How to Kepler

How to KeplerPrint

Each year a dozen or so brave squaddies pull this epic race from the bucket list and head down to the isolated tourist trap that is Te Anau (the tunnel seemed like a good idea to me).

Kepler is probably NZs oldest trail ultra and with decades in the making it’s one of the country’s most iconic events.  It sells out so fast the smart event directors have (finally!) put a lottery system in place to ensure people have a fair chance of getting a start.  So if your name comes up – you gotta go!

Being such an exclusive thing you may only get the one chance to run it so you’d want to be sure you race it well.  I guess this is why we have so many requests from our athletes on how to race it well.  I’ve run it but never raced it and my personal experience on this trail is limited.  To this end I’ve called in some of the Kepler experts to hear what they have to say about the annual pre-xmas

grant-guiseUltra Legend Grant Guise (Altra Running NewZealand) has been up, around, and down a fair few times now and here’s his super condensed wisdom
1) Calm the fuck down.
2) Run super easy and relaxed up, over and down the hill.
3) If you can’t run super easy and relaxed up, over and down the hill- go back and re read step 1, until you can.
go light- carry 500ml of water max. There are loads of aid and water options. If you carry a 2L bladder of water up the climb to Luxmore hut then you deserve all the suffering that will incur. I have done it with 300ml bottle once and didnt refill it until Rocky Point (45km?)’. You can easily do the same with 500ml and refill at every aid station. Thank me later for all that weight you are saving. That was number 4)….
5) Look up and enjoy when you are on the tops.
6) Start getting to work at Rocky Point, but just a little. Then step it up again at Moturau, and then again at Rainbow 7) Reach. If you followed step 1 and 2, you should be able to do this.
It is actually a really hard race to run well I think! Good luck to the crew that is doing it!altra-logo

Thanks Grant!  Grant has done the Kepler more times than most and will no doubt continue to be an annual fixture at the event.  If you see a guy rocking the coolest shades in the business or a sweet pair of Altra zero-drop shoes, go over and say “Hi!”  He’s one of the good guys.

Few could argue that Mark Green is much less than the best Kiwi thing Australia has tried to claim since the Pav.  He’s easily the best Aussie resident Kiwi runner across all 3.5 islands and he’s been on the podium at Kepler enough times to know what it takes to kill it on race day.

On paper the Kepler Challenge looks like a relatively easy run compared to some of the 50km and 100km events which are now venturing into the 4000m+ vertical range. But, don’t be deceived by the profile, it is a Bloody hard race which has brought many a good runner to tears.

Officially there is only 1350m of elevation, but in reality it is just a touch over 2000m.

I think what makes this race particularly hard is the fact that the last 30km is easily runnable at a pretty fast pace – if you are on fresh legs. The problem is everyone overcooks themselves on the uphill because it is so early in the race, then they get over-excited on the 10km steep drop down to Irisburn Hut (which is the half way point). Running fast on a descent this steep is a recipe for blowing up your quads, which makes the last 30km very ugly.mark-green-ultra-marathon-runner

Mark’s advice:

  • The race doesn’t finish at Brod Bay – so don’t race the first 6km!!
  • The climb up to Luxmore hut is a series of steep switchbacks. Most people will be faster hiking this than running it. You might still have some legs left in the last 20km if you hike the majority of the climb.
  • There is still quite a lot of climbing, and some of it quite steep from Luxmore Hut across the tops to Hanging Valley Shelter – this is also the exposed section of the track and subject to very cold weather changes. Have some gloves and a windproof jacket fairly handy for this section. Don’t expect it to be flat!
  • If you have done a lot of hard descending in training and you are confident your quads will hold up then you can afford to push it a little bit down the hill. If not, then try and run down at a comfortable pace with very short steps and without having the “brakes on” too much.
  • If your legs are good, you can try and get into a steady rhythm from Irisburn all the way through to rainbow reach. There are a couple of very short steep pinches, but the rest is definitely runnable at a good clip
  • From Rainbow Reach to the finish is 99.9% psychological. It is going to hurt no matter how fit you are. Put your head down and get on with it. This is what you trained for!
Notes: If you are lucky enough to travel with some support crew – they can drive to Rainbow Reach and have a bottle of coke waiting for you. With 10km to go, a smiling face and some “Vitamin C” might make the last stretch more tolerable. They will still be able to get to the finish in time for you to hobble over the line. It’s an easy drive back to the start/finish
Love this advice from Mark.  Be sure to keep an eye on TheBodyMechanic over the coming months for some exciting subscription-based content on it’s way.  Mark and the team are probably the number 1 running physio’s in Australasia and we’re excited to hear about some awesome online stuff just around the corner!
Finally, no ‘How to Kepler’ would be complete without a shout out to the archives.  Over the years there have been some great contributions to the running community and many can be found in a rummage around ‘backcountryrunner’  A few stand-out gems include Matt Bixleys’ write up here and some vintage gold from vintage goldie Martin Lukes here.
Good luck to everyone headed out there.  Remember to concentrate, smile and HAVE FUN!Kepler Runners