100 miles is the overhanging goal for most ultramarathoners. You see, most people can run a marathon off a bit of training, but only a few will ever think of a 100 mile race, let alone actually finish one. It’s a distance that requires dedication and isn’t for the faint-hearted. It was in December of 2017 when I started toying with the idea of having a crack at my first 100-mile race this year. I’d finished up a successful year where I had run my first 100km race and I was in need of a bigger goal, a longer race, something that was going to test my limits. After the 100km, I was adviced that to avoid injury, I should leave the 100-mile idea and stick with 100k’s for the next few years… But, instead, the idea of getting my first buckle while still in high school excited me and I decided to give the miler a crack.
I chose the Old Forest Hanmer 100 mile race which is a race run alongside a 100km, 50 miles, 50km and 21km event in May each year. The race starts and finishes in Hanmer Springs and consists of 16 laps of a 10km route through the hilly terrain on the outskirts of the village. With about 3500 metres of elevation, it is a perfect first 100-mile race for any dear soul who wants a buckle. Having crewed dad here last year and raced the 50km here, I knew the laps well and it was an easy decision to have a crack at the distance in Hanmer. Both dad and I entered and we were set. We were lucky enough to have friends doing some of the other races here. Tony Sharpe, Mark Rigby, and Michael Stuart were having a crack at the 100 miles, Andy in the 50km’s and Lee in the 21km. Given that Ben, Andy Higginson, Lee Butts and Kevin Grimwood (the last of whom couldn’t make this race) do most of their training in Hagley Park it felt like the weekend of the Hagley Hombres. For those who don’t get my sad attempt at a joke, the Hombres is a long, lost distant group of cousins of the Coconino Cowboys. Just, the Cowboys use a canyon for training and the Hombres use the park. Other than that, both groups wear shorty shorts, talk a large amount of running smack and train harder than they should! If you still don’t get my joke, just move on to the next paragraph…
Fast forward four months and it’s March and I’ve just returned from my expedition to the Kermadec Islands. After returning from my trip, I started to train and slowly build up a strong base of fitness that would get me through the unknown. A key component of a 100-mile race is the ability to get through the nighttime section and so I incorporated nighttime runs into my training to help get myself use to the moonlight trails. I also used the Arrowsmith Mountain Marathon and the Totara Trails Marathon as longer training runs for the race and they were good excuses to spend between 4 and 7 hours out on unfamiliar steep trails in the middle of nowhere! You can see all the nitty-gritty bits of my training on Strava, however, I will talk about a specific 10-day block of training I did one month out from race day. Long story short, I ran 250km in 10 days, which included two marathons, two runs over 30kms and a few more at around 25km’s. I felt pretty tired after the 10 days, but it did reassure me that I had the legs to finish the 100-mile race and that I wasn’t signing up for something too silly…
Race week came with a dose of a chest infection and so I didn’t run in the week leading up to the race. I felt weak, unsure whether it was smart to race and really questioned the convenience of this infection. But I pushed on, slept well on Thursday night and was excited to begin. The weather was forecast to be a warm 12 degrees this year and the mood was cheery when we arrived in Hanmer. Both dad and I collected our numbers, caught up with other running buddies and set up our marquee aid station. We crossed over the road, were briefed on what the next 30 hours would hold, took a photo and then were set free into the forests of Hanmer.
The plan was to run a very easy first 40km’s to see how I felt and prep myself for the back half of the race. Unfortunately, this would be one of the worst parts of the race and it really put me to the test. The chest infection that both dad and I had come down with, had left me weak and feeling at about 60% my normal self. This wasn’t ideal only a quarter of the way through the race and so with dads advice and motivation, I pushed on and took each lap as it came! In hindsight, I don’t think I could’ve even managed 50km’s without dads help and I was lucky to catch him in one of my many low moments during the race. We pushed on into the evening, spending time running with Tony and enjoying the atmosphere around the Race HQ and aid station. We tried a range of different foods to get us through this period including, chips, bars and lollies. Unfortunately, the mashed potato burritos I had made the night before, didn’t work and I pushed them towards the bin while I gagged from the taste.
Andy and Lee joined us at 8.30 for a lap and this lifted both our spirits. After running together for nearly 12 hours, it was nice to spend time with others. Loads of banter was shared and Andy even face-timed Kevin from the trails. This lifted myself and dads spirits and we wished Kevin well for the Oxford Odyssey Half marathon in the morning. The final words of advice from Kevin, “make sure you’re carrying your frequent flyer card on the trails!” Although it sounds cheesy, it’s amazing what a joke can do out on the trails after running 80km. Andy and Lee left us back at the aid station after a 10km lap and we met Omri and mum who come up after school and hockey to crew and pace us through the night. Although I don’t remember much of the evening, I’m told that I was chatty and in a good mood!
Dad and I were joined by mum for the final lap and a half and we ticked off 100km’s just after midnight. The lap was tough and I learnt how important it is to eat ‘real food’ and not just eat lollies, chips and drink water. We got to 100km’s slower than I thought we would be, but I was stoked to get to this milestone in just over 15 hours. We spent around 15 minutes refuelling in the aid station, drinking soup, eating lollies and resetting ourselves for the final 60km leg. I ate a PB and Nutella burrito which restocked my energy supplies and put me in a better mood for the kilometres to come. I told dad in the aid station that I knew this final 60km would be a tough slog and that he didn’t have to stick it out with me. Gratefully, he decided to continue at my pace and we headed out into the night, embarking on new distance territory for me. I’d been told that the early morning before the sunrise is the hardest part of a 100 mile race and as the hours slowly crept by, I understood why. A lot of the early morning is a blur in my mind, but somehow we slowly ticked off the laps and the sunrise got closer. At one stage I was carrying a small bag of chips in one hand and a handful of Fruit Bursts in the other – anything to keep my mind occupied and energy levels high. I also had managed to set my charging watch up on my vest in a hands-free system that I had called the ‘Barkley Method’. Ironically, GPS watches aren’t allowed in the Barkley and I still wonder how this strange idea came to me while I pushed myself around the trails.
By 6am I was struggling with the fact that the sun wasn’t rising. I remember being down about the fact that it wasn’t light and I’d convinced myself in my own mind that the sun would never rise again. Weirdly, by 7am, the sun had risen and I was in a better mood. We had passed 130km’s and I was excited about nearly being finished with this race – by this time, I was done and all I wanted was the shiny buckle. We were also joined by 100km runners and this cheered us up as we were seeing new faces each lap! By now our pace had slowed down a lot and we were both stiff and sore. At 9am we were joined by the 50km runners on the trails and this was an exciting part of the morning (believe it or not!)! It was a chance to see Andy racing and eventually, Lee smash the 21km. For some reason, this continued to motivate us and both dad and I pushed through the pain and the slow laps. With dad’s hip giving him a lot of pain and my calf tightening up, we looked a mess. It was amazing to have so much support and help from those around the tents and in the aid station. Thankfully, Mark Rigby (who’d finished earlier) and Mark Inglis lent us their poles to use on the final lap and a half. These helped and somehow we were able to hobble to the end and ‘knock the bastard off’.
They say “100 miles is really far. It’s harder than you think it is and it’ll hurt more than you think it will” and this pretty much sums up what my race was like. It was special to finish my first 100 mile race in 29:09 hours and receive my first buckle after a tough first miler. Even better, I was able to cross the line with my dad after running 100 miles together, a feat that not many fathers and sons can say they have done. Yes, it hurt a lot and I swore I would never run again, but there is something special about the buckle. It pulled me towards the finish line. You don’t get a buckle for a half-hearted effort or a DNF. To get a buckle you must race smart, finish (under the cut-offs) and throw every ounce of energy into finishing the race. To receive my first buckle while still in school is pretty cool and I believe that it makes me the youngest known 100 mile finishers ever in New Zealand at the age of 18! Although it wasn’t the race I had hoped for, at the end of day finishing is better than not finishing. Dad and I placed 8th equal overall and were presented with our buckles after finishing on Saturday afternoon.
It’s nearly been a week since the race and I’m already asking myself if I’ll run another 100 miles. The answer is yes. Although I hate to say it, ‘pain is temporary and glory lasts forever’ and this is exactly what a 100 mile race is. Although I don’t think I’ll be lining up for another miler this year, I have set my sights on a few in the near future and I have some exciting races ahead of me in the next six months.
So there you go! That was my experience at the Old Forest Hanmer 100 for 2018. It was an incredible race and I’m stoked with my result. I’m now going to take it easy over winter and I have a few goals and ideas up my sleeve… Which this space!
Thank you for following my journey throughout my training and this race. It’s always motivating to have so much support for what I’m doing, and all the comments always mean a lot! Thank you to dad for sticking with me for the duration of the race and supporting me throughout the night. Thanks to mum and Omri for giving up your night and day to help both dad and I out. Finally, well done and thanks to Andy, Lee, Mark, Tony and Michael – the weekend was heaps of fun (sort of) and your support was appreciated! Also kudos and thanks to Mark Inglis for helping us out towards the end of the race!
Finally, thanks to OSM for supporting me with all my racing! These guys always have my back! You can find all the details about my racing and training on my social media channels. Find me on Facebook or on Instagram! Also, you can find the Strava details for my race, here!