The Old Ghost Road Ultra Marathon, located in the West Coast on the South Island of New Zealand, my first Ultra Marathon event since finishing the Tarawera Ultra Ultra 100 Miler event. I know I know, you missed me terribly, but fear not, for I have returned to entertain you with tales of my epic run at the Old Ghost Ultra Marathon.
Now there is that chance that some of you may be wondering, "What is an Ultra marathon?" Well, it's a special kind of madness that involves running distances longer than a marathon, In this particular event, the Old Ghost Ultra Marathon was an 85km, just a litte short of the equivalent of two marathons.
I woke up at 2:45am to have breakfast and to prepare myself for the long day ahead. It was time to walk down to the bus with my friend Clare. Clare had decided to sign up just a few weeks out from the race, after she got sick the day she was suppose to fly up to run theTarawera Miler, she decided she wasn't going to let all that training go to waste. We hoped on the bus ready for the ride to start line. As I'm sitting there I look up and see my friend Mel, seems like I'm bound to bump into her at at least one race a year, we had a little chat on the bus trip out to the start line.
The Bus pulled up at the starting point, people lined up to drop off their drop bags, others, to go use the bathroom before the run, some even goinging over their "allocated" time (IYKYK).
Had a quick chat with Mel, grabbed a photo or two for Clare and her other friends, had a quick chat with some others and then headed to the start line. So there I was... standing at the startling line of the Old Ghsot Marathong, feeling a mix of excitement, fear, and a sudden urge to pee... I looked around at the other runners and on some of their faces I could see that look... that same look I had, the look of wonder, thinking, have I made a mistake?
But it was too late to turn back now, the countdown began and before I knew it, we were off. I started off at a steady pace, trying not to get caught up in the excitement of the moment, and tried to remind myself that this was a marathon, not a sprint (well.. technically, an ultra marathong, but you get the idea). The first 1km was down and along the road before we hit a sudden single track instantly slowing runners down to the pace of the person ahead of them. As the journey continued, we encountered an obstacle, a two-person only bridge. It might sound fun, but trust me, it led to quite the hold-up. Waiting for two people at a time to cross the bridge created a significant delay. While there were more of these bridges to come, the field would have thined out a bit by then so wouldn't be so much of a delay.
Around the 15 to 16-kilometer mark, just as I was getting into the groove, a sudden, sharp sensation jabbed at my arm. To my surprise, I found a wasp lodged in my arm, apparently intent on joining me for the run. I managed to flick it off and soldiered on, but as luck would have it, the wasp wasn't just targeting me. A short distance down the trail, I stumbled upon a fellow runner who had pulled over to deal with a wasp sting of her own. Apparently, the wasp brigade had claimed her at the same point in the race during her previous attempt. Kudos to the race organizers for attempting to deal with the wasp situation, though the unpredictable critters seemed to have a different plan.
Across a long swing bridge a trail led us up to the first aid station 17km in. With only about 30 minutes before the cutoff, I decided to quickly grab a few lollies, refill by bottles and be my legs moving out of there, on my way to the next aid station... Stern Valley Hut, This was actually quiet a lovely section, the climbs were nice, nothing too steep, just long.
Around the 33km point, my legs decided to make their presence felt in the terms of cramp. I attempted to combat it by taking on more Tailwind which didn't appear to help. I even used my Precision Hydration to see if that would keep it at bay, but no... As a result, I adapted my strategy, changing my pace to find something that would still maintain some kind of speed especially on the downhill sections. The uphill sections were a bit of a differnt story, where I had to fial back more to prevent the cramping from taking over completely, It was all about finding that sweet spot
Overall, the first 42km of the race played out in the lovely forest. This was until reaching a bit of a rocky zigzagging climb that seemed to continue on and on, I'm not sure if that was just the cramp that was getting me down or what, but eventually, I was greated with a wonderful rocky downhill which I believe is known as the Bone Yard. Picture this: it's like a scene out of The Lion King. just missing a chorus of animals breaking into song around me.
As I finally reached the Stern Valley Aid Station, I could see the drop bags waiting there. It was obviously that I had earned my place amoung the back-of the-pack warriors for the day. I sat down taking a well deserved break, an Aid Station volunteer asked me what they could do to help, I looked at her and said, "Just stand there and look pretty." She was like, no seriously what would you like, Tailwind, Coke, Gin, Whiskey... I was like... Seriously... Gin... Sure, I may as well, got a quick photo taking a bit of it (hopefully I will find it seeing they took the photo), I then took on some Pickle Juice to see if that would help with the cramp, filled my bottles up with Tailwind, as well as a bottle of Mountain dew, then proceeded on my way.
Roughly 3 kilometers down the trail from the aid station, a sudden thought struck – I had left my trusty gels behind in my drop bag. Not one to travel light (just ask my mate Bart), I had a stash of Jelly Beans to fall back on. They did the job, but let's face it, gels have this turbo-charged effect that can't be replicated. The Jelly Beans are more like a scenic route while the gels are the expressway to energy.
Pushing on, the 300 or so stair climb, which I was dreading from the start ended up not actually bring so bad, despite the cramp kicking in. Reaching the top of the climb, I remember thinking, was that it?
I continued to conquer the uphill challenges on the path to Ghost Lake Hut, which welcomed me around the 55-kilometer mark. Each step brought me closer to this milestone, and I couldn't help but marvel at the journey so far. Upon reaching the aid station I was welcomed with messages from my friends back home over the Facebook Livestream, as well a cheaky comments from others telling me to hurry up even though I had just arrived... It soon became a bit of a roasting for those back home, so I decided it was time to move on. After a top of Coke to my drink bottle, tailwind in another and a smashing down of a can of Red Bull it was time to move on to finish the final climb and onto the last aid station.
This part defiantly had some of the best views of the day. Reaching the top and overlooking the valleys and forest was a breathtaking view. It was also the point where I got cellphone coverage again, with a message from my coach coming in and wishing me luck on the run. By this stage I was well over half way through the race, but I appreciated his message, especially seeing I knew he had other stuff on that day.
I quickly flicked off a message to him letting him know about the cramp and all the things I had tried in order to overcome the issue. He quickly responded advising it sounded like muscle fatigue and to take on as much sugar as possible. No arguments from me, from that point it was Coke and Jelly beans the rest of the way, just another 30ish km. Within about 15-20 minutes the cramp had finally subsided, thankfully it was also downhill the rest of the way.
Somehow I had miscalculated the distance left until the next aid station, thinking ai would have another 23km to go from there. Reaching the aid station I was pleasantly suprised to find out it was about 5km less than I had expected. I excitingly went woohoo when I found out before a suprised look came over all the volunteers faces. Thinking I must have said something wrong I tried to compose myself and ask politely, sorry, did I say something wrong. Only to be told, that pretty well much everyone else had come through complaining how much further it was to go. I thanked them all for being there, filled up with some more Coke and got on my way
Having got my energy back and lack of cramp I decided to enjoy the downhill to the finish line, the enjoyment only added to by watching the number of kms ticking down on the markers on the side of the track the further I ran.
I set a target to see how many people I could pass from the final aid station to the finish. As I passed my first person (a lady who had passed me earlier) she called out, oh your doing well, ai thanked her and said, yeap, the cramp has gone, yay... then continued on. I passed another 5 people in that last 17km, each one making me feel a little bit more confident that I was a capable runner.
Less than 1km to go, by this stage it was starting to get dark as the sun had begun to set, still enough light to see the trail ahead, so I felt I didn't need my headlamp. As I ran down hill approaching the last bend a voice from nowhere called out "Well done, one more bend to go", I almost crapped my pants, obviously I had underestimated just how dark it was as it was dark enough that I couldn't see the person sitting next to the tree. Down to the end of the trail, up one final set of stairs and then across the finish line. I could hear Kevin Grimwood calling my name out over the microphone as I crossed the line and received the medal from Ben Kepes. Finally finished after 14:30hrs, I moved slowly over to receive my drop bag and get changed into some warmer clothes before making my way to the bus.
Hopping onto the bus, I settled into a seat, feeling a tad queasy. My body seemed to be playing a hot-and-cold symphony, making me wonder if I'd end up being the star of a less-than-pleasant show by sharing the contents of my stomach with everyone onboard. Not wanting to take any chances, I made a quick exit from the bus before things took a turn for the worse. Barely had I managed to get off the bus and slump onto the ground when the heaving began. Now, I was faced with an existential crisis: was it worse to throw up on an empty stomach or a full one? After gathering myself, wiping away a few stray tears, I hobbled over to the medic tent, where the kind medics handed me an anti-nausea tablet along with a refreshing Sprite to wash it down. Lucky for me, being on the last bus back to Westport had an unexpected silver lining – it provided some extra time for me to regain my composure.
Once back on the bus, my gear still occupying the front seat, I took my place and settled in. The one and only Kevin Grimwood made an appearance, congratulating everyone for their efforts that day. I couldn't help but add my own twist to the conversation, casually mentioning, "Yeah, he's a real champ, running the race and then sticking around to commentate." The reactions from others were nothing short of priceless as they processed it.
Finally, the bus driver got on and slid in behind the wheel, and we could all exhale and relax on the journey back to the hotel. A speedy shower and it was off to bed. However, sleep seemed to be evading me, leading me to believe that the caffeine from all that Coke I consumed was still having its way with my body. So, there I lay, staring at the ceiling throughout the night and into the early hours of the morning, until it was time to bid farewell to the restless night and make my departure.