super generic girl

the awesomely average life of a girl like all others


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Ultramarathon registration addiction issues and other stuff I should tell you about

It’s a day ending with -y so, naturally, I did something ridiculous.

I’ve got a new PR and quite possibly a FKT but don’t you all start congratulating me at once. This morning, and after having made a grand total of zero dollars since the day had started (#partylikeafreelancer), I signed up for two ultramarathons within five minutes. On purpose.

First I signed up for the 50km at the inaugural Tarawera Marathon and 50km event which takes place in 9 days’ time (LOL?) and then The North Face 100km race in the Blue Mountains in Australia in May. This adds to my already existing registration for the 60km at the Kepler Challenge in December and the registration for the 100km at the Tarawera Ultra in February.

All added up, it means that, as of this morning, even though I can’t currently run a half marathon without wanting to vomit a lung, I am registered for four ultramarathons within the next 7 months.

I don’t know about you but, from where I’m sitting, this whole plan looks pretty shit.

I like to ponder every decision so made this flowchart to really ensure I knew that my life choices make approximately 0.0 sense.

I like to ponder every decision so made this flowchart to really ensure I knew that my life choices make approximately 0.0 sense.

Now I’m freaking terrified. Scared shitless. Heart palpitations, sweaty palms and that dreaded what-the-hell-have-I-got-myself-into feeling. The genuine fear that I’m going to end up breaking myself.

I missed this.

I hadn’t had a giant scary goal since the last Tarawera Ultra earlier this year. Training for that damn thing kept me going through some of the hardest months of my life and then, just like that, it was over.

I haven’t run further than 35km in about 9 months. I’ve been lucky if I run anything close to a marathon in the space of an entire week. I don’t even know if I can run 50km in one go, let alone 60km, let alone 100km, let alone 100km again with the worst elevation profile I’ve ever seen. It’s going to be absolutely horrible and I couldn’t be more excited about it.

what??

For the first time in a long time, I genuinely don’t know whether I can actually do this or not. But not knowing is part of the fun, right? (and I swear that’s not the motto of the university I went to).

I didn’t tell you this because I’m the world’s worst blogger (although I am currently 3rd best in New Zealand in the “Beer” category of QuizUp so it’s not like I haven’t been busy): I was in Wellington a couple of weekends ago to speak at an event about running (MUM, I’VE MADE IT!). It was genuinely the coolest thing I’ve ever done since whatever the last cool thing I did was and I promise I’ll write you a proper post about my time in Wellington very soon, now that I’ve scared myself into actually running and intend to blog my descent into madness. In any case, one of the things I rambled on at this talk in Wellington was my apparent need to do things that scare the crap out of me.

Clearly.

My running has been far too comfortable since the Tarawera Ultra last March. Sure, I’ve continued doing enough field research on running while injured to the point where I should be awarded a government grant for my contributions to science. But mostly, I’ve been running as much as little as I’ve wanted and all my marathons have been beer-drinking ones because I had nothing major to scare me into proper training.

But I guess this’ll do it.


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Everything’s a bit shit until it isn’t – life lessons from the forest

On Saturday, I ran 33km through Riverhead Forest so I’m putting all my half-written posts on hold to tell you about that even though you didn’t actually ask.

It was a tough day. I knew it was going to be tough because most days have been tough lately even when they don’t include exhausting long runs. But I wanted and needed to be tougher than it.

I don’t even want to count on many days to go until the Kepler Challenge because I wouldn’t want to have a panic attack three paragraphs into a blog post but the fact is that I’m running out of time to feel sorry for myself and need to face the fact that you don’t train for a 60km run just by searching for photos of the track on the internet. But this running thing is really difficult sometimes. And the track, by the way, is really insanely pretty.

But anyway, back to Saturday.

The first ten or so kilometres were the hardest I’d run in a while. I started with a sore foot because it seems to be damn near impossible for me to ever run (or walk or do anything useful) without hurting myself. While the foot was a handy excuse to keep taking legitimate breaks (pro-tip!), it was, as usual, my head that wanted to give up all the time. I felt terribly guilty for the group of people I was with, all training for their own races and having to stop to wait for me when they could just be getting into the flow of the run and enjoying themselves. If this had been a road run, I would have Uber-ed my way out of there in record time. There are no taxi services out of the trails for broken runners, though, so there’s a free million-dollar business idea if you’re looking for one.

I didn't even take this photo on Saturday because I took zero photos on Saturday but here's a photo of Riverhead from a time when I could be bothered taking photos during a run.

I didn’t even take this photo on Saturday because I took zero photos on Saturday but here’s a photo of Riverhead from a different run. And you wouldn’t even know this photo wasn’t from Saturday if I hadn’t just told you which means you can always count on me to tell you when I’m trying to bullshit you.

At one point, it all reached a new level of awful. I had over 20kms ahead of me if I wanted to keep going with them but my head was telling me I could not handle a single step into that forest anymore. Even the thought of returning to the car on my own was daunting because it involved having to keep on moving which was the one thing I was dying to stop doing. I felt paralysed. Without knowing how to deal with it (because who the hell knows how to deal with this level of difficult shit?), and after failing to get me to make up my own mind about what the hell I was doing, one of the friends told me to remember that it was all about putting one foot in front of the other.

Except what I really wanted was to not move. I wanted it so desperately I didn’t even care that not moving meant sitting in the middle of the forest all alone.

Itakeanaprighthere

Not knowing what to decide, I decided not to decide anything and just do as I was told. I convinced myself I was doing it for the others (so I wouldn’t ruin their run) and that seemed to trick my brain into choosing to move. So I did – one foot in front of the other.

I couldn’t stand thinking about the entire distance we were going to cover that day. I couldn’t look ahead and see the inclination of the track without feeling dizzy and sick with fear. All options sounded unbearable so I just chose to look down at my feet and focus on their movement. When we veered off the forestry road and into the trail, I had no choice but to pay attention to the obstacles ahead.

Surprisingly, it was focusing on those that brought me back up from the fog I was in. Every little branch or tree root I ran over without tripping felt like a tiny victory and I kept collecting those along the trail. It wasn’t long before I’d gathered enough of those to feel a bit better and to start thinking that maybe I wouldn’t have to ruin everyone’s run that day. One foot in front of the other.

It's okay to not be okay.

At 20km, I was finally running happy, thinking about nothing but the run. At 30km, I wasn’t even close to wanting to stop. I felt fresher and more energised at 30km than I had felt in the first 10km (and if you think that doesn’t make sense, I’d like to remind you that I live in a country where the Air Force logo is a flightless bird).

That’s the beauty of the trails, really – they’re merciless. They’ll help you get through anything but there’s no kindness out there on them. They offer no shortcut, no easy way out. Once you get yourself there, you’re doing it. If you want to give up, good luck – you’re deep in the middle of lorde-knows-where and the walk/run back will be the same length you already did going in so why don’t you just harden up and keep moving forward anyway? There, like everywhere, the only way to get out of a bad situation is to keep going. One obstacle after another, you keep getting past them and can’t even tell you’re getting stronger. Next thing you know, you go from throwing a tantrum about how you can’t take another step to taking a giant load of them and realising you could, by focusing on that forward movement and taking it one step at a time.

I’m pretty sure running is the answer to everything. You should probably never invite me to be part of your pub quiz team.


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The upsides of not running

Hello, people who still read this thing (mum)! Serious proposal: let’s end 2014 now and jump straight to 2015 WHICH SERIOUSLY CAN’T POSSIBLY BE ANY SHITTIER THAN THIS.

(BRB, knocking on all the wood).

Everyone in favour say yay, everyone against it is dead to me.

life's a piece of shit when you look at it

Here’s something that doesn’t suck, though: the amount of emails and messages I’ve received from both people I know and also people I’ve never met telling me how much they miss reading my ramblings on here. YOU GUYS, you’re the cutest. But don’t blame me (blame the people who upload all the full episodes of Come Dine With Me to YouTube, allowing me to binge-watch it like it’s an olympic sport).

To the surprise of absolutely no one at all, running four events in one month with a sprained ankle (including an ultramarathon in a cyclone) ended up running me to the ground (potentially the worst unintentional pun I’ve ever made but I’m not even going to bother with the backspace key).

Since we last spoke, as far as running is concerned, I’ve been doing approximately three tenths of fuck all, which makes a running blog something really hard to maintain.

I’ve done a handful of cool little runs (including a loop around Uluru which I’ll tell you all about another time) but nothing else really worth writing home about. In an ironic turn of events, the same doctor that kept telling me to take a break from running now tells me I need to start running more (BE MORE CONFUSING, I DARE YOU).

Among other plans (none of them being “learn some god damn moderation”), I’ve got a 60km ultra to run in December, followed by an attempt at the full Hillary Trail and then the 100km at the Tarawera Ultra in February. The glue that binds these three things together is the fact that I’m 100% sure that I am 100% unable to do any of them at this stage.

that's a god damn bitch of an unsatisfactory situation

A mix of injuries, sickness and just overall not-being-bothered has led to the terrifying situation of a closet full of clean running clothes (and not a single sticky empty packet of Gu in sight). It all snowballed into not even wanting to talk about running because talking about running reminded me that I should be running but wasn’t (psychiatric students wanting to use me as a guinea pig for their experiences should totally email me).

So, since I don’t have much running to talk about, and while I re-learn to put injiji socks on properly again (only half-joking), let’s talk about my new area of expertise: not running.

I’m more useless than the g in lasagna when I’m not running but I’ll admit it has its benefits. I turned 30 less than a month ago and I’m old and wise now so, instead of looking at the negative in everything, I’m going to try this really neat exercise called looking on the bright side.

So what’s so great about not running? I’ll tell you.

You’re reminded of why you love to run

You know the whole “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” thing? It’s true. Not being able to run – for whatever reason – has reminded me of why I love running. Because I’ve been running way (way, way, way) less than before, I have a new sense of appreciation for every time I lace up my shoes and head out for a run. I don’t take any run for granted and, after such a long time not being able to do it, I have learned to appreciate every time I’m able to get out there, even if it’s just a boring 5k along the road.

There’s a lot of strength to be gained from stopping to recover

This long break from running came from, among other things, a long tradition of not listening to my body and running while injured. In the end, my body forced me to stop. So now I’ve learned that breaks are okay – they’re needed and they don’t mean you’re a loser (other things, however, do mean you’re a loser so I’d check for signs of stuff like enjoying movies with Nicole Kidman, wearing leggings as pants or being unable to distinguish between you’re and your). Sure, I’ve lost some fitness. But I’ve also gained strength. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve ventured out for runs expecting my body to be a lot less fit than it turned out to be. While I sat there eating tins of creamy rice (LIKE A LADY) thinking my muscles were slowly disintegrating, some of them were apparently getting stronger. I have since ran up hills (what you people call small inclines) that I always swore never to run up. This doing nothing thing works, people. Try it.

It’s ok to be gentle with yourself

Overall, I did lose a bit of my fitness in the last three months. But I’ve also learned to be kinder to myself. My body does what it can and I no longer push it to the very limit just to see if I can. I can’t be surprised when it breaks and doesn’t recover immediately. Instead of being an ungrateful little bitch, I’m thankful for everything my body can do, even if, at the moment, it isn’t as much as it was able to do before.

You start paying more attention to your body

One of the injuries that forced me to take a break was a back injury back in April. Every time I tried to run after that, I’d end up limping my way back home holding onto my own back to try to stop the pain (so sexy). I kept trying to straighten my back while running to stop it from hurting but nothing seemed to work (or at least not for more than a couple of minutes at a time). The first time I managed to run without my back hurting felt like a huge victory. Since then, I’ve learned to pay more attention to my posture and how each part of my body moves while I run. I may not have gained any speed but I feel smarter about my running.

rolemodelgif

You learn to calm the hell down

I’m sure you’ve noticed how much I love running. It’s kind of a thing. Not being able to run is, therefore, the opposite of my thing. My spare time, for a long time, was for running. Doing other things, like not-running, was never an option. Taking a break from running led to a bit of an identity crisis. What kind of runner am I if I’m not out there running? And what person is this if not a runner who runs? And why am I asking myself such stupid questions? Then I learned to relax. Taking a break is okay. Running is very much a part of my identity and a couple of months without my running shoes didn’t take that away.

If you’re smart, you’ll cross train instead of sitting on your ass eating biscuits and drinking beer for three months

I guess I’m a different kind of smart.

tumblr_mjthp2deqF1qabe4jo1_500

What I’m really saying is that, if you’re having to take a long break from running like I had to, the most important thing to remember is to be kind to yourself. Don’t be a hero, have another nap.


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A run through the forest, now with 100% less injuries [Riverhead Rampage recap]

I took this photo while running, a pretty neat trick for me these days, considering I seemed to have lost my ability to stand up straight, let alone operate my phone camera while running. BUT THERE YOU HAVE IT.

I took this photo while running, a pretty neat trick for me these days, considering I seemed to have lost my ability to stand up straight, let alone operate my phone camera while running. BUT THERE YOU HAVE IT.

I totally expected my post about the Riverhead Rampage to be a whiny one (which is okay because I’m pretty prolific at whining so those posts practically write themselves).

I was ready to tell you another sad tale of how my crippled ankle couldn’t handle the uneven terrain and the roots and the rocks and all the damn nature and I’d ended up on the ground covered in dirt and tears, looking for my self-respect. And then you’d say something nice to me even though what you really think is “why doesn’t she just take a break to heal up?” and I’d pretend that I was totally going to take a break, even though I’d actually be halfway through typing my credit card details for another trail event on a different browser tab.

WELL. NOT THIS TIME.

The Riverhead Rampage – my fourth running event in four weeks – turned out to be a day of sweet trails, time with good friends and free craft beer so, basically, everything I love about trail running.

I had a feeling it was going to turn into another DNF (and a reason to throw another pity-party for one over here) but I was still pretty damn excited about this brand spanking new event right on my doorstep. It had the sweetest forest trails you can find this side of the galaxy and it was sponsored by the local brewery so included free craft beer (because why use only Strava when you can give your Untappd account a good workout too?). It was pretty much guaranteed to be the perfect day, especially for people with two functioning ankles.

Riverhead Forest and I were going through a bit of a thing. My last big ankle sprain (you know it’s bad when you have to order them chronologically in your head) had happened there, a couple of months before. Matt, the good guy behind the inaugural event, had offered to give a few of us nutters a sneak peek of the course one day after work. It sounded awesome – getting a bunch of friends together for a forest run at dusk, followed by some of the best beer you can find, brewed right there in Riverhead. Everyone was excited.

So, naturally, I ruined it.

Just 2km into that sneak peek into the new course, I had another one of my spectacular falls and sat there in the forest screaming for – oh, I don’t know – it felt like hours, it was probably a decent few minutes. Michael eloquently described my screams as sounding like “someone being attacked by a dog” and, while I’m aware of the fact that I’m no Adele, I’d like to point out that an ankle sprain isn’t the time to pass judgement on anyone’s artistic abilities.

The good news is that we’re all getting pretty used to my shit. Because I’m careful enough to surround myself with the best running buddies around (but not careful enough not to splatter myself on the ground every time I run, apparently), they all took turns to piggy-back me out of the forest (so, really, they all got their workout that day) and, instead of the hospital, this time we knew better and headed straight to the pub, do not pass go do not collect $200.

Fast forward a few weeks, a few races and a few dozen metres of tape and we were all toeing the start line for the event, inside the Riverhead School grounds. A week after the Hillary, and marking four events in four weekends, all I could think about was getting to another finish line. If I could do it without limping (much), that’d be a very welcome bonus.

I decided to be careful and take it really easy, knowing I’d be running past the exact spot where I’d fallen not very long ago (luckily, my spatial awareness on the trails is close to non-existent so, in the end, I didn’t even recognise the spot when I ran past it so trauma avoided).

The first few kilometres through the forest went by and I kept going, slowly and steadily, sometimes a little too slowly, sometimes a little less steadily. But, these days, a run without a fall is a victory in my books. I really just wanted to finish, regardless of how long it’d take. I already had my ticket for a free beer and my only goal that day was to cash it without having to limp to the counter.

And then something surprising happened: I ran pain-free. And for a few moments here and there, I even ran worry-free. Months of running on a sore ankle have got me used to constantly worrying about where I’m putting my feet with each step – it’s a mentally exhausting game that I don’t like playing (especially because I often lose). Not this time.

The long stretches of forestry road helped my confidence and I managed a good few happy kilometres of genuine worry-free running, a feeling I had started to forget about. The rocky terrain near the finish wasn’t enough to wipe the stupidly smug smile off my face – although it did slow me down to almost walking pace.

So there you go. I didn’t screw it up. I got to cross the finish line of one of the happiest runs I’ve had in a long time – with the peacefulness that I get from running on my own and the excitement of knowing my whole running family was out there on that course too. We put our free beer tickets to good use at Hallertau and sat around drinking in the sun, no piggy-backs or painkillers required.

(I did momentarily roll my ankle stepping out of the car near the brewery but this blog has had enough embarrassing episodes to last me a lifetime so I’m going to go ahead and skip that one.)

This was going to be a #beerselfie but the guy next to us noticed how useless we were being at it and offered to take our photo, meaning I can no longer claim the hashtag. THANKS A LOT RANDOM PERSON. (No, really, thanks. It's a cool photo and I suck at group selfies.)

Such good looking people. Such delicious free beer.

While the ankle isn’t 100% recovered and I still have this weird feeling of not having any balance standing on my own two feet, that finish line got me another giant step closer to where I need to be.

The day after the event, I got on a plane to Australia and have since parked my ass inside a campervan, touring the outback (having only run once in the last week and a half), occasionally raising my feet up onto the dashboard (that’s 1/4 of the whole RICE thing done right there) and even sometimes remembering to do the ankle exercises the physio recommended before I gave up seeing her due to my inability to take any of her advice.

Also, Riverhead and I are on good terms again. This running thing isn’t so bad after all.


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Knocking a little bit of the bastard off – a recap of the Hillary 16km

Credit: Allan Ure - Photos4Sale

Credit: Allan Ure – Photos4Sale

After getting cut off at Tarawera, I decided to attempt running a marathon the weekend after even though my ankle was still swollen and sore.

Stop rolling your eyes, I can explain.

The DUAL looked amazing and Tarawera entrants had been given a discount code for it. I’m a freelancer now and I’m in no position to turn down a good bargain. Plus, I thought there was a chance I could maybe perhaps who knows potentially be able to manage a marathon along paddocks, trails and rough scoria.

Nope.

A mere 12km into the marathon, I fell (again) and sprained my ankle (again) right near the top of Rangitoto (again). My “marathon” ended up turning into a 12km run (a pretty good run if I do say so myself) with a few hundred metres of hobbling to the closest aid station for a ride in an ambulance back to the start line (thank you Gary who stayed with me until I managed to get up from the ground and the awesome volunteers at the aid station who made sure I stayed comfortable while I waited to be taken back to the start). So that finish line on Motutapu was going to have to wait another year.

That brought the total of finish lines left uncrossed up to two in just two weekends – a less than ideal state of affairs for someone who, until recently, was pretty proud to claim to never have had a DNF. With the first ever Hillary event just a week after the Great Motutapu Disaster of 2014 and my registration for the 34km already paid for, I decided to ignore all the super smart people that kept telling me it was time for a break and, instead, compromised by downgrading my entry to the 16km event (from Bethells to Muriwai Beach) because, even though my ankle was back to being the size of a golf ball, I couldn’t bring myself to miss out on the first ever Hillary event.

The Hillary is a pretty special place. There’s probably no better way to pay tribute to the legacy of Sir Ed than running or hiking that trail (aside from maybe climbing Everest which I intend to do at a quarter past never going up those hills). The Waitakeres are also my local playground and where I do most of my training runs. I’ve done a lot of bitching and moaning along that trail, had some pretty massive meltdowns going up some of the hills and smiled and laughed my way along some of the downhills. As a trail runner, the Waitakeres are my home. Having so many people come from all over the place to run along those trails was like having some really honourable guests visiting your home. You want to be there to witness their jaws drop at the beauty of your backyard.

Also, I badly needed a finish line. As much as I can try to be rational about it and tell myself that it’s totally justified and that I shouldn’t even have started the marathon after the ultra with my busted ankle, the truth is that those two finish lines that I didn’t get to cross, in just two weeks, were a bit of a blow to my confidence.

Timing wasn’t perfect but someone has to keep Rocktape in business so I strapped the hell out of my ankle and made it to the start line at Bethells, where I got to catch up with a bunch of friends. The sun was out, I was in one of my favourite places and a mere 16km away from the finish line. It was going to be a good day.

Te Henga – the track that links Bethells to Muriwai – is a pretty technical piece of trail, far from ideal for a sprained ankle. I took my time along it, really focusing on each step. It was a hot day and I knew that going extra slow meant staying longer under that hot sun but I needed my ankle intact for the inaugural Riverhead Rampage the following weekend (so many cool events, so few healthy ankle ligaments).

I’d done the Te Henga track a few times before and knew that the steps up to Constable Road would be my absolute least favourite part – but I also knew that it is one of the most stunning pieces of trail in New Zealand (in the world, actually) and that no amount of ankle pain is enough to make you unhappy when faced with those views. I MEAN, LOOK AT THAT PHOTO. If you want to feel lucky about life, even when everything else looks a little shit, head to Te Henga. It cures everything.

In spite of the mental exhaustion of having to watch every single step along the trail and even though I had to downgrade to the shortest distance, I’m sure my decision to still run the Hillary event was the right one (hashtag things I don’t get to say very often). I had some pretty good moments along the trail and, even when I felt less than amazing, there was always something to be happy about. At one point, as I was stopped on the side of the trail wondering why I wasn’t home doing a sudoku or something a little less challenging, a trail runner I’d never met stopped and handed me a chocolate bar, saying I looked like I needed it. His act hasn’t shaken my belief that sharing chocolate is craziness but it was one of those gestures you only see happen on the trails. So how can I not love this thing, golf ball-sized ankles and all?

Slow step after slow step, I reached Muriwai Beach, where I realised I was finally going to cross the finish line I so desperately needed. It was all ok. I wasn’t a complete loser, just a runner with a sprained ankle, an incredible lack of self-control and a credit card statement with too many running events listed on it. BUT HOW COULD I NOT? I MEAN, LOOK AT THAT VIEW.

I crossed the finish line, got my little fridge magnet medal and Steve, who had to pull out of the 80km with an injured foot, was there to support the rest of our running family. I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in the sun cheering for everyone who came across the finish line and was stoked to be able to see some friends finish, including Glenn who ran the full Hillary after Tarawera and the full marathon at the Dual (you should read his Hillary report, but don’t believe the bit about someone trying to poison him with warm beer. I drank it and it was fine).

It took Shaun Collins and the Lactic Turkey Events team a good couple of years of hard work to get this event approved by the Auckland Council. The council finally allowed the event to happen this year on a trial basis and with stringent measures in place to prevent the spreading of Kauri Dieback.

Like everyone else in the trail running community, I hope this event becomes an annual one. It has the potential to become one of the most significant events in the trail running calendar in the country, showcasing some of the most spectacular pieces of trail in the world (tourism dollars, we like ‘em, am I right?). Not only did it have all measures in place to prevent Kauri Dieback from spreading, I’m pretty sure it actually raised a lot of awareness of the issue. Trail runners want Kauri Dieback gone as much as anyone else (I’ve never seen a trail runner run past a spray station in the Waitakeres without stopping to spray their shoes, regardless of how fast they’re going). The truth is that you’ll be hard pressed to find a community that loves and cares for the trails as much as this one so turning down a trail running event for fear of spreading Kauri Dieback is a bit of an oxymoron (emphasis on moron).


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Let me tell you about that time I ran an ultramarathon in a cyclone

VTUM_014207

Credit: Allan Ure – Photos4Sale

Is this the most overdue ultramarathon recap in history? Potentially. Will it be worth the wait? Probably not. Should I stop asking questions and just get on with it? Definitely.

The truth is that I thought this was going to be really easy to write up. I planned this post in my head approximately 43,348 times in each training run. But I guess if I wanted an easy predictable topic to write about, choosing trail running was my first mistake.

Tarawera was nothing like I expected and, yet, it was everything I wanted.

Like some kind of really lame practical joke, a cyclone hit New Zealand during the weekend of the ultramarathon and forced a bunch of changes, meaning nothing went according to plan. The course had to be changed and the new distances became approximately 60 and 70km.

Just in case you have something better to do then read the rest of this, I’ll jump straight to the finish and tell you I didn’t actually get to cross the finish line, as Search and Rescue closed the course and a bunch of us got stopped at 53km. I cried my eyes out for a few minutes, standing there in the pouring rain after being told I couldn’t keep going – I’m one of those ugly criers and there were heaps of people around so that moment is probably not going to feature in my future best-selling autobiography.

By the time we got on the bus, however, I was over the disappointment. I realised I’d actually run an ultramarathon distance in a god damn cyclone, so dangerous that the course had to be closed. If that’s not something to be proud of, then all I’ve got going for me is that time I won the spelling competition in primary school and got a mechanical pencil for a prize.

The truth is that, for such a long run, this ultramarathon ended up having very little to do with running. I got a bunch of life lessons thrown at me in just a few hours, which is why it’s taken me so long to process it all.

In the months leading up to the event, the thought of having to run this ultra in the rain didn’t even cross my mind – now, all of a sudden, we’d be doing it in a cyclone. And my ankle was still sprained, swollen and hurting, forcing me to visit a physio the day before the race to strap the living hell out of it. And the rain. The damn pouring rain. Nothing about it seemed fair but, then again, Macklemore had won a Grammy earlier in the year so I already knew the world was full of injustices anyway.

It turned out that there was no point spending months worrying about what shoes to wear, how many gels to pack, where to place my drop bags, what songs to put on my playlist or any other of the 694 items on my Tarawera to do list. I ended up wearing brand new running shoes for my ultra (ask anyone who runs and they’ll tell you what a giant mistake that is) and not even that made a difference.

Credit: Marceau Photography

Credit: Marceau Photography

As we lined up at the start line at 6:30am, it was still pitch black in the forest. They say the only thing you have to fear is fear itself but I’d like to call bullshit on that because I was pretty freaking terrified about the prospect of an ultramarathon in a cyclone. Carlene used her ukulele to inject some adrenaline into everyone’s veins with the song that you’ll never be able to get out of your head, followed by a Maori chant coming from somewhere between the trees. You try to get through that without getting all goosebumpy and tell me how that works out for you. We all hugged and wished each other luck. That was it right there – the culmination of months and months of training, hours of running in the middle of nowhere, long group chats about what the hell we were getting ourselves into. Our group was all there, all ready (ish). The universe hadn’t looked so right since that time Vanilla Ice danced to Ice Ice Baby on the Dancing on Ice TV show. We counted down from 10 and, just like that, we were off into the forest.

I used my inhaler about 20 times in the first few kilometres but kept my pace nice and slow. I didn’t know how I was going to feel in the second half of the run and wanted to save as much energy as possible for that. Plus, I had a sprained over-mobile ankle to worry about and was focusing really hard on not splattering myself on the ground that early into the race.

Forsyth and Glenn, who helped me train for this damn thing, stayed with me from the start. I thought they’d take off and leave me behind at some point so was just trying to enjoy having their company while I had it. We chatted the first few kilometres away, going at the slowest pace any of them had ever run.

It wasn’t long before we got to the spot where we had to choose what new distance we’d be doing. F and I were both signed up for the original 60km, while G was meant to be doing 100km. The “short course” option (60km) meant a left turn, the “long course” option (now about 70km) meant a right turn. In hindsight, I know that turning left and running the 60km would have meant that I would have crossed the finish line (as I would have been out of the area Search and Rescue closed before they got there). So it might sound a little odd to tell you that making the “mistake” of turning right and going for the 70km option will stay as one of the proudest moments of my life.

I was given the option of doing something shorter and easier and decided to go for the option that scared me the most (I’d never run more than 42km so going for a 70km run during a cyclone felt like a pretty bold decision to me). My lack of hesitation seemed to surprise everyone, including Tim Day, course director and all round awesome dude who was marshalling the intersection. But it didn’t surprise any of them as much as it surprised me. Even now, knowing I could have finished the whole race if I’d chosen the short course, I’m still proud of my decision to attempt the 70km.

I kept expecting F and G to take off and run their own races but they continued to run along next to me. We caught up with a few other friends along the way, chatted along with some other runners, saw friendly faces at every aid station (Tarawera has some of the best volunteers you’ll ever find) and passed the time talking about random stuff I’ll never be able to remember again. Having them around meant I didn’t get in my own head so much and could focus on each step, making sure I didn’t let my ankle roll again. Every time my mind wandered (as it inevitably does when you’re running out in the bush for ages), I’d come back and notice they were still with me, chatting away like they had nowhere else to be. I kept telling them they should go ahead and run faster (which I totally didn’t mean because I actually wanted the company) and they kept refusing, saying I’d need help if anything happened to my ankle. And so they stayed, letting me set the slow pace, kilometre after kilometre after god damn kilometre, during the toughest run of my life.

Credit: Allan Ure - Photos4Sale

Credit: Allan Ure – Photos4Sale

They stuck with me through all the highs and lows. My highs were pretty high – thanks to industrial doses of Gu Roctane, and my lows were really low, mostly because I’m a giant wimp but also because, in my defense, I was running an ultra in a cyclone on a busted ankle. None of that seemed to matter to them. Every time I told them to go ahead without me, they told me to stop insisting on that. Next thing I knew, after a bunch of smiles and even a good dose of panicky tears, we’d done over a marathon. I kept focusing on my steps, trying to keep the ankle safe, and every time I looked to the side, F and G were still there too, sacrificing their ultramarathon time to make sure I was safe.

It doesn’t matter how many beers I buy these two in my lifetime, I’ll never be able to thank them enough for what they did that day (so I guess no point buying them any beers, right? Right).

By the time we hit the Western Okataina Walkway, the rain had started getting really heavy and I was feeling pretty – how shall I put it? – motivationally-impaired. I had a crying fit that I blame on exhaustion and panic over cut off times (because I’m the worst at maths and thought we were way behind even though we actually weren’t). At that point, when I felt like I was staring at life from the bottom of a gutter, G decided to go ahead for a bit, while F stayed with me and got acquainted with the worst version of myself.

We kept each other going along the undulating trail, managed some high fives and hugs to friends that were running back from the Okataina aid station, and helped each other through the highs and lows. I found some motivation at the end of a couple of packs of Gu Roctane (I’m telling you, that stuff is magical) and even managed to pass a few people along the way. The walkway was turning into a giant mud pool by then. We saw G again at the aid station, where we had to start a 4km out-and-back before being able to return the way we came, up the Western Okataina Walkway again. By then, the cut off times had been brought forward and kept getting shorter and shorter without us knowing because the weather was deteriorating fast (and so was the state of the trail).

We were told we had plenty of time to do the 4km so chucked down a quick drink and off we went. G was then told he had to leave the aid station so went on without us. We did our little loop, got the bracelet to prove we’d done it and, with what we thought was an hour to go, were then told by a marshall we had four minutes to return to the aid station. I know people like to say impossible is nothing but impossible is actually running 2km in 4 minutes so we ran as fast as we could but returned to the aid station to find a bus load people pulled out of the course by Search and Rescue, ourselves included.

I had my giant ugly cry about it (because it sucked, because it was pouring with rain, because I had plenty of energy left to keep going, but mostly because I cry about everything). As we started getting our stuff together to get on the bus, G re-appears, telling us he didn’t want to keep going on his own.

Now, seriously. Do you get why it’s taken me so long to write about it? THIS IS WHY. How do you explain this? How do you talk about the magnitude of what you experience when, in the middle of the ultramarathon (in a cyclone, on a busted ankle!), you discover that you are, in fact, the luckiest person you know, surrounded by the absolute best people in the world?

G had the all clear from the aid station to keep going and cross that finish line (and I know how important that finish line was to him). F could have beaten me by hours and yet they both gave up their finish lines to do the race with me.

I’d been pulled out of the course at 53km with about 17km (or a bit longer) to go. It was, for all intents and purposes, a pretty shit situation. But I’d run 53km in a cyclone with two of the best friends a crippled runner could ever ask for so what was there to be sad about?

Not much, really.

Trail running has given me more joy than I’ll ever be able to fit into a blog post (or a thousand) but nothing could have prepared me for what Tarawera would show me, both about myself and the people around me.

In the end, we got our finishers medals and a giant bear hug from Paul Charteris, only the coolest race director around. And while that medal is now potentially the first thing I’d save if my house caught fire, it’s only one of a million little things I treasure from that day.

There are many things we do in life that make us happier people, but it’s not often that we get the chance to do something that, more than just making us happy, helps define our identity. In fact, there haven’t been that many times in my life when that’s happened and they’ve all stayed as milestones for that reason. Running your first ultramarathon (like running your first marathon) is life-changing because it redefines your identity. On March 15, I became an ultramarathoner, part of one of the most special tribes in the world. And no matter what I do with myself in the future, I’ll always be one of them.

I set off that morning to do something I had no idea I could do. After hours of keeping my head down, minding my steps, swallowing my weight in energy gels and telling myself not to give up, I’d entered the class of people I admire the most. All of a sudden, all the limitations I thought I had got this giant question mark over them. If you can do something you think is impossible for you to do, what is there that you can’t do?

It’s been nearly a month and I’m still in that state of wonder about it. It still amazes me that I managed to run that far since I’ve been surviving on a diet of ice cream, chips and craft beer. But I ran 53km and got on that bus in the pouring rain knowing I could have kept going a lot further.

The only thing I don’t know is exactly how far I can go – and that’s a pretty sweet place to be.


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Free advice: Don’t get injured seven weeks before an ultramarathon

Lying with your leg raised above your heart definitely shouldn’t be a part of your ultramarathon training.

Let’s get something out in the open now: I’m not great at dealing with huge amounts of pain. Or minimal amounts of pain. Or mild barely-noticeable discomfort. If you’ve run with me before you know I spend approximately 50 to 65% of the run complaining about different aspects of it. No one runs with me and wonders whether I’m enjoying it or not. They always know I’m not. And they know so because I provide them with extensive commentary on the many ways the run sucks.

But even I will admit that sometimes I do exaggerate and not all runs suck. My run on Sunday, however, sucked on a large number of levels. A plethora of levels, if you want to be a snob about it.

You see, I was really looking forward to coming here and making you all jealous about how I live within a half hour ferry ride of a 600 year old volcano where I can go to do my run/complaining about running combo whenever I want. That’s precisely what I set off to do early on Sunday morning.

But then, PLOT TWIST. Six kilometres into the whole thing, as we were making our way back down from the summit, I failed to notice one of the steps and fell pretty spectacularly, flat on my face on a boardwalk, thus ending a good, hmmm, let’s see, week and a half of running without any sort of pain.

The few moments after the fall went something like this: massive crying fit, screaming, some more crying, another decent amount of screaming, wondering how in the actual hell I’m going to get down from that volcano, more crying, wondering how long until I can run again, a bit of screaming, wondering if I’ll be able to make the start line at Tarawera, another little cry, wondering why the Beatles broke up, some more crying (only partially over the Beatles) and a bit more screaming.

And that was just the initial 40 seconds.

(I know that’s a lot of detail but I need to make sure my future biographer has enough to work with so bear with me here.)

Forsyth, who was running behind me and clearly has his priorities very well defined, paused my Garmin immediately (and managed to do so while I was screaming so badly it sounded like a Rebecca Black song). Steve, who runs downhill at about 460kph (give or take a few hundred kph) was so far ahead he couldn’t hear me yelling in despair (unlike everyone else on the North Island and potentially the good people in Australia as well). A couple of hikers caught up with us while I was busy fighting for my life right there on the ground (ok, sort of) and the man walked down to find Steve. He ran into a DOC worker with a truck who walked up to meet us and offered to take us back down to the wharf. I would have hugged him with relief but, at this stage, I was still lying on the boardwalk.

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To cut a super-long story slightly shorter but still fairly long, Forsyth piggy-backed me out of the track (he’ll tell you he “carried me down a volcano” and, while not entirely untrue, you should know the truck was about 200m from where I fell) and the lovely man from DOC took us down to wait for the ferry. Since it was only 10:30AM and only losers who smash themselves on the ground need to be taken off the island so early, it was just the three of us on the ferry. The good part: according to what the man announced over the microphone thingy, should anything go wrong, they had about 75 life jackets per person on board for us and the guy suggested we could “throw them all out in the water at once and build a raft”. Instead, we spent the journey back eating cake and drinking beer while Steve and Forsyth worried about the sort of impression I was going to cause in the emergency room, with a potential broken foot and smelling of booze. But I don’t think the emergency room is the place to worry about making good first impressions so I went ahead and drank it anyway.

The hospital part of this whole adventure had some good Kiwi moments, like the nurse deciding that I didn’t need to have my blood pressure checked after all, because the machine was out of battery. “Yeah, you look alright”. I’M NOT GODDAMN ALRIGHT. I’M IN A WHEELCHAIR.

But I actually kept my cool about that. What really pissed me off was when she asked me to describe what happened:

Vera – So I was running down from the summit of Rangitoto…
Nurse (writing down on a piece of paper) – Okay, so walking down…
Vera – No. Not walking. Running.
Steve – Well… It was more like jogging, really.
Vera – I WAS NOT JOGGING.

LIES

(I was probably jogging.)

I tried to describe things a bit better in the form they gave me to fill out but, once again, Steve wasn’t much help. When the form asked me to tick the box describing the type of activity and I had to choose between things like “work”, “leisure” or “sport”, I went to put my tick on “sport”, to what Steve said: “I’d say leisure. You weren’t being that sporty.” This is the same man who also told me my description of the accident on the hospital form was “no Hemingway” and told me to “break a leg” when they wheeled me into the room for an x-ray.

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Anyway. I got myself a nice little ligament sprain on my right ankle and have had to learn to walk with crutches for the first time in my life. I’m not a fast learner and my “good foot” has banged on one of the crutches twice so far. I can’t even hold a cup of coffee and stand upright at the same time so that’s all of my good party tricks taken away in one go. Showering has also been interesting, since one of my feet can’t touch the ground (come on, don’t act like that’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever told you here). So, before you ask, recovery is going swell.

The only bit of good news I have is that my first physio appointment today went pretty damn good. I got told I was doing “everything right”, which is something I don’t hear very often (or, you know, ever) and the nice physio lady told me I can maybe probably potentially go for a really short run in a couple of weeks. A couple of weeks from now will be a month from my ultramarathon so you do the maths to figure out the square root of how screwed I am.

It’s bad, you guys. I’m Keanu Reeves-sad. My last post here bragged about running over 70km in 48h and I’ve now spent the last 48h relying on people to help me do pretty much everything. I’m not the most elegant person on crutches and I’ve realised I wouldn’t exactly be a role model if I ever had the misfortune of having a permanent physical disability.

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To top it all off nicely, I finally met Julian last night while he was up in Auckland for work. Few things are worse than getting injured and catching up with a runner who’s just been given the ok to run for the first time that day after 7 weeks of injury. But whatever, it’s this sort of adversity that builds character, amirite? And also, I hopped my way into the brew bar (hopped, hops, Jesus, I’m like some kind of pun genius right now), drank three delicious beers and forgot about the pain for a bit.

But now the pain is back. And I’m still lousy on crutches. I continually bang my leg on them and continue to insist on trying to carry stuff in my hands while using the crutches which means everything I touch becomes damaged in some way, like some kind of ridiculous inverse Midas effect.

I know what you’re thinking. Poor SGG, let me send her some get well soon cookies and some speedy recovery chocolate.

Yes, you should definitely do that.

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