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
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.
Today in history Sir Ed climbed Everest. Today in history I went to Birkenhead and did a trail run in the dark. All up I guess Mr Hillary wins on the kudos front ( I once spent 4 random hours with him being driven to London but that’s another story) but I like to think that my small endeavour had a (very) small % of the same magic and uncertainty and potential for injury.
The Inov8 Night Trail run series started in Auckland tonight and as well as being the BEST trail shoes in the world and working with the best Sports company in the world (Total Sport) they also put on a fun event.
Birkenhead – if you are from the UK you do, as Martin pointed out immediately, a Scouser accent ‘Hey, Hey, Hey, Aaaalright’ at the mention of the place – it’s like a UK law. But Brikenhead in Auckland is different – at least I think it is – it was dark when we arrived and when we left so it could be Cannes for all I know.
Odd to be changing into the trail gear in the office after a long day and heading out to do something crazy. I’ve also been loaned a Nike GPS watch thing to test on the run…..its chunky but looks fun….so tonight is about seeing how we get along (like a geek first date) before a possible deeper relationship.
Arriving in the bitter cold and pacing about a bit you start pondering the sanity of the decision when you could be at the Mother-in-law’s birthday dinner but then Aaron’s on the mike, we count down and we’re off.
It’s a magical crazy 1st lap surrounded by like minded nutcases all tripping the headlamp fantastic through the undergrowth. Couple of cries of “Oh-oh mud!” do make me wonder about some of my peers – this is meant to be a trail run. The first 6km pass with processions of headlamps and it feels more like a muddy winter wonderland event than a gnarly old trail run.
Coming into the 2nd lap Martin shouts hello as he’s taken a wrong turn and he’s heading up to the check point from reverse. Not sure how he managed that but there seem to be a group of folk with him….hope he wasn’t leading…..and then it’s back into the bush and suddenly i’m running on my own finally.
Now I love my gear but tonight my Petzl headlamp is not throwing out much light at all…..hmm new bulb/batteries needed perhaps. But with the dim light I get a feel for the trail and despite cracking my shoulder in the dark running a few months ago I manage a pretty good pace and soon catch up and pass a few folk. I love running trails (I know you’d never have guessed) and have developed a fondness for running them in the dark due to some early morning training runs and prep for Tarawera. Pretty quickly in the silence the feeling for being in the groove on the trail and almost taking energy from the surroundings kicks in. I say silence of course this beautiful image is broken a tad by my car keys jangling in my pocket and my heavy breathing.
All too soon i’m back onto the street and put in a fairly spirited charge down the hill to the finish. There i’m handed a beer from Martin who dropped out after the 1st lap (slacker) and stand next to the sausage sizzle talking with Total Sport Chief Aaron Carter – I guess the last time I arranged to see him for a beer post Routburn I was wasted on Tequila so couldn’t make it. Ahem.
All in all a great mid week, cold, dark and fun run. Fantastic idea and i’ll be getting along to any of the runs i’m in the country for. Yes more business travel looms.
How did the date with the Nike watch go….hmmm on that one i’m not sure. I had it set on miles so any time I looked down I was a bit confused. I couldn’t work out the back light at all and at home in the shower I had a panic about getting it wet. Not sure we’re going to go beyond 1st base and also not that sure that I need to know where I am or where I’ve been at any given moment – my heart rate, aching legs and eyes usually do that stuff…..but maybe I need to learn the tech a bit better.
Maybe a quick 2nd date on more familiar/well lit ground is in order to truly cement the relationship……it’s not you it’s me….ok maybe it’s you.
After a pretty odd week of flying to the US & Back in 6 days (so really only 3 sleeps in the US), nearly getting stranded when my plane broke down, discovering my brother-in-arms Powell has got into trail running plus getting to run with him for 4KM on trail and then going through the crazy announce of the new Xbox it was good to get back to home to some sanity….
Saturday was spent with Noodle going to her swimming lesson, hitting Safkas on K-Road for some good Swedish food and then getting Noodle into Clip and Climb for a quick 30 mins of ascending before catching up on work and preparing for a whole heap of meetings to come. Top the day off at Sands with some good honest home style Asian cuisine and a lovely day was had by the Whanau.
So then I realised I needed to get a bit brutal if I really wanted to feel back at home in Aotearoa with some mud between my toes and an ache in my lungs. Where to go….then it struck me that Te Henga has always kicked my arse so it was perfect to get me back to feeling lucky to be here, lucky to be alive.
Let me tell you about my history with Te Henga track.
My first introduction was at The West Coaster managed by Total Sport. My vague thinking at the time was ”well I’ve run several marathons and I’ve run many trail runs so how hard can it be?” It floored me.
Starting on a cold wintery grey Bethell’s Beach running down the misty black sand beach and passing Amanda’s cousin whose family were marshalling and full of great expectations about Blackburn running their local race (New Zealand too small you say?) I was dead on my feet by time we’d run the first 10km of hills. We hadn’t even gotten onto Te Henga yet!
Running through the estuary around the crazy HUGE sand dunes and doing at least a km in fast running water I was exhausted, happy but pretty sure this was an insane race. And we still hadn’t gotten to Te Henga….by now I was kicking myself for not doing much more than registering for the race – hubris…it’s a wonderful thing.
So we hit Te Henga track and we went up, and up and up and along a windy old ridge and I was alternating between walking and cursing and shuffling and cursing. When we got towards the end of the track and had to ascend once more (there are now some very nice manicured stairs there now – those days kids it was clay) I was just struggling to stay upright. At this point an old dude passed me by and dissed me for not being strong enough. It’s rare to get grief from another runner – not something do – so it’s always stuck with me and whenever I need to get angry to snap myself out of a malaise on a trail I think of that guy and get my rage up.
On the West Coaster you then hit Goldies Bush reserve where there are multiple river crossing and hills before….yes running back along Te Henga. Why do it once?
I recall seeing 2 people crying on the track …it was a rough old race. When I cleared the finish line I just sat there as my extended family worried and ask if there was anything I needed. ‘Just beer’ I said and slumped for 25 minutes. I’d been running for 7 hours.
Driving home I had to stop in Massey and sleep for 40 minutes by the side of the road as I was in danger of falling asleep at the wheel. I was done in.
So that was my first meeting with Te Henga.
Following that day I resolved to conquer and learn this gnarly old track and I did and I have, running in various weathers and states as training for Tarawera Ultra and if you live in Auckland and don’t get out there – go get involved.
Te Henga has relentlessly kicked my butt. I used to run in New Balance Minimus and loved them, but they were crap on wet technical sections and mud. Te Henga has both of these – as much as you want really… combine flax with gorse and mud and rain and I recall coming home literally having lost count of the times I fell over and with legs cut to ribbons. I actually did a somersault at one point – awesome. I also ran Bethells to Muriwai and back A LOT for the Tarawera training and there wasn’t once where it was a cruisy little run. Te Henga is righteous.
So that’s where I went today for a bit of pain, a bit of love and a lot of mud.
I drove through the rain coming in sideways, through the grey dawn and down to the beach and trail head where misty clouds met sea spray to mask the coastline. At first all was well and I was loving the punishment. Managed to run some good uphills (maybe that core strength work I’ve been doing is paying off?). A little gorse was keeping me honest and then after an hour and a bit of running the mud began.
My word the sheep had really carved up the trail. A sea of mud just led away and for a good 20 minutes I slogged away through it. Then it struck me that this was waaaaay too crazy. Te Henga…I wanted pain and you’d brought it, I wanted wild rugged New Zealand and I was in it but I wasn’t gonna end my life sliding down a cliff (with gorse spikes all the way) to a brutal and unknown, stupid death on the West Coast.
Once again Te Henga had kicked my arse and I laughed, turned around and headed for home….live to run another day and another trail but don’t worry Te Henga….i’ll be back.
Unexpected running blog today.
Unexpected because I’m in the US for work (to be part of the announce tomorrow of the next Xbox – very exciting!) and I’m pretty far from all that is good and wonderful about running that I didn’t expect to have any updates until my feet touched the good soil of New Zealand.
Then 3 extraordinary things happened today….
Simon Powell, one of my closest friends, and like a brother to me and I planned a run on Wednesday before I head to the airport. Why is this significant? Well because Simon seems to have gotten into running because of me yabbering on about it and also because he supported me by giving me a lift to The Hillbilly Half back in March and then just got hooked seeing lots of random folks pushing themselves in the outdoors. He’s now part of the trail running clan folks! Ace! Believe me if you know Simon – you know why this is significant. All i’ll say to be polite is he’s lost a ton of weight and looks younger 🙂
Secondly – Simon, Gary and I all sat around at lunch today talking running gear and runs and trails and stuff. 3 guys who 10 years ago sat around drinking and getting fat now sitting around wistfully talking about long runs and zero drop shoes. Funny and wonderful moment to recognise that we’ve all grown up/old/stupid.
Saving the best to last is the Anouk (AKA ‘Noodle’, ‘Teg’, ‘princess’, ‘Anoukster’, ‘Nook’, ‘Spooks’ etc) story. Calling home AJ put her on the phone and I asked how school would be today. She’s 6.
Her reply floored me. She had to run a cross country today – 3 times around the field. She said she’d remembered what we’ve talked about – she’d take it easy for the first part of the race and watch all of the kids run off fast then she’d strike and when they were exhausted she was going to power past them and beat as many as possible. 6 years old and we’re talking race strategy….was a moment of very pure happiness to hear that she’s worked it out and couldn’t wait to run……
So there you go – me dreading a treadmill and bad food has resulted in some pure running happy moments! Not a bad week at all.
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!