In the lead up to Godzone I thought it was a wise idea to have something to aim for and the Routeburn Classic (for the first time in a number of years) seemed to slot in quite nicely. In the end Godzone took a lot longer to get over than I had hoped and it was only 2 weeks before the race I started to feel like I was coming right. Two weeks of training was hopefully going to do the trick…or it was going to have to!
I made a slight logistical error when entering – I didnt factor in the travel time – and ended up flying into Queenstown airport on Friday afternoon to make it down to Te Anau in time for registration. All this travel time allowed the nerves to build on the back of a favourite tag in pre-race report put out by the Backcountry runner! Coupled with these nerves, the early morning rain and the bus ride the next morning to the start line had me feeling quite nauseous prior to the start.
Soon enough we were underway and racing. I took a commanding position at the front early on right in behind Stafford as we went onto the single track. The sick feeling I had before the start never really subsided but eventually on the way up the hill I saw a chance to take the lead. We pushed quite hard up the hill for the next we while and just before cresting the hill, Stafford managed to get back in front. I found this quite frustrating once we hit the small downhill to the first hut. I just couldn’t quite get going fast enough to get back in front but Stafford was going just that little bit slow that it was upsetting my rhythm, so all in all a good position for him to have me in! Once on the flat at the hut, our pack had been reduced to 4, Stafford, Myself, Hywell and Grant. Stafford gradually pulled away from me in the next 2 km’s, then Hywell took his chance as I faded considerably (maybe as a result of my fast start…) and slipped past me. Grant was out of sight behind me at this point, and I was in the hurt box big time.
I almost gave up I was in that bad a shape. As I was cursing myself for going out too hard, trying to convince myself my day wasnt completely over yet, I suddenly caught a glimpse of Stafford and Hywell at the waterfall and they were not all that far in front. I rallied a bit and managed to actually get some flow going across the rocks. As the track got more technically I got more and more into the race. Then suddenly Stafford was stopped right in front of me tying his shoelace or something. I seized this chance and put my foot down as I left him behind.
Now I was glad that I was still running, and glad I hadn’t given in that easily. Unfortunately in my haste, across a mixture of rocks and tree route I stumbled, took two steps in an attempt to recover but it was all over and I crashed into some rocks, going down quite hard. I shook it off, and jumped straight back up and with all the adrenaline pumping, I got running again. Post race assessment of the damage reveal quite a large bruise on my knee, cuts to my arm and a couple of descent rips in my jacket.
Not long after I had made it to Mackenzie Hut about 10km in, out in the open with Stafford just behind we heard that we were about 1min down on Hywell. Stafford was keen to work together as we passed some trampers, almost (unfortunately) knocking them down but I was once again back in the hurt box and just had to let Stafford go, as much as I was keen to work with him. The track from this point was quite steep as it ascends away from the hut at Lake Mackenzie, and it pretty much broke the back of me. Stafford pulled away, the conditions were miserable and I was pretty miserable too. Then to top it all off right at the last bit of walking (yes I was reduced to walking up hill…) a very and always cheerful Grant piped up from behind….
This kicked me back into action again, and there was some fleet footedness as we cruised along the traversing track. I tried to maintain a good pace, just enough to hold Grant off and keep Stafford in sight but by the time we started to go uphill again it was time for me to let Grant go past. He was a bit reluctant at first but I’m sure he was glad of it when he was 50m in front after about 1 minute. From this point here I was mentally and physically in full blown suffering mode. I really didn’t want to go even further back in the field and I wasn’t really that happy sitting back in 4th either.
Once at Harris saddle I thought there would be a chance to get a slight reprieve but there wasn’t much on offer, and (thankfully) the conditions weren’t great for hanging around much either. I hoped that I would be able to get some momentum going on the downhill but by this stage the cramp was starting to hit and I just couldn’t get my legs turning over at a rate that was needed and sustainable for that kind of terrain. I found it highly frustrating as this is the point in mountain running races where I excel and it just wasn’t working today.
Before I knew it though I was down to the Falls Hut, a bit of a pleasant surprise as I knew it wasn’t far to go now. Hywell was well gone, Grant and Stafford were out of sight and there was a lot of suffering to go for me until the end. The week leading up to the race I had heard Carsten talking about taking things to a new level of hurt… so that’s just what I did. There was a lot of self reassurance going on in my head and even out loud but there was no way I was going to let anyone chase me down now.
Eventually the welcome sight of the finish banner popped up from behind the swing bridge and I put on a little spurt to get across the line with every ounce of effort left in me. I pushed myself so hard, harder than I think I ever have, nothing came easy today. The weather made my legs heavy, I was weary from Godzone still, I didn’t achieve all that I set out to do by coming 4th but I did hit my main goal of under 3 hours and I was happy with that.
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