It was in a cheap hotel room in Geneva that I entered myself into Old Ghost Road Ultra.
85km ‘f#@$, what have I done?!’
I posted the entry link to my Facebook page so that everyone knew what I’d entered and that way I couldn’t hide from it. I’d have to bloody well do it.
The training continued, there were adventures, including a 55km ultra in Vic, Australia (Great Ocean Walkway), a 45km loop of the Tongariro Northern Circuit with some girlfriends, and a 35km heli-run in the Whirinaki National Park. That all sounds blimmin awesome, which it was, but the road to any big goal is very rarely straightforward and so was the case here. I had about a month off due to injury and minor surgery and had to slowly build back into my training again from 4 weeks of zero. So the build up wasn’t what I’d wanted for myself but it was what it was. What’s done is done, keep moving forward.
Two weeks before race day we supported hundreds of runners across the Tarawera Ultra finish line. It was a mammoth couple of weeks for us and I felt physically and emotionally flattened, as well as overworked and stressed. Perfect ultra build up right?! As before, what’s done is done, keep moving forward.
We arrived in Westport and had a warm and entertaining briefing. The sun shone and we knew that we were in for good times.
3:30am the alarm went off. I’d barely slept. Tossing and turning throughout the night, my tummy bubbled. We jumped on the bus at 4:20 and set off to the start line. Pre-race portaloo stop, hugs from many a lovely friend, a giggle at Fra telling me ‘I’m so happy I just did a really big poo’ and then off we set. Headlamps bobbing like a conga line of glow worms along a flat and rocky riverside trail. Moving methodically, Kerry just behind me, we ran. Dark turned to dawn and a wide emerald river revealed its beauty below us. Small waterfalls tumbled over mossy rocks, crossing the trail and down into the depths below. The river continued to surprise us with its beauty, sandy beaches, huge boulders, and gushing rapids.
We climbed up to Specimen Point hut; the first aid station well within cut offs. Sandflies blanketed us and I sprayed repellent all over me. Bottles refilled and off we set again. The native bush through the first section here was just stunning. I loved seeing all of the young rimu which surrounded us. On we carried.
Eventually we hit what’s known as ‘the boneyard’. It’s pretty barren and the sun bore down with a vengeance. Big boulders flanked us, and switchbacks wound their way until we hit the top.
Lakes Grim and Pleasant were below me, I heard a ‘woooohooooo’ and saw my lunatic of a lover, Kerry, swimming in the lake far below me (ironically Lake Grim, even though he was anything but). I smiled knowing that he was having a wonderful time.
In any ultra there are some dark points. This was it for me. I was hot and thirsty and praying that I might roll an ankle or fall down a bank so that I had an excuse for a helicopter ride right outta there. The thought of 43 more kms was unfathomable. I had to hurt myself (more). I navigated the technical rocky section, the rolled ankle didn’t happen, it wasn’t to be, the sufferfest was to continue.
I meandered into stern valley (42km) just under cutoffs and was gifted a much needed cup of electrolytes Kerry peeled a stone filled shoe off my right foot, shook them out giving me a pep talk and a hurry up. I went and filled waterbottles, quick long drop stop and then we gapped it amidst talk of a Japanese runner who was suffering with cramps who was to be airlifted out. He was ok, it was just unlikely that he would have got to the next checkpoint within the given time frame.
I felt relieved and incredulous to have made it out of that aid station. I also felt a darn sight better after rehydrating.
This section is where the long climb begins. I’d intentionally saved myself for this as the elevation profile, and talk of the skyline steps, had made it look pretty brutal. This climb was my opportunity to try and force some food and drink in. Nibbling and drinking and burping we mosied up the hill through the bush. Darn it. Forgot to sunscreen up at Stern Valley Hut. Boo. Oh well! What’s done is done, keep moving forward.
Switchback after switchback we climbed. A trio of mountainbikers whizzed their way in the opposite direction to us smiling and enjoying their downhill freeride. The fluids started to make me feel a bit better. I was still burping more than there were kilometres but at least I wasn’t dry. Kerry continued to chat and encourage as we climbed. We peeked our way out near the top and were rewarded with some big blue sky and ridgetop views.
The climb continued and we hit the Skyline Steps. 60m vertical gain. We had been warned. This section was added as a last resort, a sign basically stating (*not an actual quote) ‘we can’t find any other way to link these trails up apart from steps so suck it up princess’. Which is true West Coast ‘get on with it’ style. We climbed. This wasn’t that bad. I’ve spent some time in the Blue Mountains, those guys know about steps. These were just a wee touch on that!
We hit the top and wooohooooooooo skyline ridge was just stunning. 360degree vistas.
A clear curvy golden trail of where we’d traveled and where we were headed (uh oh up a switchback filled hill to a gorgeous hut on the edge of a cliff). Helicopters buzzed. At this point magic happened. Kerry had originally talked about putting a 6pack of beer in his drop bag.
‘No way’ was my answer. He’d mentioned on the climb that he’d love a beer.
All of a sudden he called out ‘found a can of beer’… ‘You what?!’
Sure enough in his right hand was a FULL can of Kingfisher. He continued on.
‘Found some sunscreen’ ‘No way!’ He rubbed the sunscreen on my arms and neck, and on we carried.
Next up he found a packet of ginger biscuits. We couldn’t believe our luck.
Ghost Lake Hut was a mere couple of kilometres away BUT it was at the top of a cliff and a few hundred of metres vertical gain was still to be done.
I dreamt of Sprite, but thought ‘nooo they only ever have Coke, not Sprite, it’s not to be’.
Through a magical mossy ‘fairy’ forest I hiked and eventually came out at a large reddish lake. The vollies at Ghost lake were cheering and I had the biggest smile and thank you’s for them. Especially when I saw the much desired Sprite on the table! I regaled them with stories of Kerry’s beer and sunscreen and they laughed at how rapt I was to see some Sprite. A wee rest and a chat with these lovely souls and we continued on. Kerry tried to tell me the elevation was done but I knew there was still a bit of climbing left. The route along here past the Tombstone rock and ‘Heavens Door’ was just phenomenal.
Bush covered valleys below. I was literally on top of the world knowing that the climbing was done and the last 1/4 of the race was downhill baby! The nauseated feeling abated and we flowed down the hill like a stream. A sip of Red Bull had really given me wings and I was so happy to be running again. Down we rolled. The km markers ticked over. The bush was cool and the sunlight dappled through the trees.
We hit the final aid station with ages to spare. A helicopter landed on a ridge to our right. We had a good old yarn with the awesome vollies under the shelter there. More Red Bull and a bit of Sprite, a ‘Crasssshhhh’ and a scream. Everyone sprinted towards the noise. The photographer further up the track had narrowly missed a tree sliding down the bank only metres away from her. I’d thought she’d fallen down the bank. I was so relieved that she was safe. We ran out of there and continued downhill.
We were way up high, glimpses down into the valley below revealed we still had a lot of descending to do.
I felt so pleased with myself. I was moving well. The km markers were getting closer and closer 11km, 10km, 9km (woohoo single digits). Kerry and I compared the new distances to our usual runs ‘its just like home to…’
With 4km to go I felt a searing burn on the outside of my big toe and knew that a blister had just popped. Nice. Glamorous sport this. We continued running. 1km to go and I bricked. So close but yet so far. I hadn’t fueled for a while because I’d been feeling so nauseated, and had hoped I’d make it back from the sips of Red Bull and Sprite. No such luck.
Who knew a kilometre could take so long.
Trudge, trudge, trudge, and then the smell of bbq smoke. We are close. Then the smell of fried onions (as an onion hater I almost vomited at this updated sense).
A man checked my name off a list and informed me that I had a bit of a support crew waiting for me at the finish line. My heart warmed and I started running. Almost tearing up. A bridge and lights. We bounced along the bridge and STEPS….
‘What sick f@#$ puts them there?!’ I hauled myself up, running, and highfiving the heck out of my smiling friends who lined the finishing chute. A hug from a friend, a medal from Phil the Race Director and my other buddies came and cuddled me too, a kiss on the lips and a cuddle with Kerry. He had been an absolute star all day.
I plonked down on the grass. Fra held her phone up ‘smile gorgeous girl’ I pasted on a smile and flash.
I did it.
The thing I’ve learnt about ultramarathons is that I’m no different to anyone else.
I’m just another person.
I’m just someone who chose a goal and worked towards it.
It was sucky. It was the best. It hurt. It felt freeing.
Ultras are raw. They give you this vivid perspective of the environment that you’re in.
The scenery gets branded into your eyeballs.
My limbs were heavy and relief was etched on my face.
Finish lines are the perfect place to capture raw emotion. This is it.
Thanks for reading and a huge thank you to Kerry. You are my favourite adventure buddy.
A massive thank you to everyone who toiled building the amazing trail that is the Old Ghost Road. Massive thank you to all of the race organisers and volunteers too, you guys and girls are AMAZING.