Kepler Challenge training dry run

Date: 22 December 2014
Distance: 60km (some sources give it as 67km – I would love that to be the case!)
Time: 11:58

Things don’t always go according to plan. But sometimes they do. This self-supported run had a bit of both.

We were booked to hike the Kepler Track, a 60km circular route, over Xmas with family. And so I thought to myself, why not run it a couple of days prior to the hike? Luckily it didn’t take much convincing to get Gerry on board as we thought it would make for a great last long run before the Tarawera, and we needed to test our hydration and fuelling needs for these kinds of events anyway.

Gerry did his homework on hydration packs the past few months and we thought that while we’re on the South Island, we might as well try on some of his shortlisted hydration vests. The North Island unfortunately is very skimp on options when it comes to these things. And it is important to try them on to get the right size, as we dearly learned.

At the first shop we went to, I saw a hydration vest that just seemed perfect in every way, but not even trying it on I thought it too elaborate for a back-of-the-packer. It was the Salomon Advanced Skin 12 Set. So I browsed the shop while Gerry talked to the sales chappy, tried on some packs, etc. Finally I got bored and decided to try on the Salomon. Why not. And, oh boy, was that vest just made for me! There was only the one, in my size and it fitted like a glove. It took me all of 5 seconds to make up my mind and we bought it.

Gerry was very keen on the Ultimate Direction hydration vest and so we went from shop to shop to compare prices, try on the different sizes etc. In the end he bought the Ultimate Direction PB Adventure and we went to the nearest pub for a celebratory local brew.

With only one day to drive the last few hundred kilometres down south, find a campsite and get ourselves sorted for the run, we didn’t have much time for error. It was a nice scenic drive through some of the most beautiful parts of the world, we found a good campsite and pitched the tent. At around 7pm we started packing all the essentials for a 60km run on mountainous terrain, having to cater for alpine conditions and other eventualities. Still completely stoked with my pack, I could manage to fit in a filled bladder, two bottles in the front, spare clothing, gloves, beanie, buffs, food and still had room for more. Gerry’s pack came without a bladder, and doesn’t have a separate compartment to hold the bladder, but he was reassured that the bladder (that you have to buy as a add-on) goes behind the compression straps in the back of the pack. As it turns out, that isn’t a 100% true. Yes, you can go for that option, but then the bladder takes up most of the space inside the 11 litre pack, and to refill it, you have to essentially unpack your whole bag. So to use a bladder together with a reasonable amount of extra gear is not really an option, rather it’s an either-or.

After some packing, negotiating and repacking, but managing to stuff some of the bare necessities, the pack no longer fitted Gerry’s body. He might have bought too small a size in the first place, but little did we know that a filled pack would fit completely different to an empty pack. I blame the sales lady who didn’t have a larger size, just wanted to make the sale and told Gerry you don’t want it too loose (true), and you can use longer straps in the front to make it fit better (that should have raised a flag), etc. All this coming from someone who claims to have used a range of packs on a variety of races – someone in the know.

Given that the Ultimate Direction specific bladder (2 litres) costs another $85, makes this hydration vest more expensive than what we paid for the “too elaborate” Salomon vest. Luckily we didn’t make the extra expense to buy the UD bladder, but decided that Gerry will just use my Camelbak bladder in the interim.

With this curve ball, we unpacked everything and repacked Gerry’s 32 litre Deuter backpack. Not the ideal running pack, but at least one he’s carried for many miles in the past, and with its compression straps we managed to get it snug and tight fitting.

With all of 11km on my spanking brand new trail running shoes (the NB Leadville 1210), we were ready for action. At 6:23 in the morning with the early sun shining on the lake, we set off on a trot. Gerry’s backpack wasn’t as comfortable as could be, but he managed okey and it turned out not too bad after all.

The first 5.6km section from the car park to Brod Bay is basically flat, with cover overhead thanks to the forest canopy. Although a bit chilly at the start, we quickly warmed up and had to shed some layers. Then the big climb starts, and the next 8.2km to Luxmore Hut is all uphill. At Luxmore Hut, above the tree-line and exposed to the fresh South-Westerlies, we had to don gloves, beanies and warm clothing, as it was quite cold in the mountain ranges. MetService predicted 2degrees Celsius at the top, but it wasn’t quite as cold, I thought.

For the next about 10km we stayed at the top traversing the mountain on the ridges. With spectacular views in all directions, we were pleased with our progress and were still feeling good.

At exactly the 21.1km (according to Gerry’s GPS), I instinctively must have known that I’ve reached a certain milestone, as I managed a spectacular dive, head first, on a rocky downhill section. And like a pregnant sheep that rolled over on an incline, I couldn’t get up. Both my arms were stuffed, and laying in a downhill position, I needed arms to push me up again. Gerry had to pull me up on my elbows, and apart from two stuffed arms and just some minor pain in my one foot and the opposite knee, we continued along the ridge, trying to get off the mountain and out of the wind and cold.

As soon as we reached the tree line for the next 4.6km downhill to Iris Burn Hut, we stopped to assess the damage. My left arm was in considerable pain and I was certain something was cracked or broken. We always expect the worst, don’t we? A lump the size of a chicken had formed on the back of my forearm, tinted blueish-green, with a prominent blood stain in the middle. The lump was bouncy when running, so I decided to wrap it up with a Buff, as we didn’t take any bandage with. Buffs are the best invention ever!

Counting my lucky stars that I didn’t break an ankle or leg or something more serious, we made our way down the mountain. The 4+ kilometres felt like an eternity, but after reaching the hut in about 5.5 hours total running time, and filling our water bottles, we jogged again on the flattish forest trails.

We were nearing the halfway point in a little over 6 hours and with the remainder of the course mainly flat with just a few uphills, we felt comfortable that we would make our target time of 12 hours.

Our hydration and nutrition experiment also went well. Ever heard of flavour fatigue? Well, that’s what you get when you run long distances on only jelly babies! Or whatever else you choose to replenish your carbs with. So we opted for a variety of food stuffs to get us through the day.

With ultras where you spent many hours getting from point A to B, you need mainly carbohydrates to keep you going. Proteins and fats takes long to digest, meaning that while on the run, the blood that needs to go to your legs to propel you forward, ends up going to your digestive system, making you lethargic. However, if you go rather slow, it is not altogether a bad idea to consume little bits of fat and protein, with the main food source still being carbs.

On the menu, shared between us, we had:

  • pretzels (protein 8.6g, fat 1.6g, carbs 83.6g)
  • bagel crisps (protein 10.5g, fat 13.7g, carbs 67.4g)
  • Tasty snack logs (protein 11.5g, fat 21.6g, carbs 51.1g)
  • bananas (5)
  • ginger preserve (handful)
  • jelly babies (200g)
  • electrolytes (Hammer)
  • Vitafresh drink (3, didn’t use it)
  • 500ml Powerade

The nice thing about running with a partner is that you can halve and share things. Like a banana. I usually can’t manage one on my own and getting to share one makes perfect sense. Also the logs. Every two and a half hours we shared a banana. In between we shared a log and for the rest just tried to snack often on the bagels, pretzels, jelly babies etc. We also shared and alternated between the electrolytes, water and the sugary/carb drinks which in this case turned out to be only one bottle of Powerade.

Overall I think we managed to avoid the bonk nutrition wise, but I was still battered during the last 10km and ended up walking most of it. With a couple of minutes to spare we made our 12 hour target which I was quite pleased with.

The weather was good, and the day turned out great.

I am also extremely happy with my new shoes. Apart from really sore feet, I didn’t get any blisters or even hotspots. They give the right amount of support for this type of terrain and the traction is perfect. Not too “sticky” and not too slippery. One could claim that the fall was caused by the shoe being too sticky and not skimming the rock when I went over it (I’ve been over this in my mind a million times), but I blame it on my “lazy leg”. Yep, my left leg is a bit weaker than the right one and when I tire, I tend to not lift it up properly anymore.

As for my hydration vest, it goes without saying that I couldn’t have chosen a better one. The whole bladder opens up at the top with a sliding device, so no worrying about tiny mouth openings with screw tops, or having to take out the bladder to refill. And cleaning it is a breeze. It can even be turned inside out. The greatest part is that any old 400-500ml water or soft drink bottle can go in the front. I am so impressed with Salomon, I can see why so many of the world’s best runners all use Salomon products.

On the upside, Gerry could luckily return his hydration best (no questions asked) and shop for something else.

The big question for me is whether we should consider doing the official Kepler Challenge someday, as running it on our own was so much fun! Pity you can’t claim unofficial events as one of your marathons or ultras …

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