Rhys Runs ROF

Hi Squad Team

After a great build, up and Epic day at the Ring of Fire 72k solo I was chatting with Ali and she said some of you might like to hear about my reflection of the day. I hope you can find something useful to take away from it.  If you want to hear all the details read on, if you just want 5 awesome tips that could help you PB or feel fresher at your finishline skip straight to the end.

As soon as I heard a rumour ROF was going to be a thing I knew I would be on that start line if it happened.  I absolutely love the central plateau and everything about it.  The ironic thing is climbing hills has always been my weakness, so it was an interesting race to target and at the time not necessarily the best race for me as a runner.

Well What an Epic event!

Leg 1

A dark and cold 4am start at the front door to the Chateau, Kerry counts it down and we are off turning to run up the road for a small distance then straight into some nice flowing bushy single trail.  I entered the bush in the top 10 (some solo & some Relay runners) it was hard to know who was who and did not know how I was positioned in the solo until a lot later on in the day.  I settled in at the back of the second group as the field started to settle in to the race.  My race plan was to get to Tukino with a set of legs that could run the last leg hard and not be spent, so leg one from Whakapapa village to Turoa ski feild was about laying down a good foundation to the race but being very careful not to over spend too much and risk messing up the plan.  About 25min into the race I started to feel the group I was hanging on to was just a click over the threshold I was willing to lay down, so I let them run off into the dark and I settled into my own pace.  This would be the end of any running company for me for the rest of the day and I would be running on my own to the finish.  7km into the race I started to ascend the first climb and out came my secret weapon THE POLES.  You can be a lover or a hater of poles, but the facts are simple, they give you more power and are legal to use! For me the decision was a no brainer to turn up to ROF with poles. Hills were my weakness and I wanted legs that could run hard for the last 3rd of the race.  I would estimate I used my poles for 75% of the race with every step focusing on taking the load off my legs and transferring it through my arms.

I pushed on in the dark having multiple falls on the very technical rocky trail while trying to still keep at a good speed on the downs and the flat sections.  During leg one I was always keeping an eye on my heart rate to make sure I didn’t over do it and wreck the race plan and making sure not to over load the legs on the climbing.  I always keep a close eye on my heart rate in the early stages of any race and have a pre-set limit in my head that I will aim to not exceed.  This helps to settle into the race plan and not get caught up in the hype of race day and have a potential blow out later in the day.

The end of leg one finished with a 300m vertical climb up the waterfall that comes out on Turoa Ski Field access Rd with a very small road run down to the first aid station.  I had a drop bag here waiting for me and collected my Fuel for Leg 2 out of it.  I Fuel on Infinit it’s a powder that you mix with water and drink.  I picked up 3 x soft bottles with no water in them but pre-filled with the powder, this way as I need the next one all I need to do is add water from a stream and I’m not carrying any extra weight with the water until I need it.  Infinit will do custom mix to suit your needs.  I was taking in an average of 60grm (excluding a bit of banana) of Carbs per hour or 1grm per kg of body weight per hour along with a bunch of other goodness that’s in the mix (if you just did the maths I don’t weigh much ?).

Leg 2

This starts with a few km of nice downhill road that I was able to sit on a little over 4min k’s down trying to run as smooth and efficiently as possible to avoid blowing out my legs so they had power left in them for leg3.  After a nice long downhill, I was directed back into the bush for the beginning of an overall climb of around 400m over the next 20km.  I had trained twice on this leg in the build up to the race so knew what I was in for and that along with all the elevation gain there was also a lot of down hill bits in this section as well.  My approach through here was still a little conservative with the effort I was putting in but started to enjoy the flats and downs a bit more a push harder on these.  This is where I caught up to the tail end of the 50km runners who were all very kind and courteous about letting me past.  I always try to make an effort to say a good mooring and a thankyou as I pass people so If I ever pass you and I don’t say something please forgive me as it probably means I’m in a big dark hole that I’m trying to escape out of and I’m completely lost in my own little world.

With the small rise in effort on Leg 2 I had moments where I started to feel the fatigue and that empty dark hole come close.  I felt I really managed this well through the leg and every time I started to get sucked into the dark place I just backed off the effort a tiny bit and upped the fuel intake a little.

Leg 3 is my favourite leg as in my opinion it has the most diverse trail with a real mix of amazing views and the feeling that its just you and nature together out there on one hell of an adventure.  I finished leg 3 feeling exactly how I wanted to, worn down from a good foundation laid but still with legs that could run and a fuel tank that still had something useful to give me.

Leg 3

Time to unleash hell!

Leg 3 begins at the Tukino access road (or start of the Tussock Traverse).  Tim Day was awesome at this aid station, quickly doing my compulsory gear check, getting my drop bag and helping me get sorted.  I got my next load of Infinit that was loaded with Caffeine out and ready. Tim told me I was sitting in 3rd and I would catch 2nd (Rudi Smith) who was about 8 min in front.  I didn’t want to ask any questions as this was exactly the words I needed to hear.  I could only assume by him saying “You will Catch him” meant I was looking a lot fresher than Rudi.  I had done a lot of mental prep for this race and had psyched myself up to go to the really hurty place in Leg 3.  Leg 3 was always going to be about some pain and having Tim’s words “You will Catch him” echoing in my head was the perfect way to go into the hurt locker and throw away the key for the next few hours.

The leg starts with an awesome 10km flowing down hill with over 400m descent.  As I glanced at my watch on a nice section it showed I was running at 3:45min K’s.  I was stoked, this meant my legs were good.  Watching the Heart rate now was no longer required.  This was just about an all out effort for the next 25km.  I knew there was a chance to move to 2nd place and had no idea what was happening behind me, so I just assumed that I was being chased down.

Once at the bottom of the descent the track moved into a nice flowing meandering trail with a slight overall climb.  There was a strong head wind now and I just pushed as hard as I could into it every time the voice in my head told me to back off to ease the pain Tim’s voice came back “YOU WILL CATCH HIM”, “YOU WILL CATCH HIM”, “YOU WILL CATCH HIM” Tim had said it with such confidence that I believed it .   As I approached the last ridge line to cross the cloud was closed in on the hills and a misty rain was being blustered in my face and the temperature was dropping.  I was only in my lycra top and was not going to waste any time getting out my jacket.  I instead used this as another motive to keep pushing hard, “If you get cold you’re not running hard enough” I kept telling myself.  As I started to climb the last ascent there were a few flashes of lightning if I had been in a bad head space here it would have crippled me but I was in the complete opposite, I was hurting but loving it.  I had awesome self-talk that kept repeating (Kerry’s words) “YOU ARE THE FITEST, STRONGEST VERSION OF YOU EVER”,  “YOU WILL CATH HIM”, “IF YOU GET COLD YOU’RE NOT RUNNING HARD ENOUGH”.  I pushed up the last climbs with the poles feeling stronger than I could have ever imagined, I still had power in my arms and legs.

The Last Spend!

With 5km of awesome downhill to go now was the time to empty the tank.  I checked my watch and knew I was very close to making a Sub 9hr Finish (A new goal).  This now was just one Park run as hard as I could run, something that I’ve done many times and an achievable target.  I knew the pain would soon be over. Again, a quick check on my watch and I was floating just over 4min K’s.  New Mantra now “sub 9”, “Sub 9”, “Sub 9”.  Unfortunately, I was now on the most populated part of track passing Tourists, School groups, Families, Grandmas and I was looking like a complete mad Man at full flight running out of the hills.  As I tried my best to be polite and courteous to get by them it was easiest a lot of the time for me to get off the track to run around them as they never got a lot of warning.  This did end badly at one point in front of a large school group when I ended up wiping out and cartwheeling through some tussock and small bushes. I got straight back up and on my feet and into full pace “SUB 9”, “SUB 9”, “SUB 9”.

The Finish

I love fishlines, the feelings of the day always builds up in me at this point, it just wants to burst out and I love it.  I turned a corner and there it was the roof of the Chateau. This massive adventure was about to come to an end.  I could now hear the music and as I approached the reassuring voice of Coach Kerry Suter calling my name, I was Home.

I had set out with the goal to race around the mountain at my full potential, not knowing what place I would get or how long it would take, but here I found myself with the most perfectly put together performance I have ever run and on the podium in 3rd place behind two absolute legends.  As I ran through that Fishline I was on cloud 9, ecstatic and thrilled, and also out of breath.

Thank you Squadrun and thank you to the ROF, this was a day I will never forget.

Five tips for a great Race

  1. Know your weakness

Find your weakness and don’t hide from it.  This is the place you can make the most gains in your training.  I spent a lot of my time increasing strength and working on hill climbing.  I have made big gains but still know I have a massive amount I can still gain on hills.  It’s still my weakness so still the place for max gains looking forward.

  1. Be Prepared

Good preparation is key.  Everything I wore, ate, drunk and used on race day I had tested and was happy it was up to the task.  Always have a backup plan for things that may go wrong or fail.

  1. Have a race plan.

A race plan should be broken into two. “the big picture” and “the small picture”.  The big picture plan should be quite simple like “Run easy and sustainable till half way then pick up the pace in the last half” this will not change unless you have a very, very, strong reason.  The small picture plan will have a lot more detail and can change to mould to the events that take place on the day. Things like nutrition, influence in effort from runners around you, weather and track conditions, pushing harder in small sections or backing off.  While thinking about the small picture during the race always ask yourself how it will affect the big picture.

  1. Efficiency

Make every step & every breath the best and most efficient you can.  A lot of small things will add up to one big thing.  No improvement is too small to consider (as long as its legal) this included running form, running gear, nutrition, weight, poles, training, sleep, recovery etc.  The maths is simple, you sart with “X” amount of energy to get to the finishline and the more efficient you are the faster you will get there or the more energy you will have left at the end.

  1. Only focus on the controllable and accept the uncontrollable events as quick as possible, this could be you’re in a very dark place, cramp, a blister, bad weather, a rolled ankle etc. The sooner you accept that “this is now your new reality” and don’t dwell on how you got there, you will find a way to over come it and move on. Once the race is over is the time to asses why it went wrong to avoid it happening again.

Before race day come to peace with the place you are with your fitness level (nobody on the start line has done all of their training runs and everybody could have turned up fitter).  Accept that you did all of the training you were willing or able to commit to.  Trust me if you can do this you will sleep well the nights before race day.

Ed – Ever wondered what it looks like to fly across tough terrain?  Rhys was good enough to go ‘Facebook Live’ during his race!  Check it out