Krayzie K's 50k Race Report by Sandor Toth
My alarm went off at 4:00am. I had slept well, and had all of my gear ready. All I needed to do was have breakfast, gear up, and reflect on my preparations in the calm before the storm. 4:30am, and I jumped into the car, looking forward to my awaiting adventure.
After a 30 minute drive I arrived at Orton Bradley Park, the home of Krayzie K’s - a gruelling ultramarathon notorious for its technical and varied terrain, steep elevation, and a stretch of stairs which are enough to challenge even the hardest stoic. The course comprises 12.5km laps, with around 580m of vertical gain. One lap is split into two loops; the first, a steep ascent into farmland, and then down through paddocks of cows and sheep; the second, a technical trail weaving under tree cover through the park, undulating until reaching the main climb which included the legendary stairs. The course was challenging, a pleasure to run on, and very well marked with posts, bunting, and blue arrows (great for the colour blind, might I add!)
A bit of background: the event is organised by Stephanie Berry and George McNeur, a passionate, wild, and hardworking team committed to providing every competitor with a truly memorable experience. They go above and beyond to acknowledge every athlete’s trials and tribulations, successes and struggles, ups and downs, which matter so much, as ultras are more often than not an emotional rollercoaster in which crossing the finish line (be it first or last) is a victory in and of itself.
The main event, the formidable 100 miler, began on Friday, as did the 100K. So when I arrived and checked in for the 50K event, I saw some people almost 24 hours into their event, and some even finishing their 100K. It was an exciting sight, and my anticipation grew as all 8 competitors (arguably the 8 sensible ones!) made their way from the safety briefing to the start line. Almost 6:00am. A couple of competitors mentioned that they were feeling cold - I couldn’t believe it, and said how it was balmy, almost tropical! I guess those Dunedin winter runs in nothing but a t-shirt and shorts have started to affect my internal thermostat. We took off, and little did I know that this short, friendly exchange would be the foreshadowing of my downfall.
3...2...1… Go! I started quickly with a steady pace, careful not to redline too early into the piece, but also taking on board some lessons from my last race, the Three Peaks Plus One, where I had probably lost some valuable minutes being over-conservative at the beginning. In hindsight, it always does take me about half an hour to warm up and get into the flow, so I suppose that might be more of a ‘don’t fix what ain’t’ broke situation in terms of racing strategy. By the time I was out in the open fields, midway through the first climb, my legs were starting to loosen up, and I was getting in the zone. The first lap was a pure joy, and I was riding high on the euphoria of novelty. There is always something special about the first time on a new trail that always sticks!
The second lap went as smooth as the first. I was conserving energy and in high spirits. I was flirting with my aerobic threshold, and balancing on the razor edge of energy intake and output. As I finished my second lap I noticed the 25K runners (aka the fast ones!) up ahead on the start line. They were all in good spirits, and as I jogged past they clapped and cheered. In a regrettable classic fashion, I smiled sarcastically and said to the group “It’s really awful, you’re going to hate it” - it garnered guffaws, and now that I reflect on it… it was really them who had the last laugh.
There’s nothing quite like sponges on a hot racing day. It must have been approaching if not 30 degrees already, and I was starting to feel my core temperature rise. Squeezing the car sponge above my head and having that ice cold water run down me was one of the most satisfying experiences of the race. Whoever organised the sponges: I love you. I have raced in heat before and found that wetting a thir and putting that under my hat helped keep away the sunburn, however it was starting to dry out very quickly, perhaps 10-15 minutes out from the aid station. I ran out into my third lap alongside the 25K runners. That was really fun! It wasn’t long before I settled back into a hike and they left me in the dust - ahh, familiar old dust. It was at the top of this climb, that almost suddenly, something unexpected happened.
The previously rather straightforward meander down the farmland after the first loop’s climb was an absolute struggle. Heat and exhaustion had pushed me into the redline and I couldn’t find another gear to shift into. I slowed down, but still my heart was pounding, my throat was parched, and in my stomach was starting to grow a pain and nausea that I would become very well acquainted with for the remainder of the race. My chest was starting to hurt, I just couldn’t get back under the threshold. Ok. Now the fun begins, I told myself. Strategy time - the wheels are falling off… time to sort things and get back on track.
I was carrying poles which weren’t a big deal, but mentally I was finding them tough to carry by then. I won’t need them for the stairs, I told myself, so I left them at the aid station as I headed out to confront the stairs for the second last time. Also, I had decided to try and take in some more water. I knew that my fluid intake was crucial in this heat, and I was filling up at every 5-6km stop. But it was then that the pain and nausea took hold, reducing me to nothing faster than a hobble.
Push through, no matter what. This is a great theory, but anybody who has experienced this won’t find what happened next surprising. I would try to break into a jog, my gut pain would spike, and then I would be dry heaving on the side of the trail (nothing chunky I promise). By now I was in absolute overdrive, as hot as I can ever remember being, my guts on strike, and also facing the fact that I was approaching my time to take in nutrition. So I did - it was hard, but I did.
But in the next hour, and as I began to make my way up my final hill, it seemed that nothing was absorbing. I was getting no energy from my nutrition, every time I sipped water, it just added to my bloated stomach. The more I tried to refuel and hydrate, the more it added to my struggle. By now, all chirpiness had faded. I was beyond enjoying the sights and sounds. I had just one thing on my mind… get this done.
I really didn’t know if I could finish this race. I felt a sense of pressure from doing the 50K that mightn’t have bothered me doing something longer. Maybe all I needed was 15 minutes to sit down, cool down, and reset. Perhaps I needed to practise running in warmer conditions more. Perhaps I needed to keep smiling, as George suggested as I ran out to complete my final loop. But none of this was going through my head. All I could think about was the sheer relief that would be found in crossing the finish line for the last time.
I finished the race. At the time it felt more like being relinquished from my undying agony, but now I know that’s just melodramatic. I finished in about 7.5hrs, but to be honest I really don’t know if times really mean much to me any more. You can have a race where everything clicks, and your problems are fairly straightforward, and get a quicker time. It doesn’t necessarily reflect the effort required to finish. It may have been a slow race day, but it was without a doubt one of the most gruelling for me.
I crossed the line and was met by Stephanie and George. Their warm welcome and a compassionate embrace (oh and a nice cool ice block!) brought a tear to my eye. My wife Kelly was also there, who had raced the 50K, ripped her finger on barbed wire, and then still ran 2 more laps until deciding it’s probably best to call it a day (but that’s for another race report).
This wasn’t the finish I expected, but it was a huge learning experience for this beginner trail runner. I have unfinished business out on those beautifully brutal trails, and I will be back in 2021, armed with a tad of experience, but still taking no outcome as a given. I have nothing but the greatest respect for everyone who toed the line last weekend, be it for the 6.5K right through to the miler. I really do love the long distance trails. Perhaps in a busy modern life it’s the ability to slow down perceived time so that an hour feels like it lasts a lifetime. Perhaps an escape from the everyday demands of multitasking to be able to focus on a simple, singular task. Perhaps it’s just a sufferfest (misery loves company!) ... but I think it’s even more than that. I guess we’re all on our own journey in life, and there’s something special about sharing with others every now and then that makes that journey all the more meaningful.
by Sándor Tóth