There are events out there which are run as a business with the aim to make a profit. Then there are events which are put on purely to provide an opportunity for people to explore our amazing country and push their adventure limits. While I have no issue with the first (we all have to make a living somehow) the South Canterbury Adventure Race 12-hour Rogaine falls into the second category. To be honest, it’s one of the best. For $60 each, we discovered a stunning part of New Zealand while running and biking across private land on Glenmore Station, located only 15 minutes from Tekapo township, plus a hearty meal to finish off the day. When it comes to adventure racing, you couldn’t ask for more.
Arriving at Mum and Dad’s after work on Friday, Scott, Grant and I loaded up Ernie (campervan) and headed for the Mackenzie Country to meet up with the rest of the team members – Jacqs, Caeley and Nathan. Split into two teams, the girls made up ‘Say Yes to Adventure’ and the boys ‘Hot Tigers’ – that’s what you get when you put me in charge of entering. Needless to say, the boys weren’t too fond of their team name, my mature mind, however, thought it was spot on.
Registration at 6am the following morning meant we didn’t have to arrive by a particular time, taking the pressure off leaving work too early. Mum (the legend) had loaded the fridge up with a delicious lasagne for dinner, salad and some Tatty’s Chew (Scott’s request) to fill the baking tins. After the usual fluffing that goes with getting ourselves sorted for these events, we were all tucked up in our beds not long after 10pm. Scott drew the short straw (debatable) and was outside in his tent.
There’s no need to set the alarm when you’re in the company of Scott, who arrived dressed and ready to go at 5.45am, putting on the kettle and making us all a cup of tea as we slowly emerged from beneath the covers. With registration sorted we then picked up our maps at 6.30am and quickly sat down in our teams to come up with the most logical route. We had a time limit of 12 hours, and a set of markers to collect either on your bike or running. You couldn’t combine the two – those marked with a B had to be collected while on the bike section, and the same for the R markers on the run. There was, however, one marker with an X, which could be collected on what you considered to be the most logical section.
We knew our strength was running, definitely not biking, so we decided to do the run section first, collecting the X marker on this stage too. We didn’t need to use a compass (phew), but a sound knowledge of map reading certainly helped. Race briefing was at 7.45am with the starter hooter going off at 8am. Even with a 5.45am wake-up call we weren’t quite ready in time; I had my sneakers off applying Gurney Goo to my feet (essential), and Caeley was plaiting Jacqs hair! Not an ideal start, but we quickly sorted our gear, packs were thrown on our backs and off we went, not before a quick return to collect the map!
We were only five minutes max behind the boys, who were headed for the same first marker as us, so a jog up the 4WD track meant we caught them just before the checkpoint. After this they headed for a different marker, while we set off for marker X. Rosie Shakespeare’s team had the same route plan to us, and for most of the day we ended up playing cat and mouse. They were a lot wiser than us, though; we would race off before realising that the shortest route does not always mean the fastest! At one stage, we were waist-deep in matagouri and Briar bushes, while they were walking up a clear ridge only 50-metres away. It was entertaining if nothing else.
Rain showers came and went throughout the morning, which meant our jackets were pulled on and off many times. As we gained height the views became even more spectacular, made even more dramatic by the storm clouds rolling down the valley. From the very top (Mt Joseph, 1682 metres) we could see for miles; Lake Tekapo, Pukaki and Ohau filling our vistas. And if the clouds weren’t covering her, I imagine we would have seen Mt Cook too. After a long slog straight up and some more markers collected, it was time for the decent. Following a 4WD track meant we could run to the bottom, picking up valuable time. We had one last marker to collect, which we could see from the top so it was a matter of navigating our way to it once we hit the flatter ground.
Thankfully we managed to find every marker almost immediately; If you were in the right place they were easy to find, unlike some races where the markers can be well hidden. With all the run markers now collected, it was a matter of getting back to base camp for the second half of the day – the mountain bike. Coming over the final hill, we could see the woolshed, the campervan… and the boys!! We thought they would be long gone, so our gentle amble quickly turned into a sprint. We weren’t going to let them get away without seeing us. We needn’t have worried; they heard us coming before they saw us! I don’t think our joy of seeing them was reciprocated.
We had a quick chat, but they were off, leaving us to sort our gear, have some bacon and egg pie for lunch and get on bikes. Usually, markers in a Rogaine are point-loaded – meaning the harder ones to get to are worth more. This wasn’t the case this time, so we decided to collect the closest makers, and if we made a good time, we would then head to the last marker up the Cass River to Waterfall Hut, at least a 30-kilometre round trip up the valley.
There’s a reason why we chose to do the bike section last; Jacqs was on her mum’s bike, and Caeley was on my Dad’s! They had both been on their bikes only once before when we did a mission up to Lake Coleridge a few weeks ago. Both were hardtails (no rear suspension) and neither had clip-in shoes. I take my hat off to those two; they were absolute legends! It was rough ground, especially going around the face of the main hill section, with some long bumpy uphill that would have been a nightmare with no clip-ins. We had all fingers and toes crossed that Caeley didn’t get a flat tyre too, as she had no spares! It would be fair to say our admin could do with a bit more fine-tuning. There were some sweet downhill sections (for me anyway) but on one of the river crossings I didn’t quite make it all the way across. Thankfully it was followed by a steep uphill with lots of pushing so getting cold wasn’t an option.
We knew we had to reach a certain point on the map by 5pm to give us enough time to arrive at the Waterfall Hut checkpoint. But the uphill slog took us longer than we had predicted, so we made the call that we were here to enjoy the day and not to be rescued by the event organisers. Once this decision was made it took the pressure off as we knew we would come in with plenty of time to spare. We were also getting very over our bikes, with Caeley declaring she was “never fu*ken mountain biking again,” after falling off in a huge patch of mud. Jacqs and I were full of support as we stood there laughing. Rosie’s Team had caught us again at this point, and we happily waved them off as they turned left to get the final checkpoint, while we headed in the opposite direction for home. With no more markers to collect, we were dreaming of comfy clothes and a beer in the sun while we waited for the boys to return.
Powering along the 4WD with only a couple of kilometres left, we passed another female team who were running. We presumed they had collected all the markers (their team name was GodZone), so we were in no hurry once we got back to hand our cards in. It turns out presumption is the mother of all fuckups, and we ended up winning by a mere three minutes over them, ending our day after ten hours and 50 minutes. Lucky I didn’t make the girls stop too often for photos (well worth it, though!).
The boys came in about 20 minutes after us with big smiles on their faces, having collected all of the markers. This was Nathan’s first ever foray in multisport – taking on a 12-hour race with two of the fastest people I know, you don’t make it easy for yourself! Who said you have a mid-life crisis when you hit 40!?!? As always, we debriefed the day, both highs and lows, all agreeing it was a fantastic event over some incredibly beautiful country.
After a hearty dinner and prize giving (unfortunately they miscounted our markers, and we were called out in second place, typical!) it was back to the camper for a few wines, a bottle of port (well-earned) and an entertaining game of Cards of Humanity. It’s a good thing we are all so PC. Jacq’s we won’t forget the ten beers you still have to consume…
Thanks to Will and Em Murray, who let 70 people explore their property for the day. We still have marker B5 to collect from Waterfall Hut, so hopefully we will be back one day! Thanks to Sharon and the crew from the South Canterbury Adventure Racing Club who put this event on every year, each time at a different location. You can almost guarantee it will snow, but if you are looking for a challenge, then I can’t recommend this race enough. 12 hours with good friends exploring New Zealand’s stunning great outdoors, it doesn’t get much better.
Go. Make something happen – Seth Godin
I knew the skill wouldn’t have left me, but getting back on two planks after a very generous break (I’ve been up to the mountain once in the last 16 years) was always going to be interesting. I’d managed to borrow some skis and boots from a friend Alex, which fit me surprisingly well. Turns out she has midget feet too!
After a week of blah weather on the East Coast to New Zealand, the weekend was looking good, with a nor’ west set to blow a warm 20°C over the Canterbury Plains and a much-appreciated tail wind.
I hosted a Jungle Ultra presentation on Friday night in Ashburton, which went really well. No technology malfunction like the previous week and everyone seemed to laugh when they were supposed to. You could have heard a pin drop after I played the For Rangers video; every time I play it, it makes me proud to be doing what I can. Every little bit helps. Thanks to everyone who came, I appreciate your support.
A full house at Mum and Dad’s consisted of Bids and Grant, Scottie (girl) and Scotty (boy) and myself; a good mix of competitors and support crew!
Due to traffic management up at Mount Hutt, the race started at an extremely leisurely time of 2pm for the boys, 2.10pm for the ladies and 2.20pm for the teams. Scott and I had booked on Mt Hutt shuttles, who for $20 provided a shuttle and pick-up of gear service. An absolute bargain if you ask me, and they were fantastic (all my gear came back no problem!). Highly recommend them if you’re doing this race next year.
Leaving the Blue Pub car park just after 11am (we may have held them up slightly) we headed for the first chain station up the Hutt road for registration, before slowly winding our way up to the top car park. A lot of good banter was exchanged, with no one around us having done this race before, which I decided wasn’t the most reassuring sign!
We had plenty of time to sort the gear, go back to the bus to search for lost sunglasses, and head to the bathroom to ease the pre-race nerves. After a quick race briefing and Scottie had helped me sort out my boots, we were allowed one practice run before the event started. Skiing is like riding a bike – it does come back to you – but nerves were a lot more abundant than they were 16 years ago. The old pizza turns got a hammering!
Before too long I watched as a girl in cowboy boots and a skirt blasted her shotgun and the boys were off in a hiss and a roar, running 100 metres in ski-boots over snow and rocks to get to their skis and head down the mountain. No one told me about this run part! And it turns out I am terrible at running in ski boots!!
You know that taste of sick you get when you go too hard. Well, I had that within the first minute! My legs were aching, and I appeared to be standing still as people kept powering passed me. Slowing to a walk and thought ‘Bloody hell, this is going to be a long race!’ Finally arriving at my skis I managed to click in no problem and headed off for the two kilometres down the hill. It wasn’t the best line; there were a few wobbles with one ski in the air, but somehow I managed to get to the bottom with legs now felt like jelly! Scottie told me it would take me one and a half minutes to get to the bottom; I think I laughed out loud at one point. If only she could see me now! It ended up taking me over seven!! Lesson One of the day – 16 years is a long time between skis.
I hauled my skis up to the first transition, and because I racked my bike on the other side of the transponder recorder my transition time was recorded in my bike section. But it makes for a lightning transition! Thanks to Chris who saved me and helped me get out of my ski boots – I think I’d still be there if you hadn’t shown up. All sorted I jumped on my bike, and I was off, with some serious time to make up.
A few weeks ago I bought a new mountain bike (one that fit me), and it has completely changed my mindset to mountain biking. I loved the 18 kilometres of downhill, a few skids on corners but nothing that I couldn’t eventually get under control. I did, however, see a few people who weren’t so lucky, blood-covered faces and the odd flat tyre. Pink raddle on the main stones and pot holes helped, and lines on major corners gave you plenty of warning on sharp corners coming up.
I knew some of the team competitors would pass me, but was stoked to make it to the last section of the gravel road before only one overtook me. A fast flat peddle down the tarmac finished off a great trip down memory lane, with my watch clocking a max speed of just over 57 kilometres (only 21 shy of Grant’s top speed of 78 kilometres. Yikes!).
A quick(sh) transition into my run gear, a much-needed drink and a mouthful of banana bread and I was off, over the fence and quickly settling into a good rhythm with only 12 kilometres between myself and the finish line. We headed down a stony riverbed for the first few kilometres before popping out onto farmland and turning down a never-ending road towards Methven. A well-placed drink station half-way down the road was a welcome relief! I realised I am not used to running without a pack with water during a race!
Slowly I was picking off fellow competitors; it felt great to be passing people and not being passed for once (team competitors passed me, but I wasn’t worried about them!). Just over a month ago I went to a run clinic with Richard from Complete Performance. It was only an hour, and to be honest I only took away one thing – to stand up straighter – and I can’t believe how much of difference it has made. Since going to his clinic, combined with Bids’ exercises, I haven’t once felt the niggle in my IT band. Long may it continue.
Turning off the road, we followed the RDR (Rangitata Diversion Race) for a kilometre or so before opting for a dip in the fast-flowing water (you could run an extra 1.6 kilometres and cross a bridge if you didn’t want to swim). A childhood spent swimming in these meant I knew how swift it was. Missing the rope to pull me out wasn’t going to be an option, so I dived in a few more metres up than everyone else. Mum, Dad and Scottie were on the far bank yelling when I came up for air, quickly opting for breaststroke to get me across. I pulled in higher than the rope, with dad helping me out which meant I avoided the bottleneck as others struggled out of the water and up the bank.
The fresh water woke up the tired legs and provided a much-needed energy boost for the final kilometres as we snaked our way through pine trees towards the finish line at Methven’s iconic Blue Pub.
A tradition of the race are obstacles to complete once you have crossed the finish line. This year they were a slippery slide along your tummy, a cold crawl under a cargo net covering a pile of packed down snow, or a climb over a few hay bales. Of course, I was directed over the hay bales, but it was a great ending to another extremely well organised local event. With record numbers, it’s great to see so many people out there supporting these type of races.
Grant and Scott both smashed it, with Scott recording the third-fastest run time of the day after stopping on the bike to help a fellow competitor who had unfortunately got a little too up-close-and-personal with a rocky bank. You’re going to make a fearsome team come Red Bull defiance!
My October-madness month has begun, and while skiing can do with a lot more work, I am stoked with how the rest of the race went. Thanks, Mum, Dad, Bids and Scottie for once again being an epic support crew!
“It’s not the feather, it’s you! You can fly. Forget the feather. It’s time to dive.” – Mark Tyrrell
It’s always the second question I get asked, followed closely behind “Have you recovered from the Jungle? It sounded awful.” Then they smile, which leaves me wondering if they read my latest blog. The answer – Kathmandu Coast to Coast 1-Day. I’m a sucker for punishment, but a few things have fallen into line lately, and an opportunity has come up to race in the 2017 event.
I have joined forces with Kathmandu, which is super exciting, and I will be documenting my adventures as I lead up to the race. It’s very fitting really, as the reason I initially started this blog was because of my first Coast to Coast mission, the 2-Day in 2014. Kathmandu has had a shake-up recently and has some exciting things planned going forward, so I feel it’s a great opportunity for me to grow both my magazine and my personal brand alongside a well-known adventure brand. Plus they’re naming sponsors of Coast, which is still my favourite event to date.
My goals are the same as they were two-and-a-half years ago (Jeez how time flies!); to enjoy it and do the best that I can. I have a bit more experience on my side this time, but I’m giving the 1-Day a crack so know it will be an entirely different race. It will be fast, it will (most likely) be lonely, and it will be long. So soz support crew – family, if you’re reading this, you’re support crew! Ha, but it will be great, because, just like last time, I will do everything I can to ensure I am in the best condition, mentally and physically, heading into the race.
I’ve teamed up with Richard from Complete Performance to help me with my training, which I’ve been doing for a few weeks now. It’s keeping me honest; I feel like a naughty school kid when I don’t do my training! I’ve never actually worked with a program before, but so far so good. I’m feeling good with my running and over the weekend I pulled out my road bike, washed off the bird shit, peeled off the old Coast to Coast sticker and pumped up the tyres, making her ready to hit the tarmac once again (which hasn’t been used since the final leg of Coast in 2014!). But kayaking is a whole different ball game. I am still to get to the bottom of the Waimak without falling out, so I need to work on getting my confidence up again (or just some faith to begin with!).
I’ve also visited Bids from Motus Health for a Movement Assessment, to ensure I am firing on all cylinders correctly and moving efficiently. This was surprisingly interesting, as I discovered a weak glute was the reason for a slight IT Band niggle. I’ve been instructed to do some quite boring exercises (don’t tell bids!), and I’m working on getting this corrected. We will see how long the enthusiasm lasts!
Training has slowly begun; Volume Six of Say Yes to Adventure is now at the printers and due out at the start of next week, which has taken up a fair bit of my time over the last month. But with a good break since the Jungle, and spring just a few days away, I’m excited about the next five months of training.
On Sunday I hit up the Port Hills 6-hour Rogaine with Scott. It was an absolute boomer day weather-wise, and we had a great run around the hills. I can’t believe all the new tracks I have discovered; goodbye my usual Rapaki and Harry El, you’ve been downgraded! Our rule when doing any Rogaine is that we have to collect all the 100-point markers on the map. This means we don’t pick the most logical route to collect the most points, but we do cover a fair bit of ground. We found 100% of the markers we went for too, always a relief. We made it back with 15 seconds to spare (a minute on my watch), I’d say that’s damn near perfect time management (and maybe a little luck!)! I’m getting more confident with the compass too (even if I did forget mine on Sunday!), when I say better, I more often than not head in the right direction now. My Landscape Architecture background has given me a good understanding of map reading, although this will be interesting in a month’s time when I do the South Canterbury 12-hour Adventure Race with Jacqs and Caeley, and we don’t have Scott double-checking our direction!
Volume Six will be posted to subscribers this weekend!! It’s another great edition, so many wicked stories. I have written a story from my travels, but I left it to Sam to recount our adventures from the Jungle. If you read his last story about the Marathon des Sables in Volume Two and enjoyed that one, then you will love this one. Foul language and all! I’m also making him famous by putting him on the cover! If you haven’t got a subscription, you can pre-order your copy here to ensure you are the first to read it! www.sytamagazine.com
In my experience, when life seems to be falling to pieces, it is usually falling into place. – Beau Taplin
I’ve always said my blog is a ‘light-hearted and honest account of my adventures’, and while this is true, until now they have been merely words that make me feel better about what I write. Until now. I had about 200 kilometres through the Amazon Jungle to decide if I wanted this blog to be an ‘honest’ account of those five days. And you know, what the heck. 99% of what I do I love, but there is a small portion where I question my sanity. So at my expense, the events from the five days in the Jungle make for a bloody good story (but not so great for my dating life!).
So here it is – The Jungle Ultra 2016. Warning: this is the uncensored version.
Jacqs and I had been based in Cusco for an amazing week leading up to the race. We had done everything in our power to get ourselves in the best possible condition heading into the race, which included daily yoga and runs in the surrounding hills, healthy eating, minimal amounts of alcohol (not easy!) and plenty of sleep. Unfortunately, a few days before we had gone on a day mission to Rainbow Mountain, the new ‘must do’ tourist experience in Peru (another blog). And while it surely didn’t disappoint, the horrific altitude sickness I got (we were at 5,050 metres) on my way down was less than ideal. But with a few days up my sleeve to recover, Saturday morning arrived and I felt fighting fit and ready for the Jungle.
Dragging our suitcases along the cobbled Cusco streets just before 5am, we met the rest of the Running for Ranger’s crew, as well as the other 40 competitors who had decided that 230 kilometres through the Amazon was an adventure they wanted to partake in. Minivans were loaded with all our gear and just after 5.30am we set off for the Cloud Forest Base Camp, a seven-hour drive to our first night’s stop, stopping occasionally along the way for food and photos.
We arrived at mid-afternoon after a rather hectic car drive, where our driver must have had his weekly wage on him being the first vehicle to arrive (which also included a stop to pump up the tyre). We located our tents for the night and spent the next couple of hours getting our compulsory gear checked, a race briefing which covered the next five days, medical checks, re-pack the bags again (mostly Sam) and then have a look around. I was feeling very average, but as our journey had climbed to almost 5,000 metres, I figured it was just altitude sickness back to bite again as the symptoms were the same. Looking back, the only symptom that was the same was a pounding headache, but now nothing was staying inside me for very long! I forced down some dinner and was in my bed before it had even got dark at 5.30pm, wrapped up in every item of clothing to keep warm. A solid 11 hours of sleep later I woke the next morning feeling slightly better, but still visiting the bathroom more times than I have fingers.
The race started at 9am and was mostly all downhill for the 35 kilometres of the day. Lining up on the road we experienced out first taste of the Peruvian band, a real treat. Unfortunately, they only knew one tune, but still managed to get the competitors a little hyped before the hooter went off. The first section was on a gravel road before we turned and headed down through the forest to the river far below. It was quite easy really, but I was battling, so I took it slowly and walked almost all of it. Sam and Jacqs we were waiting for me at the first checkpoint at the stream below, which was so great of them, but I told them just to go, I knew I would get to the end it would just take me slightly longer than expected! We then climbed out of the valley and appeared back on the road for the last 20 or so kilometres to the finish.
I was struggling and not enjoying life. I was feeling nauseous, but I didn’t want to be sick as becoming dehydrated was one thing I did not want to happen, so I ended up doing mega burps instead. I can only imagine what the other competitors thought when a five-foot-nothing female in a running skirt suddenly did an enormous belch, and then carried on as if nothing happened. Care factor was at zero as to what others thought of me by this stage!
And then my worst nightmare – a fart became more than just a fart! I don’t know how it happened, but it just happened. All I could think of was laughing far too hard at a friend who told me a story of when it had happened to him. I always thought it seemed like an impossible thing to do. Karma, it’s a bitch. So there I was, less than 20 kilometres into a 230km five-day ultra-race in the Amazon and I had already shat my pants. Horrific. I will admit I did wonder what the hell I was doing here, and how I could think these events are any type of fun. Thank goodness I was wearing a black skirt and not the grey bike shorts that I wore last year at MdS! I shudder at the thought.
Luckily I had just passed a checkpoint and filled up my water, so using one whole bottle I cleaned myself up there and then (staying hydrated was straight out the window). Standing smack bang in the middle of the road, because one side was a 500+ metre drop and the other was a cliff face, I had nowhere to hide. All fingers and toes were crossed that another competitor didn’t come around the corner! Thankfully at least one angel was looking out for me that day.
I knew as long as I was moving forward I would eventually get there so I just forced myself to put one foot in front of the other. Going through the checkpoints I made sure I smiled and looked like I was having a whale of a time, I could look like death at the end but if you were put on a drip at a checkpoint you were out. And pulling out before I’d even finished Day One was definitely not an option! After many more bathroom stops (there was no more tempting fate) I finally came around the corner to be greeted by a group of very friendly faces. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry; I think I may have done both.
I was well and truly back in the field, and the rest of the Running for Rangers team were all in when I got there. They were legends and took my bag and put up my hammock (along with 16 or so other competitor’s hammocks!) while I went to the medics and was given a dose of antibiotics and made to drink dioralyte plus three bottles of water. Finally, I admitted it wasn’t anything to do with altitude and was a bug or food poisoning. I changed into my evening clothes, gave my running clothes another wash, forced a dinner down (I will never eat dehydrated Butter Chicken again) before visiting the medics to dress the blister on my back which had developed from my bag and bra rubbing. It just wasn’t my day and to make matters worse it was pouring with rain, so I called it quits and went to bed. I never thought I’d look forward to sleeping in a hammock.
The rain had stopped during the night, but it was still overcast and damp and started raining again as we set off. I was feeling marginally better; the hardest part was making myself eat and drink, but I knew I had to if I was going to get through the day and enjoy it. We started on the road for about 15 kilometres before turning off and heading down a rough 4WD track, and our real first experience of the jungle. Jacq and I ran together for the whole day, which was great. At one stage we were so alone that we thought we had gone the wrong way, constantly checking the ground for footprints from people before us. I spotted a snake which crossed the path in front of me, and the butterflies were incredible. At one stage we stopped for so long that one even landed on my arm (hardcore racing wasn’t our strategy today!). Some were bigger than my hands and the most brilliant colours. We were mesmerised, (imagining we were in a scene from Heavenly Creatures) considering the largest butterfly in New Zealand is the Monarch. I’m sure there are bigger, but you get my drift.
Stage 2 was about 35 kilometres and beautiful. We cruised in and out of the forest, through farm land and up gentle streams. At times it was quite steep in places, and both of us had decided not to take poles (not the best decision), so there was a lot of slipping and sliding going on! But we made it to the end in good spirits, and the sun was out too.
Camp was next to a river, so after we put our hammocks up (again, thanks Pete), we went down and washed, letting our clothes dry on the rocks while we soaked up a bit of sun in the 35-degree heat. It was so nice to be clean!! By now people were starting to get blisters but thank goodness this was not me. In fact, Sam and I were the only two from our team not to get any on our feet for the entire race. The North Face sneakers, NZ Sock Company socks and Gurney Goo – thank you, thank you, thank you. Looking back, the fact that I was sick probably helped me a lot as I didn’t go too hard on those first few days.
All through the night, the resident roosters kept us awake, so by the time 5am rolled around I was more than ready to get up. The race started at 7am and after four kilometres we experienced our first zip line river crossing. I ran with six other Running for Ranger’s team mates for the day, an excellent way to get to know the new team members. I felt good for the first ten kilometres, but then my bug came back with a vengeance and for the rest of the race felt like death again. Sam was a legend and just pulled me along the whole way, with the team patiently waiting for me while I stopped to go to the bathroom.
We were cruising along in a line through the forest; I was second from the back when Jaime, who was leading the train, accidentally (so he says anyway!) knocked a hornet’s nest to the ground. The first three managed to escape unscathed but Sam, Ryan, Keith and I quickly became their targets. That was the fastest 500 metres I would run throughout the race (cue in the scene from My Girl, RIP Thomas J.). They just kept stinging us as we were sprinting along. I hate to admit it but in true female fashion, I screamed each time they stung me (they bloody hurt!) and counted eight in total – down my top, up my top, on my neck, hands, arms and legs, these blighters were vicious! Once we escaped and hit the ‘safe zone’ we stopped to put cream on them, as they swelled instantly (thank you compulsory items). Welcome to the jungle.
The last 12 kilometres of the day was back on a gravel road (what the heck, I thought this was a Jungle race?), with a slog up a hill before finally descending into the campsite. I was feeling terrible still, so after putting up the hammock and washing in the stream, I went back to the medics where they gave me another dose of antibiotics. The blister on my back had all but disappeared now, thanks to constant redressing at checkpoints and great care from the medics.
After forcing dinner down me, we milled around for a while before heading to bed. During the night the heavens opened so when we got up at 4am the next morning we took all our gear into a building close by and sorted everything out in there. Stage 4 had a lot of river crossings, so instead of starting at 6am like we were supposed to, we began at 7.30am, giving the race organisers enough time to check the course and make sure it was safe. Everything was still going straight through me, but at least I was feeling better.
We set off again in the rain, crossing a river up to my chest in the first 800 metres. I cruised along with Harry and Holly (aka Agent Badger) for the first ten or so kilometres. I was feeling great; it was all off-road and very similar to Mt Somers track with ups and downs, very much like what I was used to, just add 100% humidity! I loved it; finally, this is what I had signed up for. Single-track in the Jungle and not a bloody road in sight!
Cruising along in the zone, it took me a while to realise the other two weren’t with me, so I kept going and after 20 minutes caught Keith and Jaime. We ran together for a while until it was just Keith and I. Gloves were a necessity as it was slippery and you had to be careful what you grabbed. Trunks were either super spiky or covered in biting bull ants. I chose not to look at anything as it freaked me out too much. I managed to get only one bite on my bottom (Lord knows how!), so I considered this to be a lucky day.
We caught up with Sam, who was coming back down a creek after going the wrong way, and the three of us spent the rest of the day together. We were all feeling good and ran when we could, slid often, fell over occasionally and powered up the hills. One of the poorer aspects of the race were the distances between checkpoints. We were told they would be every 10 kilometres or so, give or take a couple, but sometimes there wouldn’t be a checkpoint for 16 or so kilometres. Not ideal when you’re trying to keep hydrated but ration your water. I know this is an ultra, and you should be prepared for the worst, but I think this is one area that could be managed a little better (the poor innocent medics manning the stations!)
Stage 4 also had a section called ‘King and Queen of the Hill’ which was timed. We were told it was about two kilometres to the top, but it most definitely wasn’t, with Sam measuring five and a half kilometres on his watch. For those based around Mid-Canterbury, it was as steep, if not steeper than Little Mt Peel, and about the same distance, with many false tops! I was pushing myself quite hard (competitive) and started to go dizzy, so was forcing food down me. Finally, we reached the top (again, poor medics!) and had a three or four kilometres downhill to the finish line.
Stage 4 was by far the most enjoyable day for me and the highlight of the entire race. It felt so good to be finally able to race properly and feel good too. We were in the top 1/3 back to the camp that night so put up our hammocks and had time to get everything sorted before the long stage the following day. Because of the rain the course route had changed slightly, meaning it was only 75 kilometres instead of the original 90 kilometres, and everyone would finish the following day regardless. Because we were starting and finishing in almost the same place, we were allowed to leave (only) our hammocks behind – finally, the pack felt noticeably lighter! I still had a funny tummy so I asked the medics for another dose of antibiotics too, just in case, and Pete also gave me something from his magic bag of tricks. I did not want to feel average during the long day!
We set off just after 5am with head torches on and spent the first 15 kilometres on the road, running through villages where it seemed like the whole town was lining the street, taking photos and cheering us on. At the first checkpoint, we had spread out and I was with Jacqs, Sam, Jaime and Ryan, and would end up spending the whole day with them. From checkpoint 2 to 3 we were told was about ten kilometres, but again it ended up being about 16 kilometres and taking us almost three hours. It wasn’t as dense through the forest as the day before, but we cruised in and out of plantations, over paddocks, down roads and encountered endless river crossings. At one stage we spent about an hour and a half travelling down a river, mostly wading through the water (Coast to Coast training helped a lot!). Most crossings were below my waist, but there was the occasional one where I had the pack held above my head and the water was above the nipples! Thankfully it wasn’t swift. Jacqs and I were in front at one point and both straddled a log, only to have Jaime come behind us and point out the massive spider on the underside. It took off running over the water (wtf), while we both sprinted over the water in the opposite direction!
Finally, we made it to the checkpoint at 1.30pm, out of drinking water and cursing Kris the race director. Checkpoint 3 was the cut-off for the long course, which was 3pm, so we were praying the rest of the Running for Rangers crew that were behind us would make it in time. After a brief stop addressing blisters and refuelling, we headed up the road for a kilometre before turning back into the bush and up a hill. We knew we had a climb and 20 kilometres on a road left to the finish. It sounded do-able. Once again, the hill was brutal and took us about two hours to finally reach the top. We asked the medics if the rest of the team had made it to Checkpoint 3 in time, and were told the last four people to head up the hill were Holly, Harry, Keith and Matt. Stoked, the entire team would make it. We later found out they got to the checkpoint with two minutes to spare, only to be told they weren’t allowed to complete the long course. But they were having none of that and went anyway, even if all the markers had already been taken down! Legends.
To put it simply – the downhill was hell on earth. It was steep, muddy and very slippery. There were parts where there was no other option but to sit on your ass and slide. New yoga moves were created, and walking poles were left far behind if they were still in one piece at all. The mood was extremely sombre, with the occasional ‘You OK?’ being spoken each time someone fell. Basically, we were just checking no bones were broken, as no one was OK. Finally, just as it was getting dark and almost two hours later, we emerged from the hillside covered in mud and onto a wide braided river. I’ve decided that the Amazon Jungle is the same as the West Coast of NZ, but on steroids. Very similar, but everything is just so much grander in scale. We stopped for a regroup to go to the bathroom and each consumed another round of whatever drugs were being pulled from people’s pockets. Sore and fragile feet meant a few DF118’s were consumed too (taken off the market in the UK for being too strong).
Heading off we were presented with a new problem; we had no idea what way to go. We couldn’t spot any of the pink marker flags or any footprints to follow either. After about ten minutes of walking in circles, we spotted a light downstream and started heading towards it. It turned out to be a Peruvian who was part of the organising team, who was putting out glow sticks to mark the trail. Crossing the river for the next kilometre or so, all linking arms so as not to be swept away, we finally hit the bridge and walked up to the road. We didn’t hang around too long though as two very dodgy old pickups were parked under the bridge unloading products from one to the other. I immediately decided it was a drug deal because of course it had to be, we were in South America after all, but most likely it was completely innocent. Heading up the road we came across Checkpoint 5, the second to last checkpoint of the day, only stopping long enough to refill the water bottles and have some food before heading on our way.
We were all feeling pretty tired and sore, but Ryan’s feet were starting to swell, making it painful and slow going for him. We cruised along at a steady pace, knowing we were on the last section of the day. Many tales were told throughout the day; the typical ‘Shoot, Shag and Marry’, the odd ridiculous riddle and a new favourite ‘Come Dine with Me’. We all scored each other on their meal, and I’d just like to add that stuffed peppers with blue cheese are delicious! Yes, I got last.
The mix of Kiwi and Kenyan accents also provided many laughs and had us eating ‘Tiny Titties’ instead of ‘Tiny Teddies’. We spotted eyes in the bushes more than once and were even offered a ride from some friendly locals. We did seriously consider this, but brain fuzz from 15 hours of exercise meant we couldn’t quite figure out how to tell the driver to go slow enough so the race organisers wouldn’t become suspicious of five trackers going from an average speed of four kilometres an hour to 20!
After almost three hours of walking, we came around the corner to the final checkpoint. From our calculations, we still had ten kilometres to go, so there were hoots and hugs when we were told we only had one and a half kilometres left to the finish. At first, we didn’t believe them until two of the medics said they would walk with us. Unbelievable, we were so close.
Those last few kilometres were awesome and even slightly emotional as we rounded the corner and spotted the lights of Pilcopata ahead of us, it was hard to believe it was almost over. The five of us had spent 16 hours and approximately 75 kilometres together to make it to the finish line, not to mention the previous four days. There were a handful of hardy people left to see us in; the band and photographers had well and truly gone home, but we had made it. Hugs, high fives and the odd tear managed to escape down a very dirty and salty face. I knew I would get there, but the relief of having made it; it’s that moment that made it all worth it.
We sat down and had a few well-earned beers and hot chips, recounting the stories of the day as we waited for the remaining four of our team to roll on in. Two hours later Holly and Harry appeared and an incredible two hours after that, Keith and Matt. Matt’s feet were an absolute mess, how he managed to get to that finish line I’ll never know. So at 1am the whole Running for Rangers team stood on the finish line, finally completing what we set out to achieve five days earlier. We later found out that just over half of the 50 people who started finished the full course, and the entire Running for Rangers team made up ten of those.
I will look back on the Jungle Ultra and believe I pushed myself further than I have ever done before in a race. If you told me I was to run almost 100 kilometres with a 10kg bag on my back, with a tummy bug, I would have said I couldn’t do it. But put in a situation where it’s more than just you, knowing there are people watching and willing you to succeed and for a fantastic cause, it’s more than enough to keep you going. I didn’t love those first three days, but I did the last two, and it was great to finish on such a high. I think I was possibly the only person to come out of that race in better physical shape than what I went into it!
It was an experience of a lifetime. I knew when I signed up it was going to be something epic, but what I got was far more than I ever expected. Hopefully, what we did as a team is enough to set a solid base for the Running for Rangers charity going forward. And for other’s who want to join the team, we’d love to have you on board, but I do think we’ve set the benchmark pretty high!
I’ve since discovered there is a secret club out there who have encountered interesting gastro experiences while racing. And from the few stories I’ve been told, I think I got off pretty lightly!
I was extremely fortunate to have sponsors who helped me get to the Jungle, so I just want to say a big thank you to The NZ Sock Company (their socks are awesome, highly recommend!), The North Face, Suunto, Skins NZ, Salomon and Gurney Goo. You guys rock.
Note: All Beyond the Ultimate images were taken by Mikkel Beisner.
Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go. – T. S. Eliot