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Welcome to my blog which I hope to develop with some interesting material on ultra running both on the trails and road including reports on races and interesting training runs, views on kit and equipment as well as anything else I find of interest. I love running for adventure, opportunity and well being. Enjoy!

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Days 50-51: Mavora Lakes Road to Merrivale Road (Longwood Forest)

Start: Mavora Lakes Road (2,797km)
Finish: Merrivale Road (Longwood Forest) (2,924km)
Distance for the 2 days: 127km
Cumulative distance: 2,924km
Distance to Bluff: 130km

This trail is making me work for my kilometers right to the last, as it has done all the way. It would be a real mistake to let my guard down at this stage and think that the final few hundred kilometers would be a run in.

My run down the Mararoa River Track yesterday morning is a good example. Gem joined me and we set off bright and breezy at 6am, just catching first light and then a sky coming to life with simply amazing shades of red and purple. I’ve learnt already from my time on the trail that riverside trails usually spell trouble, and so this track proved to be a complete nightmare. It was marked by orange topped poles which were difficult to spot due to the height of the undergrowth. The river bank rose and fell regularly and the terrain varied from bog to rutted pasture to thistles to long grass, and my patience wore think very quickly, particularly from the amount of barbed wire fences to be negotiated. It was clear that very few through hikers use the track, instead opting to follow the gravel road running parallel around a kilometer to the side. If I had not been so focused on following the trail to the tee in order to set a completely legitimate record, then I would have been on the road too! The first 18kms took nearly 4 hours – thank goodness for the early start. The remainder of the river track wasn’t quite so bad, and by lunchtime I had made it to Princhester hut, the trailhead for a penultimate ‘hard tramping’ section across the rugged Takitimu Mountains.

James fed me like a king to set me off all charged up, but I left the team feeling a little emotional, probably just from the knowledge of what was up ahead, hard tramping usually meaning super rough terrain, and that was exactly what came. The guide book described new, unformed trails through rolling forests and tussock ridden open ground. The DoC trailhead signage didn’t look too promising either describing the 40km section I was tackling as taking 30 hours, or over 3 days. I was aiming for well under 24hours including and overnight stop from a 2pm start. I made good progress to start with, covering the first 17km to Aparima Hut in 4.5hours. From there a new 13km untracked but well signed forest section followed which the sign said would take 8 hours. I certainly wanted to be into the next hut before midnight so no time to lose.

I set off briskly, hoping to get as much distance under my belt as possible before dark. It was painfully slow going, no chance of anything more than a fast hike, and it required real concentration to pick the orange waymark arrows fixed to the trees, particularly with no ground trail line to follow. However it was a lovely evening to be out moving through the woods under the beam of a head torch, and thankfully it was mild too. I decided to call it a day at the next hut, Lower Wairaki, arriving about 11.30pm. I had been on the go for 17.5hours, covering a huge amount of knarly terrain including a health 30km into the section, so it would be a well deserved, albeit short, rest. I was running the section on a daypack only, so my kit for the overnight stay in the hut was rather limited, but I managed to cobble together a set up of a warm baselayer, my running shorts, Compressport leg and calf guards, some lightweight waterproofs and a foil emergency survival bag. With a bunk and matress in the hut, it was perfectly adequate. I even had some leftover cheese and ham sandwiches from the day to chobble on before bed!

I slept fairly soundly in short bursts, occasionally waking from the moisture build up in the foil bag – not the most breathable sleeping bag! So I switched in and out of it whenever it became uncomfortable, and I just about kept warm enough to stay comfortable. I set the alarm for 5.40am and was on the trail for 6.00am. I had a final 16km section - with a stiff climb to a summit of 1,000m+ - ahead before the meeting point with the guys at Rock Hut. That was my proper breakfast stop, and an approach which always focuses the (my) mind! The heat was building early, and I didn’t really want to stop to refill the my hydration sack (and treat the water) so again all the focus was on getting the to the meeting point as quickly as possible. They had camped there overnight and it was certainly comforting to see them and be ‘out’ of the section, and the reward of a hot (dehydrated) breakfast and cereal made the effort well worthwhile. The rest of today has involved a mixture of tracks and trail types in a much more gentle, rolling, setting, albeit with plenty of knarly Te Araroa sections thrown in. We’re seemingly now out of the alpine terrain and the hills are gradually mellowing down towards the south coast. Today, from the summit on the Takitimu Track, I caught my first glimpse of the south coast ocean. That view certainly helped draw me along over the course of the day…. To the west we have far reaching views to the mountainous Fjord land but I’m quite relieved to be skirting that lot.

So with just 130km to go, I have one final test ahead of me – the Longwood Forest. It’s more ‘hard tramping’ so undoubtedly final test of mental strength, particularly as I will be in the forest for the most part of the day (50km), and Te Araroa has definitely given me forest fever. The twisting trails, the tree roots, the boggy bits, the stream crossings, the spiky plants, the scrapes and scratches from the sharp dead branches – it all adds up to mental torment in the forests. Anyway, that’s tomorrow to look forward to! The good news is that when I pop out the other side, I will be on the south coast, and then it’s a flat-ish coastal traverse to Bluff. Nearly there now….

Mararoa River Track

Mararoa River Track (a nice bit)

Tweeting or sorting my SPOT out

On the Maramoa River Track with Gem

At the top of Twinlaw

Takitimu Track

Breakfast after Takitimu

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Days 48-49: Frankton to Mavora Lakes Road

Start: Frankton (2,667 km)
Finish: Mavora Lakes Road (2,797km)
Distance for the 2 days: 130km
Cumulative distance: 2,797km
Distance to Bluff: 257km

Distance-wise it’s been a productive couple of days which has been great for overall progress and therefore morale. The main factor to contend with has been the heat; we’re in the middle of a long spell of high pressure down the bottom of the South Island, and the middle-of-the-day temperatures really do crank up. Anyway, I’d rather it that way than cold and wet, I think I’ve had my fair share of that stuff. And there are always plenty of rivers to cool off in…..

Frankton to Glenorchy was a long and mentally tough section along the northern shore of Lake Wakitipu, mostly on the road. To be honest, it wasn’t much fun. I made an early start leaving the van at 6am, and was through Queenstown by 7am. It had clearly been a big night in town the night before with the clear-up operation in full swing with bottles and cans bursting from the bins in the lakeside parks – oh, what a contrast to my current regime I thought. On leaving Queenstown I then set about the 44km road section to Glenorchy, tackling it in 10km chunks with regular food and drink stops to counter the boredom and the heat. The road was deceptively tough, never really remaining flat for anything more than a few hundred metres, and with some stiff climbs over the rocky outcrops falling into the lake. The views did however make up for it, particularly during the second half. It took a lot of effort to maintain a reasonable running pace on the flats and descents even, but actually the longer I went on the better I got, and towards the end it even felt comfortable. I wanted to get the leg complete by late lunch so I had the remainder of the day to make a relatively relaxed crossing of Lake Wakitipu.

So I successfully completed the 53km (total) leg by 1.30pm and I was in good spirits having done so, albeit feeling overheated to the core. After lunch I took a snooze and then psyched myself up for the paddle – perhaps I was feeling a little too mellow – but the road running had definitely taken it’s toll and my ankles were swollen. Eventually we hit water around 4.30pm. It was a beautiful afternoon for paddling even though the wind had got up slightly from the mill pond morning. With the wind behind us and an incredible mountain backdrop, it was an absolute delight, and possibly the easiest 10km of the journey so far.

Crossing Lake Wakitipu

Breakfast at Greenstone
The motorhomes couldn’t get round to the get out point at Greenstone Landing on the far side of the lake so Mark and I setup camp for the night, and we both felt incredibly privileged to be camping in such a beautiful and peaceful spot. The super relaxed ambience was definitely good for my mood and karma at a time when each day of running is such a huge physical and mental challenge. We settled down for an early night under a moon lit sky.

Reaching the shore at Greenstone

The view from camp

Setting off from Greenstone Landing at 6am this morning, after a great camp breakfast pulled together by Mark, I was at the start of a remote 50km section crossing the rugged and raw Greenstone/ Mavora valleys which run parallel to the Thomson Mountains. Trail conditions were mixed, but generally quite rough once past Greenstone Hut where I stopped to find people still eating their breakfast! But I enjoyed being fast and light with just my day pack, and enjoyed tackling some valley trails without too much climbing to ruin my legs. The unevenness and lack of a properly formed trail was once again a frustration for which patience is the only solution.

I hopped from hut to hut, setting mini time goals for each one, all of which I met. I think I was running well as opposed to the targets being too soft, but it was all a bit of a self mind game really. I would have a small sandwich and another snack or two at each one, another lure to get me through – food always works. But I made great time, the dry conditions really helping across the normally waterlogged sections, and eventually I popped out at the pre-arranged meeting place, Mavora Lakes Campground. The support guys hadn’t made it round quite yet, it was 4pm and perhaps I was a little faster than expected, so I settled in the long grass and enjoyed a moment to myself. It was the first time since 6am that I had taken a real rest. The days have all been long on the trip, but there was still more to come for the day. Once they did arrive and I had refueled a bit, it was back on the trail for another 2 hour session. This was the Mararoa River Track, an absolute beauty which meandered through ancient beech forests along the waterside with a rich green carpet of moss. Very special. Occasionally I got hit with some of the horrible rooty boggy bits which seem to come hand-in-hand with the New Zealand forests, but blasting the nice bits far outweighed that.

So with those two big back to back days complete, I’m now just a smidgen over 250kilometres from Bluff. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about the finish now. I’m starting to visualise the end, and think about the day I wake up and don’t need to run. That is starting to appeal more and more. This has been quite some journey, and my body is starting to get rather weary.

Feeling the heat and fatigue

A brief moment to pause

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Days 46-47: Hawea River to Frankton

Start: Hawea River (2,567km)
Finish: Frankton (2,667 km)
Distance for the 2 days: 100km
Cumulative distance: 2,667km
Distance to Bluff: 387km

It’s been a great couple of days traversing across to the buzzing south island hotspot town of Queenstown. We’re now just north, in the lakeside suburb of Frankton

From our pleasant spot next to the Hawea River, I finished the Hawea River and Outlet Tracks to take me through to Wanaka. All the running was on gently meandering and undulating waterside trails, and being close to built up areas as well as a Saturday morning, busy with local joggers, dog walkers and cyclists. It was really strange having to share the trail with anyone! I’ve spent so many days with seeing a sole, it really felt weird. The trails took me through to Wanaka, next to the popular watersports lake. It was a scorching summer’s day so Wanaka itself was also heaving with boaters, families and people generally getting in my way (scrooge, booooo….). Wanaka was bustling, but Tango Café had yet to get busy, so it presented a great opportunity to launch a raid for ice cream and chips, which came in generous quantities when they heard what I was up to. With the camera guys hovering around me, the conversation went along the lines of; waitress “are you famous or are doing something crazy?”. Jez replies “does running the full length of New Zealand off road count as crazy?”. The poor girl couldn’t take it all in, and was then looking rather flustered!

I was in town for less than hour, most of that time in the café, and by that time I was definitely ready to move on. The Glendhu Bay Track took me round Lake Wanaka on a deceptively challenging trail, and then I was at the trailhead for the impressive Motatapu Alpine Track, a recently formed route traversing across to Macetown. It was classified as ‘hard tramping’ and it was, but definitely more pleasant that other hard tramping sections which I have felt to be somewhat on the cruel side! I set off with my fast pack at about 4pm after a good feed up from James, the plan being to simply see how far I could go before feeling like crashing, at one of the three huts en route. Well the first, Fern Burn, was too early, but also full of a large family with kids so probably not that suitable anyway. I continued, and soon made the decision to sleep at Highland Creak.

The climb over Jack Hall’s Saddle to get there was memorable. The hills felt special and unique, almost folded and rippling with many spurs. Highland Creek is a brand new twelve bed hut, and I was more than excited on the approach, as it’s the first newer hut I’ve been fortunate enough to stay at. I noticed footprints en route, so I suspected someone else would be there (shock horror, a fellow tramper). I had also been left a ‘Trail Magic’ gift at Fern Burn Hut – a snickers bar. Someone knew I was on the way…. It was a fellow brit and through hiker – Kyle – a really great guy. We had a great evening chatting and sharing trail stories before crashing for an early night. Unfortunately it wasn’t a great night’s sleep; the local mob of possums decided they would raid the outside of the hit. They were charging up and down the roof and verandah causing a right old racket, so Kyle did the honors and went outside and chased the blighters off!

We both got an early start; a 4.30am alarm for 5.30am on the trail. I was hoping to get plenty of distance behind me before it got really hot, and they strategy worked well. There were five 500m (vertical) climbs to negotiate, every one of them testing me significantly given the steepness. I’m finding that whilst I can still climb, the built up fatigue in my legs is slowing me down, so a bit more patience than usual is required. It was an impressive, albeit rather intense route, with the final section being down the bed of the Arrow River. Given how hot it was that was my preferred place to be, and when I found some deep pools I took a full on swim. Heaven. The end of the track was Macetown. I don’t know what I was expecting because I knew it was an un-inhabited ex-mining town, but there really was no one there apart from some speculative weekend gold hunters! For some reason I set my heart on a museum, or a random shop, or anything, please! All I needed was a cold can of coke and an ice cream. No, it was inaccessible by all but 4x4s, and eerily quiet. I stopped for a quick sandwich, but decided not to delay the inevitable final stretch of super-hot hill climbing on the aptly named Big Hill track, to finally get me back to civilization in Arrowtown. It was the hottest of the lot, a battle of the mind to get up there, with my body just wanting to rest in the shade. But a lovely reward at the end, with a stunning contouring section of singletrack before a final descent to Arrowtown.

It was a relief to get back to the van, but everyone was baking hot, not least me. I had a good feed and a rest for a while, catching up with the team, and telling them all about my 24hours of excitement in the hills. I wanted to get some more kilometers in before the close of the day, despite it already being late afternoon, and my body not being particularly enthused. But it wasn’t as bad as feared (it never is), and once I got going I successfully knocked out 17 more kilometers to reach the shores of the massive Lake Wakatipu and our overnight location of Frankton.

Tomorrow I will run a mega-long lakeside section from Frankton to Glenorchy where we will launch for our final paddle of the trip, a crossing of Lake Wakatipu.

Looking back towards Lake Wanaka from Jack's Pass

Happy to be on Jack's Pass

Typical trails of the day

Highland Creek Hut - pukka

with my hut buddy, Kyle

Panning for gold in the River Arrow

Rose's Saddle

Final pass of the day - where I collapsed in a heap for 5mins...

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Days 44-45: Lake Ohau to Hawea River

Start: Lake Ohau (2,465km)
Finish: Hawea River (2,567km)
Distance for the 2 days: 102km
Cumulative distance: 2,567km

I’ve just touched down after a fairly full on couple of days, running a real mixture of different trails ranging from easy gravel roads to seriously rough hillside. The fragmented nature of all the different tracks has made it hard to really settle in, knuckle down and get the golden kilometers in the bank. I had to change modes a couple of times, from lightweight daypack setup for the low level accessible sections, to full mountain fast pack setup for my overnight.

Starting the day from the support 'camp' near Lake Ohau

I definitely started on the back foot yesterday, taking nearly 3 hours to complete a supposedly easy lakeside trail. Unfortunately parts were incomplete (literally under construction) so I needed to make a diversion, the consequence being a 20km leg instead of 13. It was then away from Lake Ohau to tackle a ‘hard tramping section’ over a rough, rocky and at times boggy set of hills called the Ohau Range. The weather was grey, misty and overcast creating a rather gloomy and negative feeling to the place. I just got my head down and patiently fast hiked it across – anything more would have been risky and probably not that productive. The main highlight can right at the end with a crossing of the Ahuriri River, which sits right down in it’s own mini canyon complete with vertical rock sides. From the words in the book we envisaged a crossing without needing a craft and, as I approached, Mark was just about to set off on a test run which proved that to be the case – just. It was rib cage height so much more height and the buoyancy aids would have been lifting us afloat! Anyway, there wasn’t too much drama, and it was all nicely executed thanks to Mark’s handywork. It’s again worth pointing out that we were properly equipped to be making the attempt.

After completing the Ohau Range I needed a quick turnaround in order to tackle the next part of the trail

I say goodbye to Gem before  leaving the comfort of the van for the Hawea Range

Heading into the cloudy mountains for a tough 54km crossing over to Lake Wanaka

Having climbed back out the canyon, and romped across open moorland for a kilometer or so, I was back at the van for a big turnaround. A big feed helped me get warm again, then I packed my big rucsac ready for a 54km mountainous crossing of the Hawea range (Breast Hill Track). I had hoped to set off early afternoon, but in the end it was at 7pm; far from ideal mentally, but I did feel ready for it.

I set a 10pm cut off so I didn’t push it too hard into the dark (a developing trait of mine) and then just plugged in some tunes and hiked. Fast. It felt very much like being in the highlands with golden coloured tussocks, loose rock and scree up high and a reasonable balance between tracks and fences, so still maintaining a feeling of wilderness and isolation. The vehicle tracks were a real savior to be honest, not something I’ve seen too much of on Te Araroa, and made my average pace reasonable as opposed to poor. I had my tent with me because I knew the first hut at Top Timaru would be just out of reach, so aimed to get as close to the Martha Saddle (1,600m+) as possible, ready to complete the rest today. I made it to within a few kilometers of the saddle and set up camp on a flat a sandy pitch literally right on the trail. I dozed in and out most of night, never really settling, feeling a little chilly and damp from the lingering cloud and drizzle, but getting some sporadic deep sleep eventually.

The terrain felt like the Highlands and had the weather conditions to match

Waking this morning I had hoped the sky may have cleared as the forecast suggested, but the clag was still down unfortunately. I stayed in my cosy down bag to brew up – a dehydrated cooked breakfast and a black tea. It was hard tearing myself from the warmth of my nest, but the inevitable moment came and I packed it back into my pack and continued my march up the pass. I wasn't too sure how long the final climb would take and I couldn't see much more than 10 metres ahead of me. Some golden glowing patches of sky suggested change was on it’s way and soon I was starting to see breaks in the cloud. Then, in a moment as quick as a click of the fingers, the sky was blue and the mountains were there. Quite incredible. I had climbed through and was now above the clouds. What a transformation to my mood and how the excitement ran through me knowing it would be a lovely clear day. It seems the cloud was stuck in the valleys behind me; they had been holding the bad weather which hadn’t been forecast. Martha Saddle had a classic alpine feel to it; craggy and raw. I enjoyed taking some snaps in the morning light.

I emerge from the clouds into a perfect blue sky

Having a spot of lunch en-route

The vehicle track continued down the other side of the pass, descending deep in to the bottom of the valley. My first hut of the day was Timaru Creek Hut, installed very recently, in a lovely position. I was still a little chilly as the morning sun hadn't quite broken the valley so I heated some water and had hot orange and sandwiches.

The next leg down the Timaru River valley was tough, as I knew it would be. The track sidled and undulated an awful lot to navigate the numerous narrow sections, bluffs and cliffs. Patience essential. I settled in for a 4 hour downstream slog, some of which was spent wading the river, to reach the turn off to Stody’s Hut – climbing up and out. The climb out wasn't much better; a brutal 500m vertical clamber up a rocky spur. I worked hard all morning, and set Stody’s Hut as my proper lunch stop, a satisfying point at which all the tough stuff was behind, and the start of a Te Araroa highlight along the ridge towards Breast Hill.

The trail along the ridge towards Breast Hill

From Stody’s I picked up the broad vehicle track to take me to the ridge. Once up on it properly, it was a real treat with far reaching views in every direction. There was also an added bit of excitement for the afternoon – the guys were coming out by helicopter to watch me (can’t be bad!) – and the crew were doing some filming by helicopter. My time up on the ridge was extended quite a bit by all that was going on, but it was fun and interesting so great to be involved. I got a lovely 20mins on my own at the top of Breast Hill taking in some of the most incredible views imaginable…..

The film crew spot me running along the ridge from their helicopter

Mark takes a photo of me from the chopper as i make

The final descent was, errrr, steep. 1,200m in not many kilometers. But unusually for Te Araroa there were switchbacks after the technical rocky spine at the top.

The steep 950m descent to Lake Hawea

The view from the descent

Arriving back at the van at 7.30pm I decided on a final little spell of running to round off the day, so I ran the Gladstone Track and a little bit of the River Hawea Track for another 13km. I’m done now….

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Day 43: Braemar Road to Lake Ohau

Start: Braemar Road (2,405km)
Finish: Lake Ohau (2,465km)
Distance for the day: 60km excluding diversion of 15km
Cumulative distance: 2,465km

Today was a much more 'Jez-like' day and I was delighted to capitalise on the flatter terrain to secure a daily total of 75km. It’s been a while since I did that. And obviously to have done that whilst on my come back from illness is a very promising sign that it’s all heading in the right direction. The only negative was that some of the kilometers don’t really count as they involved a diversion – well a new section of the Te Araroa trail – which only came into play on the 7th January and is one of the fallouts from me running the trail during the switchover from v29 to v30 maps. Anyway, it confuses even myself when I try to reconcile it all, so I’m sticking to the simple principle of following the v29 maps and the corresponding distance markers.

I now have less than 600km to go; I’m heading for Bluff as quickly as possibly; that fingerpost at the end is going to get a soppy wet kiss when I see it; that’s all that counts really.

We started on the comfortingly-named Braemar Road (I love Braemar village in the Scottish Highlands). It was then a day of seemingly endless gravel roads, albeit with some of the most incredible views I’ve experience anywhere in the world and which included New Zealand’s highest peak, Mount Cook. I don’t have too much of a problem with the gravel roads in NZ but you do need a stiff shoe to prevent the stones ruining your feet, and the TNF Singletracks do that ably. They have been more than a trusty companion in this trip.

Because for the majority the day I was accessible we were able to settle into a solid routine meeting every 10km which was a big help to my nutritional needs. It was also handy for pacing. On this trip I’ve been running 10km on the tarmac in less than an hour, but on gravel it’s 5 or so minutes over. Gem and I ran the first 20km together which I always love, and I think she likes the feeling of power knowing that she could drop me at any time!!

Lake Pukaki was another cracking aqua coloured beast of a water mass, and it was hard to take your eyes of the endless alpine ridge running along the opposite bank, with the mountainside and scree slopes dropping dramatically into the water.

It was around lunchtime by the lake that I was started to feel like myself again, enjoying a music sing along on the iPod, and feeling like I could actually speed up a bit if I had wanted. Wow.

James knocked up a cracking lunch tailored to my current absorption issues which went down a treat. He’s been consulting with some medic relatives in the UK which is incredibly helpful for my recovery.  Thanks guys.

From Lake Pukaki the route skirted Twizel before then joining the banks of Lake Ruataniwha and finally to our overnight location overlooking Lake Ohau. I’m now nearly at the end of this flat running section which is a shame in some ways (quick distance/ progress), but it’s also refreshed my motivation for the mountain legs which had definitely stated to wane recently.

Tonight the girls have knocked up a beast of a lasagna so at 8pm I’m delighted to be signing off for the night - relatively early :o)

Photos to follow.