Q&A With Top New Zealand Ultra Runner Bryan McCorkindale

Posted June 13th, 2013 by Brian Hock

It’s early February and I just received an order for 6 Simple Hydration Bottles from New Zealand and it was from a name that I recalled seeing before – Janice McCorkindale. Janice had previously ordered 4 bottles in late 2012 and she was now going to be adding an additional 6 bottles. So I decided to reach out to learn more about this Simple Hydration fan. I wanted to know if she was buying them for family, a running store or a running group. Here was her reply.

“My husband and I are both very keen distance runners. Bryan has been selected by New Zealand Athletics to represent NZ at the upcoming World 24 hour ultra championships to be held in Steenbergen, Netherlands in May this year. He is 60 years old and currently still runs marathons around the 3 hour mark. His PB to date for the 24 hour ultra is 223 kilometers in Wales, 2011. I am just a plodder, but love trails – up to 100 kms, depending on the terrain. We are both running a trail ultra next month and there are drop boxes available so we would like four bottles each to have in our drop bags at the various stations. We already have one each, hence the order for six more. We have previously given two bottles away as prizes in the Christmas raffle for the Christchurch Marathon Clinic of which we are both members.

We love the Simple Hydration Bottles – these combined with some running shorts from RaceReady in the US with great pockets means that we do not have to carry a backpack or bumbag. What freedom. Great!”

It was this response by Janice that prompted me to learn more about Bryan McCorkindale. I hope you enjoy our interview with Bryan.

Q. Where in New Zealand do you live?

A. Christchurch

Q. What is your profession if you’re not a full-time sponsored professional runner?

A. Managing Director of SRS New Zealand Ltd, a sawmilling and timber processing company.

Q. How is running in New Zealand and specifically in the area you live?

A. Christchurch is a great place for all runners. There are plenty of flat roads, undulating roads over the Port Hills, and a great range of trails over all of Banks Peninsula. In other parts of NZ we are blessed with some great trail races. For example the Kepler Challenge is a 60km loop trail run that climbs 1,200 meters from Lake Te Anau, over Mt. Luxmore and down to Lake Manapouri before returning to Lake Te Anau.

Just completed (March) is the Tarawera 100km Ultra trail run that usually goes from Rotorua to Kawerau. Unfortunately this year the course was altered due to high fire risk but it was till a great event. The Abel Tasman coastal Classic and the Mototapu marathon are shorter events but again with spectacular scenery and great trails. There are many others and they all attract hundreds of entries, often selling out months ahead.

We also have plenty of marathons and shorter distance races, both trail and for those wanting to do good times, flat road. For variety and an enthusiastic running community, NZ would be hard to beat. Add to all that the lakes and rivers suitable for all levels of kayak enthusiasts, mountain trails for adventure racing and tramping and you can see why NZ is considered a sportsman’s paradise.

Q. How did you get into ultra running?

A. I ran middle distance at school but never continued. When I was 45 my job had become more sedentary and I decided to take up running as a way of getting fit. I was never a fast runner so decided to try a marathon as my first event. My time was 3:27 and I was hooked. By my early fifties I had run several marathons 2-3 minutes over three hours but never quite got there so I joined up with on line coach Barry Magee.

Within a year I did a 2:57 marathon and in 2006 did a 2:53. I have done over 10 marathons under 3 hours but never really achieved what I would consider a good time. On the spur of the moment about 3 years ago I entered a 100km race and was surprised how well it went. Ultra distance seemed to suit me.

I have always enjoyed competition and run to do well, not just for fun. Ultra distance gave me a lifeline to become competitive with younger runners due to the significance that mental stamina plays. While youth has the obvious physical advantages, it gives no mental advantage over older runners. Younger athletes may have a 20% physical advantage over me but I just have to be 20% mentally stronger to even out the odds. While there are some mentally tough, young athletes in the world that I would never hope to match, there are fewer of them so I have a chance of finishing further up the field than in say marathons or other shorter distance races.

Q. What about running do you love?

A. A rather glib answer often given to this question is “I love the challenge.” However that is the truth. The great thing about running is that you can always challenge yourself. You are your greatest foe. No matter what time you do or distance you run, that achievement immediately becomes a challenge. When you do a PB there is both the delight in the achievement and the anticipation of doing even better next time. While beating others is great, beating yourself carries a very personal satisfaction.

Q. I saw that you ran 16:16:41 for the Taranaki Steelformers 100 Mile event. Was that your first 100 miler? If so, what was that experience like?

A. Taranaki was my first 100 miler. The longest distance I had run before that was just 100km. It was an amazing event, made all the more so by the support of my wife Janice and my daughter Kathryn. The race starts at 5:00pm so is mostly run in the dark along quiet country roads. I had no idea how to pace myself so I just ran to how I felt. I was very concerned to be leading after about 50km even though I was the oldest in the field. I expected many of the younger runners to be well ahead and didn’t want to end up the silly old man that went out too fast and bonked.

Janice and Kathryn in the support vehicle leapfrogged ahead of me every 5km or so. At 100km I came around a corner to see both of them in the car headlights, jumping up and down waving pompoms and blowing hooters. In the middle of a deserted country road at 2:00 am, that was the most incredible sight. I don’t remember the next ten kilometers.

There was more of that sort of support all the way. Janice ran with me from about 120-140km and it was then that I knew I would finish and possibly win. This gave me the motivation to continue at an increased pace and the first time in the race I switched from survival to effort.

Q. You recently represented New Zealand for the 24-Hour World Championships. What about running for distance in a certain period of time interests you? Also, what is the selection process to make that team?

A. I don’t find a lot of difference between running for a set distance as fast as possible or running for a set time as far as possible. In ultra distance races of both types, pacing is the key to success. For the World Ultra Distance Championships the NZ selection criteria is to have achieved in a 24 hour event 230km for an A individual selection, or 215km for a team or B individual selection. For women it is 200/185km. Athletics New Zealand also offer discretionary selection if athletes have a significant achievement in another ultra distance event.

Q. What does it feel like to represent your country in a World Championship event and what is the atmosphere of that race?

A. I was selected for the Commonwealth Ultra Distance Championships in 2011 under the discretionary clause based on my win at Taranaki. The event was held in Llandudno, North Wales. I had no expectations or goals but wanted to keep running for the entire 24 hours other than toilet stops, which I achieved albeit at a very slow pace at times. I covered 222.323km and gained 5th place overall.

The next runner was also a Kiwi and just 75 meters behind me. The third member of the NZ men’s team was not much further back and we came in third, just a few hundred meters ahead of Australia. The atmosphere of the whole event was grand and to stand on the dais to receive our team bronze medal as a representative of New Zealand was an honor and privilege that I will not attempt to put into words.

The outright winner was Lizzy Hawker of England so I think we both showed that age and gender are not such big factors in ultra distance running.

Based on my performance in Wales I was selected for the 2012 World Championships in Poland. Having completed one 24hr event I felt I could now set a plan for the next and do much better. However the course was not great and while other athletes with more common sense than me altered their race plans accordingly, I stuck to mine and paid the price. By 12hrs I had covered 127.5km and was confident of getting to the world age group record of 232km, if not 240km. Then the wheels fell off and by 14 hours I could not raise a foot off the ground to take a single step and withdrew. This was the most painful and humiliating experience of my life and one I will do anything to avoid a repeating.

Q. What are your personal bests (PBs) at various distances?

A. I have had a number of age group wins in marathons and trail races. However I think the team third placing in Wales was the highlight.

Marathon: 2:53
100km: 8:13
100 miles: 15:57 (Age group world best performance)
12 hours: 125.245km (Age group world best performance)

The two WBPs were both set at Llandudno as part of the 24 hour race.

Q. What person(s) in running and/or ultra running inspire(s) you?

A. Barry Magee – My coach and Olympic marathon bronze medallist at Rome 1960.
Haile Gebrselassie – I believe he is the greatest runner of all time.
Yiannis Kouros – Worlds greatest ultra distance runner.

Q. What is your favorite ultra race and why?

A. The 24 hours. Because my first was a satisfying success and my second a humiliating failure. There is a lot to put right.

Q. Looking back over your running career, what was your best or most favorite race and why?

A. My best would be my first, the Christchurch marathon and although a slow time it is the race that got me hooked on running. It was from this race that I knew I could do it. My favorite still has to be the 24 hours, even though I have only done two and completed one. However there are a lot of close seconds. The Kepler Challenge, Abel Tasman, Buller Marathon, Gold Coast Marathon etc.

Q. What race would you like to compete in one day?

A. My goals are still to better my previous PBs in all distances so I tend to choose races that have the most suitable course, rather than high profile. My immediate goals are to do a good 24 hour race, hopefully in the Netherlands this May, and then train to do a good marathon. I still think I can do better than 2:53 if I can get it right. After that I would like to do one of the 100mile trail races in America such as the Leadville Trail 100 or Western States 100.

Q. What is a typical week of training in your life right now?

A. It is hard to give a typical week as it varies so much. In the build up to this year’s world championships I have finished the base building phase, which was 175km per week. I run twice a day Mon – Fri and once on Sat and Sun. All effort or longer runs were in the mornings with the 5 evening runs just 6-9km slow jogs. During the week the morning runs were 1-2 hours with a couple of effort sessions. These could be hill repeats, tempo runs or time trials. Sat was usually just an easy 60-90 mins and 3 hours on Sunday.

I am still doing 12 runs per week but now there are three effort sessions with the odd 6 hour Sunday run. However in total the weekly distance is now only 150-160km. Amongst all this I do the odd race as part of training. I don’t taper but just treat these as another effort session. Four weeks ago I did the Buller marathon, an undulating course but very scenic and well supported. The idea was to take it easy until 30km then see if I had anything left. It worked well with a 1:34/1:30 split. Not a fast time but a good split and not too taxing. Last week I did the Tarawera 100km Ultra trail run. This was also a slow time but again there was no taper as it was to be part of my training rather than a race. The aim was to finish strongly and undamaged which I achieved.

From now I will continue with the current program with maybe one more 6 hour run before winding down in preparation for the World 24hr Championships on the 11-12 May.

Q. From my brief interaction with your wife Janice regarding her recent order of bottles it sounds like she is a pretty good runner as well. How does running impact your family? Is it something you do together or do you train separately?

A. Being able to share in the same sport is great. I think there would be very few couples who share a love of such an extreme sport as ultra distance running. As we train at different paces we don’t often run together but regularly head out on the same course and meet up at the end. Also going to events together and being able to share the experience is very rewarding. For example we both went to Tarawera where Janice ran the 85km event.

Janice running in the Kepler Challenge.

Q. Please give three words to describe Janice and her running?

A. Smooth. Determined. Modest.

Q. Ask Janice to give three words to describe you and your running?

A. Efficient. Focused. Determined.

Q. How did you first hear about Simple Hydration?

A. Janice found it on the internet.

Q. You and your wife have been fans of the Simple Hydration Bottle for some time. What was your reaction to the bottle after using it?

A. I was rather skeptical when I first saw it and would probably not have bought one if I had found it on line. Fortunately it was Janice who discovered it and bought one each to try. The first time I used it I was sold. You really do forget it is there and it is so easily accessible.

Q. Please share how you use the Simple Hydration Bottle(s)?

A. For shorter training runs of 2-3 hours when you don’t really want to carry a bum bag or hydration pack it is the perfect alternative. Also during long races where drop bags can be left at aid stations it is ideal. You can drop your empty and pick up a full one without breaking your stride. To carry it I simply slip it on my waistband at the back. It sits comfortably and doesn’t bounce around. I have tried it during slow and fast runs and it just sits there. I used four at Tarawera last week to carry between aid stations and it worked out perfectly.

Q. What races do you have planned for the 2013 season?

A. I have just completed the Buller Marathon and Tarawera Ultra. Next is the World 24hr Championship and then possibly the Kepler Challenge. There could also be the odd marathon and trail race for training.

Q. Anything else you would like to add about yourself?

A. My performances aren’t spectacular and I would be embarrassed if they were ever put forward as anything more than modest achievements compared to other older runners. In shorter distances such as the marathon, I am well off the pace. The world record for 60+ years is 2:36:30 and I can barely go under 3hours. In ultras I am sure others of my age have done better than my two WBPs but for some reason these have not been recorded.

Having said that I have gained a lot of satisfaction out of my achievements so far and I will continue to try and do better. I think I can be truly competitive in ultra distance, especially against others of my age and while not a medal prospect, possibly even a top 50 in the open class. That would be special.

Saul Taylor’s 24-Hour Challenge

Posted June 12th, 2013 by Brian Hock

Long-time Simple Hydration fan Saul Taylor sent me an e-mail last week titled “The Bob Graham 24 Challenge.” I never heard of this event so I opened the e-mail to discover just what this event is all about. Well, here’s my understanding of it.

It was first completed in 1932 by local gardener Bob Graham. It’s a circular route around part of the Lake District (in England) for around 70 miles which takes in 42 mountain tops and sees 27,000 feet of ascent. Anyone who completes it in a day and with additional support runners can request membership to the Bob Graham 24 club.

Saul completed it with a good friend in just under 23 hours and they’ll both be sending off their times and accounts of the day to the group that manages membership. Saul said he took two Simple Hydration Bottles and they were a great help. He suffered during the day from heat, cold, eating the wrong food and then not eating enough, but he was more than comfortable with the amount of water he was able to carry. In the end he only injured his feet (some stress fractures and aches in an old break in the heel) so he thinks he came off lightly.

The following is Saul’s comment on the effort. “It’s a very psychological thing to do because unlike a race, there’s no-one to beat but yourself and at some point (normally at a summit called Great Gable, because from there it’s all ‘downhill’ and you can see the finish town 10 miles away) you know if you can do it or not. After that point we were struggling to find the motivation to run faster but now that it’s over I think there’s a few hours to come off that time. I’d like to get back there and have another go this year but in reality it’ll be next summer.”

It is noted that two thirds of the runners that attempt this challenge are unable to finish it. Congratulations to Saul and his buddy on rising to the occasion and getting it done in under 24 hours.

Following are pictures of that day in the Lake District when it all came together.

Time: 0445 | Location: Great Calva

Time: 1230 | Location: Rosset Pike

Time: 1530 | Location: Lord’s Rake

Time: 1730 | Location: Dore Head

Time: 1930 | Location: Steeple

Time: 1945 | Location: On the way to Pillar

Time: 2000 | Location: Kirk Fell (ascent)