A 32km warm-up and 10km Sprint (yeah right) – the inaugural Tauranga International Marathon

Date: 7 October 2017
Distance: 42.2km
Time: 4:49:47

3:47am. The alarm was set to go off at 3:45, but for some reason didn’t. Unfortunately, luckily, neither Gerry or I slept much, and when Gerry checked for a second time what the time was it started sinking in that the alarm didn’t go off and that we are supposed to be getting up.

But, first, let us rewind to Wednesday. We were in Masterton for work that night, and by 9pm we were ravenous for junk food to keep us going on the trip back home. We stopped for take-away chips at one of the local spots. The chips were nice enough, although some tasted like fish, and I still remember telling Gerry that one tasted of egg! And, as is always the case, the aftermath of junk food far outweighs the pre-junk tastebud fireworks going off in your mouth, signalling to your brain that you absolutely have to have it or death will certainly set in! The brain is such a fickle thing.

By mid-morning on Thursday, my “it’s just a headache, ya know”, took on epic proportions and by 2pm, Gerry had to leave work early and get something from the pharmacist for migraine. Nausea settled in nicely, and by 3pm I was barfing my lungs out. What was supposed to be the time for me to pack, clean and sort out everything before our trip, tuned into one of the rare moments I wished I was rather dead. Feeling like an invalid, I was not capable of anything other than wanting to die.

Thursday rolled into Friday while all along I couldn’t eat or drink anything. Not even pure icy cold rain water straight from our tank could stay down. The pharmacist suggested motion sickness tables which didn’t have any time to work it’s magical powers before going down the drain.

This meant that during my incapacitated state, Gerry had to pack running clothes, work outfits and casual clothes for both of us for five days, camera equipment, and everything else, while preparing a pre-race meal, filling thermoses with coffee and hot water for tea for the trip, on top of still tending to last minute work commitments.

By Friday midday, Gerry packed jelly-belly me and everything else in the car, before setting off for Tauranga. It was raining most of the way, but being dosed and in a haze from serious pain killers (people killers), we slowly made our way North. By late afternoon I managed some grated, left to turn brown (fermented) apple, and a few sips of flat Coke. Some weak herbal tea followed an hour later, as well as a Frooze ball. When all that stayed put, I knew things were looking up. My headache was back to “normal”, and I briefly considered more tablets, but opted to sit it out.

We arrived at our very basic Airbnb at about 7pm, after passing by the quick and efficient event registration desk in town. After another cup of herbal tea and almost feeling human again, I decided to try some dinner: quinoa with boiled egg, chopped cucumber, onion, green pepper and tuna. By then I realised that I was severely dehydrated and under-carbo-loaded not being able to eat or drink anything for the better part of two days. Happy to be able to keep food of any kind down, the best I could add to that was an electrolyte drink, before dozing off into a semi-sleep not too long after 9pm.

Stressed about the fact that I was in fairly bad shape so shortly before the run, on top of the fact that our peak training week for the past year was 55.7km, resulted in not much sleep. But, being awake about a zillion times, luckily saw us following the minutes as they pass during the night. Just as well, as we might not have woken up in time for the event.

By 5am we were showered, dressed, breakfasted (yogurt with chia seeds, and grated apple) and on our way to catch the free bus at 5:45 from the finish to the start. As this was a point to point event, the organisers offered free buses from the finish to the start, before as well as after the event. While we were traveling to the start I was counting my lucky stars that I was feeling almost human again, and that the inclement weather from the previous days seemed to have subsided.

The weather was as close to perfect as you can get. Starting at around 12 degrees C going up to 17 at its warmest, overcast and virtually no wind. Drop bags was another nice to have, and we decided to keep a warm layer until shortly before the start.

As this is a city marathon, we started in the Tauranga city centre on The Strand Rd, as the sun started to light up the day. Waved starting times helped to spread out the field of about 300 runners and walkers over the first 200 metres or so before heading up a small path, past the police station and into a suburb. Shortly after the first kilometre we crossed SH2 before veering off onto a track next to the highway on the one side, and the sea/lagoon on the other. It was great to see Anita at about 2km (40 to go!) marshaling and cheering everyone on. After 2.5km we turned away from the highway and onto a beautiful path of boardwalks and tracks for five kilometres, before crossing Chapel Street and onto an out-and-back stretch of about 7km (3.5km each way) on Harbour Drive and Beach Road. We were still going great and I was surprised at how reasonably well I was feeling given the circumstances.

Back onto Chapel Street we crossed the bridge and took a left onto a pathway next to an area that smelled like the sewerage farm. After about one kilometre we were back on SH2 where we crossed the Tauranga Bridge next to the marina. Being a huge bridge on the highway, it was quite busy with lots of traffic. Running through the industrial port area for miles and miles (okay, 4km to be precise), we finally crossed Coronation Park before running along The Mall Drive for one kilometre to reach Mt Maunganui. In my mind I always think of city marathons as “city centre” marathons. But, I guess it is fair to include the industrial area (which makes up a huge part of this event) and surrounding suburbs. Only about 100 metres were in the city centre itself.

The Mount was a highlight for me. Maybe it was because I was using different muscles on the otherwise very flat course, but I almost got a second wind in the 3km around the mountain. It follows the beautiful and extremely popular walking track around the Mount. Lots of people were running, walking their dogs or babies and just having a stroll on a lovely Saturday morning. Although it was mostly overcast, the lack of wind made for some nice temperatures.

Unfortunately, my “high” was short lived. We reached Marine Parade after about three hours with 14.5km to go. I was suddenly knackered, not having done the hard yards in training, and the suffering got exponentially worse after 30km. I haven’t even done my 32km “warm up”, before I started walking bits. Making it to the finish seemed near impossible.

Again, following the advice we once got on day four of a five-day stage race from a fantastic supporter, of “run bits, walk bits – you’ll get there”, we plottered on as the kilometres ticked over slowly but surely. I lost track of where we were and how many kilometres we covered, just trying my best to keep moving forward.

The course itself didn’t help. After about 3.5km, Marine Parade turned into Ocean Beach Road (4km) and later Maranui Street, and Papamoa Beach Road (6km) – a flat, boring, straight, long run through the suburbs of Mt Maunganui and Papamoa. For the final kilometre, we followed an urban path between houses towards the finish at the Gordon Spratt Reserve.

Funny how the final seven or so kilometres usually goes by in a blur. The pain overrides most other sensations, which had me thinking about something I read a few years ago in a book by Brian Powell (Relentless Forward Progress). The author’s wise words were something in the line of “if it hurts when you run, and it hurts when you walk, then run”. So I tried my best to do just that.

Before we knew it, we were on the home stretch. It could not have come fast enough. For the first time ever, I had a numbing feeling down my right leg for a huge part of the final twelve kilometres. I was worried my sciatic nerve might be pinched. But, seeing the finish line and knowing that we got there in the end, almost brought some instant relief. It still remains one of the most joyous moments – being able to run that far and the contented feeling of accomplishment. I always think that for as long as you are capable, you owe it to yourself to keep moving.

In terms of the event, I could not fault it. Everything was very well organised and the traffic management was next level. I think all the cones from the whole Bay of Plenty, including some from Auckland city council were on the course! The course marking counted down every kilometre, which is my favourite way of doing it. The marshals were abundant (my understanding was around 200), super supportive and generally just fantastic. Eight aid stations (at 5km, 10.5km, 14.2km, 18.2km, 23.8km, 29.1km, 34.9km, and 39.2km) were en route stocked with water and Loaded Isotonic Sports Drink. One had bananas and a couple others some jelly sweets. Each aid station also had a toilet. Only once on “the-green-mile” (times nine) stretch did I get really thirsty, and thought the water points were too far apart. But, that was probably because I only took some Loaded at the last water point which wasn’t nearly enough for the fairly warm, windless run through the suburbs.

Spot prizes were handed out as participants were crossing the finish line which usually doesn’t favour the back markers, and medals and a free beer courtesy of Speights were awarded to all finishers.

Prize-giving seemed a bit random and unorganised. First, second and third place winners were acknowledged and winners awarded with trophies for all distances from the 6km, 10km and 21.1km. But when it came to the marathon, only the winners were handed their trophies. Not a peep about the second and third place winners, who got prize money no less! Only when one of the placers talked to the announcer did they do a quick back-paddle in recognition of the second and third place winners. A bit after the fact, as people were on their way already.

But overall, Totalsports did a fantastic job of organising the event comprising of 300 participants in the marathon run and walk, 460 in the half marathon, 280 in the 10km, and 80 for the 6km (all based on the amount of finishers). Here’s hoping that next year will see the numbers increase with leaps and bounds, as a more social run would certainly help ticking over the final third of the run more enjoyably.

Seeing a lot of familiar faces on the course and catching up with friends afterwards, was just the cherry on the cake.  Thanks to everyone who helped make this event/weekend so special.

 

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Creatures of habit – Hatuma time again

Date: 17 September 2017
Distance: 21.1km (+11.1km)
Time: 2:25.28 (+1:16)
Previous: 2011, 2014, 2015, 2016

For our fifth running of the Hatuma Lime Half Marathon, we decided to add a few kilometres before the event start to get to 32km. It might be partially psychological, but I like to do a 32km long-run three or four weeks out from a marathon. Luckily the event was on so we only had to add 11kms to make up the distance.

Since we entered for the Tauranga International Marathon (happening on 7 October) ages ago, I’ve been trying to get myself on form, up the kilometres and generally just be half decently prepared. Unfortunately, it hasn’t materialised. By now I would have preferred to be on 70kms/week, but life got in the way and the best we could do was to get up to around 50km weeks, and only for the past month or so. Which brings me to the 50km per week mileage: it is only once I start to run at least 50km per week consistently for a couple of months, that I can actually feel improvement in terms of my fitness. Anything less, and it remains a slog to get through every run.

The weather was yet again atrocious leading up to the event. It was raining consistently, the wind was fairly strong, and Palmerston North even saw some hail the day before – the second time in one week. The weather prediction for the day didn’t look too flash either. But, on the morning of the event, things couldn’t be better. Cheryl joined us for the outing, and by 6:45 we were on our way to Waipukurau. This, if memory serves me well, this is the event we’ve done the most times of all events over the past 16 years. I can’t tell you why. It is just one of those things. Maybe because it is really cheap ($15 and you get a free T-shirt if you enter early)? Maybe because it is familiar? Or maybe we’re just creatures of habit. Who knows.

After registration, we quickly dropped our new Ts in the car, took off some layers, and were off on our 11km “warmup” run with seconds to spare before the walkers (and slow runners) were sent on their way. They started at 8:30. The “speedy” runners officially started at 10:00. I can’t remember it being this way in previous years, but the event now only allows 2:30 to complete the half marathon.

It seems to be the norm these days to have different starting times for fast runners, walkers, slow runners, fast walkers, other runners, the different distances and so on. Which I think is unfortunate. There’s something about a starting line and the masses of people, the chatter, banter and the sense of belonging – the “we are in this together”, no matter how fast or slow your are. With the separate starting times that start-line vibe is slowly dying out.

Our first 11km went by uneventfully. The idea was to take it really slow and just get the distance on our feet. We basically ran to the first water point and back. On the way back we saw all the walkers and early, slow runners. John Stuart was doing his 50th half marathon and a few of the Manawatu Striders members were walking with him for support and camaraderie.

Back to base, we had 14 minutes to take a drink of water, have a pee, and tape a hotspot on my foot before setting off on the half marathon. We were still trying to start the GPS on Gerry’s phone, and make a FB post (don’t ask) as we watched the field of runners disappear out the gate on the first out-and-back stretch in front of the race course. We were way behind everyone else (we could have been the official Tail-end Charles’s!), and it remained that way until about the 10km mark at the second water point. We passed four participants, one of which overtook us again a few kilometres up the road. It was only in the final few kilometres that we passed a few more. And it was only at these rare moments, as well as at the three water points, that we were not by ourselves. For the most part, it was just the two of us on a Sunday long-run.

The last seven kilometres tuned into quite a challenge as it was “virgin” territory again. Since my regular running excursions came to an abrupt halt about a year ago, we haven’t done much more than a few half marathons, and those were few and far between. My legs got that “lack of oxygen and blood flow” numbness/pain and the struggle was on. All I can think was how on earth was I going to get to the finish, let alone through 10km more in three weeks time!

We met up with Cheryl at the finish and saw the Striders gang who was having a wee celebration for John’s 50th half marathon. Prize-giving was short and sweet and unfortunately no lucky spot-prizes for us. Damn – I was looking forward to winning that fertiliser!

[Hip update: it has been nearly nine months since I started my self-help rehab and I can honestly say that my hip is in a much better place than what it was before. My core is getting stronger and I can now manage to spend very long periods of time on a foam roller. My hip mobility is probably the best it has been in 20 years. I’m extremely aware of my body’s movements, tightness, weaknesses and am constantly focused on that aspect of my life. It is literally all-consuming. I’ve spent hours and hours reading articles on hips, all the muscles in that area, ligaments, fascia, and watched endless amounts of videos on YouTube. I’m obsessed about getting to the bottom of it. It’s been proved over and over – running is good for your joints. I just need to sort out the mechanics: mis-alignments, tight spots, and weak spots, before I can really move forward.

We’ve slowly built up our mileage during this time, going from about 20km per week in January to 50km in September. My fitness levels are picking up nicely. Although I’m not where I’ve hoped to be by this time due to lack of proper planning, being scared and uncertain whether I’m doing the right thing (because that is what doctors manage to be good at – instilling fear), but I’m really looking forward to see what is going to happen at the marathon.]

 

 

 

Hilder, honey and a half marathon

Date: 9 July 2017
Distance: 21.1km
Time: 2:17.26
Previous: 2014, 2015

 

The first time we did the Norsewood to Takapau half marathon, it was with family, who at the time lived in New Zealand. I will never forget the box filled with pots of honey that was handed out as spot prizes. Two out of the four of us received a pot of honey. When prize-giving rolled around the following year, I was audibly disappointed for not getting honey again, at which point the Hilders gifted us theirs. Last year the event was first postponed and later cancelled altogether, because of inclement weather, so definitely no pots of honey to be had.

In 2014 I was physically in better shape than any of the subsequent years, but this is one of those lovely, affordable events that you shouldn’t miss. And walking is always an option. Which brings me to this year. This was my first half marathon-length long run in a while and I was keen to see how my hip would behave. At the Great Forest Events, I walked most of the time, and when you take your time, you can do almost anything. So that one doesn’t count. These days, anything faster than a 7min/km pace I consider to be quite all right.

It was again very cold and wet underfoot with lots of rain leading up to the event and snow-capped mountains, but the weather was otherwise not too bad. One tends to forget the hills on this course! Just as well, or you might not come back for more.

I couldn’t help but thinking about Marian. It is a year since Stuart’s passing, and Marian will no doubt be reliving this very sad time. This event will, in one way or another, always make me think of Marian and Stuart. If not for Marian running, then the gifted honey, or Stuart’s passing. I do hope we will see Marian again on the course at a future event.

[Hip update: I had little to no complaints from my hip. Regaining strength if you neglected it for so many years, is really hard. It has taken a very long time for me just to be able to spend some quality time on a foam roller. That is how non-existent my core was. It is still no good, but at least I can stay on the roller for a bit longer than what I could a few months ago. I still do strength exercises very haphazardly, focussing mainly on rolling the knots out, which has helped my mobility and range of movement with leaps and bounds. Maybe it will be easier to join a gym for the strength exercises, but I’m hoping to find a solution that I can do anywhere and anytime on my own. Having entered for the Ring of Fire event scheduled for April next year might get me off my rear to start doing more, as I’m scared senseless just thinking of what we’ve signed up for.]

Stride for Syria

Date: 2 July 2017
Distance: 7.6km (+4km)
Time: 47:31 (30:00)

A week out from our half marathon, we had to fit in a last “cutback long-run” and decided to throw the Palmerston North Boys High School and Palmerston North Girls High School’s event into the mix.

The Stride for Syria intended to raise funds for the Syrian Refugee Crisis. It is labeled as “the most urgent humanitarian crisis of our time” after six years of ongoing fighting and conflict in Syria. According to the brochure that was handed out at the event, 470 000 people have been killed, and more than 4.8 million have fled the country, while 6.1 million have been displaced. That is nearly three times the population of New Zealand that is either dead, misplaced or having to flee for their lives.

So, PNBHS World Vision decided to host a running/walking event, with help from the Manawatu Striders, to raise some funds for the Syrian crisis. (If you wish to make a donation, visit the NZ World Vision website.)

We arrived at about 9am to register and quickly go for a 4km trot before the actual event started at 10am. Going upstream, we ran 2km along the Bridle Track before turning around and running the 2km back. On the way out, we ran into Glen W, whom we had only known from Instagram. Nice to finally meet in person. Although it was quite cold, it was a windless, calm day with little pockets of sun still shining through the clouds early on. Back at the club rooms, we had time for a quick catch up, a sip of water and a trip to the loo. It was great to also finally meet Christine T in person – another online friend.

The school boys and girls did a good job of handling the formalities with guidance from the Manawatu Striders. Starting at the club rooms, the course followed the routes of other Striders events. The first bit is partially on the Super 7s course until you reach the river where you turn right to follow the marathon course downstream, around Waitoetoe Park and back the same way to the club rooms. These are trails we know very well, but it was still an enjoyable run away from the roads, through parks and next to the river.

With an entry fee of only $5, which included a sausage sizzle and banana at the finish, I’m surprised at the very small field of participants. One would have thought that at least both the schools’ students and their parents should have known about it, and made the effort?

Be that as it may, I’m pleased to have managed another run without much pain. Now to see how things will go at the half marathon in a week’s time.

5 things no one tells you, bla-bla-bla …

Is it just me, or is everything your read these days on running forums and in running magazines, a number crunching game? For instance: “6 things you need to do right now”, “I did squats for 14 days and here’s what happened”, “do these 3 exercises right now”, “4 stretches that will fix all your problems”, “these 7 health foods aren’t so healthy”, “31 runner friendly recipes”, etc. You can almost not find an article that doesn’t contain a headline similar to these. But, I’m getting off topic.

getting_older_s.jpg

This post really is just a message I wish someone had banged into my head 20 years ago. And despite knowing what I know now, I still find it difficult to practice what I preach, but here goes nonetheless. Even if I fail miserably and have to say to myself 20 years from now, “I told you so!”.

You know how you sometimes do an event and think to yourself, hey, I’m doing all right, only to find a runner with a 60+, 70+ or 80+ age tag ahead of you? And every time you think, wow, that’s very impressive. I want to be that runner when I’m that age. All I have to do is to keep running.

We are a very (maybe unintentionally) obnoxious bunch, aren’t we? Without giving anything a second thought, you just assume that if you keep running the way you do, you will be fine for the rest of your life. Just look at you, you are running and keeping active while most people your age do absolutely nothing, not even the occasional stroll around the block. The fact that you have a few aches and pains, call it niggles if you like, you put down to “normal side-effects that come with the territory”. And, inexplicably, while you sometimes hobble your first few steps after getting up from a chair or out of bed, most non-running people your age seems not to have these issues? Or so it seems.

But, the truth of the matter is that no-one talks about these things. Maybe because we’re all in denial about getting older? Never has anyone told me that my strength will halve by the time I turn 40. By 45, what’s left will halve again. And by 50, that would halve again. And so on. Things go pear-shaped exponentially. I am assuming that by the time you reach 70, you can count your lucky stars if you can still open your own beer! Actually, according to “scientific studies”, you loose about 1% muscle strength each year from your 30th birthday onwards. “Scientifically proven” or not, I can promise you it is far worse. And the reason is simple – lack of maintenance. But I’m getting ahead of myself again.

In my head I can, of course, do push-ups, pull-ups, climb trees and make wagon-wheels at nauseam. I could still do that “just the other day”. Heck, I remember a time when I could stand on my hands and do push-ups! (Granted, my legs were against a wall for balance.)  The other day I tried some of these things and I could only manage one normal push-up. One. Pull-ups? None! That was enough to give my self-esteem such a knock that I did not even try any of the other stuff that was second nature at some point in my life.

And here’s the other thing. Apart from your physical strength, your eyes go. As I’m typing this, I need to squint and blink my watery eyes constantly to see what is going on. And so too does your hearing. Say what? And your mind. Concentration? Memory? What is that? And memory is a very fickle thing at the best of times. And if you think you used to be a good wine snifter and can easily tell the difference between a Pinotage and a Shiraz, or a Cabernet and a Bordeaux Blend by taking one whiff, just be warned that it will all go to shit after you turn 40, as even your sense of smell seems to decrease exponentially. Nasty things start to grow everywhere, for Pete’s sake!

After being diagnosed with FAI (femoral acetabular impingement of the CAM type) and told to consider a different sport, as well as the prospect of having to have a hip replacement in the not too distant future, I was shocked to my core. Imagine never again being able to run, or hike with a backpack, or climb up a mountain, getting to places that you can only get to by foot. I could not even fathom the thought. I went from being numb to denial, to anger, to acceptance, and back to denial. Why does it always take a “disaster” for one to wake up and smell the roses?

What I can say now, in hindsight (what a wonderful thing) with the utmost certainty is, that if you think you can continue to run into your old age by just continually running, you better think again. Because that is the biggest misnomer in all of the running world. One tends to look at older runners and think they have probably been running all their lives, so it is “second nature” to them. All I need to do is keep on running and I will be sweet as. Not! I can promise you, emphatically, that all those oldies who seems to be just hardcore runners have a whole regime of other physical stuff they do on top of running. They will either go to the gym or do some other form of strength training. Or do some cross-training in one form or another. They most certainly all would stretch or do yoga or whatever it takes to stay flexible. And I bet they also have regular visits to massage therapists, or at the very least do some foam rolling, etc. You cannot in your wildest dreams think that you will be “fine” by just running. You will not. Your muscles will deteriorate and they will tighten up. That is a fact. Imbalances in your body are inevitable and if you don’t maintain (condition, strengthen, flex and loosen up) your muscles, you can forget about running for the rest of your life. There will come a time when you get so buggered in one place from immobility in another, that you will have to stop and think about where to from here.

In a way, I was lucky to be told I have FAI. At least I’m not that old yet, and there’s still time, I think. I hope. In the back of my mind, I knew all along that I needed to stretch and do some strength exercises, but I didn’t heed it. I would always think I’ll do it tomorrow, or start on Monday. And then usually put it off altogether. I have been doing that for a few years and the end result? A hip so stuffed that a specialist recommended an operation. But, stubborn as I am, I tend to side with The FAI Fix guys by also thinking that there must be an alternative. I find it curious that every second person you talk to, suddenly has FAI problems. Why would everybody suddenly have bone growth at the certain spot on their hips? And why does it hit people in their 20s and 30s already? Or is it one of those things that have always been around, but never been talked about? And only recently been named?

Granted, we all sit a lot more than what I, and most generations before me, used to. We only got TV when I was 7 years old. Computers only made it into my world when I was about 20. Mobile phones did not make it onto the scene for many more years. The Millenials (people born between 1980 and 2000) certainly got a raw deal in that regard, by being born into this crap. At least we still, almost, had a “normal” childhood, whatever that might mean. But, in terms of being physical, we were definitely better off, even if the only difference was having to walk to the library to get books for assignments. Nowadays, most information appears at the click of a button, whether you sit in your car, on a bus, in front of the TV, or on the loo. You don’t have to move your butt one inch to get what you want.

As with everything else in life, if you don’t maintain it, it will fall apart. Same goes for your health and physical abilities. Apart from eating healthy (which is a different can of worms), drinking less, not smoking etc, you have to maintain your muscle strength and flexibility in order to stay mobile. It really is as simple as that. And yet, the most difficult thing in the world to actually put into motion. We all know the adage – if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it – but we forever postpone getting our maintenance sorted for another day. Maintenance is always something “you will still do” (like having that mole checked out). Until it’s too late and the easy way or only way out is the “quick fix” by some or other medical professional.

If I could give my younger self one piece of advice, it would be to keep on living like a child. Jump off things, stand on your head, climb onto everything, run everywhere you want to go, even the bathroom, but do whatever it takes to keep your muscles working, be strong, stay flexible and be mobile.

 

 

The David Fletcher Mortgages Urban Trail Run

Date: 11 June 2017
Distance: 12.5km
Time: 1:40

While we were in New Plymouth for the weekend, we figured we might as well participate in another Cut a Trail event. The previous one was most enjoyable and since this one was cheap enough, we thought we’ll give it a go.

As an out-of-towner you can’t pre-enter, meaning you inevitably pay the late entry fee of $15 ($10 for locals if you pre-register at the Frontrunner shop during the course of the week). You also don’t come into account for certain of the spot-prizes if you enter late. But, I guess, these events are small and low-key community events – not really meant for outsiders. That might also explain why there were no water points or toilets. The latter being a bit of a problem when you have x-amount of people queueing for the one public toilet in the area. On the bright side, the banter while waiting in line turned out to be fun. When all the men turned to the bushes (on the East End Reserve, main beach and playground area no less!) one lady casually commented, “it is already full moon, a couple more won’t make a difference”.

Another beautiful day greeted us in the morning, with just a bit of a nip in the air. I decided there and then that we in Palmy most certainly have the most miserable weather in all of New Zealand. Quite sad actually, especially taking into account that Palmerston North had the least amount of sun last summer. So, excuse me for being a bit sad (or make that grumpy) from lack of vitamin D! 😀

The run follows the urban trails around town. We’ve covered most of them on training runs with friends before, but we did see a couple new areas. The first approximately 3km out-and-back stretch on the opposite sides of the Te Henui stream, makes up the loop for the 6km course. But after the first 3kms where the short course runners crossed a bridge to go back down, the longer course carries on to do another 3km loop higher up in the suburbs, twice. A decent hill reduced me to a walk, especially on the second lap. At the highest points on the course, we got lovely views of Mt Taranaki. When we finally hooked up with the second half of the 6km course on the way back, we got treated to another monster hill. But from there, the home stretch is mainly downhill back to the sea.

It took a fair bit longer to complete the course than I had hoped. But, on the bright side, my hip didn’t give any troubles. It might seem that the little bit of mobility and strength exercises are doing the trick. My hip does feel a lot less tight and sore, especially getting up from a sitting position.

There’s hope still.

Next up? Probably the Norsewood to Takapau half marathon on 9 July. A small, country event, which we’ve enjoyed doing in the past.

A tail in three parts – Pouakai Crossing

Date: 9 June 2017
Distance: Depending on the source, 18.4km or 19km

Since Lonely Planet named Taranaki “the second best region in the world to visit”, while highlighting the Pouakai Crossing as “one of two unmissable attractions”, I’ve been keen to see what all the fuss was about.

Mt Taranaki in Egmont National Park has always been on the to-do list. We’ve only done short walks in the area, and “knocking off the bastard” remains on the to-do list.

Trying to find a date that would suit both us and our friends in New Plymouth to walk the crossing, proved very challenging, but we finally settled on a day last weekend. The weather seemed best on the Friday, so by Thursday night, Gerry and I were packed and off to the Naki where a lovely warm dinner was waiting for us. Unfortunately, both of our friends were unwell (with colds and stomach bugs), so we made some loose arrangements over dinner and coffee in terms of the time to start, what to wear and take with, and whether they would walk all the way with us or turn around earlier. But for the most part, we decided to play it by ear.

Part one
Shortly after seven in the morning we drove up to the Egmont Visitor Centre to park (950m), and watch the sun rise over the horizon, before starting off at a brisk pace. Frost covered the grass outside the building and the temperature could not have been more than a couple of degrees. With the first few kilometres all going up the Razorback Ridge (to about 1400m), we quickly warmed up. Coupled with the beautiful, sunny, windless start, we could not have asked for a better day. Apart from some minor cloud, we had stunning views over the farms, New Plymouth and the sea towards the north. Unfortunately, it was too hazy to see Mt Ruapehu or Mt Ngauruhoe.

After about two hours’ walk, traversing Mt Taranaki above the cloud line, we passed the lava columns of the Dieffenbach cliffs. In a rocky stream (or was it a slip?) we decided to make some tea and have a snack. The moment we stopped, it was evident that the temperature was still in the single digits. Donning gloves and multiple top layers not to cool down too quickly, as the steam from our warm bodies, and condensation already had our beanies soaking wet. After we got going again, our friends walked a few more minutes with us, before they decided to call it a day and head back to the car.

Once we crossed the Boomerang slip, I felt more comfortable that we’d covered the most dangerous part. Luckily there was no snow on the slip. The path is quite narrow in parts, but clearly visible. It might be a different story if everything was covered in snow, as there were no markers/poles to indicate where the track might be, as is usually the case in alpine terrain. We could clearly see the red water of the Kokowai Stream far below us, caused by manganese oxide oozing from the earth. The moment we rounded the mountain more towards the western side, the wind picked up and we realised that the first section of the walk was quite sheltered. By noon, we reached Holly Hut, originally built in 1900, but replaced by the current building in 1975. It sleeps about 26 people and a couple of tents can fit on the grass in front of the hut. The Minarapa Stream just before reaching the hut can be impassable after heavy rain, but was completely dry. Two long-drops were a few metres from the hut, and these will have to be cleaned soon, or risk overflowing.

An hour return trip, takes you to the 31 metre high Bells Falls/Te Rere o Tahurangi, a waterfall feature we had to give a miss, as we were pressed for time with the short winter days.

After leaving the hut, we followed the path downhill with beautiful views across the wetland, until we reached the Ahukawakawa Swamp/Wetlands. A narrow wet boardwalk takes you across the wetland. Stepping off of the boardwalk (to pass or be passed) might seem solid, but it is in fact a very wet soggy sponge.

Part two
During our crossing of the wetland and Story River/Hangatahua Stream (the one that’s also responsible for the waterfall), the clouds came rolling in and a misty spray made us stop to put on rain jackets. A steep climb up the Pouakai Ranges for the next couple of hours, with a million steps and very muddy conditions under foot, took us through misty mountain cedar forests with unfortunately no visibility in any direction apart from the few metres ahead of us. Totally opposite to what we had up until the first hut. It was very cold and I was glad we carried all the extra clothes as we wore everything we had by then.

Covered in mud, we reached the Pouakai Hut after about two hours. Another side trip takes you to the Pouakai Tarns where on a good day, you can see a reflection of Mt Taranaki in the water. Or tackle the Pouakai Trig (1440m) – about 1.5hours return. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see anything and opted to skip the outing. Another hiker who thought she’d take the chance, incase the cloud opened up while she was there, came back quite disappointed. It was still cloudy and rainy and the tarn was so small, it takes (according to her) about two minutes to circumnavigate. And obviously no sign of any mountain, let alone a reflection. As Graeme pointed out the last time we did an event in the Naki – if you can’t see the mountain, it’s raining, and if you can see it, it’s going to rain. So, I figured the odd chance of having a good day as a tourist passing through, is next to nothing. You would probably have to do multiple crossings before you might be lucky enough to have a good day.

We stopped at the hut to boil water for soup. It was freezing outside on the porch, but we were too dirty from the mud as well as wet from the rain to go inside. After some hot soup, corn cakes, biltong, cheese and a couple of pieces of dark chocolate for desert, we were ready to head down the mountain. We nearly got a glimpse of what the view might be like from Pouakai Hut when the clouds almost opened up for a brief moment, just enough to see the farmlands way below.

Part three
From Pouakai Hut, the path meanders downhill all the way on a proper wooden boardwalk. Starting off in freezing temperatures, we could feel the air getting warmer the further we descended. The vegetation became thicker and finally you enter the forest again. The change in altitude also makes for a change in vegetation with the totara trees fairly far down towards sea level. It was still cloudy and therefore we had no view of Mt Taranaki, but the change underfoot makes this a totally different experience. Where the previous stretch was almost all uphill in ankle deep mud, this section was all the way downhill on a decent boardwalk. Total opposites.

Deon and Henriette kindly fetched us again at the bottom on a farm road. After a warm shower and clean, dry clothes, we were treated to lovely food, cosy by the heater.

The Pouakai Crossing (not to be confused with the Pouakai Circuit which is partially on the same tracks) is a nice one day hike. Maybe if we went in summer instead of winter, and maybe if we were lucky to have good weather, it might have been a different story, but truth be told (and at the risk of being a stick in the mud), I don’t think it is comparable to the Tongariro Crossing, or some of the Great Walks, as numerous news clippings and articles claim. I my view, and despite former Prime Minister Helen Clark‘s comment “it has the potential to rival the country’s Great Walks”, I don’t think it is quite in the same league as the others. Still, it is a nice walk, and worth the effort.