I’m 12 hours in to the 2013 Vibram Tarawera Ultramarathon and my chances of meeting my target time of 14 hours are disappearing as fast as the contents of my stomach, which flow like a broken dam on to the side of the endlessly uphill trail somewhere between Lakes Okataina and Okareka. I’m totally over this. Yet again problems with my stomach are wrecking my chances of achieving a time I know I’m capable of. But more than that I am over the whole ultra-racing thing, pushing myself harder than my body wants me to go, all in pursuit of some arbitrary and ego-driven time goal. “This is not why I love trail running” I tell my pacer, Simon Clendon, “I love exploring, adventure, fun times with friends, not this shit”. And I meant it. As soon as I knocked off the final ten kilometres of this endless race I was retiring from competitive long-distance running. Absolutely, definitely, don’t try talking me out of it.
I said as much when asked for comment by Race Director, Paul Charteris at the finish line (which I had crossed in a disappointing 14 hrs 51 mins). “I lost my will to live out there on the Western Okataina Track” I explained, “I’d go back out to find it sometime but I never want to set foot on it ever again” I added to further emphasise my determination to be done with this competitive madness. Paul’s reaction was priceless and steeped in a deep understanding of the psyche of ultra-runners… “we look forward to seeing you back next year Mal!”
24 hours on and my stance had softened. I was already starting to reconsider my decision to withdraw from May’s TNF100 in Australia. And now, a few days and several gentle jogs later, I am fully committed to chasing down that silver buckle in the Blue Mountains. Why? What has changed my mind so quickly? Because despite everything, and not withstanding the fact that racing is not my core motivation, I just LOVE being amongst large gatherings of long-distance trail runners. The weekend in Rotorua reaffirmed how at home I feel amongst this special tribe of people. It’s like I say in my book, One Step Beyond, when I recall lining up for my very first Kepler Challenge… “what I love about these events is the camaraderie that binds all the competitors together. Everybody has his or her own goals, but it matters not whether you are out to win or just out to finish; we are all part of the same small tribe that most outsiders would consider slightly deranged. We are all doing what we love and chasing our own dreams. Everybody is respected by everybody else, regardless of each person’s ability or aspirations. It is many ways a microcosm of the perfect Utopian society”.
And that is why I am looking forward to racing 100 kms through the Blue Mountains in May and returning for another crack at the Vibram Tarawera Ultramarathon next year. Hopefully our paths will cross then.