The Longest Week

Last week was to have been the inaugural Running Wild ‘Top of the South’ trail running tour. Months of planning and preparation had gone into this. I was massively excited about it, as was my co-guide Frosty. We were all primed and ready to go when one by one, because of injury or illness, we watched our clients drop like flies in the three preceding weeks. Gutted, we had no choice but to pull the pin and cancel the tour.

This left me holding non-refundable return flights to Blenheim. So what else was I to do? I just had to jump on that plane, hire a car and go hit the trails regardless. Every cloud has it’s silver lining and this was mine – a priceless opportunity to hammer out some big mileage and build the base that I will need to get me through the epic CoastPathRun in June.

Arriving in Blenheim late Friday afternoon I faced a long drive south as I had decided to put in a last-minute entry to the Bedrock 50 race in Canterbury. I’d heard good things about this event and was keen to check it out. I told myself it was to be a training outing but of course once that race number was pinned to my shorts my mindset changed a little. We were blessed with near perfect racing conditions and I really enjoyed the course and the old school atmosphere that Lisa & Rich, the race organisers, had created. I had a good day, the nutrition plan worked well and my body held together pretty well. I was chuffed to finish in 16th place overall (out of about 75 starters) and grab 2nd in my age group.

Distance run: 52 kms

Time: 6 hrs 34 mins

Ascent: 999m

Running Castle Hill scree with George Dog

The day after I was feeling the affects somewhat but headed up to Castle Hill to visit good friend and running buddy, Grant Guise and his lovely wife Jane and their 2-month old daughter Isabella. Grant has been singing the praises of his local stomping ground for a long time now so I was keen to see what all the fuss is about. Well the fuss is simply THE MOST AWESOME trail running locale imaginable! This area has it all, especially the stuff I love most – smooth beech forest trails, open ridges and breathtaking scree runs. I was like a pig in mud and loved every moment of my short stay with these wonderful people. Hey, I even got to meet and run with the legendary George Dog!

Distance run: 17 kms

Time: 2hrs 40 mins

Ascent: 947m

The start of a big day out

Next was something I have wanted to run for a long time – the St. James Walkway in the Lewis Pass area. I last did this as a hike 22 years ago when I completed it over 4 days of steady rain with a recently ex-girlfriend who whined the whole way around and who showed such a stupefying lack of hut etiquette that we were loathed by all we met. Worse still it was Christmas. Yes, it was memorable for all the wrong reasons! This time I found myself standing on the side of a dark, cloudy State Highway at 6.45 a.m. with my thumb out trying to hitch a lift from the end of the track where I had parked my car to the start, some 20 kms distant. After 1.5 hours I was still there and starting to think that I had done something to offend a certain St. James in a previous life. But eventually a good Samaritan took pity on me and a short while later I was pulling on my gloves and beanie and setting off through the cold dawn to tackle this majestic trail. It’s an absolute corker of a run and even though it has no massive climbs it is anything but a walk in the park. Much of the trail is quite technical but the scenery is stupendous. I was in no big hurry and so savoured the experience, drinking from pure mountain streams and reveling in the peacefulness of my surroundings.

Distance run: 68 kms

Time: 11hrs 13 mins

Ascent: 1,576m

The next day I was feeling pretty stuffed and decided a rest day was not such a bad idea. Coffee & cake in Kaikoura and dinner with good friends in Blenheim helped put back some of the calories, stoking the fire for my last two days which I’d decided to pass in the Nelson Lakes National Park, one of my all-time favourite places on the planet.

The weather wasn’t looking too flash on my first day so I decided to stay low and do a loop of Lake Rotoiti. This is something of a classic. It’s a run I’ve done several times before, but it always enchants me. I just love the views of the high mountains across the lake, the chuckle of water in the countless small creeks and the soft carpet of beech leaves that makes such a wonderful running surface over much of the route. Good times!

Distance run: 27 kms

Time: 3hrs 30 mins

Ascent: 1,297m

Not the warmest day on top of the ridge!

Then it was time for the finale – something big was in order to finish the week. But with dire warnings of an approaching weather bomb it needed careful planning. In the end I decided I had time to get up high early and make it back down to the relative safety of the valleys before the shit hit the fan. So I set off from St. Arnaud village retracing my steps around the edge of the lake before climbing up Robert Ridge into increasingly cooler temperatures. This is a staggering, albeit often rough, ridge run and on this day it was made extra challenging by the poor visibility and the thin veneer of icy snow that had appeared overnight. I stopped briefly to record an update of my Video Diary, just as the view disappeared for good as it turned out. Then it was onwards to Lake Angelus, over Mt. Cedric and down the quad-trashing, ankle-turning 1200m descent to Sabine Hut on the shores of Lake Rotoroa. Here I was grossly misinformed about the condition of the Speargrass track by a tramper. This 20km section of trail that was to get me most of the way back home was lovely in many ways but it was too steep and/or rough to run much of. Still, this type of training is very much about ‘Time on Feet’ and I certainly got a good dose of that. By 7.30pm when I hit the village I was pretty much done in, the stats for the day being:

Distance run: 54 kms

Time: 10 hrs 57 mins

Ascent: 2,866m

All up this made for my biggest training week ever. The stats work out at:

Distance run: 218 kms

Time: 34 hrs 54 mins

Ascent: 7,685m

I felt strong most of the week but at the end of it I was pooped. But now, when I put in perspective, I get really scared. For all up this hard week of training represents just 3 days’ worth of CoastPathRun progress! In June I have to do this almost 5 times over but in only twice as long. What have I let myself in for?

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5 Responses to The Longest Week

  1. Emma Thompson says:

    Mal you continue to astound us not only with your ability to traverse the most difficult of trails but in your writing to inspire us to want to get out there and try them for ourselves. An amazing summary

  2. jo wilson says:

    you can do it Mal! Believe it, I do!

  3. GTG says:

    Great stuff Mal! that is one bad ass week of running- I would fall apart of I tried that! Was great having you down here and look forward to seeing you back again.

  4. fiona austin says:

    You so will do it, Mal!!! Sounds like an amazing week 🙂

  5. Claire says:

    On Saturday I ran up, then down colonial knob, could barely walk the next, what u do is totally amazing, keep running:)
    I remember as a chil hiking up to lake rotoiti, then out through spear grass – an amazing piece of nz paradise.

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