Kepler Challenge 2013

Sarah and Sharron

I decided to enter the Kepler Challenge after being inspired by Mal Law’s book, One Step Beyond, which had the message that ordinary people could achieve extraordinary things. So after reading this I was inspired to sign up for the Kepler Challenge which would be double the distance I had run in any race, and on race day turned out to be 20km more than I had ever run in one go.

I have to admit that I was a little guilty over not doing enough training for the Kepler, especially after hearing the detailed training plans of many other runners. I was so busy with University during the year that regular running training just did not happen and especially with being under a lot of pressure to perform well in exams in October. However, I had though about running the Kepler a lot since signing up for it so I was hoping all this mental training would help me survive through the 60kms and that the physical training may just be a little overrated…

I was extremely lucky in that I knew some of the helicopter operators down in Te Anau and managed to get a helicopter flight over the race course the day before the race. This was amazing but also extremely frightening because from the helicopter, the course looked very long, steep and narrow in sections, and the weather forecast was predicting rain and strong wind, so I was feeling very apprehensive at this point. I desperately took some comfort in the fact that I had packed my bright orange running t-shirt and thought that if I got hurtled off the track by a huge gust of wind and lost somewhere along the way, at least the SAR team could easily spot me. By now I was really starting to scare myself so much that I had images of runners crawling across the alpine section of the course hanging on for dear life as wind battered them down flashing through my mind. Clearly the nerves were starting to get the better of me and I was starting to really regret my lack of physical training for the race.

After pretending to sleep for a few hours we were up before 4am to get ready for the 6am race start. The weather had behaved itself, and it turned out to be a sunny day with not too much wind. Apparently the weather always does the opposite of the reports for the Kepler Challenge. Sharron had run the Kepler before so I though it might be a wise idea to try and hang onto her so I tailgated her up the hill and we played a little game of tag along the alpine section, with Sharron passing me on the uphills and me overtaking on the downhills. The views from the top were absolutely spectacular and it’s simply not true about trail runners always looking at their feet and not being able to appreciate the scenery. I found the last 20km of the race tough as I hadn’t got my fuel or hydration right during the race, especially since my hydration bladder had leaked out all my water so I paid for it in those last 20kms which became a battle in relentless forward motion. The little hills suddenly begun to feel like huge mountains and it wasn’t until a drink station about 5km out from the end that I realised I was quite dehydrated. Running through Rainbow Reach was really uplifting. A lot of supporters were there cheering the runners on and Ewa and Brent from Wellington Runners Meetup Group were there as well which gave me such a surprise when I suddenly had people cheering out my name as I passed.

Sharron did wonderful and improved on her 2012 time by nearly 40 minutes which was really impressive and she certainly chased me down over the last 20km of the race. I finished in a time of 8 hours 5 minutes and Sharron came storming home behind me in a time of 8 hours 7 minutes.

One of the things I liked most about the Kepler Challenge was the camaraderie between runners and the great atmosphere before, during and after the race. Both runners and marshals are so encouraging. Iris Burn, which was the half-way point during the race, had trees decorated with balloons and a cowbell being rung continuously that you could hear as you wound down the mountain towards it.

The Kepler Challege Prize-giving was also certainly a highlight with the race commentary delivered by Noel Walker who provided many funny stories from the event like one runner who came hurrying over to the officials tent before the start so desperate to get more safety pins that it prompted the Safety Controller Todd Hollebon to inquire “What’s he wearing – nappies or something?” or one runner who said as he crossed the finish, “My doctor told me that jogging could add 10 years to my life. My doctor was right. I feel 10 years older already!”

So the to answer the question of whether I would do the Kepler Challenge again – it is a resounding “yes!” I hope I can get a place in the race this year and give the sub 8 hour time a crack. But the Kepler Challenge has done more than just given me motivation to crack the sub 8-hour time, it’s really given me the ultra-running trail bug and confidence in my running ability to complete these longer races. So bring on the Tararua Mountain Race, HillaryTrail expedition…

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