How do you feel she asked?” Sorry babe I thought one of these factors can potentially break me here. I need to keep the lead with this effort and I can’t hide from the heat. So I decided to give Krystle nothing I didn’t even look at her I was already feeling overwhelmed with the distance I had just ran. I just had to block her out and get to check point 2 (53.9km).
At CP2 the procedure was weigh in and then have all your mandatory gear checked that you must carry, restock with hydration and nutrition and then you are good to go. I was in and out in 4 minutes and back running down the road solo. After leaving CP2 I had to run back the way I came then make a right hand turn before approaching a 4km climb out of the valley. I was waiting to see Scott surely he was just about to hit the checkpoint. As I approached the right turn I couldn’t see anyone at all which gave me a big confidence boost my decision to attack after CP1 had paid off. I decided with my handy lead to really take my time up to the coms tower and if I am honest that climb scares me. I power walked for most of it making sure I was still taking on food and fluid. I wanted to be fuelled properly so if someone came running up on me I was ready to jump on their pace and defend my lead. Once I hit the top of the climb you run along the ridge with some aggressive hills but it is still runnable. I made a decision to surge for as long as I could before hitting the next un-runnable climb. It was around kilometre 65 when I experienced my first low. I accepted it as I knew was always going to come. At this point I decided to back right off eat as much food as I could, clear my head and get back to work. Yes back on a high and didn’t I ride the wave as long as I could for the next five kilometres. I was making some aggressive time and confident I wasn’t losing time but still concerned about where Scott was given I knew his strength on the course. As I approached the second last climb before the finish I was starting to feel the effects of running this distance. When I finally got to the last climb I was pretty happy to hike up to the top. In ultra-running if it’s un-runnable you don’t have that guilty feeling that your walking. As soon as I got to the top I regathered my motivation and started to run again. I reckon I only ran 500m before my second low hit and after dealing with the first low really well I was in good spirit to ride this one out and get the race done. This time the low lasted a lot longer than the first one and it made me dig deep into my race experience bag to get back on track. Even though I started running again I wasn’t happy that I had no variation in my pace. I was concerned that if someone was to run up behind me I may have to hand over the crown. Staying as positive as possible I reminded myself of my lead. It was around 75km and I could hear another pair of footsteps. He did it Scott has made time on me I knew he would come back at me. As the steps got closer I decided to surge I am not giving in without a flight. So off I went digging as deep as possible at kilometre 76 for the win. I could still hear his footsteps he is shadowing me just like I did to him at the start of the race. Wait a minute his actually about to make a pass. How could this be? He must have ran so hard to catch me. As the pass was being made I noticed it actually wasn’t Scott. Now I was even more worried who’s this guy thinking to myself I thought I was the dark horse in the race. I was now running shoulder to shoulder thinking to myself great this last 4km is going to be hell. But then to my surprise the runner asked me if I was in second place? What I said “I bloody hope not I thought I was winning”. I will never forget the words that came out of his mouth next. Are you racing the 100km? “Huh” with relief I said “No I am doing the 50 miler”. The relief on his face was priceless he actually thought I was second place in the 100km so he was running as hard as he could to make the pass and I thought he was in the 50 mile so I was trying to put time into him. After realising we were both racing two different race distances things became a lot friendlier. I had about three kilometres to go when my new 100km pacer looks at me and says “Mate you know there is no one for kilometres behind us you have got this” he said “Run it home”. With 2km to go I was still concerned about Scott and another local runner Benn Coubrough who is good for a 3 hour marathon. So I ran as hard as possible slipping over making errors and it was clear to me I was running on the fear of losing the race in the last kilometre.
There it was I did it the finisher chute what a relief. I had just made history of the first ever GNW 50 Mile Champion and guess who the first person to come shake my hand was. Scott Baker the bloke had to pull out at CP2 due to an injury or sickness. I was so gutted for him and it was then I realised I may have won the race but I didn’t beat Scott. I wish Scotty a speedy recovery and look forward to our next battle on even playing fields.
Thank you to all the volunteers and supporters who were involved in the event. I highly recommend the GNW it is ran by the Terrigal Trotters who do an amazing job. As a runner you definitely get more then you pay for with this event.
It now time for me to step back help and Krystle focus on Kona before moving my attention to my next major event Tarawera 102km ultra-marathon in February 2019.
As for the GNW 2019 I will be setting my sights on the 100 miler.
Thanks for all the support from my friends & family