Ring of Fire (ROF) Volcanic Ultra

Date: 7 April 2018
Distance: 72km (we measured 76km)
Time: 18:15

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Hundreds of headlamps snaking up the mountainside.

Forty-five hours after we finished the most gruelling event we’ve ever done, and I’m still at a loss for words. Not even a few glasses of the best kiwi wine could help get the creative juices flowing. So here I am, wondering what to make of it all and where to start.

When I first caught wind of this new event on the calendar, I was intrigued. Not just because circumnavigating the mountain in one go has been on our to-do list for the past seven years, but also because the acronym “rof” is actually a word in my home language that loosely translates to “rough”. I thought this was a very apt description for an event of this calibre, and it obviously sparked my interest.

Organised by a consortium (called The Event Collective) of three stallwards of the New Zealand trail running fraternity, namely: Victory Events (Jason Cameron), NZ Trail Runs (Paul Charteris and Tm Day), and Ohakune Events Charitable Trust (Nick Reader), this was sure to be an event of note. We’ve done the Round the Mountain Track a few times and knew exactly what we were letting ourselves in for. And yet, even now, having done it, I still find it hard to get my head around the mammoth undertaking.

A super early bird entry fee option was on offer (at $330pp, normal $420). We thought it might be a good idea to make use of it, and so entered eight months out, thinking we had lots of time to process the prospect and train some. In the back of my mind, I couldn’t imagine going round the mountain continuously, but thought I had the best chance doing it in an event where you have aid stations, drop-bag support and back-up emergency plans should you need it.

Soon ROF became a household name and the event everyone talked about (each time reminding me of the “roughness” of this event) and in the end no less than 635 runners entered, of which 163 were entered in the 72km solo event (151 finished), 154 (141 finishers) entered for the 50km event, and a total of 106 teams (318 runners) signed up for the relay option.

As the day drew closer, my enthusiasm wained. After our 101km adventure “training run”, I was ready to take a break and cut back on our mileage for a couple of months. As it turned out, I was in no condition to run after our 101km event anyway, and had a forced two week break. Off course by then (three weeks out from ROF) it made no sense whatsoever to try and “train” anymore – there is no use in exhausting oneself so shortly before an ultra. The timing was bad, and we shouldn’t have done both events that were only five weeks apart. But, how do you choose between the two?

The five weeks between the two ultras really tested my resolve. I had a niggle in my knee, couldn’t really run much and didn’t want to risk doing anything that could jeopardise my chances of finishing ROF even further. It got to the point were I just wanted it to be over. I wasn’t looking forward to it anymore, hated the thought of having to drag my unfit, ill-prepared ass around the mountain, and just wanted it all to go away. Never before had I been so negative going into an event.

Finally the day before the event arrived, as we frantically tried to still get everything packed. Later than planned, we finally left from Palmy only to arrive at the Chateau Tongariro for registration with thirty minutes to spare before the 4pm race briefing. A long queue of participants were lined up outside the entrance to the registration hall, as everyone’s gear had to be checked, shoes had to be cleaned and cleared by DOC, and participants in the 72km solo event be weighed in. Only after all this could we pick up our race numbers, tag our drop-bags and hand them in.

As we were charging up the steps for the 4pm briefing, the hall was already packed, and we could only huddle together at the doorway with a truck load of other participants trying to hear what was said. Understandably, no one wanted to stay for the 8pm briefing, as that would mean a very late night before the 4am start of the race. Unfortunately, the hall didn’t cater for that many participants and heaps couldn’t get in or hear what was said.

By 6pm we were driving to our accommodation at the Discovery Lodge where we had our pre-cooked meal of buckwheat, stir-fry beef strips, gerkins, cucumber, with a mustard vinaigrette, and cooked beetroot. This was followed by a cup of tea, and a nice chat with a fellow participant in the camp kitchen, meaning that we only got into bed by around 9pm. Gerry set the alarm for 2am, and needless to say, I was wide awake for the biggest part of the evening/night. We are night-owls, so going to bed before 11pm thinking I would fall asleep, was doomed to be a fail.

We got up, had breakfast and while getting dressed, disaster struck: my Injinji socks were both left-footed! I had only two pairs of Injinji socks, one pair for the first leg of the event, and the other pair in my drop-bag for the remainder of the course. That meant that both my pairs of socks for the event were for the same foot. On hindsight, I can’t believe I hadn’t given any thought to checking that they were correctly paired beforehand. The only logical thing to do, was to turn the one sock inside out.

Disaster averted and we started making our way to the race headquarters. It was very cold and windy (according to Metservice the temperature was 2 degrees and 40km winds by 6am, so it was probably much colder before 4am) as we parked and walked to the porte-cochère of the Chateau Tongariro to join the 633 other runners for the start. And then the second disaster struck – Gerry’s tried to take a sip from his bladder when he realised nothing was coming out. Trying to figure out what was going on in the starting shoot while we were meant to be off any second, didn’t help. In his frantic attempts to pull out the pipe and getting it back in properly, he seemed to have lost a washer in the nozzle, so water was streaming out getting everything wet. Why is it that the one time he didn’t suck out the air and check that everything was working beforehand as he always does, was the time things didn’t work? But, the show must go on, so without a working bladder, we set off with the knowledge that there are lots of streams on the first leg. He still had the two flasks in the front (totalling 1 litre), and I had 2.5 litre capacity. We figured we’d be all right between the two of us.

Leg 1 – Chateau Tongariro to the Massey University Alpine Club on Ohakune Road

What was meant to be a waved start, turned into a mass stampede through the bunted entrance of the Chateau (or did I miss something in the bladder-havoc?), before tuning left onto SH48 (Bruce Road) to run past the Whakapapa Village i-Site. A few hundred metres up the road, we reached the turn-off onto the Round the Mountain Track. We were right at the back and already in a queue even just to get onto the actual track. It went this way all the way to the Whakapapahiti hut (at about 9.5km). Each time there was a difficult section, or a bridge, the runners would bottleneck and we would be reduced to a walking queue.

The first 7km was a fairly easy trail and quite runnable. But it was all in the pitch black dark. When we entered the valley and reached the river crossing shortly before Whakapapaiti hut, I was surprised to see how much lower the water level was compared to January when we passed through there. This was the case for all the stream crossings – not nearly as high as it was a few months ago.

At the hut, we queued again at the toilet and the tap to fill up water bottles. It was still dark as we started making our way up and out of the valley before veering right and starting to cross the valley. But as you cross through one valley and top a ridge, another one awaits. And so it went, up and down all around the mountain.

After about 2.5 hours it started to get light and we could finally turn off our headlamps. Unfortunately, due to the cloud, we didn’t really have any of the spectacular sunrises or sunsets that could have been on a clear day. But expecting “perfect” weather around the Maunga is probably wishful thinking. The trenches on this section (making up part of The Goat trail run) are quite a challenge. Off course I had to slip going up one and ended up rolling in the mud. That happened more than once, but luckily we had no incidents in the rocky areas, which could have been disastrous.

At one point we saw a woman sitting in a little trench by a stream, hiding from the wind and looking all depressed. I’m guessing it wasn’t a marshall, but rather a participant who got injured and couldn’t move. With the cloud and cold wind, it makes one realise again how important the compulsory gear actually is – it is not so much for when you are on the move as it is for when you can’t move. It could not have been more than 4 degrees and I was hoping for her part that help was on the way very quickly.

Only a few minutes later we saw a helicopter flying over, which I though might have been to pick her up, but we learned afterwards that another athlete (a guy) had to be helicoptered out due to an injury.

This is partially the thing that got to me in the weeks leading up to the event. The stress of knowing what lay ahead was all consuming and exhausting. I was well aware of all the hazards and everything that can potentially go wrong in an environment where you are so removed from civilisation. If something serious happens, the only way out is by helicopter. If the weather doesn’t allow for a helicopter to pick you up, you are in grave danger. This is the gist of this event – it is no mickey-mouse run! A very scary undertaking indeed. Luckily the organisers were well prepared and had in excess of twenty medics around the course, some with tents and camp stoves in the more remote areas between the huts where injured runners could take shelter from the elements.

Finally we had Lake Surprise in view, and passing it was the infamous sign that read “5km to go”. Ha, I thought to myself. We are not even close to the Mangatururu hut yet, and from there it is about 4km to the road, if my memory served me right. Even though I knew very well it can’t be, I still wanted it to be right.

My legs were lead. They hadn’t recovered well enough for this run, and all I could think of was to keep soldiering on and making it in one piece to the finish, no matter how slow. I have absolutely no intentions of coming back to this event (or do I?), so it is a case of do or die. The first leg allowed seven hours to complete, and I was trying my best to get some minutes in the bank for the next leg which also allowed seven hours. Leg three had to be completed in six hours, so allowing a total of 20 hours to complete the event. But every minute spared is an extra one for later on.

Even though the organisers describe the first leg as the most technical, I luckily knew that the second leg was far worse. When we finally reached the Mangaturuturu hut before heading up the Cascades, the sun made a brief appearance to defrost our stiff limbs as we stopped to top up our water bottles (Gerry had to make use of the streams for water supply as we went). Up and over the Cascades, we followed the path going further uphill before dropping down, just to go up again toward Ohakune Mountain Road.

We reached the transition point in 5:45, so knew we had more than an hour in the bank for the second leg. Trying to get through the transition point in less than 15 minutes took some doing. We wanted to change socks, swop a cap, fill up water bottles, eat something at the aide station, use the loo, and get all our food for the second leg. The wind was blowing a gale, and it was freezing up there. It made changing socks, especially Injinji socks, very tricky. My fingers were numb and even though Gerry wore gloves the whole morning, his were not much better. Wet feet and socks is a bugger. But we made it out of the transition point in 10 minutes.

Leg 2 – Massey University Alpine Club to Tukino Ski Road, what the organisers called “the missing link”

The 3.5km down the tarmac proved to be a challenge of its own. The gradient was quite steep causing havoc on our already knackered quads.

We entered the forest where, sheltered from the worse cold wind, we instantly felt warmer. It was about 10:30 in the morning, yet it felt like it was four in the afternoon. The gloomy weather, paired with the fact that we were already up and about for the past eight and a half hours, made it feel like the day was nearly over.

From previous rounds, I remember some sections of the forest to be very hilly. A few one-man swing bridges, following the trail through the forest, and soon enough we reached the Mangaehuehu hut. More friendly marshalls were on hand for a chat as we filled up our water bottles. On we went as the forest became less dense and we popped out above the tree line. A light drizzle had me donning my rain coat – I did not want to be wet in the cold wind. By then, Gerry had taken a tumble in a muddy section and lost a bit of skin in his hand which he wrapped with a buff, while I had another roll in the mud only a few minutes later.

The rocks and boulders of this section make for very tough running conditions. I was scared senseless that one of us would fall and break something. So we approached the course extremely cautiously and going very slow. The misty drizzle subsided, but the wind kept blowing a gale. On our way towards the Waihianoa Gorge, it would blow me off-balance quite a few times. Needless to say, I was working myself into a frenzy knowing that the Waihianoa River gorge has a very steep drop to the right going down. The fear of being blown into the abyss kept my mind off the pain in my legs and feet, and I pushed on as hard as I can, just to get past this “obstacle”.

Going down it, one participant a few metres in front of me, actually slipped off of the track, making my heart stop for a few seconds. He regained his balance, slipped a couple more times, but made it back onto the path. Thinking back, it is probably not totally as bad, but a scared mind has no trouble creating the worse possible scenario. The wind going down wasn’t nice, but it could have been worse. Out the other side, a few more ups and overs, before we reached Rangipo hut. Gerry filled up again, as this section of the track doesn’t offer much in the line of streams, especially this time of year which seems to be quite dry.

When we crossed through the lahar valley, I couldn’t believe my eyes to see how much lower the river was. It was also brown, compared to the white-silver water we had three months ago. Not nearly as scary as it was then. Grateful that the bridge was in place, we could cross comfortably and easily.

Eventually we reached the second transition point, where again we had to collect new food-stuffs, spare batteries, more warm clothes etc. We finished this leg in 6:35. Even though we lost some of our “banked” minutes, we still finished within the official time allowed.

Leg 3 – Tukino Ski Road to Chateau Tongariro

This transition point had a “cabin” on wheels, where participants could take shelter from the freezing wind. They also had nice warm soup for participants, but being allergic to just about everything, I can’t make use of any aide station provisions with the exception of fresh fruit. Gerry had a jam sarmie, we filled up water bottles, shared a banana, and hid next to a ute wheel to get ourselves sorted before taking off again in less than 15 minutes.

From here the course is easy. One could potentially run most of this leg, but being completely knackered from the first two legs meant I couldn’t utilise the runnable terrain. We still shuffled some of the first few kilometres, but soon it started to turn dark again. We donned head lamps and from there it was just a walk to the finish. Knowing that it will be over quicker if we ran, didn’t help to get my legs going. I would try for two steps, and just give up. I guess if we were in danger of missing the cut-off at 12am, I could have forced myself into a trot.

The night was very cold, and it got colder as we went. For an hour or two the wind died out and we could walk comfortably. But then it picked up again, and at some point we had almost everything on, including rain jackets, but I was still freezing. Constantly eating as we do (every 20 minutes), became a tedious task and a real pain, and we ended up skipping it altogether for the last hour or so.

A few possums accompanied us on the track and every now and again I saw something scurrying in the bush in the corner of my eye. It could have been sleep-monsters, but I thought it might be rats? Luckily I didn’t see any green baboons as a friend once did on an 250km Adventure Race!

From the point where we passed the last marshall, I got increasingly more convinced that we were on the wrong track. Even though we walked the Taranaki Waterfall Track just this past December, nothing looked familiar in the dark. The few participants we could still see earlier, also disappeared and we were by ourselves. There was nowhere else to go, so we just kept trucking on. What felt like an eternity eventually also got to an end when we reached the first signs of civilisation at Whakapapa Village. Up the road for a few hundred metres, back into the bush for a small detour, before reaching the grass in front of the Chateau Tongariro and the finish line.

But wait, there’s more. Tim kindly informed us that we still had to go into the Chateau and follow the red carpet, up the stairs (stairs!), and through to the ballroom where Kerry and Ali greeted us, amongst claps, cheers and high-fives from the party goers on the dance floor, as well as congratulations from the other event partners. What a welcome that was!

We got weighed in. I lost half a kilo and Gerry lost three. But, taking into account that he was weighed with his denim, leather belt and a few more clothing items than what he wore after the event, it probably looked worse than it was. Nonetheless, he most likely consumed too little water.

Happy to not have gained weight again (as I did during the Tarawera 100), we collected our drop-bags and hobbled back to our, by now, lonely car in the carpark. I haven’t been so cold in a very long time. Back at the cabin, the slow, difficult walk to the ablutions took far too long and not even a hot shower could warm my frozen limbs.

Glad to have made the cut-off with almost two hours to spare, we quickly ate some pre-cooked rice with onion, corn and green pepper (just to stabilise any jelly-bellies), before diving into bed for a deep sleep. So deep, we nearly missed prize-giving the next morning at 11am.

This is a great event. I would recommend doing it, but with a disclaimer. 🙂 Do not underestimate the challenge that is the Ring of Fire Volcanic Ultra. Even though we, all things considered, had pretty decent weather it was still not ideal. The poor support crew and medics all deserve medals for getting to random spots around the track and spending lots of time out there being exposed in the pretty damn cold, windy and generally miserable weather. We saw quite a few runners being walked-off/out by medics and volunteers – those who were still capable of getting to safety on their own two feet.

This is one of those events where two days later you realise that every single muscle in your body hurts, even my forearms. But the worst offender was definitely my feet. It felt like they were hit by a ten pound hammer for 18 hours continuously. Suffice to say, we will be taking a few months off from marathons and ultras before we start building back up again towards the next goal.

Having said that, there’s no depression like the feeling of “emptiness” and “loss” after completing such a big event, or reaching a long-planned goal. Better to get out the calendar and set a new target soonest. 🙂

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We’ve Gone Nuts – Tasmania’s 101km adventure run

Date: 3 March 2018
Distance: 101km
Time: 20:56.25

When a 100km event allows 28 hours (the norm being 20 hours), heed the warning sign. For some reason, I thought this event was flattish and not too technical. Not sure how I got that idea in my head, but that was what my head was willing to cope with. With a massively long cut-off time, you could potentially walk the whole way and still make it. It would be a great way to lure newbie ultra-runners (and allow walkers) into this sort of distance. The event terrain in a nutshell, as described by the organisers – “Tasmania’s Gone Nuts 101 Adventure Run will commence on one of Tasmania’s most recognised and visited icons, The Nut, at Stanley, in Tasmania’s North West corner. The race will hug coastline, climb through Rocky Cape National Park and traverse rugged coastal bush and calming temperate rainforest. You will be challenged by diverse landscapes, encounter native wildlife and birds, and witness some of the most spectacular coastlines imaginable. In this part of the world, rolling green farmland drops over cliffs into the pristine waters of Bass Strait. The beaches are also as diverse as they are unique, with sections of long white sandy beaches, small crescent shaped bays and rugged rocky bays formed by volcanic eruptions millions of years ago.” Sounds nice, eh? Unfortunately, I apparently chose to ignore words like “cliffs”, “rugged rocky”, “climb”, and “rugged coastal bush”.

Last year when we were searching for a 50km event for Gerry’s birthday, we couldn’t find anything. So, I started looking at the Australian running calendar, and the only event close to his birthday was the Gone Nuts 101 Adventure Run. Adventure Run should have been the second sign. While the event included a 50km option, we of course decided to go for the longest distance on offer to get the full experience. Why travel all the way to Tasmania for a 50km run only?

The race is divided into four stages of equal lengths. Participants can choose to do any of the distances solo, teams of four can do the 101km, or teams of two can do either the 101km, or the 50km events. Transition points are therefore roughly every 25km. Since we didn’t have a support crew, we made use of the drop-bag option for food, clean pairs of socks and undies, and warm clothes and spare batteries for the last leg, in case.

As mentioned before, our training has gone off the rails a bit the last few months (looking back, it may seem it has been off the rails for the past year). We’ve only managed an average of approximately 50km per week for January and February, with only one long-run of 60km on a well-groomed, perfectly flat surface. Apart from that, we did three roughly 25km distances, all on very technical terrain, taking between five and seven hours each. The latter was specific, and good training for any technical, hilly run. But, it was not enough.

We drove to Wynyard (from Yolla where we stayed) late Friday afternoon to register. With registration, drop-bags and race briefing all done and behind us, a beautiful full moon was just starting to peak over the hills as we headed home to start dinner. While devouring our beetroot, salty boiled potatoes with cracked pepper, lamb chops, and a Greek salad with a glass of wine by candle light, followed by ice cream, at 9pm, we were taking bets on just how much we were going suffer.

At 2:30am the alarm went off. We obviously haven’t had a whole heap of sleep, but had to catch the bus at 4:15 to take us to the start, and we were staying a good 25 minutes’ drive away.

It was cool and fairly windy in Stanley when we got off the bus around 5:15am at Kings Beach car park. Much to my surprise, there was nothing, not a single other person except our bunch who were on the bus; no starting banner, no bunting, no music, no lights, no nothing. In fact, the bus driver was a little concerned that he went to the wrong place, until one participant from last year confirmed that it was indeed the right place.

We went straight for the nearest wall (by the toilets) to try and dodge the wind and after a while the organiser came along with a ute and massive spotlights. The type that looks like stadium spots. And suddenly there was a vibe going. Runners were buzzing around, filling water bottles, getting their packs ready, testing headlamps, checking and re-checking everything, making loo stops, and someone even brushed their teeth. Speaking of brushing teeth, when we go this long again, I’m definitely putting toothpaste and a toothbrush in my drop-bag for later in the race. Strangely enough, that was the thing I missed most after about 70km – a fresh set of teeth!

Leg one (26km) – The fall

Sitting in the dark wondering what the day would bring, we had a last banana. And then suddenly it was time, and less than 80 runners made their way to the one corner of the park. There’s something about an early morning start in the dark –  the quiet and subdued, nervous runners, all the reflective bits and bobs on clothing, shoes and packs lit up by headlamps, and seeing the trail of lights heading off, with only the sound of breathing and footfall. Those same poor feet that would have to carry us over mountains and through rivers on challenging terrain for miles and miles.

The race organiser, Michael Phillips, counted us down and off we went across the picnic park and straight onto the path that takes you to the top of The Nut (another one of Tasmania’s 60 best walks). Suddenly it made sense that a few runners were warming up feverishly, which I thought was a waste of energy on such a long day ahead.

The Nut has a 143 metre rise to the plateau at the top on the steepest little path (paved) I’ve ever seen. Little did I know that this would set the tone for the rest of the event. Very steep hills, lots of hills, non-stop hills, steep up and steep down, and again, and again, all day long and all night long (we totalled over 6000m elevation gain). Once at the top of the volcanic monolith, a circuit at the top brings you back to the same path for the trip down. We encountered quite a few animals on The Nut, especially pademelon and even a blue penguin. Poor thing looked quite distressed by the time we came past, flapping wildly in the grass.

But while circumnavigating the plateau of The Nut, I did that thing that runners sometimes do towards the end of very long runs when their muscles and mind start to fatigue – they take a tumble. Except, my dive was only 1.5km from the start. I was trying to see where I was going on a corner (note to self – don’t use the lower settings on your headlamp to save batteries), while Gerry was taking a photo somewhere behind me, when suddenly there was a rock that sent me flying into thin air. Lying there, I knew a few things were not right, but I got up and ensured the poor fella that enquired about my well-being, that I was fine. Thinking back, I was probably a bit abrupt as I was trying to process all the sore bits to assess whether I was actually fine or not. Both my hands had bits of gravel in them, with the left being far worse. The palm of said hand was completely numb for a couple of hours afterwards, and I couldn’t move my thumb at all. Opening my front water bottles proved challenging. Apart from that, my left hip took a knock, as well as the side of my calf, which was all still okay. But the worst offender was a pain in my left chest/rib bone. It was uncomfortable, but I could breathe okay-ish (sneezing, couching and laughing out-loud wasn’t an option) and decided “she’ll be right”, so got on with it. Not sure why I waited a day and a half to have it checked out, but a trip to the doctor at Launceston Medical Centre on the Monday morning, indicated that I damaged/tore/fractured the cartilage just left of my sternum. [Back in NZ, I paid a visit to my favourite chiropractor, who requested X-rays to get a better understanding of what exactly is going on. Hoping to see results soon.] Apart from my left thumb that wasn’t doing its part, I also had a left arm that wasn’t of much use. Pulling, pushing or dragging myself up steep inclines could not happen. Climbing through or over fences, or rocks ended up being a one arm affair. All along I was holding my thumb in one place and trying not to move my arm too much.

I have now learned the hard (real hard) way why you should use soft flasks in the front of your hydration pack and not rock-solid disposable soft-drink bottles.

Once up and over The Nut, a short trot through Stanley took us onto Tatlows Beach. The sun started to light up the new day and after a few kilometres we could see well enough on the wide, flat, white beach to stow away the headlamps. The beach section carried on for about 10km. After about 12km, we reached the first aide station, and with low-tide, the beautiful full moon in our backs, and a new day dawning, it was easy going. Life was good. After the aide station, we had quite a few water-crossings, one of which was waist deep for me.

Finally, we reached Black River and following it inland for about one kilometre, we rock-hopped until we reached the bridge that took us across the river. We were meant to go across on the railway line, but due to safety issues, this feature was scrapped from the course and we took the road instead. Once over the bridge, we crossed another road to get onto a farm. Following the farm road, we finally reached the farmhouse and went right past it, where the owner was hanging onto a fence checking out the runners going past. From farm roads, we crossed paddocks to finally reach a trail through native forest. At one point, we were running on an old railway line, and shortly before reaching the first transition point (after 3:45 hours), Gerry were on all fours. Luckily, no damage was done. We spent about ten minutes in the transition area.

We were going well and I was still thinking we might make a fairly okay finish time. Unfortunately, I was obliviously unaware of all the hills that were to follow all the way to the finish.

This transition point seemed quite sorted: friendly volunteers ticking runners off, two portaloos (the last until the 75km transition point), lollies, watermelon, oranges, baked potatoes, bananas, Clif bars, and sandwiches, were on offer (all of which was also at all the other aide stations, and sometimes with a few other things thrown in such as Coke, coffee, tea and noodles).

We measured all our food for each leg, allowing nutrition for five hours, in each transition drop bag, and therefore decided to dump the leftovers and take all the new stuff. That way, we knew exactly where we were in terms of our consumption. Eating every 20 minutes, made sure we stayed on top of our nutrition. We roughly consumed 200cal for me and 300cal for Gerry, every hour. The food at the aide stations were a bonus, as the only things I could eat (due to allergies) were the oranges, bananas and potatoes, which I scoffed down each time. We had a variety of things for each leg including: jelly snakes, licorice, dates, frooze/bliss balls (a variety of NZ and Oz made), sesame snaps (some with chocolate), Wellaby’s (chick pea) crackers, carrot crackers (like rice crackers, but made with carrots), and rice crackers. The licorice we saved for leg two and leg four only.

Leg two (25km) – Twin peaks

After leaving the transition point, we ran most of the leg on forestry roads, as well as bike trails. Although some of it was still possible to run (for me), the undulating and hilly bits started to increase. It felt like we were just running in circles in the bush to make up distance. One of the organisers (Steve) came driving past, and were busy adding more signage to make sure participants didn’t go the wrong way. After what felt like an eternity, we reached the aide station, stocked with the usual spread. Up to this point, Gerry and I were by ourselves for the most part. We could still see other participants way up ahead on the beach stretch of the first leg, as well as at the transition point; when we arrived, some were just leaving. With so little participants, it is easy to end up completely on your own. Luckily, we had each other for company.

After about 43km of undulations and hills, we were suddenly on the ridge and could see up ahead an enormous 4WD track going straight up a hill. If the gradient is not at least 30degrees, I’ll eat my straw hat. In a distance, we could see a few other runners again, just to remind us that we’re all in this together. On the way there, we started reeling in another couple, whom we eventually passed. Exchanging some gasps and supportive swear words, we soldiered on up the hill. Eventually we made it to the top and could finally get a view of The Nut way off in the distance. A far-off memory. It is actually quite a pity that The Nut as a feature of the event, is all run in the dark.

But, then horror struck – another similar beast was awaiting us. Down the first hill on slippery, rock and gravel terrain, we started on the second monster. The latter was a bit shorter, but just as steep. Another view of the Nut, before a sharp drop down the whole mountain on the other side back to the beach. If your quads still thought they were doing alright up to this point, these hills made sure to knock them right back to size.

Reaching a farm/forest road, we were once again greeted by Steve who was also kind enough to have a few bottles of extra water, as the day got hotter. After about 4km, we crossed the road and headed into the paddock for the second transition point. On the last few kilometres, we passed five or six other participants. While we were putting on a new pair of socks, filling water bottles and taking our new food stuffs, one participant withdrew. Another was having a sit down, hoping to recover as he was dry retching for most of the way. Much was my surprise and relief to see him later that night again. Apparently, he took a 25 minute lie-down, felt better and decided to carry on.

This is how it goes during ultras. So many things can go wrong, so easily. And sometimes all you need to do, is gather yourself, pick yourself up and carry on.

Apart from all the usual food on offer, this aide station also had Coke, so Gerry and I immediately shared a can. It was the least nice transition point of the three for some reason. There were also no toilets, or route indicators and less of a vibe. Obviously, probably because we were so far back in the field.

This leg felt long and like a slog. I was hoping that by the time we reach the halfway point, our spirits would lift and we would feel better about life in general. Seeing participants pulling out and battling stomach issues, does not instil feelings of confidence.

Leg three (25km) – The slump

Leaving the transition point after about 20 minutes, we headed straight across the paddock in the opposite direction of where we were coming from. I guess it was obvious where to go, but without any signs, we were suddenly unsure. So, Gerry started running back to get directions from the volunteers, when the support crew of another participant told us to just head down the road. It is quite weird how one’s mind needs the constant reassurance that you are on the right track.

We were heading down a sealed road, which later turned to gravel for about four kilometres heading into Rocky Cape National Park. The last bit of gravel road took us almost to the beach, before making a sharp turn right to go up the hill on single track. And so the hills continued. Through the whole reserve we went up and down, and over every hill in the area, for roughly 10kms. Even though it was on a beautiful trail which would be quite runnable if your legs were fresh and you were fitter and stronger, I could only muster a walk. Not even a brisk walk. There might have been one or two spots of about 50 to 100 metres on the flat that I could shuffle, but the going was mainly slow. Our morale was low for some reason. Maybe it was the slump of mid-afternoon, but between 2:30pm and 5pm I was not my chirpy self.

The views were beautiful and the area really special. Every now and again we would pop out of the bush and onto the beach. But the beach was mainly very rocky and again not very runnable. And usually, after, another hill was waiting in all its glory. Finally, we made our way down the side of another massive hill to reach an aide station at Boat Harbour. We had passed another couple of runners on this leg and after sharing another Coke, we were on our way down another rocky beach, before heading onto the trails again. More hills, and more forest trails as the sun was starting to fade away. Daylight was nearly gone, and we made it just in time into transition three without having to take out our headlamps. While filling water bottles, and stocking up on food for the final push, it was suddenly very cold. The aide station also had noodles, coffee and tea on offer, and a warm coffee would have been nice, but we were eager to get going. It took a while to get ourselves sorted anyway (as it did at all the transition points – we were wasting a bit more time than planned at transitions), when eventually we were off on the last leg.

Leg four (25km) – Animal farm

Now already completely dark, the volunteers pointed us across the beach to a reflector in the distance and we started heading in the general direction of where there we might find a trail. Apart from the first stretch of beach after The Nut, all the remaining stretches of beach were very rocky and difficult to negotiate. Luckily, it was low tide again, so at least we didn’t have a second round of wet feet. Unfortunately, the participants that left shortly after we reached the transition point, were already too far away, so we couldn’t follow them.

Leaving the rocky beach, we were on another farmer’s property, where we covered the bulk of the leg running/walking across paddocks, still going up and down and keeping the sea to our left. The grass was cut and the route markers with white reflectors were quite visible far up ahead. The going was slow and tough and in some areas the camber was so steep that I would literally slide off of the sides of my shoes. Granted, I tie my shoes very loose. It was tough going on already sore legs and feet. To make up for the hardship, the most gorgeous yellow moon started to appear over the sea, leaving a trail of light in the water.

But the beauty of the night shift, was all the animals that came to life. We were already accompanied by a whole assortment of birds during the day, and the odd pademelon, but at night time, all the animals came out to play. We saw tonnes of pademelons, rabbits, a barred bandicoot, a brush tail possum, as well as a pigmy possum, a few tiny black scorpions, an owl and even a snake! We nearly stepped on it, as it lay in the middle of the cut path in the short grass.

At some point there was an unmanned aide station with water and small chocolates by an olive tree. It must have been a totally different experience passing through there during daytime, but this stretch, even though I despise paddock running, was made quite special by doing it at night time.

Shortly after, we headed up another hill onto a farm road which took us to a sealed road still going up Table Cape. Red arrows on white board indicating the turn-off points where the route goes, were the only route markers on this stretch. And again, it is probably fairly obvious where you should go, but it remains unnerving when you don’t see route markers for long periods of time, as you don’t want to back-track in the middle of the night. Heck, I don’t want to back-track at any point on a 100km run. Specifically, also because the medic said during race briefing that if you haven’t seen a marker for a couple 100 metres or so, you’re probably lost.

We stopped and took out the map to try and find the general direction we should be heading into. It wasn’t really helpful, so we just carried on while all along shining our lights in all directions in search of white reflectors, or pink flags. We’ve grown so used to the little pink flags and ribbons by then, we missed them when we couldn’t find them. Eventually we saw someone way down below making his way up the hill, so we dilly-dallied in the road until he caught up with us. Turned out it was the guy who was dry retching and having a rest at the 50km mark. We talked a bit, before Gerry and I tried to shuffle along on the flat sealed road for a kilometre or so. Eventually there was another set of arrows so we knew we were on the right track. Heading off on another little trail through the bush, with the constant sound of pademelon scattering in all directions, we reached the lighthouse on top of Table Cape which was also the site of the final aid station. The wind had picked up and the poor volunteers where probably having a hard time in the middle of the night way up on the hill in the cold.

By this stage (with only about 10-12km to go), both Gerry and I were quite sick of all our food. We kept our nutrition up, which I think helped tremendously, but didn’t really feel like any of the stuff that we had between us and the aide station. Nonetheless, we forced down some oranges and Coke, and took off. Again, the path wasn’t that obvious. A high-vis vest was taped to a gate, so we just followed the path. We couldn’t really go anywhere else, but was still concerned we might go off course. Back on a sealed road, we headed uphill again for a short bit.

More paddocks followed, up the one end and down the other. Again, it felt like we were just doing silly things to make up distance. Eventually we could make out Wynyard in the distance way down below as we were still doing our thing in the farmers paddock on the slopes of Table Cape. Slowly working our way down hill, we finally reach suburbia and followed the sealed road towards where we through we should go. Pink ribbons were tied to the trees and the familiar pig tail farm pegs with the pink (a few were green) flags were still a welcoming sign, even though they were few and far between by then.

Another bit of trail and finally we reached the bridge taking us across Inglis River where the finish is about 1.5 kilometres away. As we approached the volunteer on the other end of the bridge (it was no other than Michael, the race director himself) told us we had to go do a lap of horror of about 2km before heading to the finish. He even apologised for making us do the extra loop so close to the finish. 🙂 At that point, it made no difference either way. We were heading for a 3am finish and I was just relieved to have made it thus far.

Another bit of trail, before making our way out between houses. We very nearly got lost on this stretch, as the signage were lacking. Fortunately, we found the way back to the road by hook or crook, and then we were on the home stretch. It is quite tricky to navigate in the dark.

Michael congratulated us at the finish (at a half-collapsed finish banner, which was funny and quite apt) and handed us our medals, before the medic tried to ascertain if we still had all our marbles. Forcing ourselves to eat right to the end, made a world of difference. I felt perfectly fine, not so “out of it” as was the case the previous time, and even my body was less sore.

They again had the full spread of eats, as well as the hot beverages and noodles. We were a sum total of about six people at the finish (Gerry, myself, Michael, the medic, the photographer/news reporter and another finisher/supporter), a very quiet, unassuming affair. This being the way of the event in general. Michael is a very nice, hands-on guy and so is his business partner, Steve. We came in so late, that all the drop-bags were already delivered back at the finish, which was great, so we had our warm jackets that we left at the first aid station as an extra.

It is a lovely event, and even though it sometimes felt like we were running in circles and up and down paddocks just for the hell of it, I would consider doing this again. In fact, now that I know what I’m letting myself in for, it would be easier. But in practical terms, it will probably not happen, unless fate takes us back to Tasmania at the right time. Who knows.

We were 79 participants, of which 15 were relay teams (two teams and 10 individuals in total pulled out somewhere along the line), totalling 67 finishers for the 101km event. The final participants arrived at dawn in a time of 25:13.

We drove the 30 minutes or so back to our cabin, had a shower and dove into bed for four hours sleep before prize-giving at 10:15am (according to the web). Proceedings started a bit earlier, so we missed the first few minutes.

Compared to our previous time, when I couldn’t sleep no matter how hard I tried for I was too sore all over, I passed out and slept like a baby for four hours. And the best part is, I got up and could move fairly decently. Yes, I was sore, but not at all like what I was expecting. In fact, things were not too far from normal and within a day, I could probably have gone for a run. My legs were tired walking up steps, but at least it wasn’t so sore that I couldn’t do it at all. It is either because of all the foam-rolling and the few squads and lunges I’ve been doing haphazardly for the past few months, or it is the nutrition. Probably both. Or maybe it was just because we went so slow for the bulk of the event. Either way, I think we have our nutrition sorted pretty decently. There’s always room for improvement and I’m sure we can consume more – the more the merrier! Something to work on for next time.

Paekakariki Escarpment Track

Date: 4 February 2018
Distance: 17km
Time: 3:04

We finally got our butts down to Paekak (thanks Gary!) to see what all the fuss is about. With Gerry often working in Wellington for the past seven years, we were driving down a couple of times a month, and often more. And each time would be a reminder that we still want to go do it this walk which has been advertised far and wide. Everybody knows someone who has done it, if they haven’t done it themselves. But, getting over there would mean another trip, and quite frankly, I was getting sick of that road. At the end of last year, Gerry decided to let go of the ad hoc weekend job in Wellington, giving us a breather from a lot of the trips, and making it more bearable.

We decided to make an early start, so left Palmy shortly after 6am. Kate and Kel managed to come along at short notice so we all met bright and early at Summerhill Shopping Centre.

The track is just about in Gary’s backyard, so he often uses it for training. He invited us along previously, but something came up and we couldn’t make. This time we were not going to miss out again.

We started off at the Paekak end at about 7:30am. Crossing underneath SH1, we went straight onto the track and slowly started making our way up the hill. The first bit was mostly runable and not too steep, but once we reached the millions of stairs, I was reduced to a slow walk. The path is fairly narrow, and to be quite honest, I would not like to be up there on a windy or gusty day. You are quite exposed against the side of a very steep hill.

Luckily, it was the most glorious day, weather wise, and we were treated to beautiful views over Kapiti Island and the South Island. Since we were on the western side of the mountain, the sun was still low enough for us to be in the shade for the most part. Just as well, as things got quite hot later on without much of a wind.

We reached the highest point after about 3.9km, where a couple of wooded benches have been installed. The five of us were by ourselves when we got there, but on the way back it was packed with people making a day of it. The track also got much busier on the way back and we had to squeeze past lots of people on the narrow track.

After some photos of the scenery and selfies, we started going down on steps that were clinging to the side of the mountain, interspersed with the narrow track. I’m really not comfortable with heights, but this was somehow okay-ish. I’ve sidled around much hairier ridges in the past and this did not make my nerves stand on edge all the time.

At about 5.5km we reached a slip where a guide rope was put in place for safety. It did not fill me with confidence, and I’m quite surprised, given the terrain, that there aren’t lots more slips. Not long after we got to the first of two swing bridges. They are wide and sturdy, easy to run across if you don’t create a rhythm causing you to bounce out if sync.

The last couple of kilometres were easy, downhill and nice to run, and we reached the other end of the track at Pukerua Bay (after 7.5km) in about two hours. After a quick breather, and leaving Kate and Kel who took the train back, Gerry, Gary and I turned around to run back. There were already a fair amount more walkers and runners on the track, but soon it became really busy. Passing walkers going in the same direction, as well as passing heaps coming from the front, including quite a few other runners, made me glad that we started when we did.

This seems to be a hugely popular track, even if just to walk to the highest point for a picnic and lovely views, and back again. It is well worth doing, but I would recommend going early. The earlier the better.

Do it, if you haven’t yet.

 

Chasing the cut-off – Jumbo-Holdsworth Trail Race

Date: 27 January 2018
Distance: 24km
Time: 4:42.08

For the past seven years, this event has been on our to do list. But every year there’s something preventing us from entering; too much traveling and sitting over Christmas, too much eating and not enough training, injury, it is always this, that or the other. Finally, this year we took the plunge, very last minute I might add. We only entered five days out from the event (my apologies to the organisers). Continue reading

Mt Ruapehu 3-day fat-ass run

Date: 20-22 January 2018

day2b

After entering for the Ring Of Fire event coming up early in April, we thought it might be a good idea to see what we are actually letting ourselves in for. We have tramped the Round the Mountain Track a couple of times with backpacks, tenting and generally being prepared for anything the mountain throws at us, so knew the terrain we are heading into. But we were more than keen to experience the challenging terrain a bit more “light-footed”, without the burden of a heavy pack. I always associated the toughness of the track with carrying a heavy pack and wearing less agile footwear. On the down side, should something happen, we would only have our emergency gear with us which might keep us alive, but would be very uncomfortable should the weather turn to custard. Continue reading

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me …

The Big Christmas Feast – A Greatest Virtual Run Challenge, raising money for kids on the spectrum

Date: 1-12 December 2017
Distance: 200km
Previous GVR: 2017

My middle name is procrastination. And Gerry’s first, middle and last names are procrastination. Maybe it is just a severe case of student syndrome? But, it only took us until well into the first of December, the day the challenge started, before finally entering. It might just be a classic case of an already out-of-hand hectic life, with work, this time of year, and all that jazz that the fun things in life tend to be ignored and end up falling by the wayside. Luckily we had two minutes of sanity to quickly enter. Continue reading

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”. Continue reading