Tag Archives: community

An Adventure on the Motatapu Track

The weeks leading up to Motatapu were fraught with stress and worry. The truth is, I don’t really like 50km events, mostly because I’m not that great at the distance. My last two 50km events were pretty disappointing and this race was on a very technical trail with somewhere upward of 2900m of vertical climbing. My coach, Matt, agreed that the distance isn’t my “sweet spot” which in some ways takes the pressure off but also makes me want to prove myself. After my usual freak out 2 weeks before the race, I resigned myself to just giving it a go and seeing it as a good training run, if nothing else.

The morning of the race saw me up at 4:30am, it was a new experience getting to sleep in my own bed the night before a race, but not necessarily a good thing in the end. Being that I am still solo parenting it meant that the night before had been anything but restful, I spent the night preparing everything so my kids would be ok for race day until my friend Rachael arrived to hang out with them and also doing all my usual saturday jobs around the house so I wouldn’t have to do them sunday. In the darkness I quickly and quietly got ready. I left a little early to go pick up another runner, Peter, who had flown in for the race from Sydney and needed a lift and local runner Ruth, who actual won the women’s race on the day. We chatted on the way to the start and I actually found it helped calm my nerves. Once we arrived Ruth and I sat in the car to chat some more, non to keen to get out and stand around in the cold for longer than we needed. Eventually the start line called and we went our separate ways. As I strolled to the start line (obviously not my favourite place) I wandered along side Lucy B, wishing her well for her run and chatting about the views past Fern Burn Hut, the furthest I had been along the trail.

At the start line I found the finish line drop bag trailer and mucked around with my bag, debating whether to start with my fleece or stow it in my bag headed to the finish line in Arrowtown. It was a chilly 7’C but I knew that even at this temp once I got a km or so in I would feel uncomfortably warm and restricted. As they called for the briefing, I made the decision to stash my fleece and rely on my gloves for warmth. As I rocked back and forth trying to keep warm while listening to the RD explain the low river route to Arrowtown I looked around, hoping to see a glimpse of my running idol, Anna Frost. Unfortunately it was not to be. With 2 minutes until the start I found a space, did a warm up routine and tried to quieten my mind. I was worried about the first cutoff, about the run along the dirt road to the trail and about how my body would hold up after it had felt niggly and tight all week.

As the airhorn rang out I was glad we were started. I switched on my headlamp, a little glad for the cover of darkness as it felt easier for some reason. I was ignoring heart rate until I hit the first cutoff point so I settled into what felt like a comfortably hard pace. I let a lot of people go, trying not to let the mind games start and found a few people sitting around my pace and just stuck with them. The road went quickly, all I really remember is my light on the legs of the people in front of me, the dust being kicked up by my fellow runners and the grunts and mumbled words of those around me. Sooner than I thought we hit the trail and I immediately felt calmer. I had run this part of the trail in the dark and felt comfortable, enjoying being able to push a little harder than usual on the trail. I knew the flow of the trail and while others ran past me, working hard, their breath heavy, I felt like I floated finding a flow, a rhythm. I didn’t care that others passed by at this point, I knew it was going to get harder ahead and as I hit the deer gate marking the entry to the The Stacks Conservation Area I glanced at my watch, happy with the time it showed, comforted that I should be able to make the cutoff point if I wasn’t held up too much. At the beech forest the trail became more technical, but I knew that and while I kept things comfortably hard I was buoyed that I was obviously more comfortable than many ahead of me, as I crept up behind and asked to pass here and there. I was delighted as my headlamp flashed upon the big red fairy mushrooms here and there. I hadn’t been on the trail here for over a month and had never seen these delights here in the forest before. I smiled, thinking of my friend Liv, fairy houses deep in the beech forest for sure. As I stepped across a tree root my ankle reminded me that it wasn’t 100% happy and I made sure to watch my footing. We began to climb out of the forest to see that the sky had lightened and I was slowed by a long line of people. Although I knew I could move faster I hesitated to ask to pass, as the line was so long it would have mean asking 10-15 times. I figured a slow in pace for a bit would not make me miss the cutoff and would help with the coming climbs. Eventually people stepped off the trail and I was able to move at my own pace, I came across another runner who was removing clothing and stowing in her pack, she fell in behind me and introduced herself, saying she knew me from Instagram, that made me laugh and we chatted as we jogged along. As we came around the corner Fern Burn Hut came into view and I let out a little whoop of joy, happy in the knowledge that I had beat the cutoff. I wondered what gear they would be checking, as we had been told there would be a mandatory gear check and went through my checklist in my head to see if I needed anything here.

IMG_2402.JPG

Views back to Glendhu Bay, where we started.

As we got to the hut we were informed there was no check other than to make sure our mandatory SPOT tracker was on, so I walked on through, excited to see the top of the next climb as it would be completely new territory. As we climbed I pulled my pace back and began watching my heart rate. The sun was just starting to touch the tops of the surrounding mountains. I was trucking along comfortably, being passed here and there but also passing others. The climb continued and suddenly I was aware that I could see my breath, looking at my feet I saw frost on the plants around the trail and mist rising off the small creek I had just hopped over, it was a bit of alpine magic. After a nice little punchy climb I was disturbed by a whirring sound and noticed a drone in the sky, coming around the incline we were greeted by a helicopter. I smiled and said hi to one of the volunteers standing nearby and headed over and down the ridge. On my left was a steep drop, beautiful but a little scary. If you go to the Motatapu Ultra page this ridge is the photo banner.

Screen Shot 2018-03-14 at 7.49.11 pm.png

A small dirt path lead down into the shadowy valley, the runners ahead of me looking like colourful specks, yes it was that far and steep. I concentrated on my foot placement, not really looking at the drop worried that fear would overtake me. I slipped once, just slightly and reminded myself to breath, to watch my feet and keep moving, stopping was not an option. We hit the valley floor and crossed the creek to be met with a wall of mountain. I knew that after this climb we would descend again and then be at the second checkpoint. I reached up to move some hair from my face and my hand banged my headlamp, I quickly added that to the list of things I needed to deal with as I began the climb/scramble up the hill. I chatted to other runners, talking about the views, the steepness, the way we had to hoist ourselves up the trail using the branches and grass – it was so freaking fun! At around this point I caught up to Ricky who had overtaken me awhile back and along with a female ultra team (there is also a race for teams of two over the ultra distance), we jogged into the second checkpoint at Highland Hut. My GPS was reading 17km, although I knew from the website that the Hut was meant to be 15km, so I made a note to add 2km to the distance for each following checkpoint.

At the checkpoint, the volunteers welcomed us and pointed us in the direction of the water. Ricky and I set up side by side. I removed my headlamp and swapped it for my hat, tying my buff onto my front pack straps for use later on and set about refilling my bottles. Ricky made a comment about my “elicit white powder” and we had a little laugh. Filling my bottles I got my pack on and moved to leave, as the vollies shared that the lead male had just gone through the last checkpoint – holy crap that’s fast! Across the creek, I jogged along the flat enjoying being able to move with more rhythm I started to catch up some others. The next 2 big climbs are a a blur of chats, of watching my feet, of looking across mountains in awe of the space I was in, watching lizards run around my feet and butterflies flying across my path, basically feeling like I was the luckiest person in the world.

IMG_2403.JPG

Valley views from the top of one of the climbs

In between the two climbs there was a steep descent down into a valley of beech forest and some welcome shade. The sun was now high, the highlands have no cover other than the waist high tussock grasses and due to past experiences of heat stroke in races I was very mindful of my temperature. As we hit the bottom of the valley and crossed the creek flowing through it, I removed my buff and drenched it in icy water, washing my face and neck, I plunged it in again and then reattached it to my pack. As we climbed I would use the buff to keep me cool whenever the breeze dropped and I was left in the belting sun. At the top of the third climb a dirt road far below came into view, I could see very (very) small figures and the woman just ahead of me commented that it was probably the marathon runners and mountain bikers, whose paths we would cross up ahead. Soon we were descending and on a small scramble, that reminded me of one of my training runs, I managed to overtake two women, another ultra team. Further down the descent I overtook two men and was caught up by one of the women I had just passed. She commented on the guy with the deck chair on a flat section below, as we got closer it became apparent he had a camera. The woman I was running with decided to hang back and wait for her team mate as I ran ahead. As I passed I thanked him for being out here and I sincerely meant it, generally the photographers have packed up and left when I run through.

Descent.JPG

Happy to see the photographer!

I could now see Roses Hut and behind it the final big climb to Roses Saddle. Trying not to dwell on the climb ahead, I made my way to the road below. At the road we headed right against the flow of marathoners and mountain bikers. Making sure I smiled and said hello to each person, I was starting to feel the tiredness creep in, the hello’s and hi fives helped buoy me along to the checkpoint. Greeted once again by cheerful volunteers, I took off my pack and busied myself refilling flasks and my bladder with the help of one of the volunteers. There were a number of others sitting on the steps, one person dealing with some large blisters, others eating or resting. The checkpoint had the usual chips, crackers, lollies and also a big tub of chocolate brownie. As I shoved everything back in my pack I contemplated the brownie but decided that just before a big climb it was probably not a good idea. I set off again as quickly as I could, I was hot and tired and was worried that if I paused it would be for longer than required.

I took the next climb slow, mostly because I was tired. I focussed on the people ahead, making sure I wasn’t falling behind and trying to catch them if I could. Around now two things started happening. A slight cramp had been developing in the middle toe on my left foot and when I placed my foot in a certain way pain would surge through the ball of my foot, so I watched how I put my foot very carefully in each step, thankfully my ankle had stopped hurting. Despite staying on top of my nutrition I was starting to get dizzy whenever I looked up or around. As there was nothing I could really do about it, I decided that I would rather be dizzy at the top than half way up the mountain and kept my head down and kept moving. The last climb started out fairly easy, then halfway up the mountain we proceeded straight up the ridgeline. My fellow runners were all also battling the mountain by this point, with people pulling off to sit by the side of the trail, some shaking their heads, others with their head in their hands. Despite my tiredness and the heat, I actually felt ok, just a bit out of pep. At the top I was excited to see the river below and the thought of sinking into it helped me find the energy to run down the mountain at a decent trot, overtaking a couple of people.

At the base we were greeted with two signs, one pointing to the “High Water” route, the traditional poled route and the “Low Water” route. At the briefing we had been advised to take the low route, which looked a lot more inviting at this point, we were also told that while we would be in the river there would be streamer markers to show where we could hop out and move along the bank. I stepped into the river and was soon in up to my knees. There were no visual markers and the two people ahead of me were slowly picking their way along close to the bank. I figured I was wet anyway so I waded along the river, I had the biggest grin on my face as it was just so damn fun. The water was that clear alpine blue, with a rocky, pebbly bottom, it reminded me of rock hopping at the creek back in Australia. It was slow going, every now and again we would see some pink flagging tape and jump out of the creek, gingerly pushing our way through the spiky matagouri and rose bush only to be back in the river in 20-50m. Did I mention fun! I absolutely loved this section, although it was slow going between finding footing, keeping an eye on the river banks for tape and making sure I stayed upright. Tiredness had well and truly set in but there were people around me constantly, which made it easier to keep moving. After about 4km of this we hit the next checkpoint. From here on we were only crossing the river, running predominantly on 4 wheel drive tracks. My legs were starting to hurt, the pain in my glutes reminding me of the latter stages of Alpine Challenge. My mind was also turning to my kids and my bus home, which I was obviously not going to make. I had an hour to get to the finish to be within my own expectations for the run and to catch the bus, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. I was jogging along ok when around the corner I spied a pole marker. Unsure of whether to follow the poled route or the 4 wheel drive track I stopped to get out my course map to check. Before I could properly check another runner came along and confidently announced “this way” and in my tired state I just went “ok”. I should have known better. 200m in I knew it was the wrong way and turned around after shouting these thoughts ahead. The other runner came charging back, apologising as he passed, I jogged along, feeling a little defeated and silly for my mistake. I began to spiral a little here. The length of time on feet, combined with worry about how I was going to get home plus my steps off course were building up in my head. Seeing it as another sugar low I started into my emergency m&m’s and willed myself to jog everything I could. The last 7km were tough, the lengthening shadows were a constant reminder of how long I’d been out there and although the 4wd track had pretty outlook on the mountains I was finding it quite boring after all the mountain majesty of earlier in the day. I was running well on the downhills but ups that I would normally run were now being hiked and the flats were a constant negotiation between my head and legs.

Finish.JPG

Charge to the finish!

With the finish line in earshot, about 1.5km away, I resolved to run the rest of the way, I was happy that I did but so very tired once I crossed it. It was also kind of bittersweet. I had just been on a most amazing adventure, but it was the first ultra I had run without having anyone I knew waiting for me at the finishline. Instead of revelling in what had just happened, I walked as fast as I could to the info tent to find out if there was another bus I could catch and where my drop bag was. Once the bag was found, I had changed and the bus was sorted I sat down and was greeted with messages from family and friends who had been watching. That made it a little easier. When I got home I also got a hug from my friend Rach, who had given up her saturday arvo and evening to look after my kids – thats just how awesome she is.

Despite the amazing fun I had out on the course (seriously, I was so happy out there until the last 8km), by Sunday afternoon my run time had clouded my joy. I was disappointed, I had had higher expectations of myself and my ego was a little battered by the result. Luckily I have an amazing support network. Thanks to my dear friends, who indulge my mental frailties, and my wonderful coach who always hears out my whinges and then tells it like it is to give me some perspective, after a few days I was able to move past that detail. In fact the joy has come flooding back and I am really looking forward to heading back out on the Motatapu trail over the coming months of training (or that could be the recovery induced lack of training talking).

So, to sum up, Motatapu Ultra was a most amazing adventure. It was everything I expected and a little more. It is easily the hardest race I have ever done (including Shotover and the 50km legs of Northburn and Alpine Challenge) but also the most fun I’ve ever had running a 50k race and was stunningly beautiful. In fact if I had to encapsulate it in three words it would be epically, brutally beautiful. You should totally run it!

Fun.JPG

Having the best fun ever

Gear
Ultimate Direction Adventure Vesta 2.0
Injinji socks/hat/buff
Derby Skinz skirt
Aldi compression shorts (seriously my favourite!)
Inov8 trailroc 245’s
Suunto Ambit3 Peak

Nutrition
TrailBrew
Clif Bars
Snickers
Potato Crisps
M&M’s
Fresh red apple
Fresh Pineapple

Thanks to
Injinji Performance Products and TrailBrew for their ongoing support on my adventures
My coach, Matt from Judd Adventures
My hubby and kids for encouraging and supporting my running
My support crew who were with me in spirit all day long
My friend Rach, who looked after my kids so I could go have an adventure.
The crew and volunteers from Motatapu for such an amazing event.

Advertisements

One Good Day – Northburn 100k

For the week leading up to the race, Terry, the Race Director (RD) for the Northburn100, had been posting on the Facebook page about how the Cromwell weather was saving up all its bad days for the race. Northburn is a notoriously tough race, in fact it’s tag line is “You don’t race it, you survive it”. It is known for its challenging weather conditions, as well as its difficult, off-trail terrain. In fact, the weather was one of my main concerns leading into the race.

My training, under the direction of super coach, Matt Judd, had been my best to date leading up to an event. I had mimicked the terrain as best as I could guess from Strava profiles from previous years and despite an ankle injury in early December, I had missed very few sessions and reached race day feeling strong and confident that I had all the tools I needed to finish. Of course I knew, from past experiences, that it all comes down to what happens on the day and that the smallest thing can turn a good day into a not so good day or a disaster.

I travelled from home in Australia to New Zealand with my dear friends, Sarah and Maz, who had volunteered to act as support crew for the race. We spent a couple of days before the race exploring the surrounds of Cromwell, including Wanaka and Queenstown, and with each new vista my love for the New Zealand mountains grew stronger and stronger.

On Friday, the day before the race, we took the 10min drive from Cromwell to Northburn Station for race registration and gear check, to be followed by the race briefing later that night. As I walked up to the registration desk the RD, Terry recognised me from our Facebook messages over Northburn’s UTMB point status. I was surprised and a little embarrassed but Terry was lovely and reassured me that points were definitely on offer before sending me on my way with my bib. After being weighed for medical and having all my gear checked we headed home to prepare for the coming day, before heading back out for the race briefing.

We had had a crew meeting the night before, so when we got home my wonderful support crew set about readying everything they would need to support me in the downstairs area while I set about my own preparations upstairs. I began doling out my TrailBrew powder that I use for liquid nutrition, along with my solids of Clif Bars, Bounties, Snickers, Chips and chocolate covered coffee beans. As I divvied up my TrailBrew into bottles and baggies it dawned on me that I only had enough electrolyte for 24hrs. My heart sank, what a stupid miscalculation, it was a big ask for me to finish under 24hrs on such a challenging course, in fact that was my B goal for the race. Whilst trying to keep calm and not completely freak, I messaged my wonderful friend and seasoned ultrarunner, Jill. We chatted about working the problem and possible solutions. I figured I would plan to finish under 24hrs and I could use aid station electrolytes or more solids if need be. It wasn’t the end of the world. I finished packing up everything, put together my drop bag and sat back to reread my prerace email from Matt, whilst my crew packed some extra special things in my drop bag.

At the briefing we sat listening to the safety instructions. Both Terry and Tom reiterated the toughness of the course, the remoteness, the lack of dangerous wildlife but also that every plant has it in for you and will cause you pain. After going over what to expect on each section and what the course markings look like, Terry’s last words of advice were “Prepare yourself for the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but know it will be worse than anything you can imagine”. Reassuring right?

 photo 11866430775_dc5f517475_b.jpg

The dreadful Spaniard Speargrass

With the briefing done and the fear of Northburn firmly instilled (if it wasn’t already), we set off to try and grab some sleep  before waking in the wee hours for the 6am race start, in the dark.

We got back to the house to our slow cooked dinner and as we ate and chatted about the race and the hilarity of the briefing, the nerves started to creep in. My crew took care of the dishes, in fact they had been taking care of me all day with such love, it makes my heart burst when I think of it. After dishes the crew set to work with some henna messages on my hands and arms to help me not feel so alone out there and to make me smile.
I then readied myself for bed, wondering if sleep would come easy. I reread over my notes for my race plan, a plan that Matt and I had nutted out the month before. After making sure I knew what I was doing, I spoke to my family back home and my hubby sent me a message so I could reread it in the morning before the race. I fell into bed exhausted but excited for the morning.

Late that night we were woken by a very loud, drunken party next door. It was, of course St Patricks day and the people next door were celebrating hard! As I lay there, trying hard to sleep despite the noise, I heard the garage door open and wondered what the hell was going on. I got up and Sarah assured me it was all under control and to go back to bed, Maz (bloody legend!) was taking care of it. She gave them a stern talking to and I was soon asleep only to be awakened by my alarm.

Race day morning is a bit of a blur. I got ready determined not to let waves of nerves get the better of me. We were trying to time our leaving for the startline so we were there without too much time to wait around but early enough not to stress about being late – its a fine balance! I dashed for the bathroom for a last minute nervous wee. Ugh! Blood… Great… One more thing. I walked out and announced to Sarah and Maz “And! I have my period!” Whilst shaking my head. Once this would have sent me into a panic, but thanks to such random occurrences as my period starting without warning on the startline (Tour de Tambourine) and halfway through a race (TNF50), along with discussions with my friend Jill about the hormonal advantages of bleeding on race day, I just accepted it and decided to bleed through as I was wary of chafing.

At the startline, geared up and ready to go, 100k runners were informed they would now have trackers. These were crammed into already full to bursting packs and I was reassured that my crew would know where abouts I was, meaning I could leave my phone off unless I needed to contact them. I warmed up, had my last minute hugs and lined up at the back of the pack with a mix of miler, 100k and 50k runners of all ages.

We stood in the dark, waiting for all the trackers to come online, nerves slowly rising. I listened to the seasoned runners around me chatting, whilst trying to keep warm, not panic and reminding myself I could do this. I hate starts!

The start itself was very subdued. Terry and Tom counted down from 10, I flicked on my head torch and we were off on a 5km loop that would take us back through Base Camp before heading out onto the course proper. As people ran off up the hill, I stuck with a fast power hike, determined not to go out too hard. I tried to ignore the usual fears bubbling up inside (last again) whilst it seemed everyone rushed passed, constantly reminding myself that it is 100 very steep kilometres to the finish and to take my time. I ran, jogged, hiked in the dark, glancing at my HR to make sure it wasn’t crazy high, but not yet being stringent about it, knowing adrenaline was playing a big role right now.

About 3km in I could hear someone behind me, I figured they were stuck so I called out that they could pass. Aaron, who I would run with throughout the race, called back that my pace was good and he would stick with me for a bit to stop himself going out too hard. We ran and chatted and were soon passing through Base Camp where I waved and called out to my crew that I would see them soon. I dropped back to a hike as we started uphill again, passing Terry who was noting race numbers and congratulated us on “Being sensible in hiking the ups”. It was hard to tell whether he was joking or not…

At this point I decided I needed to click into strict MAF heartrate zone, so Aaron took off to run his race while I hiked and ran along, now watching my HR as much as possible. The sky was now starting to lighten a little and there were hardly any people around, although I could still see others ahead here and there. The grade of the track began to change to a bit steeper uphill, we were on four wheel drive farm tracks now, and I made the decision to get out my poles, I didn’t stow them again for the entire race. As I pulled out the poles, two men who were doing the miler passed me and commented that they were saving theirs for later. Fair enough, I thought, you have an extra 60km to do so why not wait! I was still feeling pretty sluggish and my legs were complaining more than I would like so early on, but I put it down to menstrual cramping more than anything else and tried to focus on the outside instead of what was going on in my legs.

The sun was now up and I was able to stow my headlamp and switch to my visor. The views were gorgeous, but it was still cold and I was glad for my thermal keeping me warm but not hot. As we continued to climb it was interesting to watch the different strategies. Some people seemed to pick a pace and just go with that constantly, whether it be up, down or flat. Others were hammering the hills and then walking the flats and short downs. I was being dictated pace by my HR so would hike the ups and do a gentle run down and either hike or jog the flats. I was also starting to yoyo with a few people including Amy (100k) and her friend doing the miler, as well as Marina and Andy (both doing the miler) who passed me whilst deep in conversation about UTMB – I may have been a little starstruck at that point!

We took a sharp turn behind a rock and the track curved steeply up to a ute serving as a waterpoint. I could see people off to my right and figured I was finally at “the fenceline” a notoriously steep climb from the first loop. I actually got really excited at this point, because it looked just like the steepness of my training fenceline at Mt Gipps in northern NSW. After a short chat with the volunteers and filling a soft flask, I clambered through the fence and started up the course. You will note I didn’t say track. That’s because there was no track. We were now just following each marker. There were sheep tracks to follow, but they didn’t always lead to the marker, in fact at one point I got so engrossed running along a sheep track that I looked up and it had lead me away from the markers on my left. So, up we climbed. It was here that I started to really feel comfortable, my legs knew what they were doing and I have to be honest, I loved the technicality of being off track. I was now jogging happily along any flat or non steep bits, enjoying having to pick my way between rocks and the spiky spaniards of death (super spiky plant that was everywhere higher up on the course, it has poisoned razor sharp leaf tips that sting really bad). I was also being buoyed by the fact that I was now starting to overtake people and holding my own. It was here that I passed Sam and Adele, two amazing Brissy women who were undertaking the miler. We had a brief chat and I kept moving, my HR now happily within the zone and actually having to work to keep it there at times.

As it started to flatten out a little (I use the word flat very loosely) the terrain changed to being more rocky and less vegetation. It was here that I caught up to Amy and her friend. We ran/hiked for a bit together and chatted about Northburn (the friend doing the miler had done it before) and food – as you do. I stopped and decided to take off my thermal as I was hot and then moved past them up the hill. It was getting cloudy now and there was a slight breeze but I was warm enough thanks to the steady incline, interspersed with small clambers over rocks here and there. As I reached what felt like the top the cloud descended and I put my thermal back on as the temp dropped. I stood up and scanned for the next marker, taking a few steps in the direction I thought it was before it appeared through the mist. Huge shapes in the form of rocks also appeared through the mist as I ran to each marker, they were epic and other worldly and ahead I could just make out the shape of a ute and a group of people. I had reached the next aid station.

As I came into the station the volunteers welcomed me and took down my number. I busied myself refilling my flask and noted the two men also refuelling were those that had commented on my poles earlier – ok, I’m doing ok, I thought. I was as quick as possible , although my hands were shaky with cold at this point, the aid station workers commented that the temp had dropped at least 5degrees in the last 10min thanks to the cloud and also that we had just missed the photographer (seems to be the story of my racing life in New Zealand!) So, after a thankyou and checking I was going the right way I headed over another fence only to stop immediately and put my gloves on – my hands were freezing! My nose was also starting to drip from the cold, so I wound a buff around my wrist as a snot rag and set off again.

When planning my race the lack of possible beauty was something that Matt had brought up a number of times. I run because I love it but also I love the things I get to see and experience during the run, whether it be training or racing. Plus, a pretty waterfall or gorgeous treeline can change how your feeling when things get really tough. I had prepared myself for a lack of beauty. Lying in my bed in Cromwell looking out over Mt Dunstan and Mt Horn it all looked like brown mountainside. Not particularly beautiful or inspiring. But in truth there was so much beauty up there.

The next section was my absolute favourite. It was stunning and I really wish I had taken at least one photo but I was trying very hard to just stay completely present and I was feeling good and didn’t want to stop and possibly ruin that feeling. I was now running beside a small alpine creek on spongy, mossy ground. As I looked at my feet it seemed like an undersea scape with all different types of corals. The mosses and grasses grew right to the very edge and sometimes over the stream which was crystal clear with small granite type pebbles at its bed. Here and there I would jump over small star shape flowers, smaller than a 5 cent piece and bunches of what looked like small white tulips. All this in an increasingly misty valley with nothing to hear but my breath and the creek bubbling away. It was seriously like something out of a fairytale or Lord of The Rings. I was also still having to guess and search for markings thanks to the thick misty cloud, but kept Terry’s words in my head that if there was an obvious path to follow it, the path in this case being the creek. After heading down for a bit I then switched across to another creek and began heading back up. I stopped here and there to have a sip of the icy water and tried to take it all in as much as I could while continuing to steadily move up and out.

I don’t actually remember the transition up off the creek but I was then climbing over another fence and back onto four wheel drive track. I was now half way through my first loop, which in my head was just half way. I was doing two 50km runs, not a 101km race. Here we started to steadily descend. Nature called and I began to look for somewhere, a big bloody rock basically, that I could hide behind. Finding one where people couldn’t see you was difficult! I was also starting to catch more people, but was cautious of running as hard as I felt I could because I knew that along with a lot of ascent there was much more descent to come. Finally I found a big rock and found some relief. It was getting warm now and I figured I had enough water to get me through to close to 40km, keeping a steady pace I headed down off the mountain, chatting in short sentences here and there to those I passed, wondering if my watch was right as far as km’s and beginning to think about the 50k aid station stop with my crew. It was definitely warm now, and all my warm gear was stowed away.

At the 40km we came to a waterpoint within view of Base Camp, it was tantalisingly close but from here we headed back out away from it along the Loop of Deception. Hiking along the up, I rang my crew to let them know where I was and some extras that I would like if they could get them (my toothbrush and some magnesium oil to rub my legs – I had both in my 80k drop bag but thought they might be good now). Sarah answered and exclaimed they could see me on the tracker and I wasn’t far off now. I laughed and said I reckoned at least another 1.5-2hrs and then made my requests. Getting off the phone I had been boosted by the short conversation and started really pushing.

It was super hot now and despite moving well it seemed to be taking forever to get to the next waterpoint. I started to worry that I was going to run out of TrailBrew, I was down to a quarter of my last flask. I had been staying well on top of my nutrition at this point, having half a flask of TrailBrew and half a Clif Bar or a funsize chocolate every hour along with extra water and I really didn’t want to stuff it up. After a nice short steep descent we began to climb again and I saw the waterpoint, much to my relief. I filled up my flask whilst answering questions about my interesting henna and then set off again, determined to keep moving. The tracks were much more dirt road like now and easy to run and I clicked along at a steady pace, catching people here and there and not feeling too tired considering the 50k I had just run.

As 50km ticked over I wondered where the hell Base Camp was, thinking around each corner I should see it, but couldn’t. At the same time I was feeling absolutely stoked at my progress, knowing I was coming in at the fast end of my time estimates for the run. Then, just as I remembered that the first loop was 51km, Base Camp appeared up ahead. I could see people waiting on the hill and as I got closer I heard cheering. Emotions welled up but I put my game face on knowing that the hard work was just about to begin and that I needed to not get too comfortable here with my crew. Sarah met me on the hill and cheered me down to Base Camp where Maz was waiting. As I walked into the tent where the crew had set up, they had everything laid out and ready for me, I spied Aaron and said hello.

 photo 3895BB6D-CF4B-4006-8B8D-A5215D0B7384.jpg

All the gear

I dropped my poles, I took off my pack and pulled out all my flasks and the bladder, put my watch on to charge and then Maz held my hand and walked me to the loo while Sarah refilled everything for me. Having the loo and loo paper to clean up was SO good. I was relieved I wasn’t bleeding too hard but it was still messy – oh the joy! Maz and I walked back into the tent as she asked questions about what I’d seen and what I needed to do. Maz gave me a rub down on my legs while Sarah and I sorted nutrition to pack in my pack. I emptied out one shoe which now had a hole in it thanks to a spiky spaniard attack, then Maz suggested she wet me down as they had been hearing reports that the next big climb was very hot. I stepped outside the tent and Maz doused me with 2L of water. It was freezing on my hot head, but oh so good as well. Quickly back into the tent and everything was repacked, pack on, teeth brushed and out the door. As I got to the dirt road, one of them yelled out that my butt looked sexy in those shorts (go the duds!) and I yelled back that they forgot to make me laugh – to which they both flashed me, bwah ha ha ha! That did it! What an awesome crew. As I ran past a caravan where one of the 100miler crews were sitting they also yelled out that my butt did look sexy in those shorts, which made me crack up again. Then I headed up the climb, away from Base Camp.

Soon after Aaron caught up with me, we chatted and hiked and having company helped pass the time. I was finding it hard to hike hard enough to get my heartrate up now, despite it feeling like I was working really hard. We were moving nice and steadily though, we caught up to Marina and had a brief chat about how we were practically neighbours (she is from Mullumbimby) then we kept hiking and hiking and hiking, going up and up and up. Aaron started talking about how I was keeping such a good steady pace and pulling him along and that I should do the third loop for him as his pacer, too which I laughed and said I wasn’t that crazy. As we got to a small flatter spot, with the sun starting to set, I pulled out a note my crew had given me at Base Camp. It was from my best friend, Tui, I had been instructed to wait until I was somewhere really beautiful to read it, this was the spot. Tears welled up as I felt her love in those words and the connection burned bright. I stuffed the note away and turned determined to get to Leaning Rock before night fall.

Soon after we decided to stop, put a layer on and get out our torches before it got too dark. Marina caught up to us and I helped her change the batteries in her torch before we ran together for a bit to get to Leaning Rock. As we headed up and up the sun began to set proper, treating us to a spectacular pink and orange sunset with snow capped mountains far on the horizon. We reached Leaning Rock aid station just as it became really dark. I refilled and grabbed some apple slices, although I was still keeping on top of my nutrition I was finding it harder and harder to chew and swallow solid food, particularly as the bars were so hard in the cold. I was ready to go and Aaron was happily chatting so I called out that I was off and headed out. Aaron caught up to me and reiterated that I was to be his pacer, which I laughed at again and we went in search of TW, the next major aid station and my drop bag point.

I was still jogging all the downhills and hiking well on the ups but my heartrate had not been within the MAF zone for quite sometime. I could feel tiredness starting to keep in and my knees were a little sore, but Aaron’s constant chatter was a distraction in the now extreme dark. In the distance we could see the lights from Clutha Dam and cars driving along the highway well below, the stars were also amazing, but mostly I saw rocks and rubble and grass, concentrating on each step. TW seemed to take forever to get to. In reality what was only an hour seemed a lifetime. Unlike at Base Camp, when we entered TW I became the Queen of Faff. I got my bag, unpacked stuff, looked for things that weren’t there and were unneeded, went to the loo, read my notes from friends (thank you everyone) but barely took it in. Although Jonathon and Barry you made me laugh and Tina, I read yours out aloud and everyone in the checkpoint thought it awesome!
 photo 64BBA77D-91C4-4CE3-A482-1816F0552F3B.jpg
I had a cup of pumpkin soup and then, just before we were about to leave I decided I needed to get something warmer on. The volunteers confirmed that the temperature was dropping quickly so I decided to change from shorts to 3/4 length tights. Once that was done we were out of there, way too much time had passed, but that is in hindsight. During that time, Marina had been in and out and we caught up to her again in a couple of kms. Aaron was beginning to have stomach trouble and I was now needing to pee every 30-60min, probably because it was now so cold. We would power for a bit and then hit a low spot.

I was starting to struggle with having constant company. I’m not really used to running with other people and Aaron was starting to get increasingly negative. I think the realisation that he was only about halfway through was dawning on him. He kept telling everyone that I was his pacer and I seemed to take that on, whether intentional or not. It was a weird place to be in, mentally. I am a slower runner, to be honest knowing that I was keeping someone going, who can run 10ks at least 20min faster than me, was probably a bit of an ego boost. I was starting to feel a sense of duty to get him at least to the 100k but also feeling like I was losing time that I could be making up.

The climb to Mt Horn, which on the race profile looks innocuous after the two big climbs we had just done, was nothing short of arduous. I refused to stop though, my whole plan to get to the top of that bastard without having a break. So we climbed and Aaron began talking about dropping at 100ks, I shut him down, not wanting to hear any negativity, trying to keep my own thoughts about how hard and cold it was or how sore and tired I was at bay. The need to pee seemed constant and I past the point of modesty, taking a single step off the track before dropping my daks. At one point another miler runner ran past and called out “Still peeing? Thats a good sign”, just your normal every day conversation….

Finally we reached the top and then dropped down to the Mt Horn checkpoint. Here, I refused to go in the shed where the heater was set up and as soon as I was restocked with water I bullied Aaron back on the track, my sense of duty still strong, although it was hurting me at the same time.

As we did our last steep descent, I was really beginning to hurt. My ankles and knees refused to run due to pain and I was sure I was starting to get butt crack chafe, the worst kind ever. Picture me standing on the side of the trail shoving handfuls of PawPaw cream down my butt…. Hiking, however was fine and I was setting a good enough pace that Aaron would hike behind me for awhile and then jog to catch up. All I could think was I should be running this downhill, so I would start running but the aches would stop me within a few hundred metres. The path was overgrown and slippery because of the dew, markers were becoming hard to find again thanks to the terrain, long grass and fatigue. I kept seeing cats sitting on the side of the trail only to find they were in fact tufts of grass as I got closer. Then I had my first ever encounter with a hedgehog! The cute little guy was sitting in the middle of my track, at first I thought I was seeing things, but Aaron assured me no, it was a hedgehog. So cool! We saw a mother and baby a few kilometres later. Climbing over fences and styles was now comical and at one point I commented how they had put the fence crossing right in a patch of spaniards, sadisitic bastards! Only to check the other possible pass point and see that it was much worse. Bloody spiky shit!!

It was getting harder and harder to choke down my solid food, but I persisted adding a small pinch of potato chips after each bite, which seemed to calm the nausea

Aaron was now saying I was going too fast for him and that I should wait. At first I protested and told him to just keep up, but he was fading and not long after the 90k waterpoint he decided to stop. I couldn’t wait any longer, I just had to go. I cautioned him against getting too cold, to make sure he put another layer on if he sat down and then I set off, hiking as hard as I could, wanting to catch Marina if I could, after being told she had left the last waterpoint in the group before us.

Now I was doing my own thing. I was hiking hard but my heartrate was still low, I had in fact given up looking at it. The dark and quiet was lovely, not scary as I sometimes think it will be. The tiredness was seeping deeper and deeper in, food was hard to eat but the chocolate covered coffee beans I had broken out at 3:30am were keeping my eyes open.

As I hit 98km I began to get excited, in that totally exhausted way. I knew that if I kept moving I would finish before sun up (my C goal) and possibly under 24hrs (B goal). I watched as the lights of Cromwell got closer and then further away. I was on a dusty track now and could see footprints everywhere, which I took as a good sign despite the markers being few and far between. I clicked over 100k at exactly 22hrs59min, 1min and 15sec faster than my UTA100 time, I had hit my A goal as well! I had a little celebration and then my stomach decided it was all too much and I frantically searched for a tree or rock, I found nothing, it was just lucky no one came past right then. I got up and buckled down. Less than 1.5km to go, tears were starting but also the wistfulness of it being over. Just then I saw a headlight and recognised Marina, heading out on her 3rd lap. From watching her all day I’ve learned that being super fast at stops makes all the difference, she was lightening fast at each checkpoint and that made a huge difference. She congratulated me on finishing, asked where Aaron was and said she would see me tomorrow at the miler presentation before heading off on her final loop. I jogged, power hiked as fast as I could towards the now visible lights of Base Camp. I finished, oh so happy. I had met all my goals and as Terry congratulated me I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.

Of course the story doesn’t finish there. My crew gave hugs and chicken soup, messages were sent to family and friends who were sleeping in Australia and I was bundled up to be taken home for a shower (Oh my how I did stink!) and the much anticipated cheese toasties and chocolate milk.

After a brief sleep, I woke to be told I was currently the second female, by Pat who had found the preliminary race results on Facebook. I was incredulous. How exciting! That is one of those “its never gonna happen to me” things, you know? At the presentation, I received my medal, a bottle of Northburn Station Pinot Noir and some Gurney Goo, a hug from Terry (#terryyoubastard) and smiled. However there was a level of disconcertion growing.

 photo 570A62A0-E2DF-4B2A-99CF-1AA645FA88DB.jpg

At the presentation, Terry was a bit surprised at my request for a hug (bloody hippy!)

I didn’t feel I deserved this. I was so slow and we had amazing weather. Any other year in the usual, tougher conditions that Northburn is known for, I would have been lucky to be top 10 in the women (its always a very small field).

 photo 4DEF4067-7546-418B-92CB-85CD28B352C5.jpg

Recovery food – doing it right!

As we stood in the lake at Wanaka, trying to bring down the inflammation in my legs and just cause we all loved Wanaka so much, I voiced these thoughts to my crew, who of course immediately slapped them down.  My coach had similar stuff to say, about stopping with the comparisons (a common theme for me) and relishing it for what it is. I still feel like a bit of a fraud, for taking the 2nd place. I know its not my decision, and its funny because I’ve always wondered what it must be like to get a placing. How much brighter the accomplishment must feel. If anything its made me feel awkward because its not the 2nd place that has brought me so much joy. It is, in fact, the conquering of Northburn, an epic adventure if there ever was one and meeting all my goals, something that I haven’t been able to say about a race for a very very long time.

It was a very good day.

Gear
Shoes – Inov8 Trailroc 245’s
Socks – Injinji Trail 2.0 midweight crew
Poles – Black Diamond Carbon Z flick lock
Pack – Ultimate Direction Adventure Vesta
Nutrition – TrailBrew, Clif Bar (Choc Chip/Coconut Choc Chip/White Choc Macadamia), Funsize Bounty/Snickers, M&M’s, Zentvelds Choc Covered Coffee Beans, Apple, Pumpkin Soup

Thank you’s
My hubby, Sim – for always encouraging me to do whatever makes me happy, for looking after the kids so I could go play in the mountains and for always being there when I doubt myself
Sarah and Maz – for being the best support crew and travelling buddies. You took all the stress out of the trip and the race for me. I love you both and am so happy to have all those wonderful memories that we made together.
Matt (super coach) – for getting me to the start and finishline of this and many other races. For listening and caring and for believing in me, even when I sometimes don’t.
Mum and Dad – for always instilling a sense of adventure and for supporting my crazy adventures which I know are a bit outside the box.
To my friends who sent messages of support throughout training, the race and after – knowing you’re there holds me up when I feel down, helps me get out of bed when I don’t want to and makes me smile when it’s hard.

 photo 75DDA8A9-FC3B-456D-AC0C-E49025E8FB55.jpg

It is the Community as much as the Running

I was listening to one of my favourite podcasts, Trail Runner Nation, last week and it got me thinking about my own journey of running and what has kept me going. Yes, I love running in the bush for hours on end, I love feeling strong within my body and challenged by what is without, but it is the community that keeps me engaged in the sport as a whole.

It seems a little strange, I guess, that a sport that sees me running for hours and hours, mostly alone, has such a strong community feel. This past year I feel like I have been blessed to experience this community from every possible facet. In my head I have tried to categorize these experiences, but the easiest way to share the highlights of my community is chronologically, throughout the year. These are, by no means, the only times community were part of my sport. On training runs and races and even outside in everyday life, in fact almost everyday I will be touched by our awesome community in one way or another. Things like sharing a photo on social media, asking a trailfriend for advice about a problem you’ve had, or sharing directions to a waterfall with a fellow runner. I have even had short little messages just asking if I was ok when I hadn’t popped up on strava for a few days. It all counts.

In February of this year I went to my first overseas race, the Shotover Moonlight Mountain Marathon. I was travelling with a group of runners, but being from the bush I only knew a few of the group, mostly from a handful of races and social media. There is an inclusiveness with most trailrunners. We were all here to run the same race so yeah, come along to the pub and have some lunch, hey where do you want to go for dinner, want to grab a coffee in the morning? Even out on the course there were cheers of encouragement from people I barely knew and many good friends were made, in a trip that barely lasted 5 days. Even now we seek out each other at events to say hi and catch up on our lives in between.

In May I took on my biggest solo challenge to date at UltraTrail Australia. My community of trail friends rallied before the race had even started. Friends volunteered to keep me company on long training runs, into the night and through holidays when they could have spent time with other family and friends. There were messages back and forth of encouragement from friends around the globe. I borrowed gear from a dear friend who had never actually met me but with whom I chatted to regularly via social media. During the race, a woman I have come to think of as my big trail sister, rang me the moment she knew I was struggling, to offer me support and help me work through the problem. We have met in real life less than a handful of times, but barely a week goes by that we don’t chat. There were hugs, high fives and shouts from people I knew and some that I didn’t, offering support, help and encouragement. Not to mention the messages of support that popped up on my facebook each time I made it through a checkpoint, unbeknownst to me at the time. Then there was the finish. I still get teary whenever I talk about it. To hear the cheers of my trail friends as I crossed the line at 6am, after each of them had run their own races in the hours before, is something I will never ever forget.

In July I was honored to be on the other side of an event as support crew in the gruelling 96km Kokoda Challenge. I have completed the challenge myself and know how important support crew is. This was my second time crewing at this particular event. There is a special kind of energy when crewing for a long event for a team. There are long pauses of waiting, not sure of what may be happening out on the trails, then frenetic energy of heading to the checkpoint, setting up, the bustle of dealing with your team as quickly as possible while doing everything you can for them and then its pack up and wait to go to the next meet point. We had a team of 4 support people, so we got to know each other pretty well over our 30+hrs together, plus we met and chatted with other support teams and there was the cheering on and offering of assistance to other groups as they passed through each checkpoint. Standing at the finish line waiting for our team was one of the longest waits I have experienced and holding my dear friend Sarah moments after she finally completed Kokoda on her third attempt rivals the feelings I felt crossing my own finishline at UTA.

In September I was once again able to “give back” a little to my community as I volunteered at a local ultra. I say give back, but my experience probably gave me more than I gave to the participants. As course marshall at the main creek crossing at the Wild Earth Coastal High 50, I got to see many members of the community pushing their limits and enjoying the trails. It gave me a great perspective of my own experience in races. I was lucky enough to share the experience with my youngest son and he probably said it best when he said he loved volunteering because “helping people and making them smile made him feel good inside”. He was handing out the red frogs so got lots of smiles!

Community has been able to expand to not just those physically present in the moment of our events and training thanks to technology. In September I was able to cheer my big trail sister on from a far as she ran her first 100miler in the Glasshouse Mountains and a few weeks ago I watched many friends compete in races of various distances at Blackall. Through tracking, text messages and phone calls my community was brought together, through triumphs and tribulations we shared our experiences. Thanks to Instagram, Facebook and Strava, I can now share my often solo and remote running with friends, both near and far. I don’t feel alone in my running.

This past weekend I raced what is likely my final event for the year, I also celebrated my birthday. I arrived at the race to be greeted by familiar faces, smiles, hugs and surprises. After the race there were more hugs, I was joined by friends (both from the trail community and life in general) to wander a favourite trail and share food. I am forever grateful for finding my community, my tribe in trail runners. Every time I run they are with me, in my heart and in my head. They are the impetus to continue when the going gets tough, they are there when things go wrong and they celebrate the triumphs with me, most of all. If you are part of my trail community thank you for making this thing called trailrunning so special and such an important part of my life, and if you aren’t yet a part of my community I’d love you to join me.

You can follow me here on my blog or over at:

Instagram

Strava