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The Kepler 2017


Last year at the Luxmore Grunt I tried my best to improve my time, I gave it a good shot and in return I was given a bit of an arse kicking… to put it bluntly… I didn’t embarrass myself, I was just left with that hollow feeling that only 4th place ever brings you…probably the worst position to be in ever. Being unable to back up my win from the year before I decided there wasn’t all too much to be achieved by going back and trying to win what is essentially treated as the B grade event. So this year I decided to play with the big Boys (and Girls) and do the whole Kepler. I know I can run far, I know I can run fast, what I didn’t know was if I could run far and fast!

Using the executive method of travel, I flew into Invercargill and joined Hilary and Abbey for a relatively relaxed drive to Te Anau. Once there, we headed straight to the registration and got that all over and done with which was a bit of a relief. It’s always a bit of an intimidating experience, although it’s nice to catch up with people it’s still a place of rather avoid if I could just to avoid the extra per race stress. It would be fair to say, turning up, I was not overly confident on what I could bring to the table after a big year of racing and two weeks after the SLMC 24hr race…. being a bit tired and a bit over racing was always going to take a bit of a shine off things. Anyway, I showed up ready and rearing to go on Saturday morning at around 5:45 all set for the 6am start.

Start line business face as the soon to be crowned Mens and Womens winners share a joke!

Standing on the start line I didn’t feel too nervous, just ready, a little excited but mostly just ready for it to be over! Once the hooter went off, the pack shot off like a bullet from a gun. This year it seemed like it was the year all the best runners from around the country decided to turn up and certainly if the first few kms were anything to go by that was about right! I settled into a steady place, just behind the main pack in the top 20 and just consolidated myself there. Having talked to a lot of people beforehand I knew for this race I was going to have to race to a different game plan. I aimed to go steady to Moturau hut then empty the tank with whatever I had left. It was a different mindset, but I worked hard to tell myself it was ok to sit back and let the boys out front do there thing.

Smashing it through the forest

The first 6km actually felt like it took forever, and then the climb up to Luxmore Hut began. Having been pretty familiar with this section from previous years of racing didn’t really help all that much and I felt like even though I was not taking the revs into the red zone, I was just a bit sluggish. Never the less I kept on moving and tried to be as efficient as possible as I knew it was still a long way.

I arrived at Luxmore hut thinking I’d quite like to turn around and head back as in previous years… but I was also a little bit curious about what lay ahead of me beyond. Climbing out of the hut we were followed by a helicopter taking photos which was pretty cool to watch and took my mind off things a little bit as the weather turned to season two of the day, light rain and some strong winds. The first half had been quite warm, almost too warm. I was sitting in around the same position 15-18th place and I could see the main bunch making there way up the hill in the distance, making me feel a little bit better that I wasn’t too far off the pace at the front.

Classic Kepler photo

I haven’t portrayed a hugely enjoyable run so far, but it was quite cool to be racing along the ridge tops. I was doing my best to just enjoy being out there it and believing that if it was going to happen, my time to shine would come later. I guess my shoe selection was not ideal for this part of the race. I had opted for road shoes, which I thought for the most part would be fine…. but it was a little rockier and more technical than I expected surprisingly. Being usually good on technical stuff, I really struggled to accept that I couldn’t make up ground on anyone just in front of me and I had caught a glimpse of Ruby Muir bounding along not too far behind me. The wind along the tops I found pretty brutal as well as a series of stairs to run down… I really need to learn how to double step down stairs with confidence!

Along the tops

It was getting a little cool along the tops so it was nice to start the descent into Iris Burn hut. The legendary switch- backs were soon upon me and again it was clear that my shoe choice was not quite right as I slipped a little going around the corners and ended up doing quite a bit of braking. With most of the steep switch backs behind me it was not far to the hut now. I thought I had been going well through this part but I was soon to be taught a lesson. Damn, that sneaky Ruby had cut my lead over her in half and was fast catching me. It didn’t take her long to be hounding my heals and she eventually made her move and past me singing away to herself and just to top it off she did a bit of a wing waggle as she soared past me.

Reaching Iris Burn hut was a nice feeling, halfway there. There was now a small pack just in front of me as it made a very quick transition through the checkpoint. This little carrot drove me for a while until there were well and truly out of sight and out of reach. They were just moving too quick for me. One slight reprieve was when I passed Nathan Jones who made a short pit stop. He quickly was back on my tail and we ran together for the next hour or so to Moturau Hut.

This part of the race was one of the toughest for me. I ran out of water for a bit and the little ups I was having to walk every now and then. Mentally I started to really struggle too… having no idea how far it was to the hut lead me to scull the last of my water a bit early and the hut was still a long way away. Near the lake edge I spotted the first of the “blow up” victims, those that rolled the dice early and it hadn’t worked out too well…. I had met Jethro from Scotland a few years ago at a friend’s wedding in the Czech Republic, and spotted a Facebook post prior to the race alerting me to his presence. When eventually I came closer I made a guess that this was Jethro just up in front, and as I came along side him I greeted him and in a very gentlemanly fashion shook hands with him! Not too many words were exchanged as I was on the edge now, desperately in need of food and water, as we cruised along the water front. Finally the hut flashed into view and relief was just around the corner.

Even though I was feeling rubbish I managed to get going again faster than Nathan and Jethro, and I had a gap, big enough for them to be out of sight behind me. As my food and drink settled I passed blow up victim number #2, he was walking, pack slung over his head….

It was getting into the business end of the race now. Finishing was starting to become a very real possibility with not too far to go. The fact that I was now starting to see many people on the track walking and running in, indicated to me that I must be getting close to rainbow reach and from there I knew it was only a short way to the finish. It came up a lot faster than I thought, it might have been because my GPS distance was underestimating….but I was feeling ok again as I came down the hill and into the checkpoint.

Cramp had slowly become my latest treat. I had some “cramp stop” and I started to use it. I had been very thorough during the race to keep up my electrolytes but it must not have been enough. Despite the occasional cramp twinge, I felt I was still maintaining a good solid pace. It wasn’t too long until I notched up the third pass, going past a broken looking Weston, nursing his blown up hamstring.

Through the next section it felt like it I was moving fast but just didn’t seem to translate to distance covered and it was taking ages. The scenery was pretty uninteresting and the boringness of it just made it all the more difficult. Either before or after I’d past the 5km to go point, there was a section in the bush where the track doubles back and climbs a small hill I spotted Nathan behind me, and I am sure he saw me too. Crap! Now I needed to concentrate hard and focus my efforts, I had worked hard to get myself to where I was now and wasn’t about to roll over easily.

2.5km to go and the final drink station, cramp was giving me serious problems now so I needed to get some sports drink in. Nathan, I knew was in hot pursuit and now within sight. So it was a super fast stop. The next 2km was a bit of a blur. Nathan had still not come close to me, I couldn’t hear him behind at least, so as I neared the finish, at a point where I could see the control gates, I had a quick look to check he wasn’t right behind me…. To my horror he was right there, right behind me, about 10m back. Now with 300-400m to go, battling cramp I had a now or never moment. The rest of the cramp stop was sculled, and I sprinted. I ran as hard as I could, all out to the finish line. I think mid way across the control gates I was probably safe but I still didn’t let myself look back and went hard to the finish. No time to savour crossing of the finish line other than to stagger quickly to a seat so that I wouldn’t collapse! As I worked to catch my breath the St John’s staff took a keen interest in me…I was absolutely shattered. Eventually the Heart rate dropped and the breathing returned to normal and I could move again.

The start of the Sprint to the finish!

The aftermath of the sprint, while under observation…

I finished up in 12th place overall and 9th in the open men in 5:39:54 so after a big year a satisfying result, nothing super special but happy with my efforts. I don’t think this will be the last time I will ever loop around this circuit… so watch out, I know the course now and one day, maybe not next year but one day I will be back for a solid crack at it!

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