Kosci Kosci Kosci, Oi Oi Oi

Crossing that bridge to the unknown.

To say that the past two years didn’t take its toll, would be a lie. I thought I was reasonably okay with everything that surrounded the COVID-19 pandemic, but on hindsight, I did feel down and uninterested in most things. Especially with regards to running, training, events, and everything running related, but also going groceries shopping or even just out for coffee. The constant reminder via masks, the tracer app, QR codes, and the resistance-inducing smell of sanitiser, was all a bit overwhelming and distressing, and it was almost as if social distancing became attractive and comfortable – not needing to interact with others. It was promoted everywhere – keep your distance, stay two metres away from others, and so on completely the opposite of normal human behaviour, wants and needs.

During the very first month-long lockdown, Gerry and I trained heaps – 465.5km in one month to be precise. I loved everything about it, apart from the fact that the virus was new and unknown, and just a little bit scary. I loved that we could run, and still get lots done around the house. It was also the first time ever we ran more than a hundred kilometres in 24 hours outside of an event. 

At the time I thought we were well set up for an ultra in the near future, but for some reason we just about stopped short the moment everything went online and all events were cancelled. I can’t explain why or what exactly happened, but before I knew it we hadn’t run for months, and we were back to square one. It always amazes me how quickly that happens, and how being sedentary creeps up on you so easily. Laziness seems to be the default mode.

The fact that events were cancelled left, right and centre, didn’t help. With the lure and prospect of an upcoming event off the table, keeping going didn’t feel important enough. I know it is and one should never stop moving – move it or lose it – but it always helps if there’s an event on the horizon.

Finally, after two years of not feeling interested in events in the least bit, I found one that got me a little bit excited: the inaugural Ultra-trail Kosciuszko by UTMB, in Australia. It is a sister event of the UTA and TUM. There are four distances to chose from (27k, 50k, 100k, and 100 miles), allowing 450 participants in each distance. 

Since we did our first marathon and ultra in South Africa, and our first 100k in New Zealand, I’ve always had it in the back of my mind that our first 100 mile event should be in Australia – a tri-nations of our running endeavours if you will. The event seems to be not super technical and might be the perfect introduction to a 100 miler. Only problem is, we’re almost starting from nothing and have to be ready by the end of the year. 

To kick things off, we decided to do a 15k for 15 days base-building stint, finishing our last 15k at a slow trot. Almost every outing was a run-1-walk-1 kilometre to help build a base without breaking ourselves by trying to run everything. Occasionally we walked the whole 15k, as often these outings took place after work and partially in the dark, and sometimes one just don’t feel up to running anything. There will be lots of walking involved in a 100 mile event (for a normal person), so training the walking muscles is a no brainer. Having to do this after work meant that we also already started using headlamps – another good thing to get used to.

On the eve of our last base-builder, we hauled out some big sheets of paper and coloured pens and started drawing up a training plan. Even though we plan to build up to reasonable weekly mileage, we will still be walking about half. Time on feet is after all what we need. Unfortunately, time is the one thing we battle with on a full-time job for Gerry, including 30 weeks of night and weekend classes for the year. To juggle everything around to get enough training, especially during the winter months, will be the biggest challenge.

On the up side, I haven’t been this excited about an event in a very long time. Now just to keep to our schedule, and not get sick or injured. Of course maintenance will have to come into play also – foam rolling, stretching and strengthening. 

The prospect of being signed up for a 100 mile event is very exciting, but at the same time I am scared senseless. A hundred miles is a very long way, and staying awake for 35-40 hours will be super challenging, let along trying to move for all that time. But scary challenges are always a good thing – something that will get one out the door and doing the homework.

The big question now is, what is further, a 100 miles or 161 kilometres?

The intrepid trapper: Week 21

After 21 weeks of exploring and seeing, up close, a part of the country I never would have otherwise, my adventures came to an end at the Southern Ruahine Kiwi Habitat Restoration Project.

Life is a funny old thing, and the only certain thing is that everything is uncertain. It is nonetheless sad for me and a very difficult decision to have made to leave. Due to a number of reasons – none of which had anything to do with working outside, in sometimes challenging weather, cleaning rotten critters out of traps, and often being knee deep in mud or cow poo – I made the call to move on.

We went for a run on the beach on a beautiful sunny day which was good, and topped it off by scoffing down some fish & chips which was perhaps not the healthiest but very good. You win some, you lose some.

Ultreia et suseia

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.

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.

Footnote:
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.