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.
I know 21kms is way different from 100km, but after the Dual last year I burst into tears and said exactly the same thing; and yet here I am again, looking forward to this weekend’s challenge once more! Now I know what to expect, it can only get better, surely?! It’s heartening to know that even experienced runners feel the pain. 🙂
Ya just can’t quit Mal – you are the one that inspires all us other would be ultra marathon runners! so that one day we can follow our dream of doing an ultra marathon too.
Great post! Sounds similar to my run, except I was feeding the wallabies (AKA spewing my guts out) the first time up the hill to Okataina. I had arrived at Okareka in 20-someting place, flying past the aid stations, then rapidly went to shit as my body reminded me I hadn’t run since the training camp. My splits then proceeded to resemble a vintage rollercoaster as I morphed into a chronic aid station loiterer (exhibit A: the above photo – me back left). My ITB started giving me grief and at the first outlet stop, siezed up completely. Getting going again was excruciating, but after a few hundred metres walking it freed up enough for me to run relatively pain free. My running actually improved after 60k and running solitary back to Okataina in the late afternoon sun was the highlight of the day. There was no way I was pulling out at the 85k mark and struggled back over the hill, pausing briefly to converse with wired-looking wallabies and glow worms. I finished in a pedestrian 15:45 but was still stoked as this was my first endeavour at anything over 42k and I had been told by a physio a few weeks back I should pull out.
Luckily there are plenty of souvenier shops in Rotorua selling ornate walking sticks! I would never have made it from the hotel bed to car otherwise. And luckily I had already received a copy of your book to keep me entertained during the following bed ridden days. Its great hearing others accounts of the Waitak trails I spend so much time on. Sure Ill see you out there sometime, either with my trail shoes on or hobbling along like a pakeha komatua with my carved stick.
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That’s the spirit Mal!. I’m looking forward to catching up at the NF100.