Friday, 18 November 2016

Taranaki Round the Mountain Solo 100 Mile

Taranaki Round the Mountain 

New Zealand

100 miles (160km)

Friday 4 November 2016 at 17:00

Undulating road



Preperation went pretty well in October. First I entered the race. Then I went on holiday to the Great Barrier Reef for a week. This was followed by a week in Myanmar and then another in Borneo. Three weeks of sweating, having a dodgy stomach and drinking beer. If anything, I'd prepared too much.

I pretty much entered because both my father and Sarah love to crew me so much. I thought that it might be nice to look at Mount Taranaki. Having seen Mt Rainier, Mt Saint Helena and Mt Hood in July, I then visited an erupting volcano in Vanuatu in August! Seems that I now love volcanoes so much I want to run the entire way around one. With this being a long race and having no training, I warned them that it might get a little ugly. They were still up for it. 

My father and friend Sarah sorted the race logistics while I worked on my suntan, swam with some turtles and rode on the back of motorbikes.  Kit packing was relatively easy given that I do not have much stuff in New Zealand. Even my sister's treatment in Wellington coordinated itself. Father and I created a spreadsheet which I studied on a bus trip to Palmerston North. There, I out-ate my pregnant friend Neisha when we ordered pizza and her husband Chris sorted out my fruit bags. Dad drove up from Wellington after an early flight from Nelson on the Friday morning. We made it to New Plymouth for 14:55. Registration was at 15:00. That was our first clue that no one involved in organising the event had a clue what to do with the solo runners. I couldn't stay for the race breifing as I needed to sort the car kit, get changed, eat and get everything in the right places. As much as I would have loved to meet the other runners; two hours before a 100 mile race was not the best time for it. To me there was the possibility that I would be out on my feet for 27 hours, I did not have an hour to become more confused about race rules.

We rushed to get some food before we had to assemble for a second role call at a hall near the race start. Weirdly, we then had to travel a kilometre down the road to the start line for a third role call. I was so busy french-braiding my hair, doing thy face, touching up the lippy and putting vaseline up my arse that I missed most of these roll calls. With ten minutes to go I scribbled down a food plan for my dad. Liquid every half hour, food every hour. Medium food every two hours. Big food every four hours. A guess of what I'd like for the first twelve hours. Sorted.


Race start - photo by Di Chesmar


Kent Road - 17:00 - Friday 4 November - START


And then we started. Jogging down a small rural road being led by a vehicle with hazard lights on. Amusing given that we were running on the left, therefore were more likely to be hit by a car from behind. It was also the quietest road we would run on all day. And near a crematorium. Maybe they were trying to tell us something.

Highway Three. We run on the right during the light, much to the amusement of the peak hour traffic heading towards us. There were 15 starters and all but four of us took off. Mike Hos, Mgcini, Croydon and myself were left at the back all secretly battling for last place. It was definitely a game of how slow can you go. I walked up everything that vaguely resembled an incline, including speedbumps. The trick was to look ahead, otherwise once you started running the incline, it did not look like an incline anymore. My strategy is CONSERVE. At this point, slow is not slow enough. There is a mini competition amongst the four of us at the rear; who can be the most conservative?




Walking break - photo by Di Chesmar


We take a right turn in Inglewood to follow the highway. Exciting stuff. Our crews were given maps at registration. Naturally they were for the relay race which is following a slightly different route in places. There are also no marshals out until the relay starts at 3am. Fortunately, everyone in the race seems to be experienced and the crews are organised. We are running this race ourselves.

Supporters say that we are doing well. We better be; we've barely started. If you are having trouble now, you'll be in big trouble later. You'll also be in trouble if you get hit by fireworks; a high possibility when a car full of white trash drives past shooting fireworks out their window!


Midhurst - appox. 20:00 - Friday 4 November - 25km

Time on feet: 3 hours


It is cooling down so I put on a long sleeved hi-viz that my friend Anna has let me borrow. There was a bit of borrowing kit for this race. Clouds are falling down the sides of Mount Taranaki. It's a mighty fine mountain; perhaps a little smaller than I was expecting. I've been here before but don't remember it. Tomorrow, I will realise why I have no memory of the mystery mountain.


Erm, another walking break? 

Father has gone to pick up my friend Sarah from the airport. She's flown up from Wellington after a day at work. They call her a smiling assassain at work. Just what I need from a crew member; a telling off with a smile. She offers me a banana. The banana is not on the food plan. I should be getting sushi after four hours. I don't know if it has been four hours yet. I have no watch. We are at least past three hours because she landed at eight. All I can focus on is the sushi...

While my crew are away, Mike's crew have adopted me and are handing me out water and crisps on the hour. Initially there is a slight communication issue.

Mike's crew: We're giving you chips at eight o'clock
Me: Ahhhhh (wondering why they are going to give me hot chips)
Mike's crew: Your dad gave them to me
Me: Like crisps?
Mike's crew: Yeah, chips. Crunch crunch.

He didn't actually say crunch crunch but I am going to be running for a long time and will amuse myself. They were crisps. I had packed them. They were on the food plan. Everyone is winning. By 8:30pm our head torches go on. I do not have my nice head torch in New Zealand so I have a lightweight one which does not emit much light. It doesn't matter though as the whole race is on the road. We have also been given red bicycle lights to wear on our rears. Fortunately I manage to clip mine to the back strap of my head torch without it bobbing about too much. I decide not to carry the glowstick I was given at registration. I am not sure how I am meant to carry that about for 100 miles.


Mount Taranaki


The three boys and I continue to bring up the rear as we weave around Eltham. We walk a long incline around the marathon mark in the dark. Fortunately, I got my sushi about half an hour ago after stomping fiercly that I wanted sushi after four hours. Scotland has rubbish sushi and I am making it my mission to eat as much of it as I can while in New Zealand. We are all back on track and Sarah makes up more sushi for me in the back seat. Every runner has a sushi making kit on the equipment list right? 

The boys all have earphones in now. It might have been my shite chat but I try not to take offence. Mike stops to change his shoes on an abnormally high stool, Mgcini has dropped back and Croydon has a walk run strategy to protect his knees in his fourth hundred miler of the year. And I just plodded on.


Kaponga - 23:40 - Friday 4 November - 55km
Time on feet: 6 hours 40 minutes


Mount Taranaki has disappeared in the darkness. It has been dark for three hours and there are no runners near me now. Croydon's crew come past and park ahead every few kilometres, giving me a cheer as I pass. Father and Sarah stop every half hour to hand over some goods and share a few words of encouragement that fans have left on the Facebook tracking page, aptly named She'll be running round the mountain... Naturally, a message comes through from Keith Hughes but that's too inappropriate for even my blog.

A Facebook page; there's some pressure to finish now.

It was widely advertised that there would be breakfast available to all runners and crews at Kaponga. Unfortunately, this did not actually apply to solo runners. Maybe next year the organiser's could put out notes specific to us long haulers? 


Manaia - 69km



Somewhere in Taranaki - 02:40 - Saturday 5 November - 80km
Time on feet: 9 hours 20 minutes


HALFWAY! The team share celebrations all around in the form of orange juice mixed with a little sparkling water. I had another three peices of sushi earlier; somewhere nondescript where I was torn between staring at the white line on the road and the stars above. I have run the last four and a half hours without seeing a single runner.

Given my lack of actual running this year, my plan was to get to halfway without feeling like I had been running. And I do feel good. Out in the wilderness, looking at the stars, all  on my lonesome.... like camping, but I'm on the road, running. And cows keep scaring the shite out of me. I'll be cruising along, wishing upon shooting stars (for world peace obviously, although that was clearly a waste of time as America decided to vote for Trump) and then MOOOOOOO. But it's not initially a recognisable moo. More of a hehehe little girl, check out our creepy eyes in the darkness. A little freaked out, I pick up the pace.

My father has written the description  of this section as imperceptible rolling. I walk when a vehicle lights up the road to show me an incline but the road is quiet now without many vehicles. Some milk tankers roar past, always leaving plenty of space now that I am running on the left hand side. The tankers also courteously dim their lights when they spot me gliding towards them. I am sure I was gliding.

Suddenly, it's pishing down with rain. There has been a little drizzle. A few threatening clouds. I am prepared and have my rain jacket on. Screw you rain. Hood up. Head down. Try not to splash in any puddles. I do not have any spare road running shoes.

At about 3am I come past Sarah's car and shine my torch through the window. It can be hard to recognise runners and cars so sometimes we have to give each other a little wave. They are both sleeping inside so I tap the window and tell them that I will see them down the road for my banana. Turns out that they had sat it on the rear windscreen for me to pick up! We arrange for a similar plan at the next half hour pitstop so that they can sleep through for the hour and I can collect water.

Runners spotted since 10pm: 0
Shooting stars spotted: 3

Bathrooms were a little difficult during the lighter hours of the evening. Fluroscent clothing on highways is a good safety combination. Fluroscent clothing and attempting to use the bathroom in God's acre is not a great combination. But in the dark I confidently wait until I cannot hear any tankers approaching before ducking into a shallow ditch next to the road. Those tankers definitely would not have spotted me... my reflective vest, red rear light and front head torch wouldn't have stood out that brightly in rural blackness right?  I sure hope not as I have clearly hydrated well and need to tinkle about six time in the next three hours.

Road cones in the distance. Conveniently located on the road indicating road works. Only one lane is available. This could be interesting. There are some stop-go lights in action. Do I wait at the lights if they are red? Fortunately, I do not have to worry as my gigantic UK size three feet alert the lights to my arrival. Chuckling at my cleverness, or good fortune, or whatever,  I cruise along the single lane road. I'm not sure how far I get before I realise that the lights will assume that I am traveling at the speed of a car. Therefore, traffic will soon head in my direction. I really hope that this traffic does not come as I am running across the single lane bridge. Thoughts of people getting hit on bridges at night and falling into the water consume me. So it's time for a wee fartlek as I tear across the bridge. Up on a hill somehwere I can see giant tanker eyes waiting to storm down. I have gone less than 50 metres past the bridge when the tanker comes roaring down, having been given the green light above.

Antonia: 1
Tanker: 0


Team selfie in Opunake - 98km



Opunake - 05:00 - Saturday 5 November - 100km
Time on feet: 12 hours


I've forgotten that there may actually be other people still in this event. I have run alone for seven hours; occassionally shared the romantic star-lit sky with some intimidating cows but mostly just put one foot in front of the other without a bother. And now, with dawn approaching, I may be able to see a red light in the distance ahead. Or is that a red lit up sign? Are we entering a village? No, I think I can see a runner. Is there another red light ahead of that one? Is there a red light in the tree? Is someone going bush? Shite, there are red lights on the road everywhere. My entire vision has turns to red spots. I need to look down for a while, look at the white line. The white line has been my ally for so long.

A bit further along and my vision clears back up. I can see a red light. There is a runner. Just one though, I was bonkers about all the other spots. He's travelling slow but has done this event many times before and will make it to the finish. We jog for a while before I walk with some pumpkin soup that Father and Sarah have lovingly prepared with a gas cooker and billy tin.


Serious water boiling


Running sunrise 



And then, after no other runners all night, multiple runners. A female runner, Grace from Hong Kong has completed the 100 mile event before. Unfortunately, I don't get to chat as she's busy behind her car when I pass. I do stop and chat with my New Zealand teammate Vivian who had a similar training idea to me; take a holiday in Asia. Unfortunately, she has a head cold and although continues on for another half an hour, eventually needs to pull from the race to sleep the headache off.

At Rahotu the crew hang out with a goat while I hang out in the public toilets. Crisis averted. As the relay has started, checkpoints have now been set up. A young boy holds two cups out as I come past. I mustered a polite no thank you. Turns out, he was not actually offering me a drink. He wants to know my race number. I have to lift up a few layers (it's still threatening rain). I could have riden on the back of a motorbike to this point and no one would have cared. I apologise a number of times for being a daftie. I guess after 14 hours of running, I am feeling a bit tired.


Rahotu local

Team selfie




Pungarehu - 07:45 - Saturday 5 November - 118km
Time on feet: 14 hours 45 minutes


Marathon to go! I am definitely finishing this thing even if I have to walk the final marathon.  Which I am not going to do. But my legs are sore. And the news of a marathon to go is not as exciting as I had hoped. I ask to be told when I have 20km to go. As it is daylight, we run on the righthand side of the road again. My left leg and foot welcome this change. The camber of the road is harsh after a whole night.

I want to talk to Scott but the reception is not good enough. Fortunately I catch up to Perry and have my first conversation on the run since 10pm. Talking miles are free miles. Perry has run around New Zealand and across the USA. He's completed this event twice; it's like a mile jog to him. We take it easy on the inclines. Previously I have powered up hills when walking but I do not have that kind of fitness anymore. Stomping up a hill would take just as much out of my legs as jogging up it would. He's got a dodgy stomach and I've got dodgy legs.

The miles become less free and more labouring. I have not had a run down of mileage throughout and asked the crew only to tell me the following markers; marathon, halfway. 100km mark and a marathon to go. Perry knows the area and he knows how far we have to go. Between 120 and 130km it gets harder and harder for me. I am limping.


Less happy


I need to stop for a cry. I am not quitting, I just need a CRY. So I stand in the road, put my head in my hands and try a wee wail. And I order a coffee. But the type of coffee in the car won't do. My crew will need to buy one.

There is no mountain. 

Perry is faster than me at running now but sticks with me, even when I hide in a hotel toilet for a while. I cry as I ask the lady if I can use the bathroom. She daren't say no. When I am hiding, the first relay team comes past. I didn't see him but I imagine he caught us slowly and barely managed to get past us.

Relays started at about 3am. Each team seemed to contain about a thousand runners. The road is also very busy now with relay cars coming past in both directions. Some cheer, others are probably wondering how such slow runners got in front of their team. I suspect most are oblivious to the solo event's existence.

Warm liquid feeling on my foot. No, I have not peed myself! I think that was a blister popping.

When my coffee arrives I have to force Perry to continue on without me. He's had a choolate milkshake and a lemonade popsicle and his stomach is feeling better. What a combination. My stomach feels worse just thinking about the milkshake. I'm giving it the there's too far to go waiting for another runner all the time, go Perry, go! and he's giving it the we've got about 30km to go, I've run 5,000 before... Except he's not actually saying that because he's a really nice guy. He eventually goes ahead and I walk with a coffee. From now on, I will only eat jet plane sweeties.


Okato - 10:00 - Saturday 5 November - 132km
Time on feet: 17 hours


FLYING. Like those jet plane sweeties have taken me under their wings and I am off. Unfortunately, not far up the road, Perry is a different kind of off. He's leant over a railing, staggering about. I'm listing the different fizzy bevereges I have in Sarah's car. At the top of the hill, Perry crosses to get sorted out with his crew man. Rain starts pouring down. I am running the fastest I have all day but still walking the hills (albeit, a bit faster also). This is so much fun! Weeee!

I did run 4km on a treadmill in Borneo. All that hard work is clearly paying off for me now. 

I fly into Sarah's home beach town of Oakura. There is a checkpoint here too. They want my number and that is uber cool with me. Except that it is a four digit number and that's too many numbers for me to have memorized at this point. I grab some water as I suspect I have been to fast for Father and Sarah so will likely miss them. Oakura was the only place anybody was actually out cheering so it was quite busy. Fortunately, I spot Sarah practicing yoga moves on her car roof and yell out for some jet planes and water further up the road. Or it may have been cola. Aparently I was super happy to be riding a sugar high.


Omata - Saturday 5 November - 152km
Time on feet: a bloody long time


So I am crying again. I actually ran through Omata with tears. There were so many hills between Oakura and Omata. Neisha's husband Chris had seen the course description and told me the hills were big here. And now my legs have gone all jelly for running. And the high is all gone. And waaaaaaaaaaaah. Walking up the hills is not the problem; it's trying to run again once I am off them. A relay team must be catching me as their runners keep cheering for me. I hope I managed to smile a little as it was nice of them to give me support.

There is still no mountain. It was all a lie. Everyone is lying to me. They put these hills here on purpose. And they hurt my foot. It's all a conspiracy. 

With about 7km to go I see a guy up ahead who I think is Perry. Given that Perry is behind me, I am slightly confused. I am also in a lot of pain. I feel terrible when I pass the non-Perry runner with only a brief hello or well done. I would normally stop and have a chat, see if there is anything I can offer the runner. He's going to make it now though. As I finish my water bottle, I hold it up high for my crew to get it. Then I drop it on the grass. Like I was in a marathon and couldn't wait for them. But really, my foot hurts so much that I don't know how I am going to run to the finish. Even hills hurt it. So many hills.

Father told me it was about 40 minutes to go. He's a dick. It's been ages. I'm not going to talk to him anymore.



Omata - 8km to go



Spotswood - 12:40 - Saturday 5 November - 155km
Time on feet: 19 hours 40 minutes


5km to go. I asked the lady at the checkpoint how far it was. She was smiling; oh, about five. There's no room for about, lady. It better not be a smidgen over or she'll be getting the wrath of me. I see Sarah and Father (it's all that guys fault, we're probably not even related) for the final time. I don't want anything. Go away. Make it all stop. My foot HURTS. But I still might kick you with it.

I would say that this is my slowest 5km ever but let's be honest; I've staggered some pretty bloody slow kilometres in my life.

As I come into New Plymouth, marshals are out at each road crossing. Only five solo runners and two relay teams have come through before me in the last four hours so the marshals are pretty bored on lookout. I maverick the roads myself, holding up my arm so cars let me across. The cars are cool about it. I'm not sure how the drivers feel. I must look a mess. I can't stop, must shuffle across roads.

All I can see up ahead are the hi-viz dots of marshals. That's a long way to shuffle.

Marshal: are you okay?
Me: NO

He doesn't offer a solution to my pain. I cry at a couple of them. Is it much further? Is it much further? Their answers are WRONG because any step is too far. Two relays teams pass me. Great support from the runners who have passed me. Fly boys, fly! Thank goodness they were nice or I might have told them where they could shove their 5k sprints.   One marshal at a big intersection tells me that he will walk me across the road. So, because I am strange, sleep-deprived and exhausted, I cling to this guy like a new puppy. Walking right next to him as he moves cones, further than I have  to go because I no later trust my own judgement and am done with mavericking. I suspect he was slightly worried.

How much longer to go? 

I have a very sore foot.

Left turn. Hill. Yay! This is the last one. I'm not bloody running. The finishing line is on grass. After 20 hours of road running, my legs don't know how to do grass. I shuffle in. There are not many people at the finish line; a few relay teams that passed me, Father, Sarah (who was making enough noise for a whole crowd) and my friend Zalena who I have not seen since before I moved to Scotland. The girls' doing the announcing were great and even commented that Sarah's enthusiasm for coming first lady was greater than my own. I am so pleased that the race is over now. I get down on my hands and knees to crawl out of the rain. I won't walk for a few days.



This is what 100 miles looks like

Thanks team! 

I stumbled over the line in 20 hours 20 minutes, meeting our aim of finishing and exceeding anything we'd thought timewise (22 hours optimistic, 24 hours realistic, 27 hours pesimistic). It's not a particularly fast 100 mile time but it was fast enough for me! The guy I passed walking comes across the line not long after. Unfortunately, his finish is overshadowed by a relay team who pass him as he finishes. It is a shame that the team did not hang back and allow him the cheer he deserved for running solo. Once I am sat down having a beer (note; the beer selection was terrible) I am saddened to find that Perry's stomach got even worse and he had to pull from the race with about 15km to go. When you are so violently ill that you lose your false teeth; I don't think there is any way to continue. He'll be back, running across whatever country you live in some time soon no doubt! Croydon finishes his fourth 100-miler of the year an hour later and Mike Hos completes his first ever!  

At prizegiving I receive my first belt buckle as this is my first 100 miler. Unfortunately I do not receive $1000 as there need to be five entrants in a category, despite the solo runners doubling in size this year. And anyway, there were so many sunglasses, televisions, treadmills and holidays to give out to the 5km relay runners. there was nothing left for us hard-core soloists! Mgcini crosses the finish line during the prizegiving and gets a bit cheer. They should have got him up on the stage! 

A HUGE, HUGE thank you to my Father and Sarah for offering to put themselves through this with me! Father; for his crewing and post statistics enthusiasm. Thank you for not taking any bad moods personally. Sarah; for her cheering and social networking enthusiasm on little sleep. Thank you for helping strip me naked post run and then carrying me to brunch. Some firendhships know no barriers!   

Stats

22 hours 20 minutes
6th overall, 1st lady
15 starters (12 male, three female)
13 finishers (11 male, two female)
One mountain

Runners please! 

This event could be so good... it just needs an ultra runner to take charge! Fortunately all the runners and crews in the solo event were experienced so it ran smoothly and we had a great time. BUT, it would be great to get some of the small villages involved, support some of their local businesses in the wee hours and rely less on our crew. The relay seems to be a great event and the solo concept is brilliant... it just requires a little more love. 

On another note, can New Zealand do less spot prizes and better beers at races please? Priorities folks! 














Friday, 16 September 2016

Marton to Wanganui Relay (or ultra)

There is a place in New Zealand's North Island called Marton. There is another place, 30-something kilometres away by a main road, called Wanganui. If you decide to take the country road between the two buzzing metropoles, the journey will take you a pleasureable 66km. And that is the prefered route of the Wanganui Harrier Club who organise a relay between the two towns.  Note; despite the joyous experience I had between these two villages, there really is no need to visit either town if you are a tourist in New Zealand. 

I emailed the race organiser, Bill, on the Tuesday before the race asking if I could enter but would need to give him my entry form and payment on the day. I received a very friendly reply and was in the race. I wish all ultras would be this straightforward to enter.


Pre race selfie


Race Details


Marton to Wanganui at a distance 66km.


Flat road with some inclines and gravel.

Ten relay legs with either ten person teams (we will call them big teams), three person teams, pairs or solo runners. There are also composite teams which involves some people running legs and some people walking legs. Do not ask me which legs were for running or walking. And finally there were solo walkers and teams. Starting times were as follows;

7am - solo walkers and walking teams
8am - three person teams, pairs, solos an composite teams
9:30am - big teams

Marton to Wanganui

We made it to Marton from Wellington after departing at 5:10am. One of my crew, Sarah, was still on the dancefloor at 11pm on the Friday night so I was relieved when she bounced into the bathroom in the wee hours full of energy for the two hour drive. We picked up my second crew member, Neisha, from Bulls. Neisha was roped into supporting at 10pm the night before when Sarah was still out dancing.  Note; Bulls is definitely a must-stop for tourists. Not only is the whole name-thing hilarious (the town like no udder is unforgetabull) but their public toilets are also top quality.







A bunch of us wearing various coloured numbers started off from Marton Park. I was number 2080-something; a number which did not reflect the number of participants in the solo event. A few runners went off fast but we mostly all plodded. I guessed I was somewhere in the middle; having no idea who was running what. I was quickly lured by an interesting yellow vest and started running with my new bestie; Peter from Palmerston North. And so began our journey of friendship.


Peter and I tearing up the tarmac


Being part of a relay is exciting; even when you are not part of the relay. Cars and vans came past offering support and liquids. As the roads were quiet, they could stop and chat to their team members. Sarah and Neisha (hereby refered to as my A-team crew ladies) took longer than other team vehicles to come past. This is because they stood at the approximate 2km mark for a considerable length of time, with pom poms in hand, before realising that all the runners had already been past. I also did not initially recognise them as Sarah turned a corner rather quickly at one point on our morning drive while I was attempting to put my contact lenses in. The lenses flew out and were lost to the car floor.

Peter was in a three person team and a repeat offender at this event. I declined his team member's offer of a snake sweetie. Risk of choking on those bad boys for me. That is why I ate all of them out of the pick and mix the night before. Peter and I jogged through the first leg together without a worry. We solved numerous world problems while I ate my whole bag of apple and mandarin segments. The A-team crew ladies executed a flawless first checkpoint, with Neisha (at six months pregnant) handing me my water and then jogging alongside me with my food while I handed back my water to Sarah who was waiting further down the road. The A-team crew ladies' first crewing experience and they were nailing it.

The second leg went as straightforward as the first. Everyone around us seemed pretty consistent and we all jogged on down the country road. At one point there was a lamb on the loose who refused to let me ride it. Fortunately, the cars supporting the race all seemed sensible and I am sure that the lamb did not become edible via it's roadkill status.


At the start of leg three, I lost Peter as his female team mate took over and I ran a distance behind her and some others for some time. Sometimes I was a little chilly in my t-shirt with the wind and other times I was a little warm. The A-team crew ladies would drive past screaming out the window; mostly words of support. They stopped at numerous places and would jump out at me waving pom poms while we attempted to take selfies. It was serious business.

Team selfie


I caught a guy wearing a Nathan backpack assuming that he was also doing the solo. He was running in the pairs but training for Tarawera. He was taking on electrolytes. I was going to down some orange juice at the next checkpoint. So far I had been eating my prepared bags at each checkpoint; either apples and mandarins, trail mix with sweeties, bananas or crisps.

Each leg had been allocated a rating of easy, medium or hard with a short description and the distance. The only one that I could remember was that leg seven was a short 2.5km leg because it was all uphill. To my brain, this meant that the other legs would incur some slight undulations but no long hills. Upon jogging leg four I realised that this was an inaccurate assumption. There was a sharpish hill, later followed by a long gradual climb. As I passed striped vest runner (possible also in a three person relay as I had seen one of his team mates earlier and would see another later) and he commented that he had been told that this was a flat leg! We got to the top of a long climb only to realise that the road was a hairpin and still climbing. I was in great spirits but feared it would be a challenging 66km if there were a bunch more of these climbs. I had estimated that the race might take about seven hours but it may take me longer if it keeps going like this.

Upon finishing leg four, Peter and his third team mate were asking me if I had passed a girl; which I had not. Unfortunately, their female team mate who had been in front of me had not yet finished her leg. She was lost. There had been a t-junction earlier on that leg and a crew car had pointed me in the right direction. She had likely gone right there instead of left. With that established, and with a mouthful of crisps, I carried on. The A-team crew ladies sent my husband Scott the following message; A runner is lost. It is not Antonia. A proud moment for the family.

It looks like Sarah is shouting at me and I am about to cry

Holding up traffic by dancing on a bridge
Trying to outrun a pregnant lady


Leg five was to be a shorter, easier leg. I appreciated striped team's runner jogging along to a speaker playing Rod Stewart. Sweet beats. The A-team crew ladies were driving next to me as I completed leg five, taking us all by surprise and evoking panic with the ladies. I told them just to meet me further down the road with my snacks, playing it relaxed while they pondered their futures as crew members.

By this time, I had started passing walkers. Whether they were solo walkers, walking teams or composite team walkers, I have no idea. I gave them all encouragement on the way past and they all gave some back. A very friendly bunch. There were repeated requests for me to catch the old fella running further ahead; Peter's third team mate. It was a little soon in the race for me to go crazy on the legs.



Leg seven; hill time. So after running a marathon, you then run up a hill. I told the A-team crew ladies that I would probably walk up the hill. They were not having it and preceded to tell me that I would be running the whole way up. But they didn't understand, all the runners around me were in teams and I was by myself so I could not go as fast as them up the hills. No excuses they screamed, waving their pom poms at me in the most threatening manner that pom poms can be waved. So other than a bathroom stop in God's acre on the way up, I ran the whole way up. And by run, I plodded slowly up. As I reached what I thought was the summit, a supporter called out that the hill would start around the corner. There was no way I would be able to continue plodding if it got any steeper. Fortunately, he was telling a porky pie and I had conquered leg seven. There was a roar of support at the top from both the A-team crew ladies and other support crews.

The A-team crew ladies shake their pom poms at the top of the hill


I had to dig deeper for leg eight. There were some long straights and some undulations that seemed harder now that my legs were a bit tired from the hill. The A-team crew ladies did manage to take an epic selfie of the three of us while they were driving and I was running. Some talent there. There was also some talent in the walker's race, with some of them absolutely storming it. I think that race walking is so much harder on the cardiovascular than jogging. Approaching the end of leg eight I went to continue down the country road but was fortunately told to make a right turn onto a gravel road by some crew cars. Everyone was great at helping each other out in this event.

While Sarah put a daffidol in my braid I stopped and drank some coke. I was eating a little less but fortunately with 66km it would not matter if I did not stay on top of nutrition; I knew that I would get through and I was not going to walk any of it as I had run all the way up that hill. I limped out to start leg nine with a relay runner of some description passing me. I enjoyed the first dirt gravel section with curled downhill. The next undulating gravel section was also enjoyable when I could run in the car grooves. Not many cars were allowed to enter this section because it is only a single-track road. When a car did come up behind me I had to run on the lump of loose gravel and it was tricky for my now-tired legs to work extra hard in the gravel like this. The A-team ladies came past blaring a shared favourite from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack; I've had the time of my life...




Another runner passed me near the start of leg nine also, giving me lots of support as he passed just as he had throughout the day as a spectator. Unfortunately, his crew member kept stopping her car and I had to keep running in the loose gravel and was having trouble. I passed a lady who may have been in the pairs event who seemed to be having a good time but also experiencing the same difficulties with the car. I picked up the pace a little as we came off the gravel as I could see some cars parked in the distance and thought that must be the end of the leg. It wasn't and the plod until the end of the leg felt very long. The A-team crew ladies were stopped at a t-junction to ensure I went the right way.


Three of the big relay teams had passed me so far. You could tell them apart from the smaller relay teams as they flew past in their club vests having started 90 minutes behind me. These were the only runners too exhausted on their 7km legs to acknowledge the support I gave them as they passed. Fortunately for them, I did not lose my manners on the 60+km I had so far ran.

You will all be delighted to know that the daffidol has not yet fallen out of my braid although my husband is now drunk in Scotland and sending incoherent texts. Unknown to myself the A-team crew ladies had been keeping the world updated on my progress through Snapchat. Not easy given the lack of reception in this rural area of the world.

As I entered the start of the final leg I squealed with delight! The previous leg had been almost 9km and felt it whereas Neisha informed me that I only had five-something kms to go on the final leg! They could not get a park at the checkpoint as all the big teams were now there in their vans, not cheering for me. I wanted to tell them that I had run the whole bloody thing but fortunately, I still had those manners. I did get a cheer from a passing car who understood my running distance which elevated me back to premium spirits. Later they would give me a box of Maltesers :)

Probably Coke's next pin up girl



Not knowing the course, I decided to wait before bruning the last of the legs. I figured I had about ten minutes of fast running in me so did not want to waste it too early. The last leg was flat but the roads were long and straight. I did not see a single runner but almost got hit by numerous cars coming towards me. These were not event-affiliated vehicles (they were very considerate) but probably locals who did not want dafties such as myself jogging along their streets.

The A-team crew ladies were parked at another junction and pointed me across a bridge rather the continue straight along the road. There were good instructions for each leg but I could not remember all ten. The road turned right and then, bam, there is the finish line. I hear the girls screaming in the car next to me and glance left to see them abandon it next to the road and then run across in front of cars so that they can finish with me. There is much excitement. I take an age having a Dundee shower and putting on warm clothes before confusing the coffee cart by ordering an espresso on the rocks.

At the prizegiving I find that I have come first overall, having beaten all the men and finishing in six hours and eight minutes. According to past results, I believe this means that I have the fastest female time to date. I do not think that any solo runners would have had a clue where they came as I did not meet any in the race. I may have passed one somewhere after the hill as he was struggling but it is hard to tell. Thank you to the long table of intoxicated runners and walkers in front of us who gave me a big cheer when my name was announced. I think that they won one of the team events after 14 years of trying. Love the persistence.

I did manage to win a spot prize but unfortunately the wine was all gone. Luckily I had packed a cheeky can for the road. A Garage Project Lola; cheery cola beer. I feel like it was made for ultras.

A huge that you to Bill and the other race organisers who put the event on. It was a great day with great people; relaxed, friendly fun. Also, a huge thank you to Sarah and Neisha who were phenomenal at their debut crewing duties and definitely the most enthusiatic out there on the day!
Team finish








Friday, 2 September 2016

St Cuthbert's Way


St Cuthbert's Way Ultra

Trail Outlaws

Saturday 16th July 2016

Holy Island to Melrose - 100km


Fittingly for a cross border run, I have failed to write my blog due to being in several countries. There was a wedding in Seattle, a beer festival in Portland, some rock hiking in Vancouver, a sister's wedding in Wellington, some cockel collecting in rural New Zealand, a beach holiday in Fiji, some burger tasting back in Wellington and finally some volcano climbing in Vanuatu. I did write this originally sitting in a Fijian airport waiting for my friend Mareta to arrive. Unfortunately, my first effort got lost in the cyber ocean. 

Initially there was some confusion over St Cuthbert's Way and St Oswald's Way. I was not actually sure which event I had entered, nor the difference between the two routes. I was after the July event. Fortunately, the event organisers can tell their religious dudes apart. We started at Holy Island and ran to Melrose. From my limited knowledge, I believe we were running it in the opposite direction from St Cuthbert himself. Earlier in the year, I had the privilege of visiting Holy Island on a school trip to learn about Vikings. The upside of this meant that I knew where the toilets were. A key advantage.

I was pleased to enter the event a few weeks before, a rarity in the overpopulated ultra field these days. An event that still allows last minute entries ensures it is a low key one; just the kind I like. The cut-off time was also generous. It was going to be a slow slog for me and I do not like a time pressure. We hang out on road, get told to take it easy at the start and then we trundle off.

Holy Island, St Cuthbert's Way ultra start


Holy Island is the starting point so that the tide will not be an issue for finishers. Although that would be a laugh and the double is tempting. A few runners sprint off at the start but most of us take it easy and enjoy the view as we run across causeway in some classic British sunshine. I snap some photographs and appear on some runner's video. That video is likely to be a global hit now. Scott drives past and passes out my sunhat; Tour de France style. Halfway out is an emergency hut, in case we have misjudged the tide. It would have been funny to cram all the runners in there. We pass a few signs telling us to turn back if our tyres are submerged in water. I look down. I've forgotten my tyres.







Once on the mainland we take a left and duck behind some giant concrete cubes for a game of pretend paintball; pow, pow! Across a railway track, plod up an incline. Stop and look at signs with people. Turn in some circles. Stop and look at some other signs. Have a laugh. Look at maps with people. Not my own. The compulsary kit list includes a compass and map although I cannot competently use either so it is a waste of time for me. The kit list is slightly excessive which means I cannot carry enough liquids or food in my pack. There are waterproof trousers (and let's face it, no one can run in these), a waterproof jacket (I usually pack this anyway), hat and gloves (even with my Pacific blood I'm not going to touch these during a summer 100km), a whistle (fortunately attched to my bag) and a bottle opener (no wait, I just added that myself).




A road crossing. Bramble bushes without brambles. That is my main food source for today wiped out. At some point, a checkpoint. Maybe this is Wooler. The organisers very kindly let me register at the race start rather than drive the extra miles on the Saturday morning to register in Melrose or Wooler. This means that I do not have drop bags but fortunately Scott is here with some sushi and a Lucozade. He knows how to please a lady. My tracker that I was given at the start is not tracking me. It is not turned on. So we heave it out of my over packed bag and turn it on. Now all my fans at home can track me as I run across the border.


Wooler


The villages are cute and initially I think that one may be holding a tea party for the Queen as there is so much union jack bunting. Ahh, still in England. Later, two guys come flying past who were already ahead of me. They got lost in the British jungle somewhere. You have to look carefully for the signposts, analyse them for a while and then wait for another runner to analyse also. A group of us run up a hill towards a signpost so that we can then run across the hill, following the route correctly. Unfortunately, one thing I found in this event is that not everyone follows the route, so a bunch of runners just cut across instead.

There is a nice variety of terrain and we bounce over tufts of grass. While the lads about me are friendly enough, one of the guys overdid the cola at the last checkpoint and is burping some belters in quick succession. I decide to move on; not a musical concert I particularly need to stay for.

I catch Alan, running in those tiny shorts of his. He's not doing the double today but will be running another ultra tomorrow. Half a night of sleep; plenty. We take a wrong turn and bush whacked our way for a bit until a tourist told us to enjoy our view of the waterfall. Err, maybe an additional scenic hotspot is not currently required. So we backtrack and another group of runners call us to the right path.

Numerous cars come towards us on a small road. A wedding. It seems my invitation was lost in the post. Those delivery drivers are never paid enough. I'd be pinching all the mail and attending strangers' weddings if I was a postwoman too. And then there is a checkpoint but no Scott as it is not that easy to access. I am well thirsty due to my limited water supplies and throw back cola.

Alan and I head out of the checkpoint and climb up some gravel hills with another friendly lady. A fork confuses us but after some thought we head through some woods. I get ahead a bit, enjoying the rolling undulations until I come to a T-junction. I am running on the St Cuthbert's Way but neither arrow has that particular path listed. Hmmm. I turn around, hoping to see Alan and the lady coming. No one. I jog down to some walkers. Have you seen runners? Yes. Lots of them. So, are you walking the St Cuthbert's Way? Yes. Excellent, I am nailing this navigating.

Weeeee down some hills. I see some children playing in a river so I call out an excuse me as I splash through. I glance to my left; bridge.  What a dickman I am. Some not-so-locals are having a party. I walk up a road anxiously looking for arrows and signs. And then down. I have been by myself without seeing anyone for a while. Relief when I find a village and ask some locals which direction to go in. After trotting where I think they are pointing, they call out, as I clearly cannot even run across a road without getting lost. A few hundred metres on, I again attempt to go the wrong way. Alongside a river, over the bridge and then I am in some trouble as I wander next to a pretend loch. Where are the runners? I wander around a bit, deciding to just stand still until I see some runners coming in the same direction. Phew.

The trail only has one major hill and it is the one I am starting to go up. The committed photographer has placed herself on a steep slope and informs me that no one has run up so not to worry. I wasn't considering running myself but am happy to smile. I pass the first 45 milers during the climb. They started at Wooler a few hours after the 100km runners and are in great spirits climbing the hill. The view is great in each direction. It is a hot day. We'd be pushing for 20 here. Half the runners will be sunburnt.




I only see one runner on the descent into Morebattle and he is feeling bust. Morebattle is another cute village and the checkpoint is in a hall. It is buzzing with all the runners I haven't seen for hours. Scott and I scoff crisps and custard. Well, I do. Scott fills my bottles for me. The organisers said that we should start slow, go slower and then once we get to M-something, we can see what we have left. I figure that this is M-something and I feel good so I jog on out of the town. Scott has successfully erected the tent in Melrose. What a team.


Trail Outlaws photo at Morebattle


I pass some cheery 45 milers, a runner who asks me if I am in the relay (no but I am flattered) and a few slightly more bedraggled 100km runners. A castle to the left, encouraging 45 mile runner to my right. It was a good day to get the day off from work.

Paddock full of cows. Such big cows. They are all around an arrow that I need to run to. Killed by cows would make such an embarrassing read on my gravestone. I tiptoe to the edge of the paddock. I am now the furthest from the bridge I need to be crossing and have to walk the entire way around the paddock. As I cross the bridge I see other runners cutting through a bush rather than wrestle with the cows. Wish I'd seen that path before.
Another checkpoint. I'm all by myself. A sign post pointing UP. Hmmm. One side of the fence has a stile; the other a ramp and bridge. Do I cross a bridge? Stile. No. Back over the stile then. I start up the ramp. It doesn't feel right. Climb over the stile. Run along the river. The track runs out. Back up the ramp and over the bridge. Arrow on the other side. Again, nailing this navigation.

Ahead of me is someone with headphones and hiking poles. Only this could be Dave. I creep up behind him quietly so that he lets out a girly scream in fright. He tries to keep up while we run through some endless desert grass. Although it is not the desert. And Dave is now flagging. Then I'm the other woman while a guy speaks on the phone with his wife and I cheer at him from behind.




Second to last checkpoint. Maybe. The marshals are in disagreement and I am not sure how many checkpoints there were anyway. I do remember that I did not get my Keith Stout from Scott at the last checkpoint. Some lovely villages again; no union jack bunting anymore so we must be in Scotland now. On a main road in a village I cannot find a sign telling me where to go. I approach two young lads clad in grey Adidas tracksuits with strange ear piercings to ask directions. Always a good idea right? They were uber polite but did not know what St Cuthbert's was. If I took a left and then a right and went over a hill I could get to Melrose however. It was tempting but I wanted to make sure I stuck to the official path so as not to be disqualified. After jogging on a bit I looked back and saw an arrow and sign. Right outside their house. To be fair, the sign was quite high.

After a nice jog along a river, there was another wee village. All speedy tarmac. Suddenly I see a lady walking ahead with a car driving slowly next to her. Initially I was a bit worried that someone was stalking her but it turned out to be her partner. Phew, we do not want a crazy stalker, we will be losing light soon. I encourage the lady to run with me but she is feeling a bit bust so I go on ahead. As I took it easy until M-something, I feel very fresh now and enjoy the trail to the last small hill. Throughout the race I heard some rumours about different coloured medals based on your finishing time. Although I do not run with a watch, I knew it was not dark yet so it must be before 10pm, therefore I could finish in under 14 hours achieving a silver medal. Silver sounds good to me so I push on hoping that my eyesight and mathematics has not failed me. It would be nice to finish without needing my headtorch too! I chat with some Scottish runners completing the 45 mile event; the first ultra for one. Everyone has been very friendly. At the top I take a moment to enjoy the view before the final decent. 

The steep never ending decent reminds me of coming into Inverness at the end of the Great Glen Way. At the top of a gravel path I see another runner at the bottom so at least I know that I am on the right path. As I arrive into Melrose I wander around a square looking for an arrow or markings. When I cannot find any, I ask a father and his son if they have seen any runners. He replies that yes, he has seen many runners at the campsite he is staying at. As the race does not finish at the campsite, this is not greatly helpful to me. When I ask a taxi driver he points to a road which I follow for a block or two. 

Melrose is a small village and the local youths need to make their own fun. On my arrival, their fun was to switch the running arrows so that they faced one another. I run around a church; stopping to walk in case I am being disrespectful. Finally, I give up asking people if they have seen runners and ask if anyone knows where D-something Hall is (I'm great with names). Aha, success! Darnick Hall is thataway. So thataway I run. Past some lovely houses and a few past middle-aged ladies cheering with their Chardonnay spilling from their wine glasses. The youths should get themselves to that party. 

As I step into the finishing hall there are a few shocked faces as they were not expecting me. I ensure them that the lady I passed will make it to the finish (and she does, less than 10 minutes later, feeling much better). Once I am changed, I sit down with a beer and coffee combination while Scott buys the fish and chip shop out of food before it closes. During this time I am told by numerous spectators that I may have been the first lady. I find this surprising as I have already shaken hands with the lady that did come first (I never saw her in the event so never knew what was going on). There is talk of a five minute penalty because of an accidental shortcut on tarmac that a few of the leading runners took (everyone I spoke to went wrong on the course at some point but we just went back the way we had come before righting ourselves). As I was second by two minutes, a five minute penalty for her would put me in first place. Apparently some of the runners who took the shortcut were informed of this and some weren't. I wait and see what the organisers decided rather than getting involved... Nothing happens and I happily accept a very heavy second place trophy. I am not really sure what went on and am mostly focused on consuming the interested combination of deep fried foods I have been given. I have since won the competition of travelling the furthest post race. I'm not sure on the number of entrants for that category. 

Finishing at Darnick Hall


Personally, I was just pleased to feel good throughout the run. I finished in about 13 and a half hours, earning me a silver medal. The times are very slow for the distance because it is a small race still. It is not particularly hilly, nor technical, although I am a bit slow in mud and long grass. I loved the varied terrain. I try not to think about how I could run 20km further, an hour quicker, on hillier terrain 18 months ago! I feel very fortunate that my legs are able to plod around for a day without training. 

And, very importantly, I know you have all been wondering why I have not been doing much running in the last few years (the nonexistent queries have been endless). I have secretly been working towards my retirement and I can now officially announce that I have reached thirty ultramarathons before my 30th birthday. From now on I will eat dinner crazy early, watch the TV too loudly and holiday only as part of a large tour group. It feels great.  

Thank you very much to all the runners, marshals, organisers and Scott! 

And here's a photo of Donald finishing accompanied by an ambulance!