Due to a string of unrelated and non-running injuries, I was unable to run from May 2012 to late Sept 2013. This left far too little time to train for my 2013 Cool Impossible, but made it an even better goal.
The Kepler Challenge is a 60km loop, starting with 6km along the shore of Lake Te Anau, before climbing 950m (3100ft) to the gear check at Luxmore Hut. A climb of 350m (1150ft) takes runners to just below the summit of Mt. Luxore. From there, it's and undulating ridge run to Hanging Valley Shelter, before a steep zig-zag descent down the back of the mountain to Irisburn Hut. This is the halfway mark, at 30km. It's then a long run down the Irisburn Valley, past Motorau Hut, Rainbow Reach, around the mountain back to the start point. (Of course, whilst it's essentially a valley run on forest trails, it's not all gradual downhill, and whilst there are no big climbs left, they feel big at this point!) On race day my altimeter recorded 1855m (6085ft) of ascent.
Race day arrived - the forecast early in the week had been poor, raising the possibility that the alternative course would have to be run, as the forecast gale force winds would prevent the safety helicopters flying. Fotunately, the expected storm (with snow to low levels in NZ summer) didn't arrive. Instead we had great running conditions; cool temperatures and light wind on the tops.
As I'm not a speedster, I started midway between the 8hr and the 9hr runners. I wasn't expecting to beat 9hrs due to the lack of training, but I knew from my previous run in 09 that starting too far back meant expending a lot of energy getting past very slow runners during the first 6km.
At 0600 the gun went.... and nothing happened. At least where I was, nothing happened. Then after maybe 30 seconds we started to slowly shuffle forwards, eventually speeding up to a fast walk as we crossed the transponder mat.
I'd judged my start position fairly well, and most of the runners around were a similar pace. The 6km to Brod Bay was a very pleasant comfortable run.
From there the climb starts. As I live in the area and train on this part of the trail, my strategy was to run about half the 950m climb to the hut, and then fast-walk the rest after the gradient increased. However, I soon altered this, realising relatively low on the mountain that I was not faster than people around me who were walking. I fast-walked anything other than very easy angle, and was immediately quicker, passing others who I hadn't been catching.
Walking up hills quickly is usually a strength of mine, but for some reason, on this particular day it wasn't and I felt wrecked by the time I got to Luxmore Hut - to the point that I seriously considered retiring from the race. By the time I'd watered and got my gear checked though, I felt slightly better, and set off up the rest of the climb to the 1400m mark, putting on waterproof layer en-route. I took it a bit slower, but was very glad to be able to break into a slow jog on the leveller parts. By the time I descended the zig-zags the 300m to the feed station at Forestburn Shelter, I was starting to believe again that I could complete the race. More fluids & oranges, then continuing on the ridge to Hanging Valley feed station. The last climb back up to 1400m was rough again, and then the fun began.
Hanging Valley to Irisburn is all downhill; steep downhill for 900m. A bit of a crocodile had formed, going a little slower than I would have alone, but the track is narrow, hard to pass, and I decided to stick with them to conserve some energy. It probably did the opposite, thinking about it, but that's what I did, until near the bottom, where I passed a few, and trotted into IrisBurn, feeling better than I had since leaving DockBay, at the start of the first climb (apart from a few brief cramp type twinges in both calves). More food & fluids, layer changes (we were now under the forest canopy) and a few seconds staring in awe at the leader board. This is the half way mark in distance (30km) but the ascent/descent is pretty much done. Martin Dent had gone through in 2hrs 20mins!
From Irisburn Hut it's a long gradual descent down the valley, through the RockyPoint feed station to Motorau Hut at the 45km mark (also the lowest point on the track at 185m). Somewhere between RockyPoint and Motorau, someone said "Good Morning" to me. It was a pleasant surprise to realise it was still morning - up until this point I had not looked at my watch. I took regular walking breaks down the valley, possibly too regular, but I was focusing on making the finish. I arrived at Motorau Hut in 6:29 and thought at that point that a time inside 8:30 was a possibility.
More food & fluids, and probably too long a break, and off towards Rainbow Reach. This section of the track is a pleasant 6km run through forest trails. I didn't feel I was going very slowly, but it took me a long time.
I left the Rainbow Reach feed station at 7:20, and I knew then that a time of 8:30 was probably out of reach - I wasnt going to maintain 7min km pace for the 10km back up the river. Right hamstring was painful on the uphills by now, but OK running the level/down.
That 10km was not as bad as expected, and I enjoyed the last 2.4 from the final feed station. A friend Kate (who had run the "Grunt" in the morning) met me at about the 1km mark, and I felt I was still running quite well as I crossed the line in 8:37.
I was happy enough to reduce my previous time by 29 mins. Next year the aim will be under 8hrs.
Martin Dent (Aus) , competing in his first ultra, destroyed the course record, finishing in 4:33. Ruby Muir (NZ) won females in 5:45.
Thanks Eric for the support. Also for a great training reference. Hopefully it will help me attain the 7:XX (though the XX my be 59 ;) )
This is so great. 29 min is HUGE! Bring on 7:XX!!
Thanks for the great post.
Sounds awesome and the pics look great! and great PR by the way! Thanks for sharing!!