6 hours Te Arapiki a Tane and 24-hours Summerhill trails loop challenge

Total moving hours: 26
Total distance covered: 96km, including 12910 stairs (with a break between the two challenges)

I love achievable, but wacky challenges. And this seemed like a good one for the Easter weekend. We are way behind schedule for our upcoming 100km event, and thought this should be a good gauge of where we are, fitness-wise. Each time we sign up for an event I have grand plans to do a certain amount of training, and almost always without fail other things get in the way. So we find ourselves yet again a bit undertrained for the UTA in less than four weeks time.

Things kicked off at 7am on Saturday morning at the Te Arapiki a Tane, and we were going well at a slow pace covering the 1km loop which includes 188 stairs going down and 221 stairs back up to where we parked our car with sustenance. The idea was never to see how many sets of stairs we can do in the six hours, but rather to just get to a reasonable amount. I had roughly 8000 in mind which amounted to about 20 loops, meaning a little over three loops per hour. We were told that UTA has 10 000 stairs, so I figured 8000 in six hours is a good target.

After the first few loops, we were joined by Stef, followed by Rachael and Jack, Sandie, Dave and Wendy (who stayed to the end). Apart from about four or five laps by ourselves, we had company all the way which was great. We were also spoilt with an array of chocolates, chips, biscuits and other treats, and I remain humbled by the generosity of our kiwi mates.

Afterwards, we stil had a few things to do in town as well as mark the Summerhill loop for the 24-hour challenge. My calf muscles were quite sore already and I was hoping things would magically be better in the morning. While I also hoped to get to bed really early, it didn’t work out that way and it was only after 10pm that we finally started winding down. Not sure when I actually fell asleep, but when the alarm went off at 5:30am, I was tired. Worst part was, I could barely move. My calf muscles decided to pack a sad overnight, and trying to get myself organised for the day ahead was pure agony.

Four of us (Scott T, Damien and us two) indicated that we would try and run the whole 24 hours which was great considering that night time is really difficult to stay motivated. And with a few others in the same boat it tends to be that much easier not to bail out.

When we arrived at the Summerhill shopping centre shortly before 7am, my muscles had warmed up a wee bit and I could almost sort of move. But over-compensation for my extremely sore calves, obviously had me walking/running in a different way. And then of course DOMS set in. I thought that while I was moving this would hold off until Monday, but as the day progressed, so did the muscle soreness. By mid-afternoon I was really battling to go down stairs and the four stairs at the far end of the loop became the biggest challenge of them all. They were rather high and also hollowed out somewhat, meaning you either step on the narrow wooden edge, or at an angle inside the stair. I cursed these stairs with every loop. Uphill and up stairs were still manageable, but for some reason my calf muscles were screaming with every step downhill. Somehow my quads and hammies were fine, which I thought would be a problem on day two.

Quite a few runners from the community joined for a few laps (Scott W, Michelle, Lee-Anne, Andrew & Jester the dog, Matt, Sharon, Adrian, Juliette, Liam and Amanda), making it very social and enjoyable. Was also good to see a group of the Manawatu Striders on their regular Sunday walk coming from the front. Scott T and Damien were doing great kilometres while we were just trucking along trying not to get carried away. Which did happen in the end as these things have a tendency to do. While the idea was to walk everything, we figured it wouldn’t do harm to jog some of the downhills and clock up more laps. At some point it seemed that we might get to 100kms quite easily. Knowing very well we should not do that, the allure of the 100 still got the better of us and all reasoning went out the door. Maybe our minds were already on autopilot after only a few hours. Despite my terribly sore calf muscles we spent a lovely morning and afternoon on the trails with great friends.

And then the unthinkable happened. At 7pm both Scott T and Damien decided to pull out after 12 hours. It had just turned dark and we all did a couple laps with headlamps already. Dave arrived with pizza while Dianne kept a constant supply of hot water for coffee, tea, soup, etc all throughout the day. It was absolutely fabulous to get back to base each time to find Dianne with a smile supporting and cheering us on. But then of course, with Scott out of the game, so was Dianne.

It was such a shock when the one minute it was still a jolly affair with quite a few souls sharing in the pain and suffering and within a couple of minutes, Gerry and I found ourselves alone on the trail in the dark. All traces of anyone else being around were gone. The whole parking lot suddenly felt ominous as the restaurants all started to close for the day. With each lap there was less action and within an hour it was just us, and the eeriness of the deserted place was almost overwhelming.

It is no secret that I’m rather scared of the dark, and I was constantly looking behind me thinking I’ve heard something or someone. It was exhausting to say the least and at some point I couldn’t decide whether the section next to the road or the section on the trail was more scary. We passed a car with a couple of people inside who just sat there for hours on end, which scared me. A bunch of youngsters with hoodies were hanging around in the dark parking lot, which also scared me. After midnight and in the drizzle there were three guys on skateboards in the middle of the road, which also scared me. I thought to myself that if it starts to rain properly, every man and his dog including the potential criminals will find shelter and we should be okay.

At 12am the lights in the centre went off, adding to the scary situation, and we decided to shift our car to underneath a streetlight. We boiled some water for soup on the sidewalk while a light drizzle got more persistent. I felt like a “sitting duck” as I figured that anyone who’d bother to look would quickly have picked up on what we were doing and could easily have launched an attack. After a while, I was too scared to use the toilets as it was pitch dark in that corner of the centre. My stress-levels were skyrocketing and while I was alert the whole time, it was exhausting to try and comfort my troubled mind which was going to town and back with all the horror movies and most scary scenes imaginable. At around 2am Gerry started to sleepwalk while I was wide awake and on the alert. I was holding his hand as he was walking off the track, which made me feel less scared as it gave me something else to focus on. It was raining by then and coupled with the severe pain I was experiencing, thoughts of quitting started to seep through. It is not very hard to make that call when it’s dark and dreary and one’s body is screaming for a reprieve.

After agonising over it for quite a long time, we finally decided to call it quits at 3am after 20 hours on the move. I wasn’t moving very well by then and I think I was doing more harm than good to my already fatigued muscles and joints. While I was initially sorry that the others stopped early on it turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I would have kept going if they were still there and just maybe it would have been too much.

Of course I’m a bit disappointed that we didn’t do the final four hours, but sometimes you just have to call it and be done with it. I think we’ve done all we can for UTA which wasn’t much, but hopefully it will do. If I’m not mistaken we have a 27 hour time limit for UTA, and if need be we might just use all the available hours.

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