Running down a dream

Running down a dream

This run looks like a ride, would you like to change it? 

Even Strava knows I am a cyclist, not a runner, but there was some air of achievement surrounding a half marathon, just one. 

The year was 2013, November. Once again, the 3 Bridges Marathon had snuck up on me, and once again, I employed the strategy that so epically failed me just a year before, “free the mind, and the body will follow”. 

Yet again, I foolishly jumped into a 10-week training program with less than six weeks to go. It was Deja Vu all over again. Like the previous year, I was ten days and about 70km in when my body reminded me, hey about that free the mind, and I will follow. “The heck I will”. 

I found myself stuck between home and work and barely able to walk. 

Time for professional intervention. 

It seemed my years of abusing my body on the mountain bike had taken its toll on my feet. My doctor reviewed the x-rays and advised, “running is not a good option for you”. And there the story ended, or so I thought. 

Fast forward to mid-winter 2022. Adventure is calling, and the weather is terrible. Choosing to stay close to home while scratching the itch, I dusted off my clapped-out running shoes from 9 years earlier. 

I donned my archived running kit. Looking like I stepped out of 2013, I stretched my cycling legs, ready to stride around a local park and back, determined not to walk back to the car. Three kilometres later and I found my limit. It was somewhere about a kilometre back. 

Like the pace, the recovery was slow, painfully slow. As the weeks passed, so did the pain, and before I knew it, I was thinking about another couple of laps, a pattern that continues with the realisation I have unfinished business on my bucket list, a half marathon. The third time is a charm. Right? 

Life had changed a lot in the past nine years, and while I had more than six weeks till the half marathon and would be there, I was working as support. 

Your (suggested) friends will always have your back, and thanks to the algorithm that knows me better than I know myself, Facebook removed all the excuses by suggesting The Goat Adventure Run as the perfect substitute. A month later, a similar distance. 

Determined to knock this stubborn item off the list, I begin following the training program to the letter. With more weeks than I needed, I could bank some recovery time if it came to that. 

Three weeks in and it was painful to walk halfway into my training run. It was time to listen to my body and take the week off. 

With some positive self-talk, I focused on running my race. My first goal was to get to the start line, and the second was to finish. The only person I competed with was myself. And perhaps my failing body. Time to commit. 

Having run further than I ever had in my life and injury free I paid for the entry to make it official. My anxiety politely reminded me there was no turning back now. 

Halfway through training, filled with confidence, I invested in a running pack. Suddenly someone put the handbrake on. I could barely comprehend how much more challenging it was to run with a backpack, irrespective of how small. 

The distance grew, and the conditioning training took me up more hills in the heat. Each week, I achieved new personal milestones as I inched towards my goal.

The weekend before saw time for one final training run. I knocked off the Atene Skyline track, similar altitude and distance, a hard-earned confidence boost.

The eve of race day.

Registration rolls around. My gear was packed, triple-checked, cleaned and dried. Issued with wristbands and a number, I went back to my campsite for the night. Preparing for an early start, filling my flasks and hydration bla... Somewhere between home and camp, I had lost the cap to my bladder. 

At 6 pm on a Friday in Ohakune, the options are nonexistent. A quick rush back to registration to see if I had dropped it. No bladder, no race. Fortunately, TCB, a local outdoor store, had a pop-up gear shop and with money thrown at the problem, it was time to get my stress levels down. 

Continuing with my repack, I delved into my gear bag to find my wayward cap sitting on the top. 

Race day. 

Despite the chorus of Tui’s in the morning sun, a front of rain followed us to the start line at Whakapapa, only clearing as our bus passed the Chateau Tongariro. 

The start line was a sea of faces, most of them as unfamiliar as they were friendly. A mass of people, an extraordinary number of first-time goats calming their nerves, mixing and mingling, chatting and laughing. A shared experience bringing perfect strangers together as start-line friends.

The pen was loaded, and the gun fired. The race was on for the first wave of the fastest hopeful goats descended the Bruce Road, and up went the anticipation of the call for wave 4B. 

Rounded up, I positioned myself nervously at the back, easing my way towards the around-the-mountain circuit, my legs getting accustomed to the day ahead. 

The route got real; fast; as I traversed the ups and downs of the Around the mountain circuit from Whakapapa to Turoa ski fields. The pace was slow, navigating the rocky terrain, all the while in the back of my mind, thinking I had banked some energy for when I could get some pace on when I reached the boardwalks of Lake Surprise and Mangatuturu hut. 

Having plenty of energy in the bank, I found the boardwalks disappeared rapidly; as I focused on the cascades in the distance. As with the boardwalk past Lake Surprise, my memory had deceived me. Much taller and steeper than I remember, navigating the narrow climb and other competitors, time ticked by rapidly and so to the prospect of sub 3 hours 30, washed away in the cold the mountain stream of the cascades. 

A chorus of bells from the crowd gathered on Mama's mile, with a red carpet rolled out as the road flattened off. Digging deep with a sprint finish to gain a few seconds in that final few hundred metres, rewarded with the satisfaction of finishing under my goal of 4 hours. 

With the satisfaction of finishing The Goat wearing off, I couldn’t help but notice I was a little under 2 kilometres short of a half marathon. With the training under my belt and my legs recovered, there was only one thing for it. 

Pouakai circuit here I come. 

Mt Taranaki, under its characteristic veil of cloud, I set off wondering what I was trying to achieve; and why I do this. It was not for the view. 

As I descended into the Sphagnum Moss swamp below the cloud, it felt like being in a snow globe, the light filtering through into the unique ecosystem, albeit briefly, before the climb back into the cloud on my approach towards the famously photogenic Pouakai Tarn. Peek-A-Boo, where are you? 

Going up and over Henry Peak, navigating bogs, roots and rocks, descending ladders and swaying swing bridges across canyons until eventually, the clouds cleared, the scenery breathtaking. But as I near the end of this 25-kilometre epic, there is an unanswered question still in my mind. 

What is a half marathon? Is it a distance or a sanctioned event? 

To answer that question, I feel there is only one thing to do. 

Rotorua off-road half marathon, here I come.

As I take the start line, "Running down a dream - Part 1", of a three part series will premier on Youtube.

Posted: Sunday 30 April 2023

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