The Day Before The Race (Friday)
If it is your first time to visit New Zealand, three days before the Race Day is a nice period of time to tour around the City of Rotorua to buy some groceries and souvenirs; look and try some places to eat; and have a brief recon of the place of the event. However, if I will go back to join this race again, I would prefer to arrive on Thursday, join the Welcome Ceremony and Race Briefing on Friday, and be ready for the Race on Saturday.
On the day before Race Day (Friday), I decided not to join the Powhiri Welcome Ceremony in Te Puia (about 300+meters from Rotorua Holiday Inn) which was scheduled at 8:30 in the morning and instead joined the Race Briefing at 11:00 AM at the Rotorua Holiday Inn. After taking the Bus at Route 10 from the house, I have to transfer to another Bus for Route 11 from the Town Center and then alighted at a street corner about 100 meters to the Holiday Inn. I was late for a few minutes as Tim Day, the Race Director has already started the Race Briefing. Once I’ve settled on the edge of the Hall, I was able to see the Pinoy Runners among the audience and saw some familiar faces whom I saw while on tour at the Town Center for the past days.
The weather forecast for the weekend was perfect and there was no rain. I was happy and maybe, most of the runners too, that there was NO Mandatory Gear for the race. It will be hot and humid but I was confident that my heat training in my Playground would never compare with the heat to be expected during the race. A sample of the ribbons as trail markers was shown to us and they would stand-out in the forest even if it is nighttime because it has a reflectorized ribbon. All the other details of the race route and their rules and regulations are clearly stated on the PDF file that anybody could read on the event’s website. The RD had mentioned that the Aid Stations would strictly implement the Cut-Off times. The Race Briefing did not take long and it was followed by a Question & Answer Interview Among the Elite Athletes.
After the Q & A Session, the Emcee encouraged the Audience to have a “Selfie” with the Elite Athletes. I have only 3 “selfies” on my iPhone and they are from: Jim Walmsley; Yassine Diboun; Camille Herron; and Meghan Hicks.
Since the Race Registration was scheduled at 3:00 PM, I decided to have my lunch at the Restaurant inside the Rotorua Holiday Inn. Before 3:00 PM, I was already on a line for the Race Registration. Every runner for the 102K & 82K were weighted from a scale before getting his/her Race Packet which consist of the Race Bib and Souvenir Programme. The Race Organizer Paul Charteris made an apology that the Commemorative Shirt for all the Registered Runners would not be available not until the following day because the Main Event Sponsor, Compressport, made a mistake in sending the cargo to the South Island. So, up to this time, I am still waiting for the arrival of my Commemorative Shirt through the mail as promised by the Race Organizer.
After I received my Race Packet, I went home but had to drop by the Town Center for a “Take-Out” Dinner. At 6:00 PM, I was already in the house ready to eat my dinner; prepare my running kit and go to bed at exactly 9:00 PM.
On Race Day
The main goal is to finish the 102K distance and be able to earn some UTMB points (even if I am no longer interested with the UTMB races).
The race strategy is to start slow; maintain my hydration and nutrition needs every mile or every hour; and be able to maintain a “buffer time” of at least 2 hours from the cut-off time in every checkpoint. If I still have the strength, I would finish strong!
On my running kit, I decided to use my old Patagonia Shorts, Compressport “On/Off” Trail Shirt with Uniqlo “Heat Tech” as Baselayer, Salomon Cap, FitBelt, Drymax Socks, Mission Buff, Two Simple Hydration Bottles, New Balance Vazee Summit Trail Shoes, Adidas Gloves, Oakley Sunglasses, AMG Headphone with an iPod Shuffle, Petzl Headlamp, and Patagonia Houdini Jacket tucked inside one of shorts’ pockets.
I decided not to have any Drop Bags for my additional food and clothes to change along the route as I would no longer have the time to pick them up the following day because of my trip to Wellington the following day. On hindsight, I should have those Drop Bags for my “comfort” food and extra headlight. Maybe, I will have to use “disposable” drop bags in my next race if I intend to just leave them for the Race Organizers to dispose.
I woke up at 3:30 AM, took a shower, drank a hot coffee and ate some hot noodles. And after one hour, I was already on the road to the starting area by walking but I was carrying a plastic bag with two cuts of Pizza, a Nutella sandwich and one piece of Banana. I could feel the coldness outside to be tolerable even if I have my Patagonia light jacket tucked in one of the pockets of my Patagonia Shorts. I just thought that the mild cold of the day will be advantageous to my body as I tend to sweat too much during races. At 5:00 AM, I was already at the Redwoods Park Visitors Center. While waiting, I started to eat the food inside the plastic bag that I carried from the house.
I had enough time to relax and observe the arrival of the other runners. I even had the chance to meet the brother & sister Pinoy staff members of the Park; had a picture with Chris; and meet with the whole Pinoy group of runners.
15 Minutes before the Gun Start, I was already about 10-15 meters behind the Starting Arc and just waited there until I heard the announcement of the Emcee telling to the runners to just pee on the trees around and not go to the Toilets to fall in line! He said that the trees need everyone’s pee! And the usual Maori Ritual started at the front of the Starting Arc. I could not see the ritual but I could hear the chants and some music. And after the ritual, it was time for the countdown…
At exactly 6:00 AM the race started and I began to move forward. I could feel that I was very light and comfortable with my slow pace with only one Simple Hydration Bottle filled with water and the other empty bottle as my cup/glass if I intend to drink sodas in the Aid Stations. I had one Clif Gel inserted in each of my hand gloves and 4 pieces of Fuel Bar in my Flip Belt. The race started with an asphalted road for about one kilometre and the road became a wide track of dirt road as the runners thinned up along the road. I controlled myself and preserved my strength even if I was confident that I can run the moderate ascents on the early part of the course. After running for about 40 minutes going up to a higher elevation, the sunlight started to shine but I opted to let my headlight on as it became too dark to be running inside the forest with roots exposed covering those single track trail. The ascent was not too difficult as I was entertained by the number of runners ahead of me and those faster runners who would overtake me along the wider part of the route.
The first Aid Station is 16.7 kilometers from the Starting Line and once I came out from the forest, I could see a big Water Tank where beside it was a group of Marshal/volunteers asking if I would like to leave my headlight behind. I opted not to give me headlight as I know I will be needing it during nighttime. Once I passed the volunteers, it was another moderate uphill until we reached a wide road with lots of gravel and crushed rocks. You could see the blinding light of the sunrise ahead of you while you could see the dust coming from the road as a result of pounding on the ground by those faster runners ahead of you. More people would cheer us on this part of the route.
Even if we were running inside the forest, the trail was wide in most of the parts before the first Aid Station. I kept my headlight switched to On as it was hard to distinguish the roots from the black colour of the surface of the trail. I have observed that the single trail trail inside the forest are too soft and with cushion as I pound my feet on them. I could feel that there are piles of dry leaves mixed with the dirt on the trail. I was neither fast nor aggressive in my pace because I was too careful not to trip or fall down on my knees due to small protruding roots. I have read so many blogs from faster runners who joined the past editions and almost all of them had mentioned for having some wounds and scratches on their knees, legs and palms because they haphazardly fell down on the trail. It was time to be careful and deliberate in my steps on those single-track trail.
The first Aid Station is at the shore of Blue Lake. The lake looks like blue in color from afar but you can see how clean the water is as you approached it. I refilled my hydration bottle with water and the other empty bottle was used as my cup where I could drink water as much as I could because I was feeling early on that the water I drank on those 16 kilometers were not enough. I had to arrest the seemingly start of being dehydrated because it was already hot at 8:00 AM, after 2 hours+ of continuous running and fast hiking. I grabbed some slices of watermelon and oranges and ingested some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I guess, I only stayed at the Aid Station in less than 3 minutes and I was back on the trail. I grabbed another two or three slices of watermelon bites and carried them with my hand as I waked away from the Aid Station.
From the Lake we go back again to the Forest and it was becoming hotter. I realised that the temperature inside the forest is higher than the temperature once you get out from the forest. Even if the trail was shaded with trees and tall shrubs, the temperature feels like you are exposed directly to the sunlight. I was feeling okey as I trained in my Playground with this kind of situation. I was regularly taking my Salt Tablets every hour and drinking water, and always maintaining to have some candies (Coffee Candies) inside my mouth.
The cut-off time at Blue Lake Aid Station is 10:00 AM which means that I have a maximum time of 4 hours to reach and leave this place. However, I was able to reach this place in 2:14+ hours with a buffer time of 1:45+ hours. This distance to the 2nd Aid Station/Checkpoint would be almost 7 kilometres!
After a few minutes, I reached Miller Road, where the 65K runners had started one hour after we started. I could see the tire tracks of the Buses on a wide dirt road that transported the runners from the Greenwoods Park to the said place. There is no Aid Station or Marshal on this part of the route as the road would continue to be uphill. The next Aid Station would be almost 10 kilometres to the next one and there is an imposed cut-off time in it. On my time splits, it appeared that it took me to reach this place from Blue Lake in 59+ minutes which means that I was able to cover the distance of 23.5K in 3:14+ hours which I think not bad as I was gaining some buffer time.
The 2nd Aid Station is Okaitana which is Km 40 from the Start. This Aid Station is also a Checkpoint where the Cut-Off time is 1:50 PM or 7 hours & 50 minutes had elapsed from the Start. My Garmin Watch would register a time of 5:52+ hours and I became worried that I was able to decrease my buffer time to 1:08+ minutes. It was supposed to happen that way since I had more and more hiking as this section had the highest peak of the course. It was becoming hotter that I had to fill my two Simple Hydration Bottles with water in between Aid Stations. I started to eat Potato Chips at the Aid Station to include sandwiches and watermelon/orange bites. The watermelon and orange bites were very refreshing to my mouth. In terms of elevation gain, this section (Miller Road to Okaitana), is perceived to be the hardest part of the route where almost everybody had to hike the ascending portion. I power hiked the steeper sections and jogged the flatter portions of the route along this section but by the nature of the trail which is wide and clean, clearing or passing this section seemed to be easy on me as compared to my Playground. As I reached the highest peak of the course, it was all downhill up to the Okaitana Aid Station. However, the heat of the sun and the forest took a toll on most of the runners who are not used to hot condition.
To be continued…