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Alps 2 Ocean - Part 4

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Alps 2 Ocean - Part 4

By Simon Clendon on 2nd April 2018 Race Reports

Alps 2 Ocean - Part 4


Day 6
Waitaki River to Peaks Road. 52km

Day 6 - Stage 6

The last big day. I was just getting into the daily routine of wake up, get mostly packed, have breakfast, final pack, and run. Such a simple life but quite satisfying.

Some bad news was delivered to tent mate Ange in the morning. Michael must have been talking with the medical team and he approached Ange who had just had her feet redressed and said her race was done. To his credit it was done very respectfully and humbly. He talked about his own DNF at Grand to Grand and how Ange had achieved so much already. This was obviously devastating for Ange. I know how much she put into the race. I also know how tough she is and that, given the option, would undoubtedly have finished. The concern was that  permanent damage could be done to her feet. All I could do was give her a big hug.

I needed to treat day 6 with respect. It was still over 50km so definitely not a walk in the park. In the briefing Michael did have good news for us - the section after checkpoint two that criss crossed a river was being taken out due to raised water levels. He started to say our feet would remain dry for the day but then retracted that as he wasn't completely right the last time he promised the same thing!

Soon we were off...walking. For the first 500m we had a police escort to safely get us along the main road to the start of the bicycle trail. Once there we were properly on our way.

I wanted to go pretty slowly at first as the course looked like there was a lot of flat and that meant unbroken running. The overnight rain had caused some tiny creeks to become higher than normal and that meant wet feet! Oh well, I figured my feet would dry out soon enough so after vainly trying to find a way across I gave up and splashed through. There were a couple more crossings but soon it was all dry gravel cycle trail.

At one point we ran alongside the main road to Oamaru and passed some signs advertising a winery ahead. We joked if only it were open this early in the morning. The winery itself came into view and lo and behold, the owners had set up a wine and cheese tasting table out front! Yet another lovely surprise in this wonderful event. This time I didn't hesitate as I did with the salmon. I had a lovely pinot noir (I think) plus two different types of cheese. The wine warmed my stomach pleasantly and the cheese was delicious extra calories.

Photo credit - Eemon Marstella

Straight after the tasting we headed through the winery vineyards and along the cycle trail with glimpses of the river to our left. I settled into a good rhythm and started ticking off the kilometres and a few runners.

Checkpoint one appeared and physio Mike was there with his table. I had him sort out my left hip (gluteus minimus) that morning and he asked how it was. “Brilliant!” I replied, “377 out!” However, one kilometre later I started feeling the pain again! I just adjusted my gait and it resolved soon enough. Phew.

For the next hour or so the route followed beside the main road on the cycle path and then it veered off toward the river again. My running felt good enough and I made sure to eat and keep the electrolytes going in.

Checkpoint two was at the cute settlement of Duntroon. Cruelly there was an open coffee cart directly behind the aid station. The barista kindly called out that her coffee was rubbish. I didn't believe her for a second but appreciated the sentiment.

From the checkpoint I crossed the main highway and ran along a concrete footpath. I soon passed a primary school and all the children were out in the playground. They rushed up to the fence and stuck their arms through for high fives. That was so cool! Just past the school, and for no particular reason, I started sobbing like a baby. Maybe the hardships of the past five days had just caught up to me. Maybe it was the enthusiasm of the kids. I don’t know. Welcome to multi-day races, Simon! Then from above I heard “Why is that man crying?” I didn’t realise the school fields continued at the top of a high bank and some kiddies were peering down at me. Oh dear!

I followed the main road a short distance and then turned up a side road. This was the part where we missed getting our feet wet in the river, which was nice, and I was still following a cycle trail so was away from the road. From here it was a gradual rise in elevation which made a nice change to the previous 28km of flat.

There was a bonus water stop just before we entered the Elephant Rocks area. If you look up “Elephant Rocks NZ” on Wikipedia it will describe them as weathered limestone rocks. This was also the site of Aslan’s Camp in the film Chronicles of Narnia. It made a nice diversion and I got to see Ange and Alex again. A number of people who had to pull out were sitting by one of the rocks enjoying the sun and cheering us on. Very much appreciated.

Elephant Rocks - credit Wikipedia

After the rocks I continued following the cycle trail as it wound through a gorge and up onto farmland. I started to have trouble keeping  running and felt quite fatigued. I would walk the uphills but not start running until well into the downs. This turned into just walking and generally feeling sorry for myself. I went through my mental checklist to try and figure out what was going on: Food? Eat some more - no change. Electrolytes? Pop some salt tabs and drink some more SOS. No change. Water? Nope. Pain relief? I popped a dose of paracetamol and walked/jogged on for half an hour. Nope. I then realised that the answer was pretty simple - I had been running ultra marathons for six straight days on little sleep and a deficit of food. Duh.

With this knowledge I just trucked on until I reached the high point halfway to checkpoint three. I figured that some downhill should help so managed to get a bit of an ultra shuffle going. It was about 5km to the next aid station and it was reasonably warm so I just had to keep going as best I could. To be fair, I managed to get this far without any serious issues so couldn’t complain too much, although at the time I whinged loudly in my head and to any cows who would listen.

In the distance I could finally see the red pop-up tent that signalled the next checkpoint. I ran up to it and could see Ange and Alex were both there. As I got close the tears started again. Man, these events sure do strip you back to raw emotions. I leant on the table for a while to regain my composure. I looked at Ange and knew she would have traded anything to be back in the race and feeling as shit as I was.

I stayed longer than my normal water-fill-and-salt-tab-gulp. A couple of other runners were coming through and as French runner Florence left the station I decided to hook on to her and run when she ran and walk when she walked - no thinking required. The next 8km was uphill and Florence didn’t muck around. She ran the vast majority of the hills so I just had to do the same. This worked out really well and I regained some of my composure and even managed to talk. Florence’s English is vastly better than my school boy French but I did pick up a few new words. My favourite of the day was “ensilage” followed by “puant”. These two go nicely together ha ha!

We finally reached a fairly high point where we were supposed to be able see the sea but couldn’t make out where it was. We could certainly see a long way but there were only farms from horizon to horizon.

So how far to the stage finish? Another runner estimated only a few kilometres but these would have to be those extra long “Kiwi Kilometres” so we didn’t trust that at all. I was sure we wouldn’t get to camp until we reached the river flats far below. I strained my eyes but could only see the gravel road disappearing over more hills and no sign of a camp.

Not far ahead we could see some people at the side of the road and thought they must be locals out to cheer us on. However, it soon became apparent that we were nearly at the final camp! Yippie! We turned through a farm gate and the finish gantry was just there. Done!

The camp was in a nice sunny paddock so winding down for the day was rather pleasant. My pack only had a little food left in it and would be super light the next day. This made dinner all the more enjoyable.

The medical tent was busy as usual, treating the usual crop of blisters and taping up painful legs. I nabbed a quick physio massage to get that knot in my hip sorted out. It had changed sides again but quickly succumbed to a vicious elbow.

People trickled in over the rest of the afternoon. Some had good days, some bad. We knew some would be out for a long time and hoped they weren’t suffering too much. It turns out there was much suffering but these people are just incredible. They just kept on going using sheer bloody mindedness. I wondered earlier if all humans had the same potential to keep on going in the same way, but I have a feeling this lot are extra amazing. In a way ultra runners self-select for this kind of torment. If they couldn’t tolerate the pain then they wouldn’t keep coming back for more. What did Winston Churchill say? If you’re going through hell, keep going? The last finishers sure did go through hell. Reports came back of one runner who fainted several times but still pushed on after convincing the medics he was okay. I think it was after 11pm when they finally reached camp. Just amazing. My hat goes off to these guys.

Day 6 stats: 52.66km 7h21m

Day 7
Peaks Road to Oamaru. 28km

Day 7 - Stage 7

The last day had finally arrived. I was both happy and sad. Happy that it would all be over soon but sad that the simple, albeit exhausting, life was coming to an end. Lifelong friendships were made and bonding took place through shared suffering. I wanted to relish the day as much as possible but at the same time was looking forward to my first shower in a week.

There were three separate start times for the final day - 7am, 7:45am, and 9am. The groups were based on positions at the end of day 5 meaning the fastest third of the field would start last. There was an extra start time at 6:30am to allow the walking wounded plenty of time to get to Oamaru.

I was in the last group so got to watch everyone else head off into the misty morning - yet another perfect day for running. Someone in the 7am group took off like a bat out of hell, raising the eyebrows of the organisers. They soon realised they would have to hurry to get the gantry and other gear packed up, transported to Oamaru, and re-erected before the speed demon got there. By the time the final group start time came around it was just a bunch of runners waiting in an empty paddock!

My plan for the day was to start easy as usual and once I hit the only checkpoint at 17k see what I had left in the tank. For the first time I was tail end Charlie! I did have a good chat to the guy on the bike who was a local farmer Michael had roped in to help (they have actually known each other for ages). I plodded along happily while they pulled in the marker tape and signs behind me. This section was scenic (what parts aren’t!). We went through an old train tunnel early on and then followed streams and passed through many farms on the way seaward.

The mist hung around for a while but eventually burned off leaving a pleasant and not too hot day. Before long I reached the checkpoint, popped a couple of salt tabs, and then started speeding up. Inia was just ahead but didn’t stop for water. He sped off into the distance and looked to be following the same plan I had.

I settled into what seemed an unsustainable pace but it just felt really good! I would dearly like to know what time I left the checkpoint to calculate my pace. I’d probably be disappointed but it sure did feel fast. “Smelling the barn” is what it’s called. I marvelled at how it was even possible to go this fast after 7 days of running stupid distances. The human body is such a wonder.

The final section went gradually uphill on the cycle trail until reaching the outskirts of Oamaru. I was passing some of the earlier starters by now and everyone was in good spirits. Up ahead I could see Inia but I wasn’t gaining on him. The uphill seemed to go on forever but, after several road crossings, we hooked a left onto a city footpath and dropped down through the botanical gardens. I managed to catch Inia and we charged along together, not quite sure how far it was to the finish.

We crossed a couple of streams over some concrete stepping posts and suddenly dropped down to a stream and under probably the lowest bridge Michael could find with the most mud underneath. This stopped our headlong dash in its tracks. We should have expected a twist at the end given every day had one up to now!

We clambered out and ran along some paths through the old town and eventually popped up near the cobbled road we walked down before boarding the buses over a week ago. We zoomed along the road past bemused market shoppers and turned left to see the harbour and the wonderful sight of the finish gantry. It seemed half of Oamaru had turned out to cheer everyone in, many in steampunk outfits. Michael was there on the finish line as he was every day but this time he had a medal for us. Many of the early starters were at the finish and there were hugs all round. I admit to having a bit of a bawl again but it was happiness, relief, pride, and joy all mixed up together.

Me, feeling tired but very happy!

Done! Finished! Challenge taken on and met! I was so pleased with how everything went. I have to thank my wife, Nic, who didn’t see a lot of me in the months leading up to the start. By necessity, training took priority over weekend brunches and mowing the lawn, now a jungle. I just had to get the miles in to do the event justice. Sorry, Nic!

And a huge thank you to Coach Jaime Stevenson without whom I couldn’t have achieved what I did by a long shot - no way! I owe you more than you imagine.

Thank you to Michael for the vision and creating a world class ultra running stage race. A huge thumbs up to the tireless volunteers who always had a smile and a helping hand - we owe you a big debt of gratitude.

A massive shout out to all fellow competitors who had the courage to toe the start line. I think we can agree we are all a little bit crazy but wow, wasn’t that just something?!

Time for a bit of a rest now...

Day 7 stats: 28.67km 3h02m

Overall stats: 330km (estimated), 46 hours 26 minutes. 7th place unsupported, 21st overall, one bashed toenail, zero blisters(!), 6 kilograms weight loss.

125 entrants, 118 starters, 100 finishers.

Would I do it all again? Well, I felt I did so well at Alps 2 Ocean that a repeat might not feel the same. It is very tempting, though. I am seriously considering heading down next year with Nic to volunteer. Touring by car or camper has a certain appeal over running hee hee.

2 weeks post event I’ve started running again. It’s distressing how much fitness is lost in such a short time. Never mind, time to make some new goals. I’d love to do the Tarawera miler in 2019 as it wasn’t possible to do the inaugural run as well as do A2O. I might even have an eye on the Grand to Grand in 2020/2021 :-).

Ange and Alex have all registered for the 2019 race. They are all extremely motivated and excited to get back there are clear some demons. Might just see you there, guys!

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