He stands up before us at a pre- race gathering, this big burly sort of a bloke, experienced ultra marathon runner, a repeat offender at the Northburn100 by the name of Gordi Kirkbank-Ellis. A big smile on his face looking at all us rookies. “It’s gunna hurrrrt!”
We had been warned.
22 March, 5:15am I picked up Liam and we drove out to Northburn Station to sign in and get ready for the start. All three distances started together, the 50km, 100km, and 161km. Lisa Tamati on the loud speaker getting us all pumped up and ready to go. The countdown began and 6am, we were off! A trail of headlights bobbing along the track.
A quick 5km loop around the Northburn Vineyard brought us back through the start line, a good chance for your support crew to get one last look at you before you headed off to the top of the mountain for a good number of hours. Claire was there, I was feeling pretty good, only a 10th of the way in! Yep, a long way left to go.
The sun eventually started to come up over the mountain and then the headlamps could be switched off. Time to start focusing on some uphill hiking. It was a steady grind all the way up to 1660m. As Terry Davis said at the race briefing the night before, it’s steep, and then it gets really steep, and then it gets ridiculous! There is a section of about 4km where you follow a sheep fence away from any 4WD track we had been running on, sidling along the ridge, a really tough climb. There were a couple of points where I almost wondered if my legs would pull through for the next step!
Up and up and up!
Sidling along a mountain ridge was rough underfoot, you had to be weary of the spaniard grass, and careful with every step so as not to roll your ankles. Though the steepest part might have been tackled, there was still more and more uphill to go. Some technical navigation required around some rocky outcrops and then follow a small creek up to the actual top of the mountain and into the sunshine! Again, more careful foot placement on the rough tundra at altitude until we met another friendly marshal and a 4WD track at about 25km. I topped up my Camelbak with water and went to eat my second banana… except when I managed to peel it with my cold and swollen hands, I dropped it!! Gutted! Oh well, an excuse to get into my chocolate biscuits.
The views from on top of the mountain: spectacular. I couldn’t take a photo but I could see all the way to Lake Wanaka to the West, and as far as the eye could see out over Alexandra and Omakau to the East. A bit hazy at 10am.
Some undulating road and then the down hill started. It was starting to get a bit uncomfortable half way down the 14km or so of down hill. The toes felt hammered in the tops of my shoes, the quads having worked hard to get to the top now having to act as a brake and shock absorber on the way down. And then I got the stitch. It wouldn’t go away for quite some time. Any uphill walking I managed to pinch it out but it’s just so exhausting running through that amount of pain.
Lake level, and ultimately our target (well sort of) still seemed a long way down. We just seemed to be going up and down hills, round another corner and you’d be either climbing or going down some more. We hit the 39km mark which signalled the “Loop of Deception” named because you could see the marquee and the finish line just a few hundred metres away, but we were kicked back out towards the mountain. 11km to the finish doesn’t sound so bad, you don’t think it sounds too far to jog around the farm some more to make up the full 50km.
That is until you hit another gruelling uphill climb. Seriously!? Again!? The sun was out in full force doing Central Otago proud, making it really hot! You felt like you had just climbed half way back up the mountain! And then you’d get a glimpse of where you’re headed – spotting runners ahead of you on the road across the other side of a large gully. How on earth were we supposed to get over there!?! A very steep descent and another sharp incline up is how. My feet were really starting to complain.
The final checkpoint, two lovely ladies sitting under an umbrella with a big basket of grapes and cold water. 5km to go!! The longest 5km.
Through the vineyard and the slowest run down to the FINISH where Claire and my mum were waiting.
Across the FINISH line, Hi Five with Terry Davis
8 hours 16 minutes. Just over 50km and more than 2000m vertical.
To EVERYONE who completed this loop: congratulations!
To those who then went on to attack the 2nd 50km loop: I am in awe. To tell the body it has to go and do that all over again, I just can’t even imagine!
The crazy people who continued on to finish the final 60km loop to complete the 100 miler: there are no words.
This event is internationally infamous for being the toughest mountain race, attracting people from all over the world. “You don’t race it, you survive it!”
Liam had finished a good couple hours before but couldn’t stick around. My parents had brought my 92 year old grandmother along and once again, I told her she walks better than I do ( as I hobbled along on blistered toes, tired knees and aching arches).
The Northburn100 Buckle Shield
While waiting for me to come back in from the 50km, Claire had participated in the half marathon, one of the “fun runs”. It has a gnarly uphill climb too. She completed it. An exceptional achievement and a strong testament to the hard work she has put in over the last 6 months. I am extremely proud and felt somewhat (alright, to be honest, very) emotional when I saw her at the finish line.
At the prize giving today they opened the floor for anyone to share their war stories or say a few words. I had met quite a number of people who made the connection that I was one of the bloggers linked on the Northburn100’s website. It was really encouraging to hear they had enjoyed reading about our adventures. I took the opportunity to wear my bright yellow tshirt and introduce myself. There was quite a buzz around the room when I told them that Claire lives with Cystic Fibrosis and had run in the half marathon. We all thought we’d done it tough!
I am proud to have thrashed my body and lungs in the name of Cystic Fibrosis.
Another post to come! Until then, thanks for reading!!