Ascend Fit The GOAT Adventure Run 2021

After a postponement last year, and one nervous week of waiting out another Level 3 lockdown in Auckland, I was able to compete for the first time in The GOAT adventure run – an event that has been on my radar for years.

You’ll soon understand why it’s called The GOAT but let me start by saying that in this race, you’ll be running among some of the most majestic mountain scenery New Zealand has to offer. You’ll also encounter some of the most challenging terrain.

Training, preparation and race breakdown

The GOAT is a 19km, 1100m+ elevation mountain run up Mt Ruapehu – from Whakapapa to Turoa ski fields, traversing the mountain tracks on the western slopes.

Event details

  • Individual entry
  • 19km course: starts at Whakapapa ski field car park, ends at Turoa ski field car park.
  • Annually (although the course and/or race date can be altered for safety reasons, depending on winter weather conditions).
  • Event registration and prizegiving based in Ohakune.

How to train for a mountain run 

Compared to regular bush or cross-country trail running, a mountain course like Ruapehu (as I found out first-hand), is a whole different ballgame. I did lots of things right in preparation for this race, but there’s also things I could have done differently or been better prepared for.

Leading up to the race, my training consisted of:

  • A solid run plan (I’m a qualified running coach)
  • Two resistance (or strength/weights) training sessions per week
  • Three training runs per week

Here’s a breakdown of my training, where I could/will improve, and where you can start if you’re considering training for this event next year.

The run training - increasing mileage

You want to get your mileage up so you can comfortably run over 25km (trail running) to account for the fact that the GOAT is very demanding on the body because of the terrain.

Depending on your starting point, you may need anywhere between 10-20 weeks to train for a similar event.

But you don’t want to push your mileage up too quickly – remember, you need recovery weeks too.

If you increase your mileage too quickly on top of weaving in speed, agility, and hill work, you will overload your body – and this is where injury can happen. A run coach can help you navigate getting this training balance right.

Watch out for the rocks!

I underestimated how rocky the ‘trails’ would be – in fact, I don’t even know if you could call them trails. I guess that’s why it’s called the GOAT!

Because of that, I would suggest adding at least one run every two weeks that includes some rock-hopping either up riverbeds or around coastline. This will help condition your muscles and hone your agility.

The resistance (strength) training - working under-trained leg muscles

In the lead-up to a race that involves mainly leg-work (running rather than an obstacle race with upper body requirements), I’ll aim to do approximately two resistance sessions per week.

This is to specifically work on muscle groups that can become ‘under-trained’ when you’re run training – this can lead to imbalances and/or stressors of a race environment creating muscle cramp, strains, inefficiencies, or injuries.

These sessions do include upper body work to help keep posture strong, core work, and balance, as well as leg work. The rep ranges should be a mixture of 8-12 rep strength work, followed by larger repetition endurance sets too. This helps build up your lactate threshold and muscular endurance.

Deep range of movement under loading can massively help when it comes to rock-hopping, cliff-climbing, and stairs. An example of this would be doing lunges and squats. Running doesn’t often push you to these extreme angles in your hips and knees. If you can strengthen these areas, your power, balance and mechanics will improve.

I’d also include a small amount of ballistic movements like box jumps. Running is an explosive movement, and this will help condition your body.

The importance of good gear

Not investing in quality gear for race day is one of the top reasons people end up injured or uncomfortable during an event. This run was no exception. The weather can change quickly and drastically, and alpine conditions can be incredibly dangerous at times too.

The two most important things you’ll need for this race are:

  • Running hydration pack/vest. Be sure to try before you buy – make sure it’s comfortable. Train with it leading up to race day too – especially if you’re not used to wearing a pack while running.
  • Good trail running shoes. On race day, I saw several people in road running shoes – and in my professional opinion, this is playing with fire because the weather conditions up on the mountain can change quickly. The terrain is rocky, muddy in places, slippery in parts as you follow rivulets, and there are river crossings – so your feet will get wet. Without a trail running shoe that is designed to grip in this terrain, you’ll struggle with your footing. Trail running shoes are also designed for lateral movement (side-to-side agility) which this event is all about.

Here’s what the compulsory equipment list for the event looked like:

  • Survival bag
  • Alpine weatherproof jacket
  • Thermal top, gloves, and hat
  • Whistle

Other items I’d recommend considering:

  • A microfibre top and running shorts
  • Merino-blend socks

The GOAT elevation

Image: The GOAT Adventure Run elevation map (source: Strava - Liam Perenara-Wilkinson)

Race day breakdown

An event like the GOAT is unique in terms of how technical it is – and therefore potentially how dangerous it can be if you aren’t prepared. It’s important you read everything that you’re sent by event organisers and make attending your race briefing a priority – even if you’ve competed before.

In your race pack (picked up at registration), you should be given a written race breakdown – so you’re not going in blind. We dropped off a couple of cars to the finish line the night before and took the bus to the start line in the morning.

Based on our experience, we were allocated a starting wave and time. I was in the 4th group – there was approximately 3 minutes between each wave.

The first two kms are downhill, back towards the sealed mountain road. It’s easy to go fast here, but as soon as you veer off onto the start of the trail, you’re immediately confronted by a minefield of loose rocks.

THE GOAT map

Now is probably a good time to mention – only approximately 50-60% of the run can really be classed as a ‘trail’. It’s more like posts sticking out of the ground for you to follow, so you must find the best track through the rocks to stay on route. The best runners can quickly choose the stable rocks and weave their way through the course.

From memory (I’ll admit, the race is a bit of a blur because I was concentrating so hard), there are two big hills/cliffs – one approximately 6km in, the other 11km in. These were steep and rocky.

Some of the downhills were equally as hard. Woven into the race were some clear trails, patches of mud, stairs, and a number of precariously narrow board walks.

Near the end of the race, you’ll make your way to a waterfall. Warning – more than 1km of climbing is ahead of you! About 500m before hitting this, my legs started to cramp. So, the waterfall cliff climbing and remaining road to the finish line (which is just one steep steady hill) were a walk and a waddle for me. Hindsight’s a bitch. With a few training adjustments, and better race day prep (don’t forget the anti-cramp or salt tablets!), I could’ve had a better and more comfortable finish. I guess that means I’ll be back next year then.

Final thoughts

Overall, the GOAT was a great event – and not one to miss if you enjoy technical trail running! There are very few events in New Zealand that are quite like this.

The logistics and health and safety involved in planning an event like this is complex, so a huge thanks to the event organisers and all the local people, iwi and companies that support them.

Train with Ascend Fit

Ascend Fit provides endurance-based training programmes for people who want to perform better – and achieve crazy fitness things. That might be running better and faster or excelling in your chosen sport, right through to conquering obstacles or completing a 24-hour adventure race.

With the right training and support, you can achieve your goals – and without injury. Get in touch to discuss a training plan for your next adventure!