The journey

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Just when I thought I may have tapped out my personal abilities in running, this past weekend surpassed those thoughts by a long shot.

The mid week leading up to race day went smoothly with only one large bout of ‘have I prepared myself well enough for this’ nerves. That was Wednesday & I nearly let it get the better of me. As soon as good friend & flatmate Cath & I left Christchurch & made the journey south, all was calm in the land of pre race thought.

Our drive down to Cromwell was another spectacular one. By the time we reached the Lindis Pass, the shadows were casting length down the endless mountains. I was home.
That evening the Northburn organizers put on an informative & entertaining talk with some top ultra runners as discussion panel. I got a lot out of that. Listening to top guys like Matty Abel, Grant Guise & Sage Canaday speak about their experiences & openly sharing training & racing information, made me remember why I love this sport so much. The ultra running community is like a family no matter where you see it. Even the runners out there that clean up every race, are just so approachable about their super human abilities.
I had a solid sleep Thursday night (probably because I was in my home bed at my parents house). I was glad of this – the days prior hadn’t been great.
Friday I didn’t tempt fate with a few km run as planned. My back had been behaving & I didn’t want to run the risk of aggravating it pre race. Cath & I headed to Queenstown to pick another friend & fellow 50k runner up from her lunchtime flight. Friday was a very good pre race day – very relaxed, weather was beautiful & excitement was building for Northburn πŸ™‚
I was so happy to see Orlaith when we picked her up & we had much to discuss through the course of the day.
Race briefing later that afternoon was a very entertaining Terry Davis talk about just how much the course was going to hurt us! Looking around the race HQ I could see a variety of emotions on competitors & support crew’s faces. There were a number of runners there signed up for double or triple the distance of what I was doing. We had a clear weather forecast, but as all Northburners & I could see fear, excitement, amusement (when Terry said things like he wasn’t sorry for the spaniard plants on the mountain that poke you like needles!). This is all a part of what makes Northburn so great.
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Race day arrived soon enough after spending longer than anticipated on sorting last minute things for my race pack. Even Dad commented how heavy it was on race morning haha! Turns out I didn’t need alot of the food I packed either (story of my life). I love waking up to the early alarm, under the blanket of the day’s darkness on race day. Saturday was no different & I knew it was going to be a big day. I pumped some porridge in & before we knew it, we were headed to race HQ for 6am start. It was about 7deg, calm, ideal for a start in the dark. My parents & Cath arrived in the other vehicle after we’d been checked off & were doing final checks. Dad cracking his jokes (I think he sees my focus face & feels the need haha), Mum trying to hide her nerves & be cool for us & Cath looking excited for us & unsure what to expect. Time was flying pre race & before we knew it we were heading to the starting chute with the dance music pumping through the amp, brilliant stars in the pre dawn sky & our head torches glowing. Orlaith & I grasped each others hand & excitedly wished each other a great race & away we went. She bounded off & I didn’t expect to see her again, she is a machine of a runner πŸ™‚

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I really enjoyed the pre dawn part of this 50k. We were climbing before long & everyone was spreading out. I realised a few km in, after the slight spread that my headtorch battery had indeed become close to running out. I may as well not have had it going! One of the pre race checks I hadn’t done, because I hadn’t used it for some time. Whoops! I had to make the most of draughting off other people’s light’s & using my natural night vision πŸ˜‰ I was pleased when the sun came up as I didn’t have to worry about that for the rest of it. After 5k we went back past base & got to see our support crews & everyone yelling positively. After that it was time to do some serious climbing for 20k. This was very unrelenting but I felt quite good on the climb & just kept pushing forward. I had a few brief conversations with fellow runners on the way up, but we were all keeping focussed & conserving energy for the ascent.
Reaching the highest point was a good moment – I had my second water fill & didn’t spend anymore time stopped than I needed to. I was also feeling pretty focussed & clear headed. I’d kept on top of my nutrition. I had a Ceres Organics Raw bar, a Hammer Gel, a small boiled salted potato & one or two date rolls with peanut butter in them by the time I reached the top. I was burning up fuel & water faster than I could put it in.

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After reaching the summit, there was alot of downhill work to be done. A considerably long stretch of about 10-12km downhill on exposed farm track. Hard work on the quads & my right knee whinged later. Quite a bit of fun though. The heat of the day was really starting to set in as I reached the 39km mark (my number had not been radioed in a few km back, so at that point I didn’t know my parents & Cath were a bit unsure if I had DNF’d, injured, or what had gone on). After that aid station there is one nasty piece of climb. Here’s where the real test came. It was dry, hot, exposed & I was a bit tuckered out by this stage but still moving forward. I spent the last few km sulking because of how tired I felt, which is silly really. My head was still pretty clear, I just think the dehydration had hit me a little. Before I knew it though, a mere 8hrs24 or so minutes after starting (hahaha), I was rounding around the corner through the last of the vineyard & back to base. Lots of overwhelming emotion on the inside, plenty of sunshine & happy on the outside – I did it!!

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This ultra went far more positively than I could have imagined. I went into this challenge with a sound frame of mind & even though I hadn’t run at Northburn before, I knew what it was about & how hard it was going to be. All of the social sacrificing during training & pushing my own boundaries was worth it. During the race, my mind was concentrating on the race only. Any non relative thought I seemed to be able to push away, to retain focus.
Northburn is a very special event, one that Lisa, Terry, Tom & team can be proud of. I made some lovely new friends & am already planning how I will do next year – more than likely running the 50k again, but pacing for a distance on the final lap of the miler as well. My support crew, parents, Cath (travelling down there & back with me, thank you!), Sarah (surprising me at the finish line (amazing – I was so overwhelmed) and the kick arse messages pre & post run from those people that knew how much this race meant to me – I am very humbled by your words, hugs, smiles & thoughts.
Recovery is going well & I’m looking forward to the next exciting mission. What ultra running is teaching me is that there are essentially no limits if you train/rest well & move through the process with a positive mindset. All part of the journey. I’ve started the next one already πŸ˜‰

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5 thoughts on “The journey”

  1. Just awesome Michelle, congratulations. Getting some training in on central Otago terraine and heat must’ve helped! Sounds like u trained and ran real smart, legend!

    1. Hey Brenda! Haha how funny – I didn’t manage to make the connection either sorry! Thanks for the vote of support on the hill front, it was a great race πŸ™‚

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