To Herepai peak and back

Date: 23 October
Distance: 12.7k
Time: 4:22

Just when I think we are back on track, running regularly, slowly building up the kms, something happens (in my head, I guess) and the enthusiasm dwindles. Perhaps the knowledge that my body is out of alignment, causing all sorts of semipermanent issues, is resting heavily in the back of my mind. The surgeon’s words keep repeating in my head; ‘better find yourself another sport’ and ‘forget about running’. A small part of me still thinks it is fixable, but that would involve a knowledgeable person/s (in terms of bone, muscle and fascia) who can work with me to iron out the wrinkles: lateral pelvic tilt, hip dysplasia, femoroacetabular impingement, weakness and knee pain, fused vertebrae, mild scoliosis, and the list goes on. None of it is life-threatening or so bad that normal life has to come to a halt. Pelvic instability is probably a fair name for my ailments. But I firmly believe that with the right help in terms of strength and flexibility in the right places, the ball of my femur will stay put and not fumble about in the socket causing pain. I do not see FAI as a death sentence or nearly as bad as surgeons make it out to be. When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Surgeons want to cut – that is their bread and butter.

The times that I have put in the effort – spending a lot of time on foam rollers, balls and other tools that can release some fascia adhesions, and also doing a bit of strength training around the pelvis area – things were definitely better. But it is very complex and I simply don’t have all the knowledge about the multitude of muscles, as well as the nerves, fascia and bones that are involved in the hip joint and pelvis, to know what to release and what to strengthen. I might sometimes release fascia that don’t need to be released (potentially causing problems), or find it impossible to reach other places that are in dire need of some attention. Doing strength exercises the wrong way can also cause issues. Maybe I’m overthinking everything.

That said, I stubbornly still think I’m indestructible and can go galavant in the mountains, and run hundreds of kilometres. When a friend invited us along on a short quick outing in the mountain that we have been planning to do for ages (we even drove there a while ago, but turned around in the carpark due to inclement weather) we decided to go.

I knew that after more than a month of hit and misses on the running front (only covering around 20k per week) I would be slow. And even though I was out of breath often on the uphill, it was the realisasion that I’ve lost a heap of strength the past two years and aren’t as agile as I used to be that broke my spirit. Lack of agility and strength, of course, makes running downhill very dangerous as I keep on picturing myself getting a foot stuck in a root that would sent me flying down the hill. When one is strong enough, there is room for error and you can correct for a slip or trip. I fear that I don’t have that anymore and some serious effort to gain strength, flexibility and agility is the only solution to my predicament.

We started a bit before ten on a windless, overcast, cool day. The first kilometre follows a stream (Ruapae?) on the true right which is reasonably flat. Shortly after a swing bridge crossing the stream the incline became more steep. The forest seems typical (to my untrained eye) of all NZ indigenous forests, with the usual mud and tree roots surface underfoot. The gradual incline for the first couple of kilometres, gains momentum and gets steeper nearer the hut. At 3.5k a T-joint in the track leads to either Roaring Stag Hut to the left (3.8k) or Herepai Hut to the right (1.5k). Taking the turn towards Herepai, I was huffing and puffing up the mountain.

Arriving at the hut, there were seven other trampers and a dog having a rest and a bite to eat. The guy with the dog had a gun and was probably a hunter or trapper. The other six (three boys and three girls) were on their way to Dundas Hut.

We set off on the final kilometre and a bit to reach the peak. This section was particularly streep – gaining 350 metre elevation per km. The first couple of hundred metres we were still below the tree line with only the forest in all directions to see, but finally we peaked out above the trees and could see what the world looked like around us. It was a beautiful day; partially overcast and almost no wind. Not even really cold. Lower down in the forest was a bit cooler than at the tops, where I regretted not bringing gloves.

Once at the top (1125m) and at the cross for Stan Evens, we stopped to admire the view while having a sandwich and an apple. We could see more trampers on the ridge up ahead making their way to Dundas, and others heading our way. I was almost sorry we weren’t one of them as the weather could not have been more perfect for the ridges. It is often rather windy and feels like one will be blown off of the mountain.

I could have stayed there all day, but it was time to head back down and I was glad for the few days prior without rain. The track was still very muddy and a couple of bum slides ensued, but overall it could have been far worse. With my disappearing muscle strength, I was a bit overcautious going down, but it still went a bit quicker than the uphill.

Back at the car we were muddy and wet up to our knees. I’ve gained a few more bruises and was well aware of my muscles. Glad to have done this little bit of the Tararua Range we drove back home where a warm shower awaited.

Cliff Walk, Eketahuna

Our weekdays and weekends are just a tangle of days. With Gerry often teaching on weekends and sometimes weeknights, on top of weekday classes, while also running a photography company where traveling is part of the process (when not in lockdown when all jobs gets cancelled), we have no routine. It’s messy. Most days and weekends just come and go. The joy and excitement of ‘normal’ life Fridays (ay, ay, it’s Friday!) is a big miss, especially when Saturdays are workdays. Unfortunately, the dread of Mondays are still there. Must be ingrained after many years of school, Uni, and work-life, or perhaps just everyday life where there are still lots of memes, and people agonising over the dread of their Monday-back-to-the-grindstone fate.

We often don’t make plans for the weekend. And with the recent Level 4, followed by Level 3 and current Level 2 lockdown, we have been spending all our hours at home. Not that I mind too much. But by mid-morning on Sunday, it felt like a good idea to get out of the cabin and go for a drive somewhere. Heck, even if just to give the car battery a charge.

The weather was miserable: super windy, cloudy, with the occasional drizzle. We decided to drive to the Putara trail head on the Wairarapa side of the Tararua Range, and if the weather was okay, to saunter up the mountain for a couple of kilometres before turning back. It was never the intention to go far, but thought an outing in nature might be a pleasant change from four walls. The nearer we got to the parking area, the more the drizzle persisted and the stronger the wind.

Finally getting there, we parked, looked at each other, poured a cuppa while the car was rocking in the wind, and decided to drive back to Eketahuna before risking a slip or windfall blocking the narrow gravel road, trapping us out in the sticks. We had no business sauntering into the mountains on a day like this anyway, even if being prepared, or just for a kilometre or two.

Unbeknownst to us, at about the exact time we wimped out, a female solo tramper was trapped on the ridge between Powell and Jumbo Huts (not too many miles from where we were), and couldn’t move due to the wind threatening to blow her off the mountain. She called Search and Rescue at 9am, hunkered down in the tussock, and was only reached by 5:30pm. She was fine apart from mild hypothermia, and they all spent the night at Powell Hut.

Another man also got in trouble in the same 130k winds, tonnes of rain, sleet and freezing temperatures, just a bit further along the ridge and deeper into the mountain from where she was (Mt McGregor), and set off his PLB at around 9:30pm. SAR couldn’t reach him, and would continue their search on the Monday morning. He spent the night in horrific conditions without a tent or sleeping bag. With the horrendous weather still hammering the country, SAR couldn’t reach him the next day either. Fortunately he still had some battery life left on his phone, had reception and they could guide him to the McGregor bivvy. Luckily he also had his dog with him, and I can only imagine that the extra body heat generated by the dog might have saved his life. Sandwiched between two mattresses with the dog, SAR reached him at 2am on the Tuesday morning in the bivvy. I guess one could argue that he was foolish for walking into the backcountry in imminent extreme weather without more gear (tent, sleeping bag, etc). Perhaps he knew that with the added body heat of the dog he didn’t need a sleeping bag. It is quite easy to judge from the couch and think his foolhardiness could have cost him his life, but we don’t know anything about him or his backcountry skill level.

On the way back to Eketahuna, I searched for some short walks in or near the town and stumbled upon the Cliff Walk. At only one kilometre long, it is hardly worth the effort. But a stretch of the legs has never been a bad idea.

We parked at the campsite side of the track, donned some warm clothes and rain jackets, and set off in the wind. I had to question whether it was a good idea walking in strong wind given that the walk is sandwiched between trees, the tall ones leaning against the wind. Although the trees provided some shelter, it was at the expense of a calm walk and not stressing about being crushed by a redwood.

The walk is on the edge of the bluff/cliff, but between two fences and trees. Not many views of and down the cliff is possible, but the wee walk is pretty in itself. The trees make a nice canopy in places, and the track underfoot is quite smooth (apart from minor windfall), presumably wheelchair friendly.

At only about 920 metres long, it took no time to reach Eketahuna. Another block and we were in the metropolis that is the city centre. It was such a non-event that we didn’t even think to take money for coffee.

On the way back, we made the steep, slippery trip down the cliff on a narrow track to the historical ‘Old swimming pool’. It’s a lovely spot in the Makakahi River that I can imagine would be a popular picnic and swimming hole in summer.

Back at the car without any fallen trees or branches incidents, we poured another cup of coffee from the thermos and drove home. I guess this walkway really is just a commute from the campsite to town, and for the locals, but if one happens to be in Eketahuna on a road trip and have the time for a leg-stretch, this is a nice walk to consider.

Barefoot and zero drop

This is neither a shoe review, nor expert advice. Just an observation.

There are so many theories out there about barefoot running and zero drop shoes, that it gets tangled up and one can easily just lump it all together as one concept. However, this is not the case, as I was sorely reminded of this week.

But first let me backtrack a bit. For the past five or so years, I’ve run in Altra. Since I always walk around barefoot in the house, going zero-drop was a no-brainer. No fuss, not frills, no getting used to it or gradually phasing it in. To be honest, I don’t think interchanging between zero-drop and six to eight or even ten millimetre is something that will really affect the average runner (if a blind test was done). But according to the experts, this is not the case and one shouldn’t just jump into zero-drop shoes.

In my arsenal I have Torin for on-road, TIMP for more cushioned off-road, and my trusty go-to trail shoe, the Lone Peak. Heck, I even have a pair of less cushioned Superiors in the mix for shorter trails, which I absolutely also love.

Our daily 8k run is fairly hilly, with an elevation of around 125m. I guess some stronger and fitter runners may call it undulating. But some of the hills I am yet to jog all the way to the top.

So this week I took a pair of Altra Delilah (gifted to me by my friend, Nina) for this daily 8k hilly on-road run. A (discontinued) women specific (mens equivalent is the Samson) minimalist performance shoe with a razor-siped sole grip, suited to road, track, trail and anything between. It is zero-drop (obviously) and has no cushioning worth mentioning, just a thin rubber sole to protect your feet from stones and the like. It is pretty much as close to running barefoot while still wearing shoes as one can get, and is meant to help you improve posture and running technique.

It should therefore come as no surprise that I immediately could feel a difference in my running style: not landing as hard as with a more cushioned shoe, and ‘trotting’ more, for lack of a better word. I felt silly, self-conscious, and was glad to be in the country where not a lot of people could see me. I tried my best to run as normal as possible, and thought I managed okay apart from the downhill sections.

And clearly the shoes did ‘improve my running technique’ as my calves were terribly sore the next day – muscles I probably don’t use on a daily short trot. I realise that with a plonking-style of running one doesn’t use your muscles as much, perhaps relying more on shoe ergonomics, and your own joints to propel you forward? But there was no escaping the fact that these shoes will not help propel or soften the blow on landing. I was forced to use more muscle in order to save my joints. Which I think is a good thing. Trouble is, I would obviously have to ease into this, and perhaps change my initial plan of running in them twice a week, to just once a week for starters. Of course this all looks nice on paper and I’m sure these shoes will improve my running style and activate muscles that I don’t normally use, but will I stick to this plan? Only time will tell.

While we’re talking Altra – if you buy the TIMP 2, go for half a size bigger. It was designed to be ‘snug’, but it is snug to the extend that the size changed. They fit okay and I will no doubt pile on the mileage, but on technical terrain there is no room to manoeuvre, which is very tiresome to feet if you’re constantly rubbing and bumping against the sides and front. But then again, I like my shoes loose fitting.

Mini long loop from home

Date: 4 September
Distance: 30km
Time: 4.07

During last year’s Level 4 lockdown, we ran short out-and-back stretches in our tiny neighbourhood. So this year, we went back to doing this the moment the second (in 18 months) Level 4 lockdown started on 18 August. Running in our neighbourhood means that we are running more hills, which is good. Longer might make you stronger, but so do hills – perhaps even more so.

After three weeks of running up and down the hilly road, I figured I should be in a better place for running uphill. At our last hilly outing three weeks ago (the Mukamuka Munter) it was obvious that we run mainly on flat surfaces, and on-road, as was evident by our time, not to mention how I was huffing and puffing to get over the mountain. But we made it to the finish in one piece, and committed to getting more hills into our training regime.

We are lucky to live in the foothills of the windfarm. At the far, dead-end of our road there is a gate. I have often looked past it to where a wee forest is edged on the side of the mountain, just below the turbines. The turbines are so close to our place, it feels like I can reach out and touch them. We can hear them on wind-still nights. A contradiction in terms it would seem, but that is when the wind (usually a westerly that blows the sound towards the Wairarapa side) is light enough to move the blades, but calm enough that we can hear them loud and clear on the Manawatu side. Speaking to a neighbour yonks ago, it transpired that this road past the gate, apparently, does lead through this forest and all the way to North Range Road. We’ve been meaning to chat to the farmer to gain access, but haven’t got around to it yet.

So we opted for an alternative which unfortunately meant quite a bit of road running, and only about a third off-road. But the good part is that it included a hill of some 700m elevation.

It was overcast and somewhat windy. The forecast claimed sunny, one degree Celsius during the night and seven kilometre per hour winds reaching 13km/h by noon. By morning it was six degrees Celsius (so not terribly cold), overcast, and the wind was not too bad. By 8am, with a belly full of breakfast, we were on our merry way.

The road sections were unfortunately on reasonably busy roads. The Aokautere-Pahiatua Road (Pahiatua Track) saw quite a few cars and trucks coming by, but the Fitzherbert East Road extension towards Ashhurst was worse. Luckily we only ran about 4k on the latter. Pahiatua Track from top to bottom is about 9k, which was all included in our loop.

From Fitzherbert East Road, we turned right onto Forest Hill Road. Once off the busy roads and on the country roads, the run became more enjoyable. No need to constantly watch out for cars, and having to get well off of the road when trucks approach. After a kilometre or so, the uphill began in all earnest. We tried to jog little bits, but was reduced to a walk every so often. We knew that this road goes all the way to North Range Road, but didn’t realise it goes through private land, and a permit is required for access. A friend told us a few years ago that he often runs in this forest and so we assumed the closure pertains mainly to vehicles. From the North Range Road side, there used to be a gate, but I don’t remember any access warnings/issues. My understanding was also that the army sometimes uses this area for training.

After about 4k on Forest Hill Road, we reached and jumped over the locked gate (12k). We went through a tiny paddock and after about 50m there was another gate. Once we were over that I felt more comfortable that we were safe from the bull. Actually I couldn’t see whether it was a bull or a cow, but it was eyeing us and I was in no position to start sprinting should he decide to chase. Mind you, a raging bull might have pumped enough adrenaline to make me clear the average fence not touching sides.

Naturally, once we were in the Aokautere Forest and having jumped two gates, I instantly felt super guilty. Although it would seem that lots of runners use this forest as a training ground, I felt like a trespasser (which I was), and as if we were being watched all the time.

About 700m in, we reached a fork in the road. I checked my Topo Maps app, and saw that the road I thought we should take is quite a bit longer than the alternative. At this point I thought that the quicker we can get through the forest and onto North Range Road, the better. I was, however, uncertain about the alternatives as they didn’t look like proper roads. But as it turns out, they were just the same as the ‘main’ road. We turned right and after about 1k we reached another fork with the road veering off in three directions. Instinctively I thought the middle road to be the right one. Gerry suggested we go right as this road seemed wider and more like the correct road. I couldn’t disagree. After a few hundred metres, another fork made us once again question our direction, but when we reached the fence line of the windfarm still a few metres further, it seemed like the road was going in the wrong direction (heading back towards Palmy). Out came my phone and Topo Maps again, and so we backtracked to the fork where we went wrong, to take the middle road. Always follow a hunch. Haha.

Back on track, I was amazed by the beautiful area almost on our doorstop, but being a ‘trespasser’ spoiled the experience. With lots of the pine trees still in their teenage years, little bits of sun came through the clouds to warm the way. Even though it wasn’t meant to be that cold, it wasn’t warm either, mainly because of the wind.

The section through the private land was just a bit over 5k and almost worth the unnerving situation. Having said that, we will obtain formal permission to be there for next time. At the top near the gate just before reaching North Range Road (at 17.2km), it would appear that someone (the forest manager perhaps?) decided to make sure no 4WD vehicles can go down that road, by dumping two truck-size humps of soil right across the road. I’ve noticed the gate being flattened the previous time we were on NRR, but this was new (at least in the last two or three years). It took some clambering but we got over the obstacle, and clearly we were not the only pedestrians/MTBs going through there, as there was a clear, narrow path to show the way.

Once on North Range Road, we turned right again and immediately had to start negotiating the mud puddles. Even after a few sunny or no rain days, the 4WD section was still quite muddy. The wind was also very strong by then, and the wind-noise in my ears was deafening. It was evident that the 4WDrivers have carved up the road much more than last time we were up there.

Once we reached the Te Rere Hau windfarm gate (20.5km), I knew that the road was almost all the way downhill back home. The 3.5k we had left on NRR had only a small little incline, while Pahiatua Track was downhill all the way. With the new windfarm in progress on South Range Road, the quality of NRR has also improved. However, the super course gravel was very uncomfortable to run on. The road is wider, cleaned up on the sides and with a new (coarse) gravel topping.

The wind was very strong by then, and my arms and hands were starting to go numb from the cold. My core was still warm so didn’t feel the need for an extra layer.

Hitting Pahiatua Track (24km into the run), the road was busy as always. It is not the best road to run on, with only a narrow shoulder, and some parts lacking a shoulder altogether. For short sections we were somewhat sheltered from the wind, but most other times the headwind would blow me to a standstill. Lots of cars were out on the road.

I was tired and sore, but with the last 5.5k on-road downhill stretch, I could run all the way.

Back at home we had a shower, and made lunch before venturing outside for a bit of puttering in the garden. Late afternoon we made a campfire and had some vino to celebrate. I’m not nearly back to ultras, but am getting there slowly but surely. Getting back into the swing of things just take much longer than I hoped. And I still need to do lots of work on my mobility, strength and flexibility. My buggered hip and leg is still part of the package.

Mukamuka Munter

Date: 15 August 2021

Distance: 32k (we measured 31.7k)

Time: 5:48

Since our eight months hiatus last year, we have been running reasonably consistently from the beginning of this year, working on a decent base. It has been tough, and slow going. We’ve had some setbacks, some no-running weeks, and times where the weather just made getting out of bed a challenge, let alone trying to be active. As the event date drew nearer I realised that I wasn’t nearly ready, which seems to be a recurring phenomenon. And then I made the mistake of ‘not caring’ about it anymore either. The Mukamuka Munter would be our first event in two years, but for the past couple of years, I am feeling somewhat over events. Not sure why that happened. 

The final six weeks before the event were a serious hit and miss. After three 70k-per-week weeks, we hit a bit of a slump for three weeks. The first of those was a work week away, and with terrible working hours comes terrible training runs. Despite that, we still managed a 42.5k week. The one thereafter I want to blame on the weather (only covered 37k), and the last one, well, I’m sure it was also the weather, coupled with general lethargy and lack of event enthusiasm (only managed a 6k walk). So we were well and truly tapered, rested even. Definitely not over-trained, which, I consoled myself with, is always better than toeing the line on tired legs. 

On the Thursday, three days out from the event, we made a trip into town to check out an exhibition at Zimmerman Art Gallery. On the way there, we thought of having a quick nosy at the COVID-19 vaccination centre to see how things worked. We were not in the age category to register yet, but called in none the less. The friendly usher in the carpark gave us a number to call to see if they might have openings, and what do you know. Twenty minutes later we waltzed in and got our first Pfizer/BioNTech jab. After the 20-minute waiting period, our planned walk was quickly swopped for a celebratory treat of coffee and cake at the Square Edge’s Cafe Royale. We contemplated the idea that it might not be the best thing to get vaccinated so shortly before the event, but while my arm was pretty damn sore, neither of us had any other significant adverse symptoms. (I was rather disappointed afterwards that my 5G and Bill Gates chip didn’t want to connect with the kettle.)

On the Saturday, Gerry had to work. I started gathering our running gear; hydration vests we haven’t used in more than two years, remembering that the last time we cleaned the bladders the connector/nozzle of the tube broke off in the socket of the bladder and needed fixing, sorting the compulsory gear, and figuring out what food/fuel will keep us going for a day. 

With a list of items, we dashed into town after work to remedy some of the missing parts. Bivouac Outdoor was closed already, Torpedo 7 was too expensive for my liking, so in the end we used an El Cheapo bladder that came with an El Cheapo hydration vest from AliExpress. Some of the soft flasks that go in the front pockets of our hydration vests also started leaking, and since I do not like them anyway, I bought some flavoured water just for the 500ml bottles. 

Packing our packs with all the compulsory gear, including maps and compass, my pack weighed a tonne and was super uncomfortable. Of course I wasn’t used to wearing it, but it felt like I had a fire-extinguisher on my spine, strapped over my shoulders. The vest is a bit too small to house all the compulsory gear, turning it into a solid-packed bulging tube. And that is excluding the additional layers I usually take (a super light base layer, and wee down jacket – weighing 272g in total). I know myself and I know that if I were to break a leg somewhere out in the sticks and have to wait around for hours, in shock, to be winched out, I will die of exposure.

After some pasta, mince, and salad, we went to bed later than we hoped, but still managed almost five hours sleep.

For the drive down to the south Wairarapa coast, we got up at 3am, picked up Nina and Suzanne at 4:45 in Glen Oroua, and were treated to a much needed brew for the road. It was cold, but at least the rain and wind subsided during the previous evening. With all the roadworks between Palmy and Wainuiomata, I thought it would take three plus hours to get there, but we arrive after 2:30 hours, bright and early at 7:15am. Registration and gear check went quickly as there wasn’t much of a queue, and we could see off Tim and Michael who did the 50k event (which sounded brutal, by the way), and started an hour earlier than us.

Unfortunately, this is one of those events where participants have to sort their own transport between the start and finish (this is not a loop race). And anyone who knows me will know that I absolutely despise this. It is one thing to take responsibility for yourself out on the trail in terms of your health and safety, but quite another when you have to pester someone else to give you a ride somewhere.

Gerry drove Tim and Michael to the 50k start, and came back just in time for our race briefing, before driving us to the start at Turakirae Head. While he was away, we chatted to one of the regulars who had done this event before. She told us that the first 12k is easy and all runnable, then there’s the technical 10k in the middle where you just have to get over the mountain one way or the other, and then comes the last 10k homestretch which is all downhill and easy running to the finish.

When we got out the car at the start on the coast, the wind was quite strong, we were freezing, and I needed to pee. We were still cracking jokes and giving some running commentary when next thing people started running. On a video afterwards, I saw there was actually some talking and counting down in the front. Perhaps the wind can be blamed for not being able to hear anything at the back?

The first 12k is run around the coast, and fairly easy going, as the runner mentioned. It is a hard-packed 4WD-track for the most part. It allowed us an opportunity to ease into things, and it wasn’t long before I knew the too heavy hydration pack will make its mark. When we rounded the first corner, we ran into the easterly. The sun was out and the weather was otherwise perfect. The hard-packed track gradually started to change into something more challenging: some parts were rocky, others sandy, with a few stream crossings thrown in in the later parts. We could keep our feet dry for the bulk of this first stretch, but eventually had to give up and just barge through. 

We started near the back with only a handful of runners behind us. In the last few kilometres of this stretch to the bottom of the Mukamuka Valley at 12.5k, everyone passed us so that we were right at the back with the tail-end Charlie where the first marshals where ticking off runners. It took us 1:34 to get to that point, which I thought wasn’t terrible going. But taking into account that the course record is 2:31, I guess it is rather lame.

The next two kilometres into the vast valley were on a gradual incline with a good few stream crossings. The hard-packed grassy patch at the bottom quickly turned into rock, sand, and gravel. It is beautiful, canyon-like, and I was quite happy for the change of scenery and terrain underfoot, from our usual swamp city mud and claustrophobic indigenous forest. It reminded me somewhat of the Stony River in the Naki, but more so, the Fish River Canyon which we did multiple times over the years. After a few times, you start to know the best route to take, which side of the river might be the better option, and often the shorter route was not necessarily the better/easier route.

At 14.5k we reached a fork in the road (in 1:55) with huge tributaries to both left and right, but with a marshal there, everyone was sure to go up the middle valley. After a quick pee stop – finally – we could start the most challenging part of the course. The route became more narrow, steep and very technical as we made our way up the mountain. As the valley narrowed, so the incline increased. Clambering over rocks, negotiating sand, debris, windfall, and crossing the Mukamuka stream a million times, made the going quite tough. Following the stream, you are in the water for big parts of the ascent, and in the shaded spots my feet were numb from the icy water.

On this part of the course, we passed five or six people. Maybe technical terrain is more my thing after all. Haha. At some point not halfway up the hill, my calves and thighs started to cramp. Most of our training runs were on the flat, and often onroad. I realise this is not the way to go about it – specificity is the name of the game – but, even road running was far better than no running.

At the ridge – south saddle of Mt Matthews – and shortly before we reached the highest point (587m) on the course at 18.7k (in 3:09), a group of marshals were cheering us on and taking down race numbers. Was good to quickly catch up with Liz again, whom we last saw on the flight to UTA. Their spot was quite exposed, but thankfully it wasn’t raining and the wind wasn’t extreme. The easterly was a bit chilly and after many hours of being exposed, I can imagine they would have been rather cold. That actually goes for all the marshals, and I’m grateful that they all went to the trouble to make our outing a bit more safe. It is thanks to marshals at these key points, that we never had to use our map.

As we started making our way down the mountain on the Mt Matthews Track, I knew that my legs were shot. One of our slowest kilometres was on the downhill stretch. Even though it was not in a valley and in a stream, but rather on a ridge, it was just as steep, and a little bit scary in places. We passed another runner on the way down. 

Once back down the mountain, we crossed the Mt Matthews River before making our way to the Orongorongo Valley floor at about 21k (3:55). The Orongorongo River, that could have changed things to plan B should it be impassable due to the water level and flow speed from the rain the week prior, was about thigh deep at the far side. The clamber out on the other side was straight up to my head height with no footing (after a 100+ people scrambled out there) and nothing to hold onto aside from a tiny short patch of grass, which thankfully proved to be enough.

Wet and cold to my bum, I was thoroughly looking forward to the ‘downhill and easily runnable’ last 10k. This, of course, turned out to not quite be the case. Never before had I cussed and cursed at some stranger this much. 

After the river-crossing, we followed the Big Bend Track. There was mud. Lost of mud. And tree roots everywhere. The whole way was undulating at best with little ups and downs all the way. On tired legs even a well-trodden trail, that might be totally runnable otherwise, becomes rather challenging where tripping over a tree root or stone is a real concern. Which is exactly what happened to one of the other participants shortly after she passed us. (One of the runners we passed on the technical stretch on the way up the mountain, caught up and passed us again on the trails in the last five or six kilometres.) She was a little bit up ahead so we didn’t see her fall, but she was still on all fours when we got to her. Luckily, she was fine and went on to beat me to the age category third place position.

At 25k (4:44) the start of another hill (elevation 82m) dragged on for a kilometre (4:56). Shortly after, a split in the road had two signs – one read 4.6k to the carpark and the other 7.5k to the carpark. The longer distance seemed like the correct distance according to our calculations, and therefore the one we should be taking. Gerry had the GPX file on his watch navigating the course and according to that it seemed like the shorter distance was the correct one. Little did we know that the carpark on the signage was not the carpark at the finish. As the kilometres ticked by, the GPX file was off course and all over the place for the most part, only occasionally linking up with the route. This had us worried that we might be on the wrong route, or taking an accidental shortcut. Not sure what went wrong, whether the file got corrupted or just the result of a plain and simple lack of satellite connectivity.

At some point Gerry saw a little rabbit in the road up ahead, but the ears quickly turned into just another tree root. I find it fascinating how one’s mind, once it decided on what it is seeing, finds it hard to see the actual thing, unless one adjust one’s position and viewpoint. And I had to wonder if people with a strong sense of pareidolia aren’t perhaps more prone to hallucinations on ultras? That can bode interesting for Gerry on ultras.

Another fork in the road indicated that it was 800m in both directions to the carpark. Yay, I thought, we’re nearly there. We opted to take the one on the right. Two other participants must have followed suit, as when we reached a picnic area and carpark at about 29.7k (5:33) the two others were hot on our hills. A few course markings might have helped to take away all the humming and hawing at turn-offs, forks on the tracks, and especially at this first carpark, where the four of us were going off in different directions trying to find the way. We were of course all brand-spankingly new to this area, and things would have made a lot more sense even just driving around in the park. Huge was my disappointment when I realised it was not the finish, and we had another 2k on the road back to the finish line (which also had a couple of short inclines). I should have tried to remember the course description a bit better, or checked the map. But who does that back in civilisation and on a sealed road when you can almost smell the finish line?

After going backwards and forwards in all directions trying to figure out which way to go, we eventually just took off in the general direction of where we thought we should be heading. My legs were totally shot and even though the sealed road made for easy going, it felt super hard. 

We finally reached the finish area, and happy to be done with it, I quickly changed into dry clothes. The bottoms of my feet were white, looked like prunes, and a few hotspots and blisters added to the gory sight. Luckily nothing too serious. We were treated to soup, and Gerry also had a hotdog and beer. About an hour after we finished, Gerry could finally get a lift back to our car thanks to the runner we passed on the downhill. 

Arriving back home just before 7pm, I was exhausted. It is a very long day out if you make the trip from Palmy. Despite my reservations in the weeks leading up to the event, I’m glad we ended up doing it. For as long as we have been in NZ, this event was on the to-do list.

The race is categorised as a ‘wilderness’ run, but it is really only the eight to nine kilometres in the middle to get over the mountain that are ‘wilderness’ – still on a DOC track. The first 12k can be reached with a 4WD, and the last 10k are on walking tracks. We saw lots of day walkers and families on this last stretch as well as some of the 50k runners coming from the front. The weather gods were very kind to us, as the weeks before saw heaps of rain and strong wind, and the day after the event the terrible weather returned in full force. Even causing a huge slip, closing SH1 down to Wellington and a train to derail.

Not being used to the hydration pack, my shoulders were sore and collar bones bruised. But the worst part was my spine that was so hammered from the pack that I couldn’t sit against the back of the car seat or a chair for two days. That also goes for my legs. If I hope to do anything longer or hillier, I really need to train more specific: hills, technical terrain, hydration pack, and everything that goes with ultras.

Two days later the whole of NZ went into Level 4 lockdown again due to the Delta COVID-19 strain finding its way through the border. Fingers crossed it can be contained and not spread too much through the country. We have been super fortunate to be able to live a ‘normal’ life since last year’s initial lockdown. Here’s to the trails, tracks, pathways, and roads, and freedom to run them all again soon.