Having run both Northburn (you don’t race it, you survive it!) and my first 100 mile race you would think those would be pivotal runs and that one of those would have been the most important run of my year. Or maybe the run where I broke my 5km personal best? Or my 10km best time? No. None of those were it.
The most important run of my year happened on July 24th. The kids and I had flown out to our new home in Wanaka just 7 days before. We had had a whirlwind week of travel, settling in to our unfurnished house, with nothing but the things we brought in our suitcases. My coach, Matt, had set me a “Welcome to Wanaka” run. It involved summiting the quintessential Roy’s Peak and Matt warned me it would involve snow and possibly ice, warranting a quick trip to the local outdoor store for some microspikes.
I had just dropped all three kids off for their first day at their new schools. It was probably good that I had been so busy dealing with all their anxieties about the coming day as it left me very little time to worry about my own endeavours. This would be the first time I ever ran in snow, the first time on the Roy’s Peak track, first time using microspikes and first time doing a long training run whilst solo parenting here in New Zealand. If I had really thought about it I may have been overwhelmed and backed out of the run.
When I got the start of the trailhead, I rang the local DOC (Department of Conservation) office to check the conditions. Having never run in snow or alpine environments before, I was being cautious. The climb was amazing, the views breathtaking. As I climbed higher the temperature continued to drop and snow patches lay on the ground. The snow deepened and became ice across sections of the track, prompting me to try out my new gear and attaching my microspikes to my shoes. I stopped twice to take urgent phone calls from the kids schools, checking on details and making sure we had all we needed for the week ahead. My hubby called to make sure everything had gone ok. It was a less than perfect “run” but it was real and it was cold and it was something I never thought I could do. As I reached the deep snowline, I began post holing my way to the summit.
Checking my map and telling myself I could do this. Plenty of people do this every day. The snow was wet and cold. My toes were frozen. The views off the back side of Roys were steep and testing my fear of heights, but my head was firmly set on making it to the summit. There is a sense of relief as well as accomplishment to reaching a summit. When I reached the top I stood alone and just gazed out at the clouds in amazement, there was no view to speak of. I was amazed at what I had just done, that I was there, living in Wanaka, and that I had just summited a real mountain, alone, in the snow. That I could do that. Me. The hippy mum from Northern NSW who liked to run in the bush.
The run down was no less epic. I ran (as opposed to hiked) through snow, I felt the childlike thrill of freezing cold air on my cheeks, wet and frozen toes and the heat of my breath and body making steam around me. Then it started to snow. Just small delicate flakes, lasting less than a few seconds on my skin, but snow nonetheless.
I finished my run. Breathless and exhilarated. I cried, the tension and anxiety of doing so many new things in such a short space of time coming out as tears. I looked up at the mountain, the peak fleetingly visible here and there between the clouds, in awe that I had just been up there.
That run changed a lot of things. It showed me I could do these new and hard things without someone there to hold my hand, to lead me along, to show me the way. I could be my guide. It didn’t mean being reckless or dangerous. I could be methodical and thoughtful. Prepare myself and take my own lead. I could do the hard thing and I could do it alone if need be. It was on that run that I learnt how much I love the mountains, the real mountains. I thought I did, but being there in that truly alpine environment that is such a start and scary beauty made me feel like this is where I belonged and I knew I wanted to spend more time there. I found that there is something about the challenge and the tinge of fear of doing something new, something outside the comfort zone that I love, that I take strength and joy from. Sometimes the mountain allows you to reach her summit and sometimes she doesn’t. I have hiked and run up a number of mountains since then, both here in New Zealand and back in Australia. The views from some have been amazing, easily better than that first run up Roy’s. Some have been little more than a trig point at the top of an alpine grassland. A few I haven’t made it to the top of, despite my best efforts, due to my fears getting the best of me or my time being short. Each has been an experience that I took something away from. Each has made me grow.
That first run up Roy’s Peak though, that was the run that changed everything. Its when I began to understand who I truly was, what it was I was searching for and where it was I wanted to be.
“The mountains are calling and I must go, and I will work on while I can, studying incessantly” (John Muir) for I still have so much to learn….