This look way too long to pen/type. It’s hard to believe it was real. I know I did it when I find myself pushing that next footstep on a hunt, with my pack on my back. Or in December with a hind on my back, gritting my teeth, achieving the next small landmark and then the next. But 54km, me, 6ft, 94kg, never having run longer than 12km before, still hard to believe.
I woke early on the morning of Sat 9th of Jan, Billie’s white noise filling the room, I’d made the wise decision to get to bed early. My dad was up as well off to rowing training. I downed a bulletproof coffee, exogenous ketones and some light food and headed out the door (forgetting my compression socks) to catch the bus to the event. I made it just on time at 5:45 with the sun beginning to lighten the sky filled with the classic, early summer Christchurch inversion layer of cloud, after the previous two weeks rain. Perfect!
The Bus trip was a bit of a blur, people with all the gear and experience, talking about their milers at ‘Tarawera’, their take on ‘Crater Rim Ultra‘ or the ‘Valley Ultra‘ a few weekends before. Arriving at the finish to pick up the last of the competitors, just as we were about to depart a slight looking fellow rocked up on a mountain bike, like this was just another Saturday 53km training run- In went the headphones, I couldn’t let my competitive nature take over, this race was about me, it was about getting to the end, the race was with my inner self, not letting it tell me to give up.
The excitement grew as we made our way across the flat roads towards Little River, the nervousness took over as we made our way over into Pidgeon Bay. The magnitude of the climbs ahead was put into perspective by the grinding gears and engine of the bus.
7:45 am and it wasn’t just me cuing for a nervous one before our 8am start, the portaloo getting a work over. I managed to be one of the last few before John sent us on our way and we got almost straight into the climbing. Some walking, some jogging, some gasping, some chatting, some sipping water, I even managed to turn and take in the views 475m up.
Once at the top it was down into a small basin, down the other side, past some sheep being moved and into port Levy for some more water, some crisps and to finish off that nervous one. 13km were down and time to climb to the top of Mount Herbert, a mere 21km away and 899m up.
The tree lined path seemed to go on for ever, lined with night shade, tutu and hemlock, some weird thoughts of literally ending it were going through my head- I nicknamed it suicide lane in some macabre, dark comedic way, but who was I kidding, I was running a half marathon up a hill- it doesn’t get much more macabre than that. Type 2 Fun!
Thankfully my dark thoughts and the eternal switch backs were broken by the cheers of the crew at the Port Levy Spur Car Park. I topped up my bottles with electrolytes and water, and with another bag of delicious salty chips in hand, I was off on my way. I hit my straps in this period managing to get past a few of the people who had over taken me on the first few hills.
Near the top of Mt Herbert, I found a fellow competitor a little worse for wear with cramp, so I gave him some of my salt tabs and carried on my way. It was great being up on top of the world, however spotting some people off on another track while I was out on my own started some doubt as the downward section appeared to go on for ages. Thankfully I spied the packhorse hut and proceeded on my decent.
The Downhill interestingly started to take it out of me and I began to walk more and more. My hips and knees began to ache, then in the forest I took a wrong turn and was a good few hundred meters off track. Thankfully I saw some fellow competitors and made a beeline for them. I was relieved but the undoing of what I had achieved up on the tops started to weigh heavily, and the pain began to get the better of me.
Climbing up out of the forestry there was the moment I’d been waiting for; Billie came running towards me with my mum, dad and some fresh socks. Dumping my camelbak and with feet feeling like clouds again, brought some solace to the pain. The innocents of my daughter telling me I was “sweaty” and asking if I was finished yet, spurred me on down to the check point at Giddies Pass. Here I nocked back another exogenous ketones, bag of chips and filled my bottles with electrolytes to get off and attack “the bastard”.
The beating sun and endless switch backs were seriously tough; my mouth was dry, my legs tired and joints painful, but I was egged on by Billie and my parents as they leap frogged me in their car, and gave me the odd squirts of water. Mum kept asking how are you going, and I’d smile saying “I’m pretty sore” then I’d laugh as Billie would yell “Go RYAN!!” “GO DADDA” and ask if I was finished running yet. As my parents sped away with about 10km to go I was left with the realisation that Christchurch still wasn’t in site. It took until the final check point, and with 5 down hill Kilo Meters to go at Kennedy’s Bush to see her glistening beauty in the glaring sunshine.
I was spent and downed some flat coke in order to run off fumes on my way down the hill. I had not long put some music in my ears, but not even the blaring tunes of Netsky, Sub Focus, Friction and Dimension couldn’t take away the pain. As I approached the gates to the Halswell Quarry Moutain Bike track, tears rolled down my face and the previous year rained over me. I was listening to Pendulum, “The Tempest“, almost falling my way down the dirt track feeling my patella tendons pull under my knee cap each time my foot landed.
Then I got to the park, composed myself, ran over the lush green grass, through the cones until finally I passed the final hedge to see my mum with the camera and Billie again shouting support. As I rounded the final corner I tried picker her up, but yet again I was “Too Sweaty” so instead I held her hand as she ran with me to the finish line. Nothing like a two year old to keep things in perspective.
It was over, I could stop running, figuratively as well as literally. It was now time to continue with my life. My family asked me that afternoon if i’d do it again, and in the state of my hips, I said probably not. By the next week, that changed to a probably would. A bit over a year on, I’m sitting here recovering from Covid, having completed Murph yesterday, with “The Tempest” playing and a feeling of bring it on.
So what do you learn training for and completing an Ultra- well first that I’m slightly mad, but second I am capable of many things especially when they are taken one step at a time.