Home > Running > Kepler Challenge – 2nd in 4:59:29

Kepler Challenge – 2nd in 4:59:29

It has taken me a while to write about the Kepler Challenge, but this year was a fantastic event! A good line-up of runners for the 25th anniversary and a real buzz about the race. I rave on and on about it, but I really love it. It’s short enough and fast enough to be a proper race, not a long slog. It has just enough ascent to be a tough mountain race, and tactics/pacing are important. It has great organisation, atmosphere and stunning scenery of course. Finally, Te Anau is the most chilled-out and relaxing place on earth to recover afterwards. The race is over a 60km tramping route with 1400m elevation gain/loss, almost all of the ascent/descent coming in the 1st half of the race. Most of the route is only accessible on foot (or by helicopter) so it’s a long walk out if you come unstuck. It’s basically a 30km mountain race, followed by a 30km tempo run back to the finish. The trick is to not be completely shafted for the long run home.

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This is how my race panned out:

Start to Brod Bay

Flat and fast. Settled into comfortable pace around 5th behind Vajin Armstrong, Martin Cox, Martin Lukes, Jason Schlarb. Kept them in sight. Tucks and several others were just behind.

Brod Bay to Luxmore Hut

Moved into 2nd place at the Brod Bay drink station and then briefly into the lead at the start of the long climb. Vajin and Martin Cox passed again quickly and continued to push strongly up the hill. Jason also passed, but I kept him in sight and re-caught him above the tree line. It was pretty windy and I was getting blown sideways in gusts with an “ice-cream headache” from the cold. We reached the Luxmore together and I moved back into 3rd after a faster gear check.

Luxmore Hut to Forest Burn

After the Luxmore Hut there are still another 350 metres of ascent. My legs felt good after a conservative climb to the hut, so I was able to extend my lead a bit over the following runners (Jason, Tucks, Martin Lukes) but didn’t gain much on Martin Cox and Vajin ahead. In previous years I’ve faded in the second half with lack of energy, so this time I started eating earlier taking a gel on approach to the Forest Burn Shelter and every half-hour after that until my stomach wouldn’t take any more (about 6 in total for the race).

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Forest Burn to Hanging Valley

I started to gain slightly on the two leaders over this part, running the downhills hard and taking a few risks. Nearly went over the side a couple of times but the track was in good condition and it was easy to recover. My confidence on the trail was starting to come back (had not run on trails since August). Somewhere along here I glanced back and saw Tucks not far behind. He usually finishes strongly so I knew I needed a decent lead to stay ahead.

Hanging Valley to Iris Burn

By Hanging Valley I was getting very close to Martin Cox who had now lost touch with Vajin. As soon as he hit the stairs off the ridge Martin slowed dramatically and I caught him quickly. He kindly pulled over muttering something about being terrible on stairs and “descending like a grandma” and I passed into 2nd place. With renewed confidence I then ran the zig-zags as fast as I could. The trick is to balance speed on each straight with the need to brake sharply at each corner. Unfortunately about three quarters of the way down my concentration drifted and I snagged a toe on a rock. Next thing I was on the ground body surfing. Fortunately it wasn’t too bad – a few grazes on knees, elbows and chest but I lost my bottle (metaphorically and literally). I eased up a bit for the remaining descent and entered the Iris Burn station a minute or two behind Vajin and a minute or two ahead of someone else (I could hear the bells).

Iris Burn to Rocky Point

On leaving the Iris Burn Hut I ran hard and got straight into a good fast rhythm. My strength is normally the preceding mountain section and most years I lose places in the second half. I was determined to avoid that this year, and the road marathon training seemed to be good preparation for some fast running on tired legs. I also made a special effort to eat enough to delay the onset of fatigue. Based on my time out of Iris Burn I knew sub 5 hours (a real benchmark in this race) was possible.

Rocky Point to Motorau Hut

Still feeling good and moving well along here, eating better and staying positive. At Motorau, Vajin was still “a couple of minutes” ahead and I had no idea how much gap I had on 3rd place – this was starting to worry me. Martin Lukes and Tucks are both strong finishers.

Motorau Hut to Rainbow Reach

More of the same, but starting to feel a bit weary. My stomach was giving me grief and I had to slow down the eating and drinking. I was getting dehydrated but my stomach wouldn’t take any more. Near Rainbow Reach I started to come across walkers and joggers heading back up the track to spectate. It was nice to get some support after a lot of solitary running. One dude ran after me with a video camera asking questions! I wasn’t up for long replies.

Rainbow Reach to End

The last 10km is always a struggle, but this time was better than most. I was still moving well and no sign of cramp but starting to get paranoid about being caught. I took a few nervous glances over my shoulder and counted down the kilometres. With 2km to go I could hear the finish announcer echoing down the river and not long after I could hear Vajin finishing. After so long running alone it’s a real excitement to hear the noise getting louder and l turned the corner out of the bush onto the control gates, checked my watch and ran hard for a sub-5 finish (4:59:29). After crossing the finish line I downed 2 litres of water, which barely touched the sides and then quickly descended into near hypothermia. I was unable to stop shaking despite putting on all the clothes I could find. Good to know I didn’t leave anything in the tank!

I’m very happy with how things panned out, but I reckon there is still some room for improvement. With better & more specific training for the hills, bigger volume and perhaps a greater focus on improving my tolerance for food in the latter part of the race (although how you train for that I am not sure?). Tucks ran well to finish 5th on debut in 5:15. That’s a great time for a first attempt and with experience of the course I am sure he could return and run a lot faster.

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  1. GTG
    2012-12-11 at 7:56 am

    great race Tony!! Stoked for you to get under the 5hr mark.
    See you next year mate!

  2. Marty
    2012-12-11 at 4:02 pm

    Yup good on you Tony; top effort; come and take up residency over here!

  1. 2012-12-12 at 8:36 am
  2. 2013-01-01 at 12:43 am

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