I found out I was doing this race 10th Nov - about four weeks before it was on. I had a good base of fitness to rely on, but there was the small issue of never having run a marathon - let alone 60km! So that weekend went for a 43km run with Greg Wilkinson who was doing his last big run of his Kepler training - I survived that relatively unscathed and decided I could at the very least, survive the Kepler Challenge.
Race day questions started to roll around in my head- where to stand at the start, how hard to go out, what to wear, what to eat, what to drink? Thankfully I had some experienced people to chat to.
Race day arrived and nerves were pretty high. 5:30am at the starting line and it was pretty chilly. Might get to use some of that compulsory gear I had shoved into my bag. One of the polyprops went on and then it was a waiting game. We were told we would have a 10 second countdown before the start - but then out of the blue the hooter went off. Things went pretty slowly until Brod Bay, passing was a little tricky at times and I feel I may have started a little too far back in the pack - or I was too eager. At the first checkpoint it was a quick fill of a bottle with GU drink (watermelon was my favourite of the day) and chopping back the first of my GU Caramel Macchiato gels - my standard fuel on long runs. Up the hill we went towards Luxmore, not as much of a grunt as I had thought it would be (still tough though), and a nice temp in the trees. As soon as we were out of the trees it got chilly pretty quickly. There was rain, wind and even hail along the tops but it was still an awesome section to run, with the occasional glimpses of spectacular views down either side of the ridge.
A highlight for me was running along the ridge between Forest Burn and Hanging Valley. We were tracking along nicely when a chopper popped up from the gully below and flew right over top of us. The noise was impressive and got the adrenaline pumping. Every one of us picked up the pace a little and got a good stride on as they flew along beside us recording some video.
Getting down to Iris Burn Hut was without trouble thankfully - as I thought this would be the hardest on my knees, not to mention the quads. I was told the race doesn’t start until the hut. Once at the Hut it was time to get out of the rain gears. Fueled up and a bit cooler, I headed off down the Iris Burn at a good rate of knots. It was great to run on the flat and in the bush. The kilometres ticked by and I picked up a few places here.
By Moterau Hut the knees were a bit sore, I felt like I had been running a bit quick, but I tucked in behind an experienced runner and stuck to him for the next 10km or so which really helped with pacing. Thanks Glenn Sutton! It was a real boost to get to Rainbow Reach, 9.5km out from the finish and my family were there cheering us on, which was just what I needed. I was told this last part was the hardest and they weren't wrong. It was a hard slog to the finish and to cross those control gates was the best feeling.
I thought the whole thing was incredible, and the organisation was amazing. Everything went so smoothly and all the volunteers were so helpful and friendly. Well done Kepler team!
I had an amazing time completing the Kepler Challenge and it is a fitting end to my first year of running. I cannot thank GU Energy enough for giving me the chance to take part in such an awesome event. 0 - 60km in the space of a year. Not a bad debut, if I do say so myself - but definitely time to relax.
Cyclists notoriously have tight thoracic spines or mid back. We spend hours hunched over on our bikes and everywhere else in our daily lives.
Sonya Looney is pro mountain biker with a world championship title to her name. She gives us some crucial stretching and mobility exercises to combat the 'cyclist's hunch'.