|Kepler Challenge course map.|
As my last race for 2014, I looked forward to heading back to Te Anau for the Kepler Challenge. Racing in New Zealand is like racing in any other Australian state or territory. This race is no exception. The trail running community in both countries are much the same. The sport of trail running attracts the same friendly and enthusiastic crowd. There are friends to meet up with, and friendships to be made. This is what I love about the sport.
I travelled over with Mum and Dad this time, Brian was left at home to continue building our new home (and yes, he is really doing the building). It was Mum and Dad's first time to New Zealand, and as I write this race report they are yet to complete their travels around the South Island.
|Kepler Challenge course profile.|
Come race morning I did my usual thing of staying in bed until the last moment. Then with a flurry of activity I was out the door and headed to the start line. Race starts never leave me with a comfortable feeling. There is always too much anxiety and nerves to deal with. At least when the gun goes off the feelings are instantly replaced with the focus of whats ahead, namely other runners heels, sticks or rocks.
Though the race starts on a wide trail it quickly narrows, so runners go from running 4 or 5 abreast to 2 abreast in the space of a hundred metres. Positioning yourself at the start is therefore important. I positioned myself at the back of the front group, so when we started running I wasn't impeded by too many runners around me. As the trail is not technical the race start is very fast. There is not much self preservation going on amongst the lead group for an ultra. The intensity of running was high from the beginning.
|Enjoying a little bit of downhill after the climb up. Backcountry Runner NZ.|
As we turned from the gently undulating trail to the ascent to Luxmore Hut the pace dropped slightly, but the intensity did not. Everyone's breathing got harder as we slowly climbed the mountain and the treeline thinned out to reveal panoramic views over the fiord-land wilderness. Ruby started to edge ahead as we climbed, but Jo and I stayed close together. I kept my motivation up by pretending that the low flying helicopters following the event would catch me if I slowed down.
|Jo Johansen closing in on me.|
The trail stayed up high for quite a long time, longer than I thought, and even though it was very beautiful I was looking forward to the descent so I could get out of the wild winds that were buffeting me around. I was still running close to Jo along this Apline section and at the Hanging Valley checkpoint (23km) we started the steep descent into the valley. Jo was being cautious and decided to hold back a bit on the down hills to avoid risking an injury, which was a smart move. I took this opportunity to go ahead and make a gap between us as I knew she would likely catch me again on the flatter sections of trail still ahead. On the descent I overtook quite I few runners, which was surprising, maybe I wasn't as bad as I thought running down hill or I was just having a good down hill day. It always feels as though I'm getting overtaken on the downhills.
|Fighting the wind, not the hill. Backcountry Runner NZ.|
Mick and I ran into Moturau Hut checkpoint (45km) together and not far behind was Jo. Mick gave me the "you better get out of here" look so I quickly stuffed one more orange in my face before we both ran out of the checkpoint together. That was when Mick said we should up that ante and run hard until the finish. I was worried that he would stick with me and that I would ruined his run but he didn't seem to care much about his result, he just seem happy being out on the trails enjoying himself. Mick picked up the pace quite a bit and I tried desperately to stick with him. I'm not going to lie, it was hard work trying to keep up with him and at times he would slow down and let me catch up which was very kind of him and much appreciated.
|Warming up as the pace increased.|
We briefly stopped at Rainbow Reach checkpoint (51km) where I ate and drank something. I can't quite remember what it was though, as I could feel the exhaustion setting in. We didn't hang around for long before we took off again with 9km to go. I turned around every so often and could see no one in sight which was a comforting sign. I was doubting anyone could catch us anyway at our new speedy pace.
Catching Mick was fortuitous for me. Though I was feeling the exhaustion of the run, running with Mick was good distraction and helped lift me. Sitting in second place I wasn't going to slack off and surrender my position. So, together we motivated each other towards the finish.
|Mick and I crossing the finish line. Backcountry Runner NZ.|
Ultimately we crossed the finish line together (it will make purchasing race photos cheaper). I don't know if Mick was happy with his finish time, but I was happy with my run of 6:07:53 and second placed female. I'm glad that I put my self doubts aside at Luxmore Hut to then run hard for the remainder of the race.
I'd like to thank Salomon Australia for their continued support. It has been a pleasure donning their gear. Running ultras can be very uncomfortable at times, but its always good to know that the gear is not contributing to the discomfort. I'm also yet to have any gear failures, which is surprising seeing how rough and how much I ask of my gear.