Literally the day I posted my last post, saying how over the training I was, the Taupō Ultra Marathon got cancelled.
The move from Alert Levels to the Traffic Light System put Taupō in red with a review of it’s status only happening a day before the event was due to run. This created too much uncertainly and the organizers decided to cancel it. '
That was the right call. Even if the traffic light system allowed the event to happen, being one of the first events to encourage people to gather in Taupō, only days after Aucklanders were allowed out of their prison, would have been a bit of a weird sight. They would have had an ‘optics’ issue, and maybe impacted their social license for future events. I’m not sure the local community would have loved a COVID outbreak thanks to the event. It was the right call.
Cancellation left athletes, runners and weekend warriors like myself in a bit of a pickle. All this training, and no where to run! Luckily, organizers allowed the run to be done ‘virtually’.
Virtual events are a new concept - innovation driven by COVID restrictions the world over. They mean that people can still get that sense of community and achievement, even if actual events are put on ice.
So, to get a finishers medal and put my training to good use, I planned out a virtual 24km trail run. Perfectly planned to be run between Wellington storms and family illness.
Last Saturday, I set off on a jog around the Belmont Regional Park.
Fighting off the demons
I set a fairly hard course. Some have said it was harder than the Taupō course. Not sure… But this had to be a challenge right? Otherwise, what’s the point. To get the finishers medal, I could have completed a 24km run, downhill on smooth roads with a tail wind. That would have felt like cheating. It had to be hard.
The course included two trips up to the Belmont Trig, with an aid station halfway through in the carpark, to restock on water and food. 24.5km and 1100+ meters of climbing.
I knew it would be hard. I knew what was in front of me. I knew how long it would take. I knew I could do it.
Until I didn’t.
About 4 or 5km in, I had a wee panic attack. My heart rate sky rocketed, a started to get tunnel vision. I knew that I was never going to complete the run. I needed to stop, give up and go home. This trail running thing wasn’t for me.
According to my watch, my heart rate was equivalent to running up a hill, not cruising along a flat trail.
I didn’t really know what to do about it. At the beginning of a 24km run. All that work. All that money. All that time. To fail 5km in.
I reached a literal fork in the road. Turn left and start meaty climb. Turn right and take a 2km trail back to the car.
But then I looked back over the last 21 weeks of training and remembered what I had got my body through. 2x half marathons. 2.5 and 3 hour training runs. Long runs. Short runs. Fast runs. Slow runs. I managed to get PBs across 21km (twice) and 5km (twice). I was prepared for this.
I turned left and started climbing.
The demons didn’t go away though. At each 1km mark up the hill, I scalded myself for not being at the same pace as my previous attempts up to the trig.
“Bro, you’re so much slower, get to the top and go home. There’s no point.”
I couldn’t get my heart rate under control and I couldn’t get out of my head.
It was a very long 3.5km to the top of the Trig.
Looking back on the Strava stats, I was only about 2 minutes off my fastest time up the hill - not as much as my catastrophizing mind brain was making it out to be.
I started running down the other side, wind blowing hard, track so wet that you couldn’t go a normal pace, continuing to think “you’re done bro. Get to the car and gap it.”
I managed to get back to the car, over the time I thought I’d be. Another reason to gap it.
Having a car as an aid station is pretty dangerous. It’s so easy to jump in the drivers seat and take off. I did that on purpose. To make it even harder than it would have been. Like I needed more of a mental challenge at that stage.
On auto pilot, I got on with the job. Repacked my shit, changed my shirt and took off on loop two.
Loop two - 10 km to go
The first loop was 14km. The second loop, only 10km and 550 meters of climb.
I made it back to the fork in the road. There was no question of quitting now though. I was 16km in.
First time up the hill, my legs were dead, my heart out of control, my mind willing my body to stop. Second time up the hill, something was different. “Of course you can make it up, you’ve already done it once!”
My legs had energy, my heart was beating in time with my slogging, my mind finally had my back.
I made it to the top a second time - faster than the first time.
The cloud at lifted at the top of the Trig. The clouds were lifting in my mind. 19km done.
On the run back down the other side of the hill I started singing at the top of my lungs. I didn’t care who heard, but I was singing. Not sure what the song was. I was so happy to have done the hard bit. The end was in sight.
I rolled past a half marathon and I started to shed a tear. Just a quick one, pushed down by the fact I still had 3km to go, and a small hill to crawl up at the end to the car park.
I battled cramp over the last 5 km - the uphill had killed my quads and they were fighting back on the down hill.
I ran out of food and water with 2km to go.
My Phone went dead with 1 km to go.
At the top of the trail, my family were waiting there with flowers and a massive sign.
I burst into tears. And kept crying.
The emotion was overwhelming. I wasn’t expecting that. It felt good.
I wasn’t physically done I still had a bit in the tank, but I was emotionally done.
Coming down from the runners high
Runners seem to get a vibe post run called the runners high. Is meant to make the slog worth it.
I never get a runners high. Im not a runner. The feelings I usually experience is relief that it’s over, rather than joy from completing a challenge.
After Saturday, I’m still in that boat. I’m glad it’s done. 21 weeks of focusing on something is way too long for my wee brain to cope with.
Relief is a weird feeling though.
In the subsequent days, I’ve started to miss having the goal in front of me. Something to aim for. I’ve been a bit down, lacking focus.
The comedown has contributed, in part, to me getting sick. I have finally caught what the family has been dealing with for the last six weeks (not COVID!). If the event was being run as planned this weekend, I’d have to pull out. But, if the event was still on, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten sick…
The best thing about the goal, was getting there
Saturday sucked. There’s no two ways about it.
Reflecting back on it, I think it sucked because it wasn’t the event proper - there wasn’t the buzz, energy and excitement of hundreds of people suffering just like you are. It was just a run. And that changes the way I look back over the last 21 weeks.
The best thing about the whole training hasn’t been the achievement, its getting out and experiencing my own back yard. I’ve been places that I’ve lived next to for years, but never visited. Belmont Regional Park, Wainui Mountain Bike Park, Te Whiti Riser and all the trails around there. It’s getting out that’s been the cool thing. I’ve discovered cool things to go and do with the kids. That’s been the best thing.
Maybe I’m a runner now?
I've learnt a lot about myself, running training, and can now call myself a runner (sort of). Running is now not just a thing to get me fit for life, but a sport I can now appreciate in its own right.
I am looking forward to doing other things on my weekend though. Family hangs. Surfing. Skating. BBQing brisket. Drinking more coffee.
But first, a quick jog around the block… let’s call it a recovery run.
Here we go again.
Time for a coffee.