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.

Named after The twelve days of Christmas, a Christmas carol dating back to the 1700s, this Greatest Virutal Run Challenge is intended to keep accumulating kilometres to reach a certain target over a twelve day period. Whether you choose to do the Rudolph’s challenge 12km, the Great Santa Marathon 42km, Running with the Elves 60km challenge, or the 200km Big Christmas Feast, you are sure to “bank” some burned calories for the festive season. 🙂

Traditionally the twelve days of Christmas would start on Christmas day. The Christmas carol is a cumulative song, and was probably meant to be from a children’s memory and forfeit game. So on the first day, “my true love” would sent me one gift, on the second day it would be two, on the third day three gifts, and so on. The gifts would remain the same, except each day a new (different) gift will be added.

To go with this theme then, and to reach 200km in twelve days, we should have done the runs in a cumulative fashion as well. Starting at 11km the first day, 12km the second day, 13km the third day, and so on, you would reach 198km after 12 days, with the biggest final day being 22km. Not quite the correct distance, but what’s a couple of kilometres between friends. And if you’re a purist, you should keep to the same course and just add another kilometre each day. 😀

However, being a particularly difficult time of year, things don’t always go according to plan. We knew when we signed up that it was going to be hard, with Gerry’s working on weekends and week nights, just to reach the right amount of kilometres (it roughly boils down to about 17km per day) let alone follow a strict cumulative plan. Allowing flexibility, we sometimes had to almost double the daily average to make up for days when it was really impossible to get out the door. We also couldn’t (didn’t want to) run all those kilometres, and opted to walk at least half or more to make up the distance. Being pressed for time walking isn’t really the best way to add kilometres, especially if your walking muscles haven’t done much in the last year. But we just had to make it happen as running it all is not an option (you cannot jump from 60km/week to 120km/week – that would be stupid).

Here is how it panned out in our case.

1 December 2017 (Friday) – 20km
“Bunking school” so to speak, we decided to start off with a run/walk of 20km. It was a perfect day, sunny and just a slight breeze, and to make the most of it we chose to do our favourite course up in the wind farm on North Range Road. We parked our car where the 4X4 section starts, and ran out for 10km (down to the power station) and walked back. We knew it was going to be hot, so we slip, slap, slopped. Unfortunately, some of my sloppy sloppping were wiped off by my hydration pack, and other spots on my legs I’ve just applied the sunblock too half-arsed, therefore getting rather sunburned in spots. The result was something that resembled a vanilla and strawberry marble cake later that night. Roasted lobster anyone?

Overall it was a most enjoyable outing. Since we’ve been doing 60km+ weeks most weeks the last few months, these outings are not as daunting as before, and definitely much easier than when we were only doing between 30 and 40km weeks.

2 December 2017 (Saturday) – 15km
Gerry had a five-hour training session in Wellington, and with the four plus hours on the road, some preparation and packing up afterwards, it always turns into a very long day. One where the only thing you want to do when finally back home in the evening, is pour a glass and sit with your feet up. We knew the weekend was going to be a challenge, so we decided to do the Porirua parkrun on the way to work. Meeting Gary there, meant that we couldn’t bail last minute, even though it resulted in a very early start, having to get up before 5am. But, If all else fails and we only manage one run for the weekend, we would at least have 5km in the bank.

The course is a steady climb to the halfway mark, which makes for a relaxed and easy downhill back to the finish. A huge-ish field of 129 parkrunners and perfect weather to boot.

When we got back home at 6:30pm, we off-loaded the car and changed clothes, before heading back into the suburbs for a 10km walk. It was 7:30pm by the time we started, and at a 10min/km average pace, it took about an hour forty minutes to cover the distance. This was already turning into a huge challenge and it was only the second day!

3 December 2017 (Sunday) – 10km
Another working day in Wellington, so another ten hours of the day allocated to work and travel. We decided to leave half an hour earlier (to be sure to find parking in Wellington close to Te Papa on market day), and go for a walk around the bays on Oriental Parade before work. Apart from a strong-ish wind, the weather was good, so we managed to fit in a 4km walk in the morning.

Back home early evening, we forced ourselves to go out for another 6km walk. It was a good change from all the sitting while traveling and working on a laptop all day (in my case). It also was a pleasant evening out, although very muggy, but I’m glad we could manage to fit it in.

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We came, we ran, but we were still some way from finishing…

4 December 2017 (Monday) – 0km
What can I say – we’ve gone from bad to worse. Life got in the way and we could not find a single minute in the day to go out for a run. Two days (Monday & Tuesday) of First Aid training for Gerry, while I’m catching up on photoshop work that has fallen behind due to other work commitments. And still three hours photography training in Whanganui in the evening. What was meant to be a late night, turned into an early morning only making it to bed after 12am.

5 December 2017 (Tuesday) – 22km
With only 45km in the bank after four days, we were well and truly behind schedule. We still had 155km to go by the next Tuesday, meaning only eight days to get it all done. Fortunately, we’ve been having the most gorgeous weather with no rain and only light wind. Unfortunately, this drought also means our water tank is down to only a third and with no rain in sight, we will soon have to pay for showers at the pool or library! And with all the running and walking we’ve been doing, the laundry pile was also taking on monstrous proportions. Not good for our limited water supply.

And as if the water crisis isn’t enough, our laptop decided this was a good day to kick the bucket! Total meltdown and panic stations all round. It’s been a bad year for computers in the Le Roux household. First the Big Mac in June and now the laptop. Everything we do is on the laptop, and although we’re both fairly diligent with backing-up our work, we have been too flat out with bucket loads of stuff to do every day, that we’re about two weeks behind on backups. That’s many hours of work potentially gone. Including this story, that was an ongoing process…

For a few days we both went through the five stages of dealing with loss: denial (not even looking at the damn thing, let alone think about what to do next), anger (stupid stupid laptop, stupid stupid me for not backing up my work), bargaining (maybe just tell the client everything is gone and there’s nothing any one can do about it – a good, solid two weeks of work), depression (pour another tipple, please) and acceptance (shit happens. Walk it off).

A day later Gerry took it to the doctor, who diagnosed the hard drive to be buggered, installed a new one, charged an arm, and claimed they couldn’t retrieve any of the information. Another round of denial and anger on my side. Luckily Gerry has a colleague who is just amazing with technology. He has a wee gadget he created for just such an occasion, and thankfully Gerry could retrieve everything through Thursday night, even in the same folders and structure everything was before! Disaster averted. We owe said colleague big time.

Back to Tuesday’s run; one would think that a day off would make a huge difference as to how capable you feel physically, but boy o boy, stress takes it out of you. With nerves in a knot and having to fit in a longish run, we tried to find a course with a bit of everything while still being still being close to the car at any given point, just incase we needed to bail. We did the 4km Summerhill trail first, and from there on it was flat all the way, up and down the river on both sides. After 12km we called the running bit quits, and walked the remaining 10km.

6 December 2017 (Wednesday) – 20km

Still stressed about the laptop and all the potential lost data, we did not feel like having to think about anything (where to run, where to find water, toilets, the burden of taking a hydration pack), so we went for our usual 2km ring road circuit on Massey campus. It remains one of the easiest ways to get the job done. We could only fit it in in the evening, and with the car parked on the course, so to speak, we could hydrate and fuel every two kilometres. And, if at any point we needed more/less clothes, a change of shoes, whatever, we had it all right there. After 18km we were tempted to stop, but figured we might as well do another lap and get to 20km.

The intention was to run one lap, walk one lap. But, being constantly pressed for time, we ended up running most of the laps and only walking small bits.

7 December 2017 (Thursday) – 33km

Being in catch-up mode, and physically and psychologically exhausted (with still no good news in terms of our data recovery at this point), we decided to just “walk it off”. Gerry could get the day off of work, as he’s accumulated quite a lot of hours overtime.

The aim was to do about 30km over 6 hours. This was also the day that Jason (the challenge creator – bugger!) was going to run 60km at school with the kids, creating awareness and collecting money for the Running on the Spectrum charity. So we figured we should roughly be out on the road for the same length of time as he would be, but we would only be covering half his distance.

Again we opted to do laps, but this time went around two of our usual loops with the car in the middle. Two toilets on course (three, if you count the one that is about 200m out of the way) and at least two water points. Having the car in the middle, again meant that we didn’t had to carry everything with us in a hydration pack.

Walking is hard. It doesn’t come natural to me (not that running is much better!) and I have to work really hard to keep my turnover high. Although I love walking, I always find it a bit tough on shins and under-utilised muscles. Needless to say, this was one of the more challenging outings of the challenge so far.

8 December 2017 (Friday) – 10km

Another late night (had to get the Christmas cake done) and another early start. Lack of sleep is the last thing you want when you up your kilometres. We all know that rest/sleep is when your body recovers, so going without enough sleep, is a recipe for injuries. Apart from some niggles here and there (Gerry’s plantar fasciitis and shins being the worst offenders on the walks), we were holding up surprisingly well. Touch wood.

Before six in the morning we were on our way to meet Ian Argyle again to help for a few hours on Nae Nae Track. This new track is progressing well, and Ian and a bunch of other volunteers has already put in a lot of effort. Between the three of us, we managed to do three hand railings and a few steps on some of the steepest parts. One of the big issues is having to carry all wood, pegs, waratahs, tools, screws, drill, nuts and bolts, hammer, you name it, up the track. And the further the track progresses, the further you have to carry everything. A good workout which, sadly, we didn’t record as that would have added a few kilometres to our tally. But, never mind.

Back home some four hours later, we could fit in only a 10km run, before heading off for another commitment. The easiest option was to just do our usual on-road Massey loop, and some. So that is 132kms done.

9 December 2017 (Saturday) – 21km

Gerry had his final session in Whanganui with the short-courses photography students, so I decided to run the local club’s annual half marathon to kill some time while we were there.

More on the event here.

As Gerry was now behind on the kilometres, he went out for a quick 11+km run down the road once we got back home early evening. Only 10km more for him to catch up.

10 December 2017 (Sunday) – 20km

Meeting up with the Striders at 8am for their weekly club run, we were uncertain what to do. Not a lot of runners pitch up at these runs, and the ones that were there are too fast for my current state. We thought of going out with the walkers, but chose the slowest group, which I was led to believe would go at a 6km per hour pace, but it soon proved otherwise as they were clearly out on a very leisurely stroll.. So a few hundred metres into the walk, we decided to just do our own thing. Initially we thought of walking 10km in the morning and run another 10km or so in the evening, but once we got going, we just kept on going and managed to run a bit more than 15km, and walk back to the car (about 5km).

Back at the car, Gerry decided to run another 6+km to get closer to where he’s supposed to be. That left him with only about 3km still behind schedule. At this point I was on 174km and Gerry on 171km.

A bit more windy and cooler than any of the other days so far, but happy that we’ve done our bit for the day, we went home to get a Sunday roast in the oven and pour a glass of red.

11 December 2017 (Monday) – 21km
Hard to believe we are on the second to last day of this challenge. Being on the home-stretch, I feel like a horse that smelled home – I just want to get there already. Before Gerry had to clock in at work, we went out for a 15km run. The plan was to run 15km and walk another 5km or so. But, being in no state to make it out of bed early enough, we could only fit in the run.

After work (and my dental hygienist appointment) we had another nice walk of 6km around the duck pond and through the Esplanade. By the way, did you know that running is actually bad for your teeth? “’The triathletes’ high carbohydrate consumption, including sports drinks, gels, and bars during training, can lower the mouth’s pH below the critical mark of 5.5,’ Cornelia Frese told Runner’s World Newswire. ‘That can lead to dental erosion and cavities. Also, the athletes breathe through the mouth during hard exercise. The mouth gets dry, and produces less saliva, which normally protects the teeth.’” Read more.

But that’s a worry for another day. The bubbly is on ice. Only one more sleep. One more run.

12 December 2017 (Tuesday) – 7km
With only about 5km left to complete the challenge, we went for the easy way out. And what is less arduous than just covering our familiar Massey ring-road. But, unlike we usually do, we decided to go out the back of Massey and straight back to the car. Being only 5km, it took some serious motivation to get going. Why bother with only 5km? 😀

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Still warm, but with some cloud and light wind, we managed to finish the whole 12 days without a single minute of inclement weather – and not a drop of rain. As it turned out, NZ is in the midst of one of the biggest droughts we’ve seen in ages (as can be seen from the brown grass in some of the photos).

And so another challenge is done and dusted. We weren’t always equally excited about having to go out for long runs, but after a few days it started to get easier. And as is always the case, once you go long, your mind grows strong.

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These are the shoes that carried us through the 200km challenge. Evidently, I’m a bit of an Altra fan.

Thanks to Jason, Shona and the Greatest Virtual Run-team for dreaming up these challenges. It is a great way to get going and a good motivator. If I make the next 100km event, I will think back on some of these days and the word, Ultreia! It loosely translates to onward/forward. Which bring to mind the tale about this old man who lived in a very small village, and who was extremely lazy. One day the town folk decided he’s not worth the hassle anymore and they would bury him alive. Pleased with the decision, the old man was laying in his coffin while the bearers carried him to his grave. One old lady was particularly concerned about the decision to bury the old man alive and asked if there wasn’t maybe something the old man could do to pull his weight in the village? A small task like chopping wood or something? At which point the old man shouted from his coffin: “On-with-the-corpse!”, “On-with-the-corpse!”.

On ultras, this will be my new mantra – Ultreia! On with the corpse!

 

 

 

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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.

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.

Atene Skyline Track

Date: 28 January 2017
Distance: 13km + 2.5km (approx)
Time: 5:20 + 25 min


For our weekend “long-run” we decided to fast-pack the Atene Skyline Track. It’s been on our to-do list for quite a while now, but with work, other commitments and not the best season so far weather wise, we haven’t got around to it. The intention was to run-bits-walk-bits, but with the changeable weather we thought it best to carry at least a day pack, with some wet and cold weather clothing. Still light enough to jog with, but totally unnecessary as the one good day of the summer so far was bestowed upon us for the walk. Sunny, no wind and warm enough, it was perfect conditions for a walk in the forest. Which is exactly what we ended up doing. So apart from about twenty metres of jogging, we walked the whole way just enjoying the outing and life in general. Continue reading

Mt Thomas summit

Date: 11 November
Distance: 15km
Time: 4.5 hours

On work trips to the South Island, we usually extend the trip and try to fit in a few hikes or runs – to make the costs of getting there a bit more feasible. And to further cut costs, we usually camp at DOC sites or stay in huts.

Gerry looked at a few options beforehand and put together an itinerary, subject to change, of course. DOC campsites are usually very basic, often with only a toilet, mostly long-drops, sometimes running water, other times water from a stream, but usually no hot water or showers. So we utilise public swimming pool showers or other public showers for a good ol’ scrub down after roughing it for a couple of nights. Continue reading

North Range Road

Date: 29 August 2015

Distance: 25km

Having a quiet gravel road on top of a mountain with virtually no traffic, through a wind farm with wide open expanses, has to be the ultimate playing ground for runners, walkers and mountain bikers alike. Wonderful scenery in all directions, literally in our backyard, makes it hard not to want to run there all the time. Except, of course, on days with inclement weather. With views from the top of the Tararuas and great scenery in all directions, it is inevitable that you will be exposed to the elements. Continue reading

Manawatu Striders Super Sevens 2015

 

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For the front runners, the Super Sevens course starts with a sprint over the sports field to get to the narrow path through the Esplanade before it gets congested.

The Striders are clearly doing something right when it comes to their start-of-the-year Super Sevens Series. Year after year I am amazed at the number of people turning up each Tuesday night to run or walk the 7km (or 3km) course along the Manawatu River, through the streets of Hokowhitu and back through the Esplanade. It’s a very scenic little course – probably one of the reasons the series is so popular. The Super Sevens really is a huge celebration of summer, good times and general physical wellbeing here in Palmerston North. Continue reading