Saturday, 6 November 2010

The Start of My Ultra Trail Running Journey

Hi All

The last few weeks I have been organising things for our family holiday to New Zealand over Christmas.  Coming from New Zealand we try to get out there every 2 - 3 years to catch up with family and friends.  As I am in the process of planning a few long trail runs in NZ over Christmas, it reminded me of the run about four years ago that was really the start of my journey into Ultra Trail Running.  First though, you may have seen an UltraStu post titled Lego racers.  Apologies for this. It was my son Robert playing around on the computer within U-tube and clicked publish on Blogg.  So with one click the lego racers video was published as I hadn't signed out.  A good reminder, always sign out!

So back to January 2007, while staying at Kaiteriteri beach near the top of the South Island in NZ. I decided to run the Abel Tasman Coast Track as it was close by.  The Abel Tasman Coast Track is classified as one of the New Zealand Great Walks, so I knew that it would be a great run, through awesome scenery, on a well maintained track.  The total track distance is 54 kilometres, with sections that can only be passed at low tide.  However, I decided that running from the start Marahau, to Totaranui at 41 kilometres, so just short of a marathon, would be sufficient.  Looking at the tide times, meant I had to leave at 5:00am in the morning in order to cross the low tide section.  For some strange reason, Frances my wife wasn't too keen to get herself and our two boys up at that time to drive me the 11km to the start of the track.  No problem, I'll just run the extra 6-7 miles, so now my run would be around 32 miles!

So at just after 5:00am I start my journey into Ultra Running, with simply a small bum back with a few muesli bars, and 'magic biscuits', which I used to eat during cycle racing many years earlier, (the beach resort shops didn't stock gels or energy bars!).  The 'magic biscuits' are sometimes known as 'squashed fly' biscuits, or Golden Fruit in New Zealand, or Garabaldis in the UK.  Now I'm getting a bit side-tracked here, but I'll continue as its a good 'nutritional' story.  When I was a competitive road cyclist I used to empty a packet of these biscuits into my back pocket of my cycling jersey and munch on them during the races.  Cycling road races tend to be quite long, typically between 2 - 4 hours of high intensity effort.  So as you can imagine one tends to get quite hot and get quite a sweat up.  So, yes as you have gathered, the biscuits in my back pocket get rather soggy as they soak up my sweat from my back.  You may think 'yuck', but I used to actually look forward to them getting sweaty as it made them more moist and heaps easier to digest, rather than the quite dry biscuit, straight out of the packet!  I also thought that it must be good for me nutritionally, re-digesting all of the salts and minerals I have just sweated out of by body.  The perfect replacement nutrition!  Well I recall from way back in 1986 or 1987 when I was racing in Dunedin one particular occasion, which I'm not really sure if I should tell this story, just in case anyone from the Dunedin Cycling Club by some chance is reading this blog, but well here goes!

From 1986 - 1988 I was a student at Otago University, and as with most students, I always tried to save money whenever possible.  One of the highlights of cycle racing back then was that following the race, we would all go back to the clubrooms and eat cake, biscuits, etc, along with our cups of tea.  As part of the entry fee you had to provide a 'plate' of cake or biscuits.  I typically would buy a cheap packet of biscuits.  On this particular occasion, I hadn't eaten many of my 'magic biscuits' during the race.  So as I was getting changed, ready for the cup of tea and prizegiving, I removed the soggy biscuits from my jersey, and was all set to throw them in the bin, as although edible at the time, keeping the soggy biscuits for the following week's race was not very appealing,  However, I recall I then had a 'brain wave'.  Why not put these biscuits from my pocket onto the plate, and therefore keep the unopened packet of biscuits for next week's plate.  So that's what I did!  I was so pleased with myself at saving probably all of 99 cents (35p)!  In addition I do recall having to retain my amusement as I observed the fellow cyclists consuming, (and enjoying!), the biscuits that had been in the back of my cycling jersey for many hours!  Sorry about that memory, the joys of being a student!  My blog after all is sub-titled "Millsy's Memories and Mutterings"!

Now, back to running the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, and as expected it was fantastic!   In my 30+ years of running, the run that morning, as I ran from the darkness into a beautiful sunny day, through tremendous bush, overlooking idyllic sandy bays and crystal clear water, rated as one of my top five runs ever.  Right up there with the Kepler Challenge run, another one of NZ's great walks down in the Milford Sounds, and since then UTMB (Ultra Trail Mont Blanc).

I get to the Department of Conservation (DOC) centre at Totaranui where I was to be  picked up, and discover that the road to the centre is 14 kilometres of winding twisty gravel (unsealed) road.  Now Frances doesn't really enjoy driving on gravel roads, and the boys aren't great fans of winding roads, with the sick bag needing to be near by.  So I think, no problem, I'll run out along the gravel road and meet them.  At least I will shorten the distance they have to drive along the gravel road.  So having completed 52km I continue this most amazing run.  Although no longer on beautiful bush track, I am still buzzing as I steadily climb, as the road winds up a significant hill.  Surprisingly I am still full of energy and still loving every minute.  I reach the summit and then descend down the other side, and before I know it I have reached the end of the gravel road, and the road is now sealed.  So now 66km running and no car in sight!  By this stage, I am now only one km short of my longest run ever, this being the 67km Kepler Challenge from 1992 (now only 60km due to GPS!), which I ran two months after racing the Hawaii Ironman, when I was supremely fit and 14 years younger!  Although the Kepler Challenge race was my first ever Ultra run, at the time I was an Ironman, and the race, although I rated it as one of my best runs ever in terms of enjoyment, for some reason I never considered doing more off-road trail ultras.  I got back into solid training for the New Zealand Ironman and never gave ultra trail running another thought.  That was until kilometre number 66 as I was searching for the car to pick me up!

By this time, as you can imagine, I was getting pretty tired, but I wasn't going to stop.   The thought of walking just doesn't seem right, and of course I only needed to go a little further to be able to record in my training diary my longest run ever!  So I run for another km or two, and then just as I start to walk, around the corner comes Frances and the boys in the car, after being delayed due to trying to find a petrol station in this remote part of NZ.  The following day I am a little stiff, but overall amazed just how easy it felt and how enjoyable it was.  I begin to think that maybe I should do some more ultra trail runs, but mistakenly thinking that ultra trail racing is for oldies with bushy beards, I decide to have one more year racing ultra-trial marathons, and then the following year I can join the oldies and casually jog some ultra trail runs.  So after having a great year running five trail marathons in 2007, the following year 2008, the continuation of my ultra trail running journey took place, and I have been jogging ultras since!  Well maybe at times a little faster than jogging!

Most of my posts I try to have a theme or a message to convey to you readers out there. Tonight's message?  I'm not sure really.  Possibly there are a few, maybe: If you enjoy something then do it, don't just think about, but actually do it!  Or possibly: It only takes just one event / one run to change your direction.  Things happen for a reason, and always look for the positive in things, and build upon and continue on the journey initiated by that one event.  Or simply, no real message, just an opportunity for me to reflect on a great run from the past, in anticipation of some upcoming awesome runs I hope to have this Christmas out in New Zealand.

Time to sign off with a quote:  "Running means different things to different people.  Ensure you know what running means to you.  And as you run, knowing why you run, whether for the relaxation, the peacefulness, the scenery, the challenges, the friendships, the competitiveness, or in my case, for them all!, may you get much enjoyment and satisfaction as you run through your journey!"  Stuart Mills, (2010).

Enjoy the journey,


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