The little, old, grey haired man that could – my story of running my first ultra-marathon – the WUU2k
I knew going into this, that it would be a monumental challenge. But just how big was anyone’s guess. Could I do it? I was sure I could do the distance, but could I do it fast enough to not get cut off at the last aid station? All my training up to this point said ‘yes’. It would be hard, but it was doable.
So I was quite excited as race week rolled around. The weather was appalling with high winds and rain for most of the week. This did not bode well for the race. It was supposed to clear on Friday, but it didn’t. When I left my house for the pickup point, it was still raining.
Not the start I wanted. And probably not the start the race organisers wanted either. But the weather improved during the day and Wellington turned on a stunning day to be out on the trails.
But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit.
For those that don’t want to read all of what will be a very long post, the short version is here.
The short version
- Distance: 62.64 kms
- Time 11.57
- Elevation gain: 2,879 m
The whole race was uphill, even the downhill bits!!
- Feeling on crossing the finish line – indescribable!
- Feeling of the course - epic, awesome, wonderful, hard, really hard.
- Feeling on the race itself - superb. This was fantastically organised and run, by some very wonderful people.
Will I be back next year? - Count on it. But next time I’ll try to be a bit faster.
The (quite a bit) longer version
I wandered down in the rain to registration on Friday, with my compulsory kit to get it checked off. I picked up my goodie bag that had my race bib and timing chip. But there was other really cool stuff in it too. I got my WUU2k t-shirt and a THIR and from Haitaitai Osteopaths, a bag of Epsom salts. They would come in very handy after the race.
There was also a selection of free socks and I was told to find my size and help myself. The only size that fitted me was a bright green pair. So I grabbed them and added them to my goodie bag. Then I just hung around until the race briefing.
The briefing was informative and entertaining, with race participants swapping looks of horror when we were told that while we sitting in the comfort of the hotel, volunteers were out in this awful weather marking the trail. This will be an on-going theme in this post - that the people involved in organising and running this event are just amazing and wonderful, and I can’t thank them enough for the incredible job they did to make this happen.
Then it was time to walk back home, in the rain, and pack my kit ready for the race.
I got pretty much no sleep that night. I was too excited to get settled. So I lay in bed thinking through how I wanted the race to go. And soon enough it was three o’clock, time to get up. I had a good breakfast, got myself sorted and left five minutes early.
I got just past the end of my drive when I realised it was still raining! So I turned around and went back to get my waterproof trousers. No point starting the race with cold, wet legs.
Perversely, the rain had stopped by the time I left my house again and didn’t rain all the way to the pickup point – CQ Hotel on Cuba Street.
My first mission was to get to the pickup point before the bus left, and despite me going back for my waterproofs, I made it in plenty of time and claimed a seat on the bus. It quickly filled up and then we were off. The driver did and awesome job, and got a round of applause, for navigating past a truck that was offloading its cargo. He must have had no more than three inches of clearance on each side of the vehicle as we squeezed our way past.
We drove out to Khandalla Park through sleepy suburbs and on quiet roads. We arrived in plenty of time for the coffee cart to deliver coffees to runners needing their caffeine fix before starting the day.
One more quick briefing then then we were off. And that’s were things started to go a bit wrong for me. Somehow I was at the front when the race started – not where I had planned to be. So the pace was hot right from the get go. I tried to go hard up the climb to the summit of Mt Kaukau, knowing that this would be the slowest part of the first section.
My legs started burning and I knew I was overcooking it. So I slowed down just a bit. By the time we got to the top I was puffing and blowing like an old man, and my lungs never fully recovered for the rest of the race.
At the top, we were shrouded in mist and fog. It was strange, ethereal and magical. I headed off following the lights ahead of me. The track was wet and muddy and very slippery. I saw a number of people go down, some more than once.
One guy just in front fell, got up and carried on, leaving his headtorch behind. I picked it up ad ran to catch up to him and give it back just as he realised it was missing. Torches were a boon and a curse on this section. Because of the fog, and mist from your breath, the light reflected back, so whenever I exhaled I couldn’t see the ground in front of me. So on each inhale you looked ahead to find your footing and trusted it would be there when you stepped on the exhale. Lots of fun.
I got a bunch of comments on how bright my torch was an what a good job it was doing. One lady with a reactive lighting torch that kept dimming, ran beside me for a while, taking advantage of my steady light. I think I was going too slow for her though, and she soon disappeared into the darkness.
Eventually the mist cleared and we were introduced to what would turn out to be a stunning day. I was running freely by now and feeling pretty good. I was still puffing more than I should, which was a concern, but I was only slightly behind my target for the first 10kms.
I stopped to take some photos along the way, and I’m glad I did.
I was still running with other runners as I hit the first aid station at Makara Road. But it was as I left there that I discovered I was the last one running through. And I would spend the next 50kms playing cat and mouse with another guy to see who would be last, and who would be second to last.
So I had Liz for company from the first aid station all the way to the aid station at The Windmill, about 20kms. Liz was the tail-end-charlie for this half of the race, looking after the runners (or in this case, runner) at the back of the race.
She was amazing, awesome, wonderful. We chatted, when I could catch my breath, and she just kept on encouraging me and kept me moving. My legs were willing, but I just couldn’t get enough air into my lungs, and I was beginning to think I was in big trouble of not making the cut-off at 4pm.
We talked about running and ultras - she’s done the Tawarerra 100km ultra a few times. And I found out that she was one of those amazing volunteers that had been out in the storm marking the track, and we were now running on the section that she had marked.
I had run this section in training, so I knew was I was facing. There were a couple of steep uphill bits, which I was planning to walk, but the rest of it was runnable. At least it was runnable on fresh legs.
My calves had started cramping badly every time I tried to run uphill. This was bad. I had never encountered cramping muscles on any of my runs, not even in the Wellington Marathon. So I found myself walking a lot more than I had planned.
We got to the last bit before the top of Wright’s Hill, where the trail this year went over the top of it, and Liz gave me the option – run up the ramp which would be easier but longer, or take the stairs which would be quicker but harder. I opted for the stairs and beasted my way to the top. I was again puffing and blowing by the time we ran (at least I think I ran) across the summit.
Then it was a nice undulating run around the Zealandia fence line. Once again I found myself walking up the sections I should be running, and the clock was ticking. I pushed as hard as I could, with my calves now cramping on the flat bits as well. But with encouragement from Liz, I made it to the aid station at 12 noon.
I had one hour to get to the top of the Tip Track, only a few kilometres away. If I arrived after that, any chance of making the cut-off was gone. Liz left me here and went home to attend to a sick child (her hubby had been phoning and giving her updates during the day). I tried to thank her, I think I did, but I was so spent that I’m not sure that I did.
I picked up my next tail-end-charlie and he stayed with me until the end. He too, was magnificent.
Richard was awesome! He gave me a gel and I gulped it down. I have never tried gels before, but at this stage I was willing to try anything that would get me to the aid station at Tawatawa Reserve before 4pm.
We set off trying to make good time along the trail leading to the Tip Track. I passed the other runner on this section and put my head down trying to keep my pace as fast as I could. The legs were willing, but I still couldn’t get enough oxygen.
We hit the top of the Tip Track just on 1pm. I was still in with a chance, but it would take a huge effort to get the next section done fast enough. The race organisers said that if you past the top of the Tip Track after 1pm you would struggle to make the cut-off in time. And they were right. It can be done, as I have proven, but it will be a monumental struggle.
I was given another gel, I’m not sure where from), and then I set off trying to run the uphills as well as the downhills, with minimal success. The other runner had passed us as I sat at the aid station, and now I passed him again, this time powering through the downhills.
And I think it was at this point where I started saying something that I would repeat over and over again for the rest of the race - I love my shoes. They had been wet and muddy since the first step of the race and still my feet were dry. I had no blisters, no pain, beyond what you might expect. And now I was powering down the rocky sections making good use of the stone guard in the soles.
My knees and ankles too held up to the barrage of pounding steps I took. This section was much drier and not so slippery, and with the clock ticking ever faster, I threw caution to the wind and went as fast as I could.
I was also making what time I could with dry feet, knowing that soon I would be running with wet feet. There were two streams that needed to be crossed just up ahead, and with all the rain they were swollen. So no chance of skipping across on the larger rocks today.
I got to the first stream and my heart sank. It was at least knee deep with the rocks fully submerged. I hate wet feet and I had even planned for this contingency. I had brought a small towel so I could take my shoes off, wade across, dry my feet, and get back on the road with dry feet. But there was no time for that now. I had to just go.
I jumped onto a rock that was upstream a little, then jumped as hard as I could for a rock mid-stream that was under the water. Then I hurled myself towards the far bank, nearly making it all the way. In the process my sock caught on some of my toenails and wrenched them upwards – quite painful really. I was a bit surprised by this as I had trimmed them before the race. Obviously I hadn’t trimmed them enough. But the pain was minor and I discovered that by some miracle I had crossed with dry feet. I love my shoes!
I carried on to the next stream and it was just as full. I got half-way across before a lost my balance reaching for the next rock, and I had to pound my way through the water to the edge. This time a little water sneaked in, but it was just a little. I had survived the crossings with dry feet! I was super happy with that.
Now I had a flat run along the beach to the next aid station. There were loads of people out by now enjoying the beautiful day, so the track was crowded with vehicles and people and dogs and bikers. Some saw me coming and got out of my way, others made me run around them. I had to stop each time a four wheel drive went past, and that hurt. Each stop was costing me time I didn’t have. But there was nothing I could do about it, but get my head back down and push myself onwards.
Then I hit the Owhiro Bay aid station, to cheesr and applause. Again those wonderful volunteers lifted my spirits and made me feel welcome.
I needed food, as the food that I brought will me, I was unable to eat. I just couldn’t stomach it for some odd reason. I grabbed a slice of apple that had been there long enough for it to start to turn brown. I bit into it and the taste exploded in my mouth. Oh my God it was good! It was the most delicious thing I had ever tasted, so I grabbed another one, and then an orange. I never knew anything could taste so good!
By this time the other runner had caught up and passed me, so it was time to move again. I had to make it to the bottom of the Tip Track by 2.30pm to give me enough time to run up and down, and then make it 500 metres up the road to the Tawatawa Reserve aid station by 4pm.
I still had a chance, but it was going to be tight, very tight. So I pushed as hard as I could along the road that seemed a lot longer than I remember it, to the bottom of the Tip Track. I hit that at 2.30pm to shouts of encouragement and exhortations to - get it done. I could do it, just push on and you’ll make it.
I’ve run the Tip Track twice in training, once just after the Wellington Marathon. Both times I got to the top in 40 minutes. If I could repeat that, then I was sure to make it in time.
It took me exactly an hour. I got to the top with 30 minutes to make the descent and run the 500 meters up the road. I sat down nearly beaten. I had run out of gas. I had nothing left in the tank.
I tried to get a One Square Meal bar out to eat it, but I was fumbling with the zip on my pouch and it wouldn’t open. Richard told me to get moving and I told him I was out of gas. He gave me a gel (wonderful man) and I gulped it down.
We then set of at a walk for a bit while I let my stomach realize it had something in it. I said to him that once we get to the corner I’m going to cut loose and just run as fast as I can. And that’s what I did.
There was no point trying to save my knees for the next hill and the ones after that. This was going to be my last hill if I didn’t make it down fast enough. So close to making it, so near to being cut.
I love my shoes. I ran down the Tip Track at a pace that was demonstrably unsafe. My knees took the hit and my ankles did too. My back hurt, everything was coming apart. I rounded a corner and there was a guy in a cow onesie and a young girl.
It’s 800 meters to the bottom, he shouted. You can do it. He pointed out the aid station in the distance as I flew down the last section. They ran with me encouraging me all the way. I hit the bottom with 10 minutes to get the last 500 meters. I could do it. I could make it. If I can just get to the aid station in time, then I could walk the last bit and still finish. It would count.
The marshals wasted no time getting me across the road. They knew what was at stake and did their best to speed my on my way. The guy in the onsie and the young girl didn’t leave me. They ran beside me encouraging me every step of the way. Bless their cotton socks, they were wonderful.
The road is slightly uphill on this section, not really enough to mention. But to my calves it might as well have been a steep grade. 100 meters from the aid station they cramped up so tight I couldn’t move.
In agony, no so much from the physical pain, but from the feeling that I was not going to make it after all this effort, I dug my thumbs into my calves to try and ease the cramp, one last time.
It worked, and I stood back up and lurched back into a run. They cheered me into the aid station, calling my name and welcoming me. I was clocked in at 3.55pm. I had made the cut.
My first thought upon realising the dream was still alive, was – do they have apples? They did! And these were just as delicious as the others. I sat in a chair that was offered and munched, quite happy.
Someone offered me gels and I gratefully accepted. The generosity of the people involved in the race was astonishing at times.
The runner behind me came through and carried on, leaving me as the last person once again. The marshals then came as said it was time to move on, so I said goodbye to the lovely people at the aid station and continued into the reserve with my companion for the rest of the race.
It was now just a matter of time to get to the finish. I knew I would make it, and I knew I wouldn’t be quick over this section. I walked the uphills and ran the flat and downhills. My calves still cramped, but it didn’t matter. I was going to finish.
We came to a section that I was dreading – a long flight of stairs to go down. My knees and ankles were trashed from the pounding they had taken coming down the Tip Track, so I knew this was going to be very painful and awkward.
To prepare for this I had done a few training sessions at the gym, running up and down stairs for about an hour with a 10kg pack on. Those sessions paid off in gold now. I got down the stairs in good shape and carried on through the muck that was the trail below.
I saw Richard go down in front of me as he slipped in the muck. Having lost my goal of not being last, and replaced it with the new goal of getting home with a clean bum, this was concerning. I was very careful on these sections hoping the grip on my shoes would be enough. I slipped a few times, but not enough to fall over. Once again my shoes were proving to be my biggest asset on this run.
We got through the golf course with more encouragement from the marshals and out onto Adelaide Road, just in time for peak traffic. They were keen to speed me on my way, and I was just as happy to stop and rest for a while. But all too soon there was a gap and I was ushered across the road, to the bottom of the next big hill – Mt Albert.
I would have walked this part on fresh legs, and I walked it now without shame. It seemed to go on for ever and ever, and by the time we reached the next road crossing the sun had set and it was getting dark.
We crossed the road and I stopped to dig out my torch, and check the battery on my watch. Garmin says it is good for 12 hours in GPS mode. Well I had been going for nearly 12 hours and the battery was pretty much used up. So I plugged it in to an external battery and left it in my pack. Even so, I kept glancing at my wrist whenever I heard it beep off another kilometre.
We reached the summit of Mt Albert and began the long descent down to the next road crossing. I ran this bit, not fast, but it was still running. I could feel the fatigue really starting to hit me now. I was having bouts of dizziness and I was puffing like a train, even on the downhills.
Again the marshals turned up on a random street, running alongside me with a box of sweets. I grabbed a jet plane – to make me run faster, and thanked him.
Shortly after that I heard the noise of traffic and we emerged at the second to last road crossing – Constable Street. I must have looked really bad at that stage. The marshal told me to grab his arm and hold on while we crossed the road. I did, and we crossed over, taking it in two jumps to avoid becoming a hood ornament.
Then it was into the Mt. Victoria tracks. I had one last hill to climb.
We jogged along in the dark, with me trying hard not to walk. I was so close to the end that I just wanted to push hard and get there. People began appearing out of the gloom in hi-vis jackets all cheering me on.
But, and this is the crucial thing, they were not cheering on runner 92. They were cheering on Trevor. They called me by name. They were cheering on ME! It was a very humbling thing, and I am so grateful for it.
We wound our way through the tracks, eventually coming up to the final road crossing, and who should be there to see me finish?
Liz, the tail-end-charile who had run with me from the Makara Road aid station to The Windmill. She had come all the way back to the race finish to see me complete the race. Now that is amazing! She was a wonderful running companion and a beautiful person. And for her to come all the way back, after a big day herself, shows just how awesome she is.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you Liz. You made the run much more wonderful and enjoyable that it would have been without you.
But we were not done yet. There was still the small matter of running up the last bit of hill to the finish line. I tried to run, and failed. I tried again and failed. So I walked. It was not far, I would make it, but it would take some time.
Soon we could see the lights of the finish line in the distance, just past one last, small rise. Richard told me that I have to run the last bit because they will be cheering me on. I’ll tell you when to run, he said.
Just before we crested the last hill, he said Run! It was more of a shamble than a run. But at least it wasn’t a walk. I kept it up until I crossed the finish line to cheers and applause from the hard core people who were still there, manning the aid station.
[image source] my brother-in-law
Other people were cheering also, and in the glare of head torches I couldn’t make them out. I was presented with my finisher’s medal. And nothing felt so good as to have that placed around my neck. I had fought so hard to get to the cut-off, and then struggled as best I could to get to the finish line. And now it was all worth it.
[image source] my brother-in-law
I was an ultra-runner.
[image source] my brother-in-law
I was offered a seat and they helped me take my packs of. It was about that time that I realised the other people cheering me one were my sister and her family. They had been watching my progress on Garmin Live Track as they drove home from Taupo. They had made it back to Wellington in time to get to the finish line and welcome me across the line. I have never been more grateful for family.
We sat there as I recovered a little and organised myself. They guys at the end kept congratulating me and telling me I was awesome. I was asked if I had a ride home, and my sister said they would take me. To which they replied, Cool. We can tell the bus driver he can go home now.
The bus driver had waited all this time just to take me home! How wonderful are these people?
Then it was time to squeeze into the back seat and drive home, trying not to get too much mud in the car. I felt every one of the five steps up to my front door.
As soon as I walked in my wife greeted me with a huge smile on her face, and said well done. She too had been watching me on Garmin Live Track, and was worried when she saw me stopped at the last aid station, knowing how close the cut-off time was.
And so that’s how I became an ultra runner. I learned a lot in this race, both good and not so good. But all of it will be valuable for training for the next race. And yes, there will be a next race.
I had three goals going in to this race
- 1 Finish the race. To DNF would have been soul destroying
- 2 To not come last. Well, you can’t win them all. And if I had to come last at least I got to run with two very lovely people that made the whole experience so much more enjoyable
- 2b – since number 2 was blown, I came up with an alternative goal. Considering the state of the tracks I thought getting home with a clean bum would be a good challenge. Especially seeing so many people go down in the first section of the race and the condition of the trails. 2b was achieved.
- 3 to enjoy the experience. As strange and weird as it might sound, I did enjoy it. I loved it. My first taste of ultra running was sweet and delicious (like apples). I loved the aid stations, the support, the course. The organisation was top notch and a sense of fun permeated the whole event. How could you not have fun doing this?
Whilst I am still waiting for the results to be posted on the WUU2k website, I think I have set a record for the slowest finishing time. It’s a record I’m likely to keep for a while, as I don’t think you could go much closer to the cut-off time than I did and make it to the end in one piece. And if one day someone else beats me, I will say well done to them. Well done on toughing it out and persevering. I know first-hand what it took, and I salute you.
To the team responsible for putting this together and running it for the second year – thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. No matter what races I run in the future, whether I win, lose or fail, the WUU 2k will always hold a special place in my heart. This is where it all started. It was hard, very, very hard. But it was also a lot of fun and just as rewarding. To all the volunteers that helped out, setting up the course, manning the course and the aid stations and running around doing all sorts of stuff, you are legends. You are what makes the race enjoyable, you are its soul. You are the ones that keep us going when every fibre in us wants to stop. In many ways we run for you, because of you and your support.
I tear up every time I think of that wonderful man in the cow onesie and the little girl running with me to the aid station at Taewatawa Reserve. You were critical in my success, you carried me that last little bit. I can’t thank you enough.
I tried to make a point of thanking everyone as I passed through. I think I missed some, and if I didn’t thank you, then please take this as a remedy for my oversight. You are all deserving of as much gratitude as I can give (and I have plenty to give). You have made a little old man very happy (and tired and sore).
And so to the future
This was my first ultra, but I’m sure it won’t be my last. I talked with Liz as we ran and walked around the Zealandia fence line about her experience running the Tawarwera 100, and I’m keen to give that one a go. I have six or seven months to prepare for it, and lots of trails to explore in training. But I think I’ll start the training for that next week (or the week after).
I have some things to learn, to investigate and to try out before then. But I already know some things that work, and work very well for me.
- I love my shoes!
- My waist hydration belt is great for anything up to 30kms but after that it starts to hurt. So I’ll need to look for something else for longer runs.
- The THIR was great, so I’ll keep using that.
- I need to start using gels. They work and the food I took with me didn’t.
- My legs are awesome. They took everything the trail threw at them and kept going, despite the cramps in my calves, any time I told them to run some more they responded. It was my lungs that couldn’t cope. So I need to work on that.
- My ankle protectors also worked wonderfully. I could feel myself kicking my ankles, as I do when I get tired, but instead of it being painful, the ankle protectors did their job and I came through with the skin still on.
- I need to cut my toenails even shorter before the race.
- I can run for 12 hours
So, you may have read through this (and if you read all of it you have magnificent stamina) and be thinking – I wonder if I could do that? Should I even try?
To you I would say, if you want to do it, you can. All it takes is time and effort. Spend the time and effort to train for it, and you can do it. Focus on hills, lots of hills. Learn to run up them and down them. Short steep hills, long rolling hills, short rolling hills, long steep hills. Hills that are supposed to be downhill, but are actually uphill. Climb stairs, up and down. Concentrate on doing it without twisting your knees, especially when you are tired. And when you get tired, keep going.
It can be done. Even little old men on stumpy legs can make it happen. You just have to believe you can do it, and keep that belief when it gets hard. And believe me it will get hard. But if you step into the arena, you don’t step into it alone. There will be runners beside you, behind you and in front of you all going through what you are going through. All along the trail you’ll meet wonderful people who will encourage you along and wish you well.
And when you finally get to the end, in a time faster than I did it, you will feel what all of the runners felt in that moment. I’m glad that’s done. Now, where’s the beer?
Check out my stories here on Steemit
Little Peppers Adventures
Dark Angel Regiment of the Space Marines - Mission Files
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