Category: sport

A Long Journey

adventureNZ Placessportwalks

On 20th February 2021, I ran the furthest I have ever run and am confident that it will be the furthest I will ever run in one go! Let’s wind back the clock about 12 months or maybe even 24 months. In January 2019, Nigel and I with our friends, Jo and Rob, set off on an adventure to do the Old Ghost Road. Jo and I ran/walked it whilst Nigel and Rob mountain biked it over 4 days. It is an amazing adventure, the scenery is just stunning, the history is fascinating and we were blessed with fantastic weather too. It’s 85km long and the recommended direction for biking is from Lyell to Seddonville simply because you get the steep sections out of the way in the first two days and you go down the spiral staircase instead of having to carry bikes up it! Jo and I walked the first two days faster than the boys could ride because the ‘push’ in pushbiking was more in evidence than the ‘biking’. It’s pretty hard pushing a bike with panniers on uphill, narrow, exposed tracks! Much easier carrying a pack and walking.

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Anyway, we all agreed it had been a fantastic experience but felt that 4 days gave us the chance to take in the views, enjoy the terrain and each other’s company. The huts are great and we had time to chill at the beginning and end of each day and not be under pressure to move faster than we felt was comfortable.

So that was that. Great memories, appetites whetted to do more overnight tramps and Great Walks, especially in that area.

Well, until February 2020 that is! A message comes through from Jo. “I’m thinking of doing the Old Ghost Ultra in 2021”.

I distinctly remember Jo saying after we finished in 2019 that she really didn’t want to do Old Ghost in one day, it was a crazy idea, why would you run it and not be able to enjoy the scenery?! The conversation went like this;

“Really!?” I replied.

She said, “Well, it’s my 60th birthday on 19th Feb, the race is on 20th Feb. I’ll be up an age group. Seems like a good thing to do for my birthday. Do you want to support me?”

“Of course. A trip down south sounds good. I’ll travel with you, be at the start and meet you at the end. Maybe go for an explore while you’re running.”

“Oh no! By support, I meant will you run with me?”

“Whaaat! But I’ve never run that far before. I’ve always said I don’t want to run that far. I’m happy with short distances.”

“But you’ve done 4 Oxfams!”

“Yes, but that was walking.”

“We’ll do it together, you know you can walk that far. You’ve done heaps of running since. A bit of running, a bit of walking. We’ll be sweet.”

My fatal mistake was not immediately saying no! Maybe there was a little bit of something in my head and my heart that nagged at me to give myself a challenge? So I looked at the course, looked at the times people had done it in. I checked the cut off times. They were scary! Considered how quickly we had done 85kms on Oxfams, compared elevation… maybe, just maybe, I could do it. Bugger! She who hesitates his lost… or at least persuaded. Before I knew it I’d signed up to a Squadrun training program and Jo and I were locked in! Training commenced!

Covid19 lockdown happened. Our training was all local, along the river trail in Kirikiriroa on my own. We still hadn’t actually entered the event as it wasn’t open for registration until June. The event is limited to 300 people and it sells out fast! June 1st saw us in separate houses, at our computers, credit cards at the ready, OGR event page on count down, ready to hit that enter button as soon as the event went live, hoping that we both managed to get a place. My fingers were clearly faster as I ended up with race number 45. Jo was 118 but we were both in!

Now it was real! The Covid rahui was over and we hit the trails with a vengeance. I had gradually been increasing my running frequency from maybe 2 – 3 times a week to 4 – 5 times a week. Runs were getting longer and faster. Weekends were filled, running dominated. Wherever Nigel and I went, I was always looking for an opportunity to run. I became pretty adept at squeezing runs in on my travels for work. Fortunately the days were getting longer and so that made it easier to find time.

We decided to enter the Poronui Passage marathon in September. This is billed as the ‘Luxury Marathon’ and it isn’t cheap. Then again, most events aren’t cheap and we figured we might as well pay for an event on trails that we wouldn’t normally be able to run on. It was to be my first ‘official’ marathon; whilst I had run further than that before (Taupo 50 in 2019), I had never actually entered a marathon event. It was a harder day out than we had expected but amazing, big scenery. I struggled with cramp in my quads and calves from about halfway but plodded on. It was all very runnable – not my sort of trail at all! I much prefer some gnarly hills either up or down to allow me to walk! But we finished mid-pack in 5hr52 which was within our target time. The freezing cold knee deep stream a km before the end was bliss on tired muscles, and the beer went down well too! One of the luxuries was a hot shower and then delicious burgers and fries and as much beer or wine as you could manage! (Not much after a day dehydrating in the sun!)

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One well-earned beer! Thanks @jomunn50 for dragging me over the line, thanks for the photos #Photos4sale amazing event #poronuipassage Thanks @squadrun for the training!

Our next big adventure was the Squadrun Old Ghost Camp.We would run half the course on Saturday, the 2nd half on Sunday. Great back to back training. That was another fastest fingers first experience! This time only 12 places so we really did need to be quick. I was so quick, I inadvertently managed to book two places! Fortunately, it was very easy to sell on with some help from Ali. It was a fantastic weekend away in December, just 2 months out from race day. It gave us the opportunity to test the cut off times and gain some confidence that we could actually make them! I had a horrific time on the first day – my calves tightened and then my quads about 15km away from the hut. I couldn’t really run, so limped my way down the Boneyard and along the valley to the Stern Valley hut. We were running with some cool people and we all chivvied each other along, having fun taking photos and waiting for each other at wee stops! The 4 of us arrived at the hut and went to put our legs straight in the river where the fast guys had also stashed the beer supply – what a welcome treat! – before getting changed. I then spent some time with my legs up against the wall after massaging with magnesium oil and then Omrub. I was dreading how they would feel the next day and wondering how on earth I’d be able to run another 42 km! Doubt had really set in.

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It’s amazing how well our bodies recover, though! A hearty feed (thanks to Ali), plenty of fluids, a long sleep and the next day, I was as good as gold. There’s a big climb in the second half to Ghost Lake Hut but after that it’s 24km of downhill. Jo tried out her poles. I had forgotten to bring mine. However, she soon gave up on them in frustration and I ended up using them thinking that they might help my legs. Downhill might be less taxing than up but I was still worried that my cramp might flare up. Using the poles took some of the pressure off, I think or maybe it was just in my head but either way, it worked! I definitely got slower, legs were tired, there was probably more walking than running but we kept up a steady pace and made it down with plenty of time before the cut off (when the shuttle bus was leaving to take us back to Westport!)

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So, that was it. All we needed to do now was keep the training steady and maintain frequency. No need for any really long runs now just a couple of 30km shuffles and in no time we were into tapering!

We had done really well all through training – one of the mantras of trail running is about getting to the start line. You can’t finish if you don’t start! OGR Ultra has a limit of 300 runners. There were nearly as many as that again on the waitlist. Every year almost everyone on the waitlist gets in because so many people sign up and then get injured. We had been sensible, trusted the programme, and we were still injury free (apart from the usual niggles of nearly 60 yr old bodies!).

Then, after a short run around the lake – one of the speed sessions in the last 3 weeks, Jo complained of her Achilles hurting. Rest was in order. She rested a couple of days then tried again. Still sore. Her brain went into panic mode. We’d trained for this all year, we were almost there! Physio sessions revealed both tendons were inflamed. Nothing could be done except rest. We had done enough training, two weeks rest would be fine – physically but not mentally! So much messing with a head that didn’t need it! Jo is an amazing runner and a true friend. She has supported me all through the year, encouraging me, telling me I can go faster and further. But she is always a head case leading up to an event! (self-confessed!) Having a niggly, painful injury was a disaster.

In the meantime, Jo had been also wondering whether to use poles or not. There had been lots of discussion on the Squadrun FB page. Most people recommended using them for the 2nd half. Nigel had bought me some for Christmas and so I was planning on using mine – I’d practised with them whilst we’d been on holiday up north. Jo needed to practise with hers if she was going to use them. We planned a run up Maungatautari solely to practise. It seemed to go well. We weren’t any slower than usual and were probably a little bit faster. With the Achilles flaring up, the decision was made for her. Poles looked like they were going to be very useful for protecting her ankles.

More stress when Jo went to check our accommodation booking to find that it had seemingly been cancelled by BookaBach!! Manic messaging went on, rabid internet searching to find an alternative and we ended up with what we decided was a better deal. Serendipitously, there was a spare 4 person room at the Rough and Tumble Lodge where the race actually started from. That would mean we didn’t have to get up at silly o’clock to get a bus from Westport! Result. Panic over.

Finally, we were on the plane. This was it! No more to be done just turn up and run! Except that the pesky Achilles raised it’s ugly little heel again! On Thursday evening’s gentle jog on the first part of the trail, Jo struggled. On Friday, Jo’s birthday, we spent time trying to find a physio in Westport. A vain hope! I think Jo’s brain went into overdrive again. Walking was fine – we wandered out to the seal colony and distracted ourselves by watching the baby seals lolloping over the rocks and playing in the waves. Then we headed back into Westport, registered, met up with all the other Squaddies, had dinner and then went to the event briefing. Various people were singled out for thanks for their contributions to the event organisation. The oldest and youngest competitors were identified, those who were running for the 3rd, 4th, 5th ….. times, and those whose birthday it was! Just Jo – Happy Birthday was sung! Back to the Rough and Tumble and pretty much straight to bed after laying out all our gear, food, water, ready to put on when we woke at 5.30am. It was going to be a long day next day!

At breakfast, Jo broached the subject of what we would do if her Achilles were so sore she couldn’t continue. There wasn’t really a choice – the only way off the course is by helicopter for those who are injured, or who don’t make the cut offs. If you are uninjured and make the cut offs, then you stay on the course. But we had to voice it, and have a plan. It might just as easily be me who wouldn’t make it given my history with cramp. I hadn’t allowed that thought to really take hold in my head, though it was always there nagging on my shoulder! We agreed that the other would carry on. Then we ate breakfast in silence both struggling with our thoughts and doubts.

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On the start line, we bumped in to other runners who we knew. Nervously chatted, wished them all luck. Jo disappeared off the the loo and I lost her 5 minutes before the start! She had missed the actual toilets and gone in the bush! We’re both pretty blind without glasses and in the dark with lots of torchlights glaring! Then the countdown started and we were off. There is never a surge at the start – well not unless you’re a front runner! We went with the flow of the crowd at the back, jogging gently up the first 500m to where we went under the entrance to the trail. At this point, it narrows to single track and we pretty much stopped – as 5 lanes merged into one! We then settled into a steady pace, Jo chatting to all and sundry by my side, me just in my zone. I’m not a great talker on the trail – mainly because I don’t have enough puff – but also because on this day I needed to steady my thoughts and focus. I found myself running with someone else in the dark; I could still hear Jo behind me but she wasn’t right behind me. Then I realised that I couldn’t hear her voice anymore. I thought that the footsteps behind me were her but when we reached a swingbridge – one person at a time – and I stopped at the other end for her, it wasn’t her! I waited. She was only a couple of minutes behind, still chatting to a lady who we were going to play leapfrog with for the rest of the day!

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As we ran along the river it got lighter. The sun didn’t really make it out until we got higher, so it was actually quite pleasant running in the cool of the valley. The kms clicked by steadily. We were a little under our target as we had probably underestimated how long the first 2kms were going to take as the field spread out and then the waits at a couple of swingbridges. But we were still on target and we reached the first checkpoint at Specimen Point (17km) with about 25 minutes to spare. What we hadn’t factored in was that the cut off was when we left the aid station not when we arrived, so we needed to be swift. The volunteers were fantastic, they took our bottles off us and filled them while we chomped on the food provided, then helped us put them back in our bags. 10 minutes later we were out of there. 15 minutes leeway and we had 4hrs15 to run the (25km) to get to and then out of the next cut off at Stern Valley at 42km. There was a fair amount of climbing to do but we knew we just needed to plug away at it. Then, a few kms out of Specimen Point Jo mentioned she had some hotspots on her heels. Should we stop and deal to them? No, she reckoned she’d be ok, we’d get to Stern and then sort them. We’d always worried about the first two cut offs because they are pretty tight but we reckoned if we could make them the next ones were more achievable. As we climbed up from Goat Creek to the Hanging Judge we got our poles out. Jo’s hotspots were getting hotter. Should we stop? We decided again to carry on. Down through the Boneyard. The terrain is unforgiving – built for mountain bikers, it is made up of 3-4cm stones that are angular and shift under your feet. We were getting closer to the cut off time but still ok as long as we could get through quickly. We had bags to pick up at Stern Point with food supplies in, we needed more water and Jo really needed to sort out her blisters. Should we go through fast and then stop on the other side to do the blisters or stay in the checkpoint? We decided to stay in as there was somewhere to sit. I fed Jo food while she took her shoes and socks off to reveal huge blisters that had already formed on her heels. The volunteers again were fantastic, kept giving us time checks and helped however they could.

We made it out of there with 3 minutes to spare! Definitely not what we had planned but we were still in the game! Jo’s blisters were still very sore – they hadn’t popped so the pressure was huge. Every step was painful. We had 3 and a half hours to go 12km which included a huge climb to Ghost Lake Hut. It had taken us less time than we had thought on the training camp weekend so we thought we should be ok.

The sun was out and it was hot! Even in the shade through the forest the heat was overwhelming. I meant to grab water from the streams and waterfall on the way but was conscious of keeping moving so didn’t. Jo was getting slower. She was in so much pain. I know when Jo stops talking that things are getting bad. We focussed on putting one foot in front of the other. I tried to keep the pace steady but not too fast but I was constantly doing the maths in my head. I knew Jo would be doing the same. Would we make the next cut off? We reached the Skyline Steps, up and onto the top and across the ridge. The photographer greeted us here – what an amazing spot for a photo! I told him that the last twice I’d been up there, I’d done a handstand. He asked if I wanted to do one today. I said no! I sort of wish I had but it just didn’t seem the right thing to do! We paused for enough time to have a photo taken together. That ridge seemed to go on a lot longer then we remembered from last time! Then we reached the end and could see Ghost Lake Hut across the valley in the distance. It still seemed a long way away! And we had to go down and then up again to get there. By this time Jo was really struggling. She normally romps up the hills leaving me in her wake. I found myself needing to keep up my own pace but then stopping to wait for her. We have always run together but we have different strengths and so we go at our own paces ups and down and on the flats and then wait for each other. The sun was blazing by now. We passed a runner who was pretty much flaked out on the path. We asked if he was ok and needed some help. He said he was fine and then started moving again. (He ended up being helicoptered out attached to a drip – apparently the heat accounted for a lot of people)

As we climbed the last 2-3km to the hut, Jo said she didn’t think she was going to make it. I think up until that point I had been shutting out that possibility from my mind. We were only here for Jo – it was her event, for her birthday and I couldn’t really contemplate her having to drop out. I think I blithely said, “it’s ok you can do it, you’ve coped with worse blisters on Oxfam, you’ve been here before, we can do it together.” But in my heart, I knew that at the speed we were going we wouldn’t make the cut off at Lyell Saddle. She did too.

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51/365 20th February 2021
54/365 23rd February 2021
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The handstand I did the last time I was on Skyline Ridge!

We got to Ghost Lake Hut. The guys on the FB live feed were there chatting to people, sharing messages from friends and family. They tried to talk to us, passed on messages from Rachel, from the Cambridge Crew. We didn’t engage like we had at Specimen Point. We were in a whole new world of pain – emotional and physical. We got Jo up to see the Medic to get her feet looked at. I went to get bottles filled and some food and took it up to her. It didn’t look good. I accidentally touched Jo’s ankle with my foot as I moved close to her, she almost hit the ceiling. The medic was concerned about the blisters but also about the severe tenderness under Jo’s feet and the sensitivity of the Achilles. She wouldn’t pop the blisters. She dressed them and then Jo tried to put her shoes back on. No go. At that point the Medic took the decision out of Jo’s hands. We wept, clinging on to each other. Bloody blisters!!! After all the worry about Achilles, blisters were going to end her day.

I set off from Ghost Lake with 10 minutes to spare. Apparently, Nigel and Rob were watching the live feed willing us to get out before the cut off. As I was getting ready to leave, the guys on the live feed asked me where Jo was. Rachel was wondering. I said she was with the medic. I didn’t want to say on the live feed that she wasn’t carrying on. They asked if they could go up and talk to her but the medic cut them off and told them to stay away. I’m not sure what happened after that.

I left feeling very sorry for myself but more sorry for Jo. As soon as I was out of earshot I let the floodgates open and I belly sobbed. Tears streaming down my face and taking big gulps, I let it all out! Then I turned to anger. The unfairness of it. This was Jo’s event. Everything we had done was because this was her special goal. I wouldn’t have been here, fit enough mentally and physically to do this thing without her. Why was it that I was still on the trail and she was sitting waiting (in far more grief and anger than me) for the ‘helicopter of shame’ as she called it. I shouted at the world, then I opened my eyes. I had rounded the corner and was looking at the trail curve out in front of me. Magnificent mountains and valleys, a cloudless blue sky. What a place! What a privilege to be here. I still had 30km to go, another cut off to make. No point in wasting time on crying or anger. I had also trained hard for an event that had become a goal and now I could either wallow in self-pity or I could get on and do this thing for myself and for Jo. I did some more maths. How fast did I need to go to get to the finish before it was too dark? Our half unspoken goal of 13 and a half hours was well gone, so we’re the spoken goals of 14 and 14 and a half! I’d been out there for 10 and a half hours already. Daylight would be gone, especially in the forest, by 8.30 at the latest. If I could do 30km in 5 hours then I’d be in before 9.30pm. 10min kms. I didn’t even factor in the cut off at Lyell Saddle, I was going for the end at this point. I took a deep breath.

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I tried in those 30kms to appreciate the whenua around me. The trail along the ridge to Heaven’s Door and beyond is stunning, dropping down into goblin forest, the forms of the trees are beautiful. The steady downhill was hard on tired legs and the unrelenting stones that move underfoot were murderous on my ankles. Eventually I made it to Lyell Saddle. I had overtaken a couple of people and some had overtaken me but on the whole it had been a lonely section. Somehow though I had settled into my rhythm; I’d watched the kms tick away at under 10mins so was happy with my progress. At some point in the forest I had decided to put my watch on charge, worried that the battery wouldn’t last the distance. At Lyell I checked to see if it had taken some charge to find that it had plenty of charge but that it had stopped recording my run. Bugger! I unplugged it and set it going again.

At Lyell there were people who Jo and I had leapfrogged in the first part of the event. They asked where she was. All of them said they were sorry to hear that she had been forced to pull out. I refilled my water, had a few lollies. Once again the volunteers were so kind. They held my poles, helped me unscrew my bottles when I didn’t have the strength to do so myself. I was in danger of crying again so I decided I needed to get out of there! I had made up some time and left Lyell with half an hour to spare. 18kms to go.

All downhill from here. I motored on half walking, half running. I warded off the cramps in my quads and calves that threatened by trying to relax my legs as they swung through and concentrating on letting my poles take the weight. I overtook several lone runners, was overtaken by a couple of greyhounds who I then overtook further down the trail. It started to get darker and the km markers counted down. I remembered from our training weekend that some of the markers were missing. I wondered if they still were missing. I got to 5kms to go. I was still doing calculations in my head. It was pretty dark by now but not dark enough to stop, take my pack off, rummage for my torch and lose my rhythm. I let my eyes get accustomed to the dark. It was just like caving!

I caught up with a couple with teddy bears in their packs, who had overtaken me earlier. He was trying not to use his torch but his partner had hers out. I walked and talked with them for a few minutes but the light distracted me so I pushed on. Then I saw a bright light in front of me. It was someone coming up the track. About 3kms to go. It was Ali. We exchanged a few words – not sure if she realised it was me. Not far now. I felt lights behind me and some mountain bikers came past. I still resisted stopping to get a torch out, it was fully dark by now but I only had 2kms to go.

I could hear the noise of the finish line. It spurred me on. I wondered who would be there. I was feeling quite emotional by now. The reality of running/walking 85km – actually finishing this thing that I had been training for for the last 12 months – started to hit home. So did the fact that I was on my own and not with my running buddy. She should have been with me. She was the only reason I even did this bloody thing! She had supported me everytime I had struggled on training runs. I faltered. How could I cross the line without her? Well, I had to, didn’t I otherwise I wasn’t going to get to my bed tonight and boy, did I need my bed! I heard a voice tell me that the bridge was just round the corner. I was nearly there. Yeah, right! People always tell you that and they always exaggerate! It was probably still ages away. But no, there it was, looming out of the darkness. Just as I reached it so did some mountain bikers and they overtook me. Onto the bridge in front of me just as I was about to cross the finish line! Seriously!? Did they not know how far I’d come and that this was my endpoint?

I followed them across the bridge and then they stood to one side to let me pass as they lifted their bikes up the steps. A couple were just crossing the finish line so I waited until they were over and then I came across. Standing blinded in the lights under the arch, I was a bit lost. Trying to hold back my tears, I smiled maniacally! I felt someone come towards me, put a medal around my neck and give me a hug. It was Jo. We clung to each other and I sobbed.

fighting back the tears!
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A fun day out

NZsportwalks

Yesterday I ran/walked in the Surf to Firth off road half marathon. Here is my race report!!

Are you tough enough? The Surf to Firth is described as ‘the most technically challenging off road marathon in New Zealand’ on its own website . There are so many off road races now, in so many different parts of New Zealand, and I haven’t done enough of them to compare, but it certainly was a challenge. Having said that, I suspect that in fine weather, it is a lot less of a challenge.

I enjoy technical stuff having spent the 30 years before taking up ‘trailrunning’ walking, tramping and caving in the Lake District, Scotland, Wales and Europe. I am used to uneven, rocky, slippery, muddy and steep trails. However, I am a bit of a self-doubter and worried, after I signed up to the half marathon in a random moment of insanity, whether I wasn’t going to be ‘tough enough’! There are no aid stations on the route, just SARs volunteers at checkpoints along the way to ensure that everyone is accounted for on the trail. Only one of them about 7km from the end had some water and lollies. I was well-prepared with enough fluid and fuel to last me and some more in case of disaster. I also carried emergency gear – thermals, beanie, gloves, first aid kit and blanket, although the event didn’t stipulate any compulsory gear. I am an ex-rescue team member, after all, and it wouldn’t look too good to become a statistic due to my own poor preparation! IMHO a compulsory gear list is something the organising group do need to consider.

It rained during the week in the run up to the event, but the message on the Facebook page was positive, despite rain forecast it was going to be warm so the race would go ahead – just make sure you have a rain jacket. It rained steadily all Friday night. We were in our wee campervan in a motorvan stopover in Thames and I woke regularly to hear it falling on the roof, wondering if it would peter out before the morning. It didn’t, but the race was still on and we were bussed up to Wainora campground where the half marathon started.

The river up the Kaueranga Valley was already high and the fords were flowing. The bus driver made light of them but we all looked out a little nervously! I had opted to go with the early tortoise group – walkers and run/walkers who expected to take more than 4 hours 30. The faster hares would follow an hour later. It tippled it down as the race briefing happened and then we were away. The first part is on well-prepared, very accessible trail and we set off at a good pace. A few fast folk raced ahead, I chose to plod in the middle and the walkers brought up the rear. Then we hit the steps – I was reliably informed by a local that there were 350 of them but I didn’t bother counting. The rain was steady at this point but it was warm and I was tempted to take my jacket off. Once off the steps we hit a real steep section, very rough ground, roots, rocks, mud. Quite a lot of upper body work to pull yourself up the steep climbs – I love that sort of stuff so went past a few who struggled a bit more, just making sure as I went that they were ok. In between the steep bits the trail was very muddy – deep pools of water, some of which you could skirt round the edge but mostly just waded through the middle. Sometimes they were ankle deep, others I sank knee deep in the mud! I think that’s what made it hard on the legs – you never knew what was underfoot and couldn’t get into any rhythm. It was dark in the bush and at times it was difficult to make out the profile of the trail to pick where to put my feet. And the rain just kept pouring down, every now and then the bush lit up with flashed of lightning followed by huge, long rolls of thunder. The wind also started to get up and I was glad I had kept my jacket on.

For a while I was running with a couple of other people and it was nice to have company. The steep section was done, we reached the ridge where I stopped to take a photo of the stunning and atmospheric view of the clouds and rain over the forest.

female trailrunner, wearing turquoise cap and purple rain jacket. Self portrait at the top of a hill in the rain with dark clouds and forested valley in the background
Light at the top

Dark clouds, rainy and low cloud in a forested valley
A break in the rain

Dark clouds, rainy and low cloud in a forested valley
Atmospheric view over the valley

For most of the way we were literally running through a stream – water poured on to the track from the hill at the side and found the line of least resistance down the trail. The middle section was more runnable albeit on terrain I have just described. I reached a junction with several ways on and initially followed another competitor down a track which was marked with the orange DoC trailmarkers we had been told to follow. However, I wasn’t convinced and said I was going back to check – just thought we had made the decision too quickly. When I got back to the top, a couple of others arrived and they confirmed that we were wrong. We shouted and whistled to the girl who had carried on, contemplated trying to catch her, but decided that we wouldn’t manage it, and that if she carried on she would end up in the valley. We would let the SARs guys know so they could pick her up. We weren’t to know at that stage that the Kaueranga Valley was now impassable, the marathoners were trapped and their race had been canned. Fortunately, she had heard our shouts and whistles and caught us up about 15 minutes later.

The three of us ran together through the mud and water until we reached the final checkpoint. I had no idea how far we had gone and only a vague idea of how long we had been running as I had had a ‘watch fail’. We were told at this point that we were being re-routed. I had been expecting some more of the steep terrain we had had at the start, with drop offs, roots etc, but instead it was pretty plain sailing – actually a boat might well have been handy! The trail was more rocky with the stream still flowing steadily along it, quite hard on my hips as there was no give in it and I couldn’t always see what I was putting my feet on because of the water, so keeping balance was a challenge.

water flowing down a trail in the bush
‘Stream running’

The added excitement now were the streams we had to cross that flowed over the trail. None were very wide but required me to be in the water with both feet for two or three steps, so I was quite circumspect, tried to find branches or rocks to hold onto and test the depth before committing. The deepest was thigh deep, but most were mid calf to knee deep. Running ‘blind’ – no watch to indicate time or distance is weird but quite liberating in a way once I had got over the frustration of my watch giving up the ghost! As the vegetation changed, I sensed that I was getting closer, then I heard a siren which meant I must be close to a road, then I saw the Hauraki Gulf through a break in the trees…. then I met a volunteer who said ‘Not far now!” “How far?” I asked. “About a km, down to the road, and there might be a bus waiting for you.” It would be a bit over the top to say that it was the sweetest thing I had heard, but it was great to hear I was so close as I was sure that I still had 2 or 3 kms to go. No big finishing line, just a time mat and a van, and a few other finishers waiting for the bus.

Whilst we had been running, the organisers had been working maniacally in the background troubleshooting, problem solving, trying to make sure we were all safe. I have some questions about decisions made about to go ahead with the event given the weather conditions. And I know that the marathoners had a pretty hard time. But once the proverbial hit the fan, they did what needed to be done to get people out. Plenty of learning to be done, I think! I loved my 4 and a half hours out on the trail/stream. I was tough enough! I will be back. It’s all in a great cause, after all. Proceeds go to SAR.

Wet training shoes, a race number and muddy socks

Kids on bikes

leisuresport

Took the boys to a mountain bike track in Hamilton at the weekend (well they took me really!) Lachlan shouts back “The next bit’s easy, Dad”. One slope and three steps (who the puts steps on a bike track??) later, I’m under the bike with just the one sore shoulder and one painful leg, oh and just the small amount of blood leaking from the grazes! Here is a vid that I’ve put on Flickr to test their new video capability.

Lachlan’s first NZ rugby match

Hamiltonschoolsport

Hi,

This is Lachlan writing for the Robertson blog about my first rugby match in NZ.

It was a pre-season friendly against a school from south Auckland. When we first saw the opposition we thought we were going to get smashed because they were really big and mean. Unfortunately we lost but it was our first match this year and it hurt! The ground was as hard as something really hard and I now have cuts and bruises everywhere L . My team played really well but got tired at the end and I think I made some good tackles. The holidays are coming up in a week so I can’t wait! We had an after match feed back at the school (we played at Marist rugby club) and we had cake and lasagne J. It was a fun game and I enjoyed my first taste of rugby for a while. Looking forward to more matches now!

A busy week

NZ Placesschoolsport

fun on the beachplaying frisbeeIt’s really strange that you don’t realise what you’ve got until you can’t find it! It goes something like this “It’d be really handy to have one of those – didn’t we have one in England – oh, it’ll be in a box somewhere – but where?!” We spent Saturday working through the boxes to try to at least locate everything and create some order from the chaos. Hot, sticky, dusty work, though Nigel was a little lighter as he managed to lose his shaggy look by finding a barber – there is a face under there! The boys have decided to go for the windswept surfer look for the time being! (I think Aonghas is secretly aiming for dreadlocks!)

Well, the inevitable has happened – my relaxing, work free lifestyle is drawing to a close! This week I did my first three days relief work at Hillcrest High School and have another week booked in a fortnight’s time. I have also submitted an application for a maternity leave contract at the same place. It will be for 3 terms starting 5th May if I get it. Hillcrest is the school that Lachlan is going to though I haven’t had him in a class yet. My first class was a boys Year 11 PE group – apart from the multicultural element they were no different to a Year 11 boys PE group at QES, well, why should you expect anything different – boys are boys the world over! Pleasant, lots of banter, worked hard on the whole, a couple who tried it on (I had to confiscate a plastic cutlass that one boy had brought in and then hidden down his shorts!!) And in the adjoining gym another relief teacher had the girls – reluctant on the whole to do anything, PE kit issues, needed lots of chivvying! I know which I prefer! The staff all seem friendly and helpful, though there is little in the way of induction, I have had no tour of the school or “package” which explains any of the workings of the school etc – just straight in! Anyway, armed with a map and a board marker, off I went! By Friday afternoon I felt like I’d been there forever! Found the ex-pat contingency – there are two other Tykes working in the school so we had a bit of a “Yorkshire” reunion! Also managed to find the end of the week drinkers – Friday 3.30 and the bar in the staffroom opened for business! No work booked for this week yet but the phone could ring at any time…!

Another win for the Hillcrest Smashers (Aonghas’ cricket team) this Friday, that’s 3 wins out of 4. Aonghas is not a natural cricketer. it has to be said, but enjoys being part of the team. Might try and do some practice over the next week to help Lachlan in the Steeplechasehim improve his skills! Lachlan competed in the 2000m Steeplechase on Saturday afternoon at the Waikato & Bay of Plenty Championships – he went straight through to the Regional Champs after coming 2nd in his schoolthe final hurdle! sports because as there are not many entrants for the event it isn’t run at the Zones. He was realistic about his chances as it was an open race against students of all ages up to Sixth Form. Indeed, he came last but he ran a PB and it was good experience! It is only the 4th time he has run that distance in a race and only his 2nd Steeplechase, so we think he did brilliantly – as it was an open race the hurdles were at full height which meant he had to vault them! And it’s a long drop off the water jump!

surfer boy!The weather has been fantastic for the last couple of weeks – we’re hoping it will last over the Easter weekend – so we decided that a beach day was a must. Yesterday we headed off to Mount Manganui (known round here as “The Mount”), we had a lovely day body boarding, playing on the beach and generally relaxing in the sun. It is a beautiful beach, golden sand, good surf, surprisinglyMum heads for the waves! quiet. It is about a one and half hour’s drive from here but the roads are not busy either so no stress! Just trying to decide where to go next weekend for Easter – back to the Atlas …. and the Rough Guide… and the internet…

Our first mobile week!

NZ Placesschoolsport

Raglanplaying at RaglanNigel at Raglan Well, as Nigel said in an earlier post we have bought a car which has made managing our busy after school activities a lot easier! The only problem is remembering not to switch the windscreen wipers on when you want to turn left or right! It’s also a bit weird not having a clutch and a gear stick – my left hand and foot seem rather redundant! The “gear” lever is on a stalk on the steering column just above the windscreen wiper stalk so it has been used on countless occasions despite the sunny weather!! Nevertheless I am getting used to it now and it was quite exciting doing my first “big” supermarket shop! How sad is that?

I have started my Maori class – I had wanted to learn Japanese so I could help Lachlan when he starts learning at school but couldn’t find a class on a bus route! So I decided to find out a bit more about the Maori language and culture and have my second class tonight. It was really interesting last week especially looking at the mix of people in the class. Quite a few NZ Europeans who were learning it because they are finding that they are involved with the Maori community as part of their work. A few like me who have moved to NZ from elsewhere and just want to find out more about the culture and language And then several young-ish people of Maori origin who don’t speak Maori. They feel embarrassed that they can’t help their children who are learning Maori at school and are asking them to help them. The teacher is lovely and the lesson is a really good mixture of cultural information and language.

Lachlan competed in his school sports day and despite missing his first race because the school bus was late (!) he went on to come second in both the 80m hurdles and the 2000m steeplechase. That means that he has been selected to go through to the Zone Champs and will compete against the best of all the other kids in the Zone on Wednesday at Porritt Stadium. He seems to be enjoying his athletics at the moment and has been going to Porritt to the Hamilton Hawks training sessions on a Thursday evening which is quite daunting as there are “real” athletes there! He has learnt how to use starting blocks and ran in a 200m race last week and didn’t seem to be fazed at all by the other, very experienced and very fast competitors! Most of them were much older than him – in fact the age range seemed to go from 13 years (Lachlan) up to someone in their mid-40s!

Northern Wattle Moth (Pepe Atua)

The weather has been more unsettled recently but it is still very hot. There has been a bit of rain to moisten the ground but not enough according to the farmers who want another 10cms! Apparently it is needed as all the farmers are losingGisborne cockroach (we think!) money, milk production is down as they are down to one milking a day. And apparently the ewes are ready to tup but are underweight so that will have an impact on lambing! It’s amazing what you learn from Radio NZ! Did you also know that Black Cricket“marble” type sheep poo is much healthier than “ploppy” poo as there is less chance of diseases being passed on across the flock?! I think I need to get out more! Lots of insects about as well – Aonghas is getting better about them and we don’t hear him shrieking quite so often now! We got a “What’s that NZ insect?” book out of the library so are trying to focus his attention on identification to conquer his fears. I was bitten to distraction by some wee voracious biting beasties whilst I was digging up the bindweed from the garden to clear a patch to grow some vegetables. Still itching like mad a week later with large red patches all over my arms and legs – antihistamine seems to have no effect anymore, nor does lavender oil though it does smell nicer! Any suggestions gratefully received!

Any way, after a generally fine and hot week, a wet, rainy Saturday dawned. Great! The kids actually seemed quite happy to play in Aonghas’ den – his bed has finally arrived so he was enjoying creating a den underneath it! However we knew it wouldn’t last so despite the rain we decided to go for a “drive! ” Bit of a standing joke in our house because as children both Nigel and I were subject to “Sunday drives” in the country and hated them!! Well that’s what people did, isn’t it – invisible umbilical cord people – out for a Sunday drive and get the picnic out on the side of the road! Actually, to be fair, my Dad wouldn’t have been seen dead doing that and we did usually go for a walk somewhere. But it’s the fact that you wereRaglan dragged out when you were quite happy just chilling at home! Anyway, we headed off with our cags, a rugby ball and a few snacks to Raglan. Unfortunately we didn’t pack our togs or any towels (had planned to but forgot), and as you might imagine, we got over thereView over Raglan and it stopped raining! In spite of the grey clouds and the breeze, it wasn’t particularly cold and the boys would have quite happily played in the sea! Never mind we played rugby and chucked the whistling ball about, wandered along the beach shell collecting and paddled in the (deceptively warm) Tasman. We also watched the surfers struggle in the waves. Raglan is supposed to have the best “left-hand break” in NZ but the waves seemed a bit broken up on Saturday. The breeze blew the cobwebs away and we had a lovely time, it’s only about 40 minutes away too so I think we shall be spending more time there.

playing in the sea

Sunday saw us at Marist Rugby Union Club to sign Aonghas up. There is a “weigh-in” at all the clubs in the area at the beginning of March wher you sign up for the club and have a “weigh-in”. That is because in NZ the teams are formed not just on age lines but also weight which seemed quite confusing. However being the mother of two smallish boys for their age it also seems quite reassuring that they will be playing against similar sized opponents rather than some of the “huge” lads they played against in England! The clubs, though, only have teams up to U13. When they go to High school they play for the school and then go back to club rugby at U19. The other odd thing here is that, despite being a sport mad nation the kids effectively have to choose either rugby or soccer because everything happens on Saturday morning! Disappointing as our two are used to playing both but it’ll make our lives simpler!! Well an exciting week ahead as we have our first visitors arriving tomorrow and our container with all our furniture and stuff comes on Thursday. Will keep you all posted.

Lachlan’s Sport

schoolsport

Hi there, this is Lachlan speaking. I’ve been doing lots of sport. First of all I did a swimming sports day at the Victoria Street Municipal Pools. It was the school inter-house competition where I had great fun and I came 5th in my race in Breastroke! I also competed in the school sports Day on Monday at Porritt Stadium. I came 2nd in my 80m hurdles race and 2nd in my 2000m steeplechase. I had a good time because I like doing sport, I was with all my mates and it was a great atmosphere and there was a water jump in the steeplechase. I also entered the javelin, long jump & 100m sprint, I was going to enter the 300m hurdles but the bus didn’t get there in time so I missed it. This week and last week I went to Hamilton Hawks Athletic club which is at Porritt Stadium. I have learnt how to use starting blocks and today I did a 2,000m run in 9 minutes.

life starts to settle down…

schoolsport
Lachlan, Romulus and Remus

Well, we have been here nearly a month now and life is starting to settle into a sort of routine. Lachlan has got involved at school – he has gone to represent his house at swimming today at the Municipal pool in Hamilton. Went on the bus on his own this morning and he’ll roll up home whenever! Paperwork seems to be just about non-existent here as far as school trips are concerned – he came home the other day saying he needed $3 for the bus to go to the swimming pool, no forms to fill in, medical details etc, he then forgot to take the money with him so couldn’t go on the school bus so just went on the service bus (which was cheaper anyway!)

Aonghas is still a bit wobbly but has made a friend called Hong who is coming to play tomorrow evening after school, so he is feeling a bit more confident. He is going to play cricket in the school cricket league on Friday and yours truly volunteered to be the team manager as there was nobody else! Well. it’s a good way to get to know people and I was assured that I really wouldn’t have to do much! Both boys went to athletics training at Hamilton Hawks last Thursday, Lachlan is going to go to the senior session next Wednesday as the junior one was a bit tame for him but they had some fun anyway. We ended up walking home as there was a 20 minute wait for the bus into town and then we would have had to wait another half an hour for the bus out again to our house. I looked at the map and persuaded the boys that we could walk the 5km quicker! We did – just! The bus went past our house as we walked in the door!

one for Dad!
Walking gave us a chance to get our bearings a bit and one section took us through Hamilton Gardens which are beautiful. We had a day out there last Sunday as it is within walking distance of the house and there are no buses on Sundays. The grounds are beautifully laid out with different styles of garden going off from a central courtyard.
The Chinese Scholar’s Garden
The Japanese Garden of Contemplation Each garden leads round labyrinth-wise back to the courtyard and then you can go into the next. Each has its own particular atmosphere and despite there being a lot of folk around there was a sense of serenity and calm in the Japanese and Chinese gardens.
colours in the Indian Char Bagh Garden

A chance to sit and thinkThe Indian Char Bagh garden reminded me of the Alhambra in Granada – the colours were just amazing and a host of butterflies flitted their way through the flowers, there were little corners to sit and just drink in the fragrances and you could almost believe you were in another world.
Italian Rennaissance Garden

Walking through to the Italian Renaissance garden with its fountains and columns the brilliant blue of the sky contrasted with the white and terracotta of the walls and the smell of the herbs in the carefully laid out flowerbeds was lovely.
Cooling off in the American Modernist Garden

Nigel and Marilyn

Contrast that with the modernity of the American contemporary garden with a welcome paddling pool for the children and the clean cut shapes of the sculptures and a huge mural depicting Marilyn Monroe. Deckchairs to recline on and we spent a good half hour there as the children cooled off in the pool.
Nigel and Aonghas enjoy the flowers in the English Flower Garden The Englsih Flower GardenA celebration of garden styles wouldn’t be complete without an English country garden and sure enough there it was, lawns immaculate with sight lines through to a fountain and the summerhouse. Holly hocks and roses filled the borders and shady bowers to shelter from the sun. We used to love going to the Botanics in Edinburgh, there is plenty more to see at the Hamilton Gardens and I am sure we will go back soon.

This weekend saw us trailing round car showrooms looking for some wheels, we test drove a couple but just like in GB buying a car is fraught with complications and worries. It is one of our least favourite things to do but we really do need a car! Which dealer to go to? What sort of car? A small one to tide us over until we have a bit more money but which may not big enough to get the camping stuff in or a bigger, more expensive one that we may not be able to afford to run?! We then spent the rest of the weekend on the internet checking out the makes of car we had seen to compare performance, cost etc. We still don’t know! Perhaps we should just go for the first one we see at the right price and a nice colour!

To make us feel better and as a treat for the boys as they had (quite) patiently put up with trailing round car places, we found a lovely little Italian restaurant in a tucked away alley and ate Italian. It turned out to be a real gem and we will definitely go back there sometime! It was rather an indulgence as Nigel still hasn’t been paid (some cock up in the finance department) and the bank have given us a short term overdraft to see us through this week!

fun in the pool
Well the weather has changed a bit – still quite warm but there has been a bit of welcome rain and the wind has picked up which means the pool keeps filling with leaves – more work for me! What a shame! The boys continue to enjoy jumping in the pool and having great fun though Lachlan has taken to putting his wetsuit on now as he gets cold easily! (Aw, Bless!) The Uni pool is really good – 50 metres so it feels like an age to get from one end to the other! It is unheated so it is a bit of a shock diving in but once you get going it is fine. It’s the pool that Lachlan goes to with school for lessons – he came home after his first lesson to say that they had to run up there in bare feet (about a mile) with their togs under their PE kit, they then had a swimming lesson and ran back to school. No towel, no shoes, no forms to fill in, simple! Just about to head up there now as I plan to try to get fit! It will only be open until the end of March so need to put my time in now. There is a swim in the river called the 5 Bridges swim which I fancy doing – it is about 5km long but downstream – we’ll see what happens!

No more news for now, keep you posted!

PS. Lachlan won his heat in the Breaststroke and then came 5th in the final, he thinks his relay team came 2nd but isn’t sure! He is quite amazed by the fact that he is still in the “Green” team – he started in St Mary’s in Green, then into QES and now in NZ! His house is called Kikoriki.

PPS. Started my training regime with a run up to the pool and then 1000 metre swim. Think I might ache tonight!

..and the wickets came tumbling down!

friendsHamiltonHousesschoolsport

covers on!Yesterday the boys and I went to see the ODI between England and the Black Caps (Nigel stayed at home as he is a Scotsman and good Scotsmen don’t do cricket!!). We set off on the bus after the boys finished school hoping to get the second half of the match but it had rained properly for the first time we got here, and as we approached the ground people were leaving in their droves! Typical! We come all the way to NZ to see a cricket international and it gets rained off!

super spongeEngland battingBut in true Brit style we sat there and watched the groundstaff working on the rain sodden pitch and the sun started to shine. The PA system boomed out all the weather related music it could find – “It’s raining men…”, “Mr Blue sky”, “4 seasons in one day”, “Here comes the sun”, and so on – you can imagine the rest! Play reccommenced at 6pm with England on 85-2 so things looked promising but in true English style 3 wickets fell in very quick succession and England were on the back foot, the Black Caps were merciless and England were soon all out for 158.

Black Caps supporter!

Aonghas by this time had bought a Black Caps flag and was waving it as each wicket fell! Lachlan bumped into two of his new found school friends – another Lachlan and Abraham. Abraham was sporting a daft England hat as his Dad is English but he soon changed allegiance to the winning side too!

kiwi kids cricketAt the interval there was a display of cricket from the Kiwi Kids cricket schools – loads of Primary aged kids playing which was great to see. Aonghas has signed up to play at school now so we’ll see how he gets on. When play resumed we were treated to a magnificent display of batting from the Black Caps and the banter in the crowd increased between the English and NZ supporters, all good natured but by now quite drunken! More opportunities for flag waving for Aonghas. He was amazed by the vociferous group of young men sporting a variety of fancy dress who heckled every English supporter who went past them! He was particularly worried about the young man who, sporting a rather fetching dress and wig of long flowing locks, made a frighteningly good go at being a woman!!

In the fieldmagnificent batting from the Black CapsThe inevitable happened at around 9pm – a bit earlier than scheduled – when the Black Caps made the run target of 164 with the loss of no wickets in 19 overs! I haven’t been to many cricket grounds but Hamilton seems a very pleasant place – mostly grass banking so everyone sits down with picnics etc and with the sun shining it made a great evening’s entertainment.

sunset over Seddon ParkThere is a full test match here in March so we may have another day out then, who knows?

Aonghas’ ready for school in his hat!
Back to school this morning though and we had to wake two rather tired boys! It is Aonghas’ turn now to have a little crisis of confidence. He was so eager to start school and is enjoying the daily swimming lessons and playing in the brilliant play parks every interval (break) but has realised that he doesn’t have all his friends, and is finding it difficult when the others go off and play in their ready made friendship groups. However, the other boys all seem very kind and are good at asking him to play so I think it will be just a matter of time before he forges some new friendships.

We are now starting to get to grips with the money a bit more and learning to compare NZ prices with each other rather than converting to pounds all the time to compare prices between the UK and here. Looking now to buy a car so we can get further afield at the weekends since there are no buses on a Sunday! Still no news on our house sale so if you know anyone out there who wants a nice house in Ingleton…..!

I am still washing all our clothes by hand as our washing machine is still in a container somewhere on the ocean (hopefully still in a ship!) which gives me something to do during the day apart from writing this, dipping in the pool and reading! The library is a five minute walk up the road so that’s really handy. The sound of the cicadas outside is constant and puts me in mind of mediterranean holidays. praying mantisThere is an amazing array of insects too – loads of grasshoppers, some big black/brown beetle type things about 3 cm long, praying mantis, moths, little green bugs, little bright yellow bugs, spotted shiny bugs and lots of spiders with really long legs. We hear a shriek from Aonghas about once every 10 minutes “Mum, come and look at this….aaaagghh!” He is coming to terms with them but we have to do a bedcheck every night before he will go to sleep! I think I’ll have to get a book from the library to find out what they all are.

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