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.
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.
I’ve noticed a tendency I have that whenever I leave or come back to Aotearoa I need to get out and be part of nature again and so this morning despite the rain driving in sideways in waves I decided to head out to get a quick final taste of The Hillary Trail before heading off to the US of A.
Drove up to the Arataki Visitor Centre and slung the truck in the Hillary Trail long term parking (here’s to exclusive car parking for trampers, trail runners and mountain bikers) and headed down the clay and rocky slopes into the lovely undulating landscape. Always fun to run by headlamp – seems to make the senses go on overload. It’s great to be out there again and soak up the smells and sounds of the Kiwi bush as it comes awake or goes to sleep first thing. Despite the weather the dawn was lovely and as I got to the part of the Hamilton track next to the large Kauris where you look out over the bush clad hills and in the distance the sea coming in at Whatipu it was like being back at the dawn of man…..guess there would have been a hell of a lot more Kauris then and limited bush trails….so maybe not. Guess my Innov8s would have surprised a few folk too….
The Hamilton trail has undergone a fair bit of work recently and whilst it makes for a fast zip through the bush (and no doubt protects some tree roots) I can’t help but think that as we all battle Kauri dieback it seems odd that tracks get upgraded to the point you could take a baby’s buggy down them thereby opening up the deep bush to folks who may care less about making sure they spray their feet at every trailhead.
The Hamilton track was a gnarly old technical trail with deep pits of mud, loose rock and more tree roots than you can imagine and it seems a bit sterile now running around there and the few moments of tree roots see my spirits soar as I get into my stride on tip toes over obstacles.
I also worry that we end up making our trails so safe and accessible that we lose some of that ability and edge on the trails – running in the US in March on what was defined as a tough technical trail race Rachel and I both thought it was a wander round the park compared to your average Kiwi trail. Let’s hope we don’t end up dumbing down our trails too much, we don’t want to be like countries where you have to worry about a legal waiver before heading out of the door…..and now with that outburst it’s time for lunch then off to the airport! Next few days are running around Bellevue in Washington or even worse a treadmill……..jeez. Roll on next weekend and back home to get in touch with the land of the long white cloud again!
This is me a few days ago about to board helicopter from doom and head over to the trailhead of The Routeburn. Note the slightly tired but nervous excitement. Well i’m home and at work and now I have a cold – I get sick so rarely so it’s a major event for me (not so much for AJ who just shakes her head at me). Anyway i’m itching to get out and run – it’s been 3 days of recovery and so off I run to work (9KM) in the am. Running whilst sick is always a messy business, for me running on tarmac is pretty woeful and then combined with my ipod headphones reducing to sound in just 1 ear and it’s a grim old run into work in the morning. 1st world problems I know.
Anyway by the end of 9km i’m sweating and chipper and despite walking some of the hills feeling way better than if i’d just driven to work snotty and miserable. The run home is similar but we’re eating at our local Chinese place which we LOVE so there’s at least a wonderful goal and the kms just fly by. Running (and food) cure just about anything it seems. So there’s my advice – if you’re sick ….go run. Or eat. Maybe both.
Next up is the plan to run Kauri Cascades this Saturday – up and over the lovely old trail then out all the way to Bethells beach and back. Guessing around 20-25km but Martin’s GPS will figure it out. Then the following weekend it’s the round Taranaki adventure special ….also potentially the most dangerous run i’ll do this year – not least getting permission to head out on Mother’s Day weekend. That’s in the bag so death by falls, drowning in swollen volcanic rivers pale into insignificance. Can’t wait.