The Ultra Debut That Dreams Are Made Of!

Reece Edwards isn’t a name you’d have heard before in the trail and ultra running scene. But those from the road circuit would certainly have seen his name in the results of plenty of events. So when he signed up to run Tarawera Ultra 100km it came as a shock to many. Why would a guy that just ran a 2:16 marathon be toeing the line in a race that’s over twice the distance of anything he’s done before? After all, with such a fast marathon PB and youth on his side, you’d think he’d be focused on making the Olympics!

I am not actually entirely sure what made me want to run an ultra. After Chicago marathon last October I went through a period where my enjoyment for running started to decline. I had moved from Canberra up to Coffs Harbour and was training solo and struggling with motivation. Entering Tarawera meant I was faced with a new and very exciting challenge, which reignited my motivation for running again. “

This is a comment I’ve heard several times before from runners who had previously been competitive on the track or road scene. They spend a lot of time and energy chasing goals and PB’s in the more mainstream, traditional running scene, before hitting a motivational hurdle. Sometimes it comes after achieving a long-term goal, or for others it’s the result of spending many years doing the same old, same old. In Reece’s case, it was a combination of things. Needless to say, it seems he made a great decision!

I had been told that Tarawera is one of very few trail ultras that somebody with a road running background could be competitive. So you could say the lack of climbing was the big selling point.

I had all these big plans to do crazy long runs etc, but in the end I trained exactly the same as I would for a road marathon except for two longs runs of 4 hours, 6 weeks and 3 weeks before the event.”

Having done plenty of miles over the years and being a naturally gifted runner, Reece didn’t need to ramp up the volume. Plus, having chosen a race that’s about as close to a flat road run as a trail ultra comes, there was no need to chase big mountains or technical terrain. Instead, it was all about getting through plenty of kilometres (200km or more per week!) and building legs of steel. But come race day, he was a tad green. From not having spare bottles for his crew at aid stations and being unaware of the need for them to get buses to meet him along the way, to barely knowing the course and having just a dozen gels for fuel, you could have thought his lack of experience would bring him undone. But no, if anything it was a strength. Reece’s attitude was completely relaxed, with the exception of his race strategy, which largely centred around running with the leader and then trying to break them…from early on!

“I didn’t get any advice regarding training for Tarawera. Most people thought it was a very stupid decision by me to run Tarawera so I decided to take the lone wolf approach and do my own training. Racing wise, I was given some very good guidance by David Byrne and Majell Backhausen the day before Tarawera on how I should approach my nutrition, pacing etc.“

Clearly, my awesome advice was what made the difference (*laughing*). Not at all. Reece put his road running experience and ability on the fast sections on the course to perfect use. He set sail with the lead bunch, then when the leader gapped him on technical terrain he didn’t panic. Instead, he relaxed and didn’t fight the course. Then when the running was good, he went to work. Quickly Reece pulled back the lead and with 14km to go went to the front and didn’t look back.

“I really enjoyed the race experience. Road running is simply a time trial and once somebody is dropped from a group they rarely return. The technical side of trail running in single tracks, and down steep descents means a little more race strategy is required.”

Afterwards you could sense the feeling of relief and sheer joy from his win. His smile was wide, despite what he’d just suffered through, and his sense of humour hadn’t diminished. His race application was the stuff of a veteran in the sport. He executed things perfectly and came away with the reward he deserved for the work he’d put in. It’s a testament to the fact that for the most case, running is running. While many say trail runners are a different breed and you need to spend loads of time in the hills and trails to be good at it, the reality is, an engine is an engine and a quality racer will know how to get the job done. It might have been a different story if it were a mountain race or on technical terrain, but something tells me that Reece, like the other road runners that now do well in the trail scene, would simply add some vert into the mix and the result would be much the same.

So what’s next for this new ultra sensation? You would think he might shift his focus from the road to the trails. However the tar is still where his heart is and Reece’s sights are firmly fixed on lowering his marathon PB. Next stop is Lake Biwa in a little under a month from now, where we will see if he has recovered from Tarawera. After that, there’s a schedule of races that will hopefully see Reece give the Olympic qualifier a real shake.

What did an average week of training look like?

Monday: AM: 10 mile (16km) morning jog

PM: 40mins easy jog

Tuesday: AM: Pace my partner through her interval session. Normally 5 x 1km reps at 3:25-3:15/km pace.

PM: Marathon Tempo session of 3 to 4 x 10mins at 3:10-3:15/km with 3mins jog recovery between efforts. With 5km w/u and c/d about 25km of running

Wednesday: Solo long run for 3hours, 35-40km distance varied depending on how I was feeling

Thursday: AM: Fartlek session of 1,2,3,6,3,2,1mins with 1min float. 16km of running including warm up and cool down

PM: 40mins easy jog

Friday: AM: 1hr easy jog + 6 x 20 sec strides

PM: 40mins easy jog

Saturday: AM: 8 x1km leaving on a 4min cycle, or I would run a 5km threshold at my local parkrun.

PM: 50mins easy jog

Sunday: Long Run with some other local runners of about 2-2:30hrs.