Kiwi Trail Running Article
Written By: Matt Rayment
Good Fortune, a track from PJ Harvey's Mercury prize winning album Stories from the city, Stories from the Sea contains the line “Things I once thought unbelievable in my life, have all taken place”. This statement resonates with me both in the sense of where my life has taken me and in regards to my journey with running.
So it figures then, that running has followed the same path. Sebastian Junger, writing in his book Tribe, discusses Self Determination Theory as a pathway to wellbeing. Internal motivation and happiness go together like peanut butter and dark chocolate. SDT has three central tenets ; You have to have a degree of Autonomy, You have to have a degree of Competence, and thirdly (and most importantly) You have to have a degree of Relatedness, or engagement with others. When I first started running, I ran alone and isolated. I was doubtful of my ability and the challenge that running would have to my physical being. I felt trapped within these constraints of anxiety and was afraid to trust my instinct and nature. I didn’t know about running, either from a form, training or experiential perspective. I enjoyed running, but I didn’t love it.
In the last five years, particularly the last 12 months, I’ve grown to deeply love running and appreciate the changes that it’s wrought. My love of running, and my happiness when I’m engaged in it has encouraged me to explore the sport and the structure of consistent and effective training more fully. The more I’ve learnt about running the more that curiosity has replaced fear. I was the guy that got so sick from a systemic infection after my first half marathon that I ended up on IV antibiotics for a week. Now I’m the guy who routinely runs back to back (to back) half marathons in training. My heart lies in the trees but I’ll bust out on the road as happily as I will on the trails, because I’ve learnt that my love of running comes largely from within.
My non-running related magazine is the New Yorker. I love long reads. So I submit long reads. I don’t envy Vicki having to edit my articles, and she does a great job of honing them. However I’d like to bring back a line that was excised from the first article of this series. “If you are expecting a dry, blow by blow account of a middle class white male in his late thirties building up to running an ultramarathon, turn the page now. That has as much interest for me as watching paint dry”. I was excited to devote this year to running anything but an ultra marathon. Not that I have anything against Ultra Marathons, I don’t. It’s just that everyone seems to be doing them, and In wishing to deepen my understanding of running I wanted to gain competence at some traditionally fundamental distances of running. I made a pact with myself that I would only ever run this year to marathon distance, and if I did, I would do so to the best of my abilities.
Then I got into Kepler.
Earlier this year, perhaps ridiculously (I don’t know, it’s hard to gain perspective sometimes) I landed a spot on the Altra/UltrAspire New Zealand running team, and with Altra sponsoring the 2016 Kepler I was offered a place on what could be considered the classic of the NZ running calendar. Originally conceived as a one-off fundraiser in 1988, the 60 kilometre Kepler Challenge and the 27km Luxmore Grunt are now sell-out events. In keeping with my new found hunger for experience and learning when Grant offered me the spot I knew that I couldn’t turn it down. After a discussion with Rebecca, I found myself with plane tickets booked to Queenstown and excitedly meeting with James in early September to plan what will now be a Taniwha/Kepler double of sorts.
It’s a strange synchronicity that five years ago the first marathon that I ever ran was the Taniwha, which then became my goal race for this year. When I ran that race I did it with a bunch of other people who discussed in hushed tones that they had gotten into “the Kepler” and were using the Taniwha as a training run. I was intrigued by people who would use a MARATHON to train for another run, but then I put it out of my head and got on with the business of running way too fast in the first half of the race, laying the foundations of a spectacular implosion at 32 kilometres in. Good times.
I like to keep my word, and do what I say, so the Taniwha won’t be a “training run” per se. I’m still going out with the stated goal to better my initial time by as close to an hour as possible. What the Taniwha will offer is an opportunity to run at pace, on a course profile that is analogous to the last 30 kilometres of the Kepler Challenge, that is, largely undulating on fairly well groomed trail. I’ve seen the course profile and I’m aware that there is the matter of Mt. Luxmore ascent and descent to contend with first, however if I’m honest I think that the main challenge for me will be A) pacing appropriately in the first 30km and B) running efficiently in the last half of the race. All going accordingly to plan I’ll be able to bash out the Taniwha, recover, get in a week to ten days of further training for Kepler, taper, then get amongst it in Te Anau exactly four weeks after Taniwha. I feel equally confronted and excited by this amazing opportunity. What I don’t feel is distressed by the challenge.
This last training block has involved a combination of back to back long runs, both on trail and on road, with an increasing focus on running at my anaerobic threshold, which I understand serves the triple purpose of increasing my speed and ability to run faster for a longer period of time, increasing my knowledge and experience of running at an increased tempo and adapting me to sitting with discomfort. Yes, running faster hurts, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. To be a bit cute, the psychology of suffering is all in my head. Or, as two time Tour de France winner Greg Lemond said “it never gets easier, you just go faster”.
Practically speaking, to learn these skills I’ve been undertaking steady state, or tempo runs. The deal here is I start with 15 minutes at aerobic pace, then spend 30 minutes running at my anaerobic threshold pace (faster than aerobic pace, slower than my 400m interval pace) then warm down with 15 minute of aerobic running. Over the weeks the goal will be to increase the durations to where I’m running for 120 minutes at my threshold pace, which for those who are interested is 4.45-4.50 min per Kilometre. This new focus on speed, overlayed over my endurance base, will hopefully pay dividends when it comes to be race day. The only thing I have to contend with then is my race strategy. Which is as follows; Be smart and calm, this is fun, don’t go out too fast, don’t blow up, finish fast.
It’s strange to write these articles so far in advance, by the time that this hits shops in mid December I will have completed both the Taniwha Marathon and the Kepler Challenge. I’m excited to be able to recap and unpick the experiences in the first 2017 edition of Kiwi Trail Runner. As I sit here, looking forward and thinking back I am confident that due to my love of running I will undertake these events with curiosity, openness and joy. I am hopeful (at least with the Taniwha) of achieving to a high level, however chasing a podium spot or PB is by no means a major motivating factor, increasing my happiness is. I feel so grateful to James Kuegler Coaching and Kiwi Trail Runner for giving me this massive opportunity to increase not only my physical but psychological well being and undertake this amazing journey. I wish you, dear reader, a festive season filled with love, light, and dirty ankles. Have an amazing summer, see you in 2017.