A fun day out

Yesterday I ran/walked in the Surf to Firth off road half marathon. Here is my race report!!

Are you tough enough? The Surf to Firth is described as ‘the most technically challenging off road marathon in New Zealand’ on its own website . There are so many off road races now, in so many different parts of New Zealand, and I haven’t done enough of them to compare, but it certainly was a challenge. Having said that, I suspect that in fine weather, it is a lot less of a challenge.

I enjoy technical stuff having spent the 30 years before taking up ‘trailrunning’ walking, tramping and caving in the Lake District, Scotland, Wales and Europe. I am used to uneven, rocky, slippery, muddy and steep trails. However, I am a bit of a self-doubter and worried, after I signed up to the half marathon in a random moment of insanity, whether I wasn’t going to be ‘tough enough’! There are no aid stations on the route, just SARs volunteers at checkpoints along the way to ensure that everyone is accounted for on the trail. Only one of them about 7km from the end had some water and lollies. I was well-prepared with enough fluid and fuel to last me and some more in case of disaster. I also carried emergency gear – thermals, beanie, gloves, first aid kit and blanket, although the event didn’t stipulate any compulsory gear. I am an ex-rescue team member, after all, and it wouldn’t look too good to become a statistic due to my own poor preparation! IMHO a compulsory gear list is something the organising group do need to consider.

It rained during the week in the run up to the event, but the message on the Facebook page was positive, despite rain forecast it was going to be warm so the race would go ahead – just make sure you have a rain jacket. It rained steadily all Friday night. We were in our wee campervan in a motorvan stopover in Thames and I woke regularly to hear it falling on the roof, wondering if it would peter out before the morning. It didn’t, but the race was still on and we were bussed up to Wainora campground where the half marathon started.

The river up the Kaueranga Valley was already high and the fords were flowing. The bus driver made light of them but we all looked out a little nervously! I had opted to go with the early tortoise group – walkers and run/walkers who expected to take more than 4 hours 30. The faster hares would follow an hour later. It tippled it down as the race briefing happened and then we were away. The first part is on well-prepared, very accessible trail and we set off at a good pace. A few fast folk raced ahead, I chose to plod in the middle and the walkers brought up the rear. Then we hit the steps – I was reliably informed by a local that there were 350 of them but I didn’t bother counting. The rain was steady at this point but it was warm and I was tempted to take my jacket off. Once off the steps we hit a real steep section, very rough ground, roots, rocks, mud. Quite a lot of upper body work to pull yourself up the steep climbs – I love that sort of stuff so went past a few who struggled a bit more, just making sure as I went that they were ok. In between the steep bits the trail was very muddy – deep pools of water, some of which you could skirt round the edge but mostly just waded through the middle. Sometimes they were ankle deep, others I sank knee deep in the mud! I think that’s what made it hard on the legs – you never knew what was underfoot and couldn’t get into any rhythm. It was dark in the bush and at times it was difficult to make out the profile of the trail to pick where to put my feet. And the rain just kept pouring down, every now and then the bush lit up with flashed of lightning followed by huge, long rolls of thunder. The wind also started to get up and I was glad I had kept my jacket on.

For a while I was running with a couple of other people and it was nice to have company. The steep section was done, we reached the ridge where I stopped to take a photo of the stunning and atmospheric view of the clouds and rain over the forest.

female trailrunner, wearing turquoise cap and purple rain jacket. Self portrait at the top of a hill in the rain with dark clouds and forested valley in the background
Light at the top
Dark clouds, rainy and low cloud in a forested valley
A break in the rain
Dark clouds, rainy and low cloud in a forested valley
Atmospheric view over the valley

For most of the way we were literally running through a stream – water poured on to the track from the hill at the side and found the line of least resistance down the trail. The middle section was more runnable albeit on terrain I have just described. I reached a junction with several ways on and initially followed another competitor down a track which was marked with the orange DoC trailmarkers we had been told to follow. However, I wasn’t convinced and said I was going back to check – just thought we had made the decision too quickly. When I got back to the top, a couple of others arrived and they confirmed that we were wrong. We shouted and whistled to the girl who had carried on, contemplated trying to catch her, but decided that we wouldn’t manage it, and that if she carried on she would end up in the valley. We would let the SARs guys know so they could pick her up. We weren’t to know at that stage that the Kaueranga Valley was now impassable, the marathoners were trapped and their race had been canned. Fortunately, she had heard our shouts and whistles and caught us up about 15 minutes later.

The three of us ran together through the mud and water until we reached the final checkpoint. I had no idea how far we had gone and only a vague idea of how long we had been running as I had had a ‘watch fail’. We were told at this point that we were being re-routed. I had been expecting some more of the steep terrain we had had at the start, with drop offs, roots etc, but instead it was pretty plain sailing – actually a boat might well have been handy! The trail was more rocky with the stream still flowing steadily along it, quite hard on my hips as there was no give in it and I couldn’t always see what I was putting my feet on because of the water, so keeping balance was a challenge.

water flowing down a trail in the bush
‘Stream running’

The added excitement now were the streams we had to cross that flowed over the trail. None were very wide but required me to be in the water with both feet for two or three steps, so I was quite circumspect, tried to find branches or rocks to hold onto and test the depth before committing. The deepest was thigh deep, but most were mid calf to knee deep. Running ‘blind’ – no watch to indicate time or distance is weird but quite liberating in a way once I had got over the frustration of my watch giving up the ghost! As the vegetation changed, I sensed that I was getting closer, then I heard a siren which meant I must be close to a road, then I saw the Hauraki Gulf through a break in the trees…. then I met a volunteer who said ‘Not far now!” “How far?” I asked. “About a km, down to the road, and there might be a bus waiting for you.” It would be a bit over the top to say that it was the sweetest thing I had heard, but it was great to hear I was so close as I was sure that I still had 2 or 3 kms to go. No big finishing line, just a time mat and a van, and a few other finishers waiting for the bus.

Whilst we had been running, the organisers had been working maniacally in the background troubleshooting, problem solving, trying to make sure we were all safe. I have some questions about decisions made about to go ahead with the event given the weather conditions. And I know that the marathoners had a pretty hard time. But once the proverbial hit the fan, they did what needed to be done to get people out. Plenty of learning to be done, I think! I loved my 4 and a half hours out on the trail/stream. I was tough enough! I will be back. It’s all in a great cause, after all. Proceeds go to SAR.

Wet training shoes, a race number and muddy socks

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life starts to settle down…

Lachlan, Romulus and Remus

Well, we have been here nearly a month now and life is starting to settle into a sort of routine. Lachlan has got involved at school – he has gone to represent his house at swimming today at the Municipal pool in Hamilton. Went on the bus on his own this morning and he’ll roll up home whenever! Paperwork seems to be just about non-existent here as far as school trips are concerned – he came home the other day saying he needed $3 for the bus to go to the swimming pool, no forms to fill in, medical details etc, he then forgot to take the money with him so couldn’t go on the school bus so just went on the service bus (which was cheaper anyway!)

Aonghas is still a bit wobbly but has made a friend called Hong who is coming to play tomorrow evening after school, so he is feeling a bit more confident. He is going to play cricket in the school cricket league on Friday and yours truly volunteered to be the team manager as there was nobody else! Well. it’s a good way to get to know people and I was assured that I really wouldn’t have to do much! Both boys went to athletics training at Hamilton Hawks last Thursday, Lachlan is going to go to the senior session next Wednesday as the junior one was a bit tame for him but they had some fun anyway. We ended up walking home as there was a 20 minute wait for the bus into town and then we would have had to wait another half an hour for the bus out again to our house. I looked at the map and persuaded the boys that we could walk the 5km quicker! We did – just! The bus went past our house as we walked in the door!

one for Dad!
Walking gave us a chance to get our bearings a bit and one section took us through Hamilton Gardens which are beautiful. We had a day out there last Sunday as it is within walking distance of the house and there are no buses on Sundays. The grounds are beautifully laid out with different styles of garden going off from a central courtyard.
The Chinese Scholar’s Garden
The Japanese Garden of Contemplation Each garden leads round labyrinth-wise back to the courtyard and then you can go into the next. Each has its own particular atmosphere and despite there being a lot of folk around there was a sense of serenity and calm in the Japanese and Chinese gardens.
colours in the Indian Char Bagh Garden

A chance to sit and thinkThe Indian Char Bagh garden reminded me of the Alhambra in Granada – the colours were just amazing and a host of butterflies flitted their way through the flowers, there were little corners to sit and just drink in the fragrances and you could almost believe you were in another world.
Italian Rennaissance Garden

Walking through to the Italian Renaissance garden with its fountains and columns the brilliant blue of the sky contrasted with the white and terracotta of the walls and the smell of the herbs in the carefully laid out flowerbeds was lovely.
Cooling off in the American Modernist Garden

Nigel and Marilyn

Contrast that with the modernity of the American contemporary garden with a welcome paddling pool for the children and the clean cut shapes of the sculptures and a huge mural depicting Marilyn Monroe. Deckchairs to recline on and we spent a good half hour there as the children cooled off in the pool.
Nigel and Aonghas enjoy the flowers in the English Flower Garden The Englsih Flower GardenA celebration of garden styles wouldn’t be complete without an English country garden and sure enough there it was, lawns immaculate with sight lines through to a fountain and the summerhouse. Holly hocks and roses filled the borders and shady bowers to shelter from the sun. We used to love going to the Botanics in Edinburgh, there is plenty more to see at the Hamilton Gardens and I am sure we will go back soon.

This weekend saw us trailing round car showrooms looking for some wheels, we test drove a couple but just like in GB buying a car is fraught with complications and worries. It is one of our least favourite things to do but we really do need a car! Which dealer to go to? What sort of car? A small one to tide us over until we have a bit more money but which may not big enough to get the camping stuff in or a bigger, more expensive one that we may not be able to afford to run?! We then spent the rest of the weekend on the internet checking out the makes of car we had seen to compare performance, cost etc. We still don’t know! Perhaps we should just go for the first one we see at the right price and a nice colour!

To make us feel better and as a treat for the boys as they had (quite) patiently put up with trailing round car places, we found a lovely little Italian restaurant in a tucked away alley and ate Italian. It turned out to be a real gem and we will definitely go back there sometime! It was rather an indulgence as Nigel still hasn’t been paid (some cock up in the finance department) and the bank have given us a short term overdraft to see us through this week!

fun in the pool
Well the weather has changed a bit – still quite warm but there has been a bit of welcome rain and the wind has picked up which means the pool keeps filling with leaves – more work for me! What a shame! The boys continue to enjoy jumping in the pool and having great fun though Lachlan has taken to putting his wetsuit on now as he gets cold easily! (Aw, Bless!) The Uni pool is really good – 50 metres so it feels like an age to get from one end to the other! It is unheated so it is a bit of a shock diving in but once you get going it is fine. It’s the pool that Lachlan goes to with school for lessons – he came home after his first lesson to say that they had to run up there in bare feet (about a mile) with their togs under their PE kit, they then had a swimming lesson and ran back to school. No towel, no shoes, no forms to fill in, simple! Just about to head up there now as I plan to try to get fit! It will only be open until the end of March so need to put my time in now. There is a swim in the river called the 5 Bridges swim which I fancy doing – it is about 5km long but downstream – we’ll see what happens!

No more news for now, keep you posted!

PS. Lachlan won his heat in the Breaststroke and then came 5th in the final, he thinks his relay team came 2nd but isn’t sure! He is quite amazed by the fact that he is still in the “Green” team – he started in St Mary’s in Green, then into QES and now in NZ! His house is called Kikoriki.

PPS. Started my training regime with a run up to the pool and then 1000 metre swim. Think I might ache tonight!