Friday, 18 November 2016

Taranaki Round the Mountain Solo 100 Mile

Taranaki Round the Mountain 

New Zealand

100 miles (160km)

Friday 4 November 2016 at 17:00

Undulating road

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

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

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

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

Race start - photo by Di Chesmar

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

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

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

Walking break - photo by Di Chesmar

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

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

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

Time on feet: 3 hours

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

Erm, another walking break? 

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

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

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

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

Mount Taranaki

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manaia - 69km

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Antonia: 1
Tanker: 0

Team selfie in Opunake - 98km

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

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

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

Serious water boiling

Running sunrise 

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

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

Rahotu local

Team selfie

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

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

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

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

Less happy

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

There is no mountain. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Omata - 8km to go

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

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

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

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

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

Marshal: are you okay?
Me: NO

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

How much longer to go? 

I have a very sore foot.

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

This is what 100 miles looks like

Thanks team! 

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

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

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


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

Runners please! 

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

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

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