So exactly a week after pulling out of The Hillary with Foot of Doom it’s time for what promises to be a blast with another new race; The Riverhead Rampage. For those that don’t know, Riverhead is north of Auckland and is situated on a lovely lazy old river (estuary?) where there is a historic Tavern (although the food was pretty sucky) and a wonderful brewery called Hallertau (where the beer is AWESOME).
Any race that has the word Rampage in it, has free beer and is sponsored by a brewery plus is run by someone as genuinely great as Matt Rayment is a definite even if I spend the days leading up to it hobbling.
Yeah the foot is a worry ,,,,still painful in a boring, dull, painful way. Not sure what’s up but I had this when I got bad bruising a couple of years ago in training so i’m just hoping its that. End of the day a Dr would say don’t run and like that’s gonna happen….dumb suggestion imaginary Dr.
So up and get some Panadol in me and some Mama Chia (Apple and Cinammon and felt more like a snack than a wonder food) and head north to take on Riverhead.
The weather is beautiful – a late burst of summer as autumn rolls over the isthmus (just wanted to get the word isthmus in there) of Auckland. And I get there waaaay too early I realise as I see Matt running around the roads in an orange fluoro vest doing organising like tasks.
So park at Riverhead School and chill with a bit of Carter USM on the ipod. Old school I know. Popping over to register i’m keen to get me one of the RR trucker caps sported by many and I buy the very last 1 from the head of the women doing race numbers. I confess to her I’ve never actually bought something off someone before but she’s keen and who am I to stop her.
Clutching my new 2nd hand hat, my number 3003, my free beer token and a copy of Super Generic Girl’s new Trail Running magazine I head back to the car til the team assemble. I’d describe giving these magazines to every runner free as a supreme skilful deft piece of marketing – SGG says it is that and also they have no choice they HAVE to have the mag whether they like it or not. So I guess skill in marketing all depends on how you look at it. Blanket bombing is another term I guess. (it’s good though so kiwis go get it – inserted in Wilderness Mag).
Slowly the whanau start assembling and we’re all there – the whole crew – Glenn is injured, i’m injured, SGG is typically injured, Carl is a bit broken by the last 3 weeks and Rodliffe just ran a 34minute 10KM 2 days earlier after ridiculous good finishes in all his races. Situation normal: we’re all set.
(Trail Running Selfie – probably a 1st)
Matt gets us all cued up in the sun with a very Kiwi briefing – seriously i’d love for folks who worry about these things hear some of our briefings in NZ. Harden the fuck up could be used and then someone fires a horn: it’d amount to the same thing – brilliant.
And before we know it we’re off. The 21km is a pretty grunty loop up through private land into forest single track with some sweet technical and clay descents, ugly climbs and undulating running around a ridge (i’d had quite enough by the end of that) combined with some gravel forest roads. The temperature is up and folks seem tired but having a good old blast around the loop. Considering that many many folk are coming down from Tarawera, The Dual, The Hillary or in some cases all 3 it’s fun to be in a race which doesn’t feel like folk might die from exhaustion or have to carry their entire house on their backs.
My run goes so – so. I’m keen to just run it and not do any further damage to the foot. I neck a couple more pain killers before setting off and hope.
I’m just behind Andy and Rob as we climb the first big hill but the foot and my lungs aren’t in it and I drop back. Over the next 18km or so it’s a case of walk the big hills, ignore the foot and then run the downhills and flats ignoring the foot. I’m joined by Forsyth and we make a good yo-yo duo as we pass and pass each other but it’s good to hear his voice and laughter and stop to take pics of him. Definitely calms down my mental state which is screaming to really run this thing and stop being a coward.
As we come down the last hill into the finish I wait up for Forsyth to come alongside so we can run in together – great to be able to cross the line as a pair. The crew are there – Carl is tightening up a bit. SGG gets in and is stoked at no injuries and a good run although she later rolls her ankle at the brewery car park – go figure.
My favourite bit of today was definitely the crew – love the banter, love the group watching out for each other and sharing the odd and crazy thoughts we all have. Nodding at people with bleeding limbs that they didn’t notice, laughing at wet wipes at the end. Love this stuff.
Off to Hallertau Brewery for my reward beer and meet my girls but I never stay around for prize giving (assume they’re all being stored for me somewhere) so it’s off to lunch with a 4 pack of Hallertau Number 2 tucked under my arm, a hobble in my step and big assed grin across my face!
Or on not completing the inaugural Hillary Ultramarathon…..
It’s been an age since I’ve written, a ridiculous amount of time. Sadly it’s basically life overwhelming the chance to write, chaos of last year’s Xbox launch taking over spare space in my life. Why am I back now typing? Well I’m sat here this morning having had my first ever DNF with a kind of detached grim observation of my mental states…..anyways i’m getting ahead of myself….where have I been since I last wrote…..
Unlike many folk I admire in the patchy beautiful trail running world, I have to lead this kind of normal life as a parent, husband, worker and all the usual stresses that go with providing or others … so running, as much as it’s integral to who I am, tends to have to fit in alongside all the other things…..
Last year was epic with a small crack(ed) team launching Xbox One in New Zealand (which broke us) and absorbing all of my free time – and a great deal of the non free time. Cut forward to early December, post launch and Super Generic Girl and I chatting on Facebook leading to me joining a team of crazies to run the 300KM relay Papakura to The Mount (go see Super Generic Girl’s write ups). Out of shape with a minimal few kms under my ample belt I was back in the game grinding through a fun 24 hours of exhaustion, road running and more drama than a year of Game of Thrones compressed into 1 small rental van in a day….with running shoes.
So I was hooked in again and I knew looming on the horizon like some big god-awful all seeing eye of Sauron (hmmm too many fantasy references?) was the Tarawera Ultra Marathon…..
My first Tarawera was an example of disciplined training, diet and focus. This year was a delayed grab bag of random runs and trying to lose some weight and also spend time with my family. Basically a mess. Over a 3 week December period I ran in the north of New Zealand, on the sweet trails of Rotorua and also for a few days managed to get up on the ridges in the Coromandel. It was there under the towering Kauris with thunderstorms rolling overhead, the sea in the distance on pretty crappy trails that I fell back into the groove…..me, nature, often lost, no idea, running, climbing….just as it should be. Home.
In the run up the TUM I spent a fair amount of my trail running days with my new found crew, the self named Special Ones (and that aint special in a good way) and had some lovely nights and mornings bombing about tunnels deep in the bush, over hills and through valleys to the sound of laughter and panting. I saw V roll an ankle when we were out running on Rangitoto and did the hospital run with her and FT, I dressed as Santa to run in the rain with a few thousand other crazies and I had a surprise birthday cake and beers in the car park of Arataki Visitor centre on the ridge line of the Waitakeries. I’d accidentally and luckily landed in a loose group of other runners who as Glenn noted were also a family out there. It’s a pretty wonderful feeling.
Cut forward to the TUM. Different from last year – not down there solo turning up for the bare minimum but now surrounded by buddies, text messages and facebook updates flying as rumours and changes fly as Cyclone Lusi descends on NZ ultimately shortening the course and yet again stopping me from seeing Kawerau. Next year?
Tarawera…..what a beautiful disaster of a race. I’m not ready. I’ve got my technical level back up on the trails and managed 1x60KM run on tarmac. I’m not ready. So lets go.
It’s shortened to 70km and that could be a good thing for me….. I know I have the Hillary hanging over me but lets not think about that now. The first 5km is fast and i’m trying to reign myself in….take it easy, pace it, always my problem. Then I start feeling intense nausea – weird – something that never happens to me. For the next 40km I feel myself going backwards as I deal with stomach cramps. If I throw up then i’m not going to be able to complete this bastard course.
Then it seems to clear and I can start getting some gels in me and more than a mere sip of water at a time. Game on. I start catching back the folks who passed me and as I hit technical muddy descents I just heave myself down them skidding, wooping and jumping at breakneck speed. It’s bliss.
Then 5km out from the end as I hit a flat my left foot catches something – a rock? – and bends a little and click. My foot is screwed, something deep in that bone cage just clicked. I limp and run in the last few kms with a few pain killers thrown down my throat to get me there. Bugger.
For the next 2 weeks it’s off to the US to work, pick up my first GPS watch – a Garmin Fenix – and only 1 light 7-8km run with the snow capped Olympics in the distance on a Arctic blue cold day. Home to sub tropical NZ and I manage a quick 10km but the pain in my foot is like a constant nag; you’re not fixed, you’re pretty broken. The day before the Hillary i’m limping when I wake up…..should I do this race? Nope but it’s my home track and it’s the first ever race and it’s The Hillary. No way i’m not toeing the start line.
And so it begins and for the first 10-12km the pain is bearable but the pain pills I had when I woke at 4am soon wear off and I know as I down the next 2 and limp up the trail that this isn’t looking good…..when I get cramp in my right leg from favouring my left and i’m at 18km…..yeah it’s game over – there’s still 60km to go…….
So thanks to some good sorts who came to an aid station just to see if they could help out (thanks lovely Laingholm couple whoever you were!) i’m out of the race, out of the bush and in 90 minutes at home in a deep warm bath with a novel and coffee. Feeling relieved, depressed, happy, despicable, gutted. In a couple of hours of course i’m in the car heading to the finish at Muriawai to keep an eye out for The Special Ones feeling a part of this event and not a part of it all. An odd and strange range of emotions.
And so. And so.
I’m back. Sort of. And maybe i’m back and writing. It’s not the glorious return to running i’d want but it’s all my own. Never having been really injured it’s a strange thing to try and accept. And i know I wont. Riverhead Rampage is next weekend – i’ll be there and hope the foot get’s it’s shit together. I dont have any deep insights i’m afraid – this aint no self help guide. But I guess there is some kind of lesson in there….when the world gives you lemons find some alcohol that works well with them as a post run beverage.
For now limping on.
After a couple of days back in the land of the long white cloud and hunkering down under the weight of winter storms Martin and I join forces and head back to the regular runabout in the Waitakeries come what may on the weather front.
We start the regular loop and at the top of Lower Kauri have a decision to make – right to the gnarly Upper Kauri and on for the wider loop or run the standard 8km circuit? With gloomy rain clouds covering the top of the ridges and both of us pretty tired and beat up we decide to head on the more covered, shorter route. As we do so I have a brain wave – how about a quick out and back down the old rail line.
Let me tell you about the rail line in the Waitakeries. 2 years ago when I was first running trails more regularly a group of us decided to hit the Waitakeries circuit. In those days when you came down to the dam around 6km in there was a wider loop which followed a bush railway. Hardly used it was a fun trail leading through a tunnel and joining the main trail bringing you eventually back to the Auckland City Loop. We’d run it a few times before and this day decided to head down there as usual. All was fine until near the end of the track there had been a slip and now about 8 feet of rail just hung in the air above a 30 foot drop onto rocks and debris. So we started shuffling across – biggest dude first and then me followed by 2 others in our group.
The big guy ( a friend of a friend) cleared it easily. Me I was a few feet in hanging onto a tree limb hanging down when I realised I had to let go of the branch and freestyle across the tracks to the other side. Down below the rocks looked pretty menacing and I realised I was in a pretty stupid position and there was a good chance of death…. luckily the big guy reached back and grabbed my hand and helped me across. Whilst I wasn’t freaking out or suffering vertigo I accepted the fact that I had just had a brush with a sharp exit from this life and promised myself not to die stupidly. Sure i’ll take risks – that’s a big part of the rush of trail running in deep bush – but they’d be calculated ones. Not dying because we couldn’t be arsed heading back and doing shorter track.
Since that day i’d not been back down the track and often thought of it as the 1 time in my life i’d been truly scared of dying. I’d been in a pretty serious car crash when I was 18 and a been beaten up a couple of times when I was younger but those happened startlingly fast so it was only afterwards that you reflected on how close you’d been to getting into serious trouble. That day on the rails was going in eyes open – fully aware that one wrong move was pretty fatal.
And so here we were – too beat to do a long cold run, too keen to run to not have an adventure so we went for a quick out and back. I’d forgotten the views back up to the reservoir/dam with a great waterfall and views out over the valley and ridges that we know so well. Through the tunnel and I think Martin was enjoying this new track and adventure. In my mind it was all hazy but I recalled a water crossing.
We got to the damaged section and low and behold it had been fixed up and recently. A shiny new handrail gleamed in the rain. I was able to run those few feet to the other side in seconds. The excitement of realising the trail was open and we had another route to mix into the wonderful stew of Waitaks trail was exhilarating… across a small waterfall we carried on through the bush on the trail – clearly hardly anyone had been here and there were some lovely drop offs and technical downhill which I adore running. Then we came to the water crossing and it was bracing and way more than the little trickle i’d remembered.
Soon we were on the familiar tack and back to the carpark beaming. Here we are again – 30 minutes from my door in the depth of the bush and having another mini adventure. In the US you’d have to drive a very long bloody way to get landscape like this – we are lucky in NZ and I really hope the Kiwis get it and we hang onto the bush as much as we can – not easy as the city sprawls and the population makes more demands.
As the saying goes – you don’t know what you have until you’ve lost it. Most of my life I’ve lived where it’s already been lost so I hope us runners can keep celebrating and encouraging others to get out of the house and get into a scrape with this lovely muddy messy land.
photos and nifty satellite image courtesy of Martin M
“The Pacific Coast. The closer I get, the further away I feel.” Michael Stipe
These words often echo around my head. The pacific coast has always featured heavily in my life from the wonder of travelling down Route 1 in the back of a too big car with my family all the time my Mum shouting that dad was getting too close to the edge of the road. Through the riotous and sometime odd silence of dusky LA beaches right through the flotsam and jetsam of the Pacific Northwest beaches filled with white bone tree trunks on dark sand beaches.
And here I am again in Monterey. Arriving after Yosemite’s fierce sunlight and awe inspiring vertical faces to gloomy beach and misty skies. But the next morning the sun is out and Clewis and I hit the beach for a 10km run as the surf pounds and the sand shifts underfoot…..at 2pm (lets say a slow start to the day) it’s in the 80s and we’re both sweating and struggling through the sand. Eventually I take my shoes off and run light and relatively free as the cold surf flows around my feet….There’s an Edward Hopper inspired mural in Bank restaurant in London depicting this Cali beach scene and right now I feel like i’m living it. Blue sky with no cloud, haze of the water crashing on the yellow sand and blinding white gulls arcing on the sky as loud kids run this way and that. Here I am running. It always comes back to running no matter where or when….
The next morning we’re up early and head south to get to Pismo to be ready to springboard back to LAX the following day… but en route we get the delight of running in Big Sur. I’ve wanted to run in Big Sur for ages having seen the marathon online and heard about the back country and so after a quick stop in surreal Carmel (too clean? too sterile?) we drive south down the 1.
I’d checked out where the Big Sur trail marathon goes and find it runs up the Old Coast Road out from Andrew Molera State Park so we head there. The coastline is breath taking – it’s a perfect day for driving down one of the most spectacular roads in the world. We get to the park and a chirpy ranger checks us into the car park and we’re suddenly across the road and running up the trail.
And it’s gnarly!!! We agree on a 5mile run and it’s pretty much 2.5 miles straight up. It’s a dirt road much like any you’d find in the back country of NZ. Dusty and hot in amongst the paddocks. We struggle up the hills stopping to get a gulp of water of just get the heart rate down. It’s a tough old hike with 80 degree heat and a full on head wind. We see only one car heading up the road and so I don’t think anything of stopping for a pee – which of course leads to us meeting the 2nd car of the day. Typical! At least i give them a 1 handed wave. Gotta be polite.
Reaching the ridge we get to our allotted distance and then it’s time to return and I revel in the chance to get the legs churning and so it’s a crazy fast descent all the way back to the 1. Wait about in the sun for Chris to get back and then we’re in the car to head south. Feeling pretty good we got to see some of the back country and also see the condors rising on the thermals. The road trip is coming to a close but it’s been excellent to have had a bit of a roadie and get some interesting new trails under the feet. Gotta come back to Yosemite and spend some more time…maybe next year a family trip and an RV could be calling. For now it’s catch up on email and hope that I can get a cold wet muddy run in the Waitaks this weekend.
One thing that’s great leaving this crazy place is that I live in the best country in the world for trail running! Home here I come!!
Photos: Courtesy of Clewis
After a crazy week in the concrete of LA it’s great to head off escaping technology and civilisation and people and internet access (sort of) to get into the big outdoors.
Chris Lewis (Clewis) and I are on a long discussed boy’s roadie and we’re off to sample some of the best wilderness (and bars) the USA has to offer.
First destination is Sequoia National Park in California. Driving through the LA traffic hell is pretty wearing but we’re soon on the long freeways heading north to stop in Visalia for the night – a short hop to the Sequoias the next day but first we have to get through drinking and eating in Applebees which is Americana franchised and in your face. It’s so full on in your face with the Americana Clewis and i are seeing if we can travel the length of Cali stopping at them along the way….yes it’s possible. Good seat at the bar turns into odd seat at the bar as a rather disturbed gentleman smoking one of those blue electric cigarettes just stares intently at us. For hours. Disconcerting and whilst I can’t hear banjo strings there’s definitely something very David Lynch to the evening.
Up early the next day and straight into the park…it’s stunning. We drive to a place called Moro Rock and there’s a 8km trail loop…pretty cruisy trail running in terms of technical side of things but at 7000 feet its a bloody marathon. Chris is no trail runner but he hangs in there. We run the trail out and the climb the ridiculously huge hanging rock promontory – simply amazing views out of the mountains and forests falling away on each side and we look relatively fit compared to most people climbing that rock. There must be heart attacks every year – body retrieval down those winding steps at that altitude doesn’t bear thinking about.
Then we head back on the trail via 1 large sequoia named Roosevelt (he did a lot to safeguard the parks back in the day) and to the car. Been good to get the feet moving again and tree roots and feel more peaceful for the experience.
We drive on north to meet what I think may be the largest tree in the world – General Sherman. It’s vast and of course a stop off for every bloody tour bus you can imagine. Whilst it’s fun to see it doesn’t have the intimacy of standing next to Roosevelt and taking it in quietly in the forest.
Then we’re off north to get to Oakhurst a small town just on the edge of the Yosemite National Park. We check in at another random hotel (where I meet a man from Whangerai of course) and head out for a meal in a random little barbecue place (playing Alabama 3 – awesome) before heading to a biker’s establishment – the Dirty Donkey bar…..small town America is certainly all it’s cracked up to be (and more).
Next morning we’re up crazy early and in the car to drive through the park to the valley where it all happens apparently. It’s once again a gorgeous drive – mountains, valleys and more redwoods and verdant (good word) forest than you can shake a branch at. Then we are through a tunnel and jeeez! Talk about land that time forgot….the valley is not actually that wide – a few KMs across but the sheer sides stretch off into the distance and you can see all the big named peaks and faces…. We drive through with necks craning to get a look out of windows past waterfalls that cascade 100s of meters down sheer faces. A quick bite to eat, get a map, work out a trail and we’re off for a jaunty 10km trail run. It’s easier than up at Sequoia but still hard at 4000 ft. Trail varies between easy forest style path to rock scrambling and silt. The loop takes us alongside both edges of the valley walls and each side is strewn with boulders and debris that have fallen from above….some are the size of cars and small houses. Slightly disturbing.
Again Clewis does well for a non trail runner and shows he’s not as unfit as he looks 😉 by hanging in there. The short stops to catch our breaths at this altitude definitely help and I’m just thinking I need to hire an RV and come out here with the girls or alone for a week and just run all the trails. Imagine being able to cruise around them at several thousand feet – very tempting. All too soon we’re back to the car and heading a couple of hundred KMs to Monterey just in time to see the hordes of day trippers descending on the place – tip for Yosemite – get in and out early if you don’t like driving in slow car queues.
The road stretches on through farmland flats which stretch to the horizon. Then over the hills and into Monterey where the June Gloom is in evidence and summer turns to winter immediately. Good sushi and more beer (definitely not losing weight on this trip) and fall asleep to the sounds of the ocean. Today it’s beach running time – but first work, presents and that aquarium – sometimes running has to come 2nd.
Following yesterday’s grind on the roads this morning it was up with the Tui and off to meet Martin at the Cascades Kauri carpark for a run around the local.
Not sure what MM was keen for (he asked if wanted a LSR….. it sounded like a sandwich) I offered him gnarly and long or gnarly and short. Lucky he chose gnarly. We headed ‘up the guts’ as us trail runner sorts like to say (before staring off into the distance wistfully)by heading straight up the Upper Kauri track from the carpark walking and grunting and talking and moaning.
The ascent to the ridge is always a bit of a shock that doesn’t diminish however many times you run it. At the top we headed right onto Lower Kauri instead of continuing along the ridge and the crazy gnarly mud and technical trail began. I always love this bit of track (despite nearly falling to my doom here once – pre PLB) and although it’s pretty overgrown and hard to run for any length of time – please Auckland Council don’t go in and tarmac it as you seem to be doing with so many trails at the moment!
It’s messed up, no one goes there and that’s a good thing.
Up on to the ridge and in a moment of adventure and madness we decide to randomly head off onto the Wainamu Bush Track and make the loop wider since today being the Queen’s birthday means we have plenty of time (thanks ma’am by the way — even though I personally believe in democracy but not constitutional democracy). I’ve never run this trail before and it’s epic – twisty, technical fast downhill and despite a slight altercation with a bush, that leaves some great gouges on my right leg, i’m in paradise whooping as I fight to keep control on tree roots and mud and rock and zipping down the trail.
We arrive at Wainamu Junction all too soon (after a decent uphill stretch) and then it’s back to run the clay undulations of the Kuataika Track back to Smyth Corner. Onto the regular loop for a while before choosing a connecting trail back to Upper Kauri that again is one that is rarely explored.
After a while hitting wet duck boards I go over and manage to bend my fingernail back over on itself where it stays. Before the pain can set in I right it back into place (my top pain management trail tip there) and carry on across to get to Upper Kauri up the ridiculous stairs that now seem to turn the bush into a gym step work out – sans techno. Martin makes a good comment that he never expected me to break a nail on this run. It’s that kind of humour why I put up with him even when he wimps out of the 2nd lap of the Birkenhead trail run. No Martin I wont let you forget.
Heading down the Upper Kauri trail we meet our first folk of the day…overladen day trampers heading up into the loop. The lead lady is so surprised she lets out a little yelp!
Yes the muddy, bloody beings bounding toward her may look like big foot but we’re relatively harmless and only dangerous to ourselves it seems.
Down to the car park and done….3 hours of tough technical trail behind us and about 15km covered. Martin and I are both tired, muddy and blooded and have ridiculous wide grins on.
The meditation is over and now the day can start with all it’s chores and distractions.
Next time I’m on trail it’s randomly going to be in Yosemite after working in LA from the end of the coming week. Personally I can’t even begin to believe I’ll get to run the trails there. Also they have bears, snakes, wolves and even big foots (feet?) so who knows what the next adventure will bring! Promise to write even though my broken nail is distressing.