When I started running at school I failed miserably. I was so much better at gymnastics. I could bend backwards, flip, somersault and do the splits in more ways than possible but I just couldn’t run fast. Always near the back and never in the front I decided longer races might be the go – I had more stamina than the average kid so the cross country team might be the place for me – plus they had sports days away from school – another good reason to join.
During my late teens and early 20s, running got put onto the back burner for a number of years, boys, parties and marriage seemed to become more of a priority. This decadent lifestyle led to the inevitable figure changing element called FAT and, not being affluent enough to afford a gym membership, decided the only thing that was free – was running. So I ran to stay “healthy looking” – most people would call it vanity – yep I sure was. The motivation for me in those days was to keep from rounding outward. To keep looking my best and feeling my best. All my friends were lazy so I ran on my own.
5 and 10k local races around town were all I did – until one day I decided to do the Cathy Pacific Half Marathon and finishing under 2 I thought that wasn’t really a bad first race. So several halves later and several years later I was talked into doing a marathon. It was on my bucket list anyway, as it is with most people, but many ever get around to doing it. This made it even more challenging. ONE marathon – what a challenge – how exciting! In 2007 I ran in the Mountain to Surf Marathon in New Plymouth – all down hill so to speak and a good one for beginners. My goal was to do beat my husband’s 3:45 time at Rotorua (admittedly he was 26 at the time). I was 45 but surely I could do it! You are never too old for anything.
Now, I am not a fast runner, and I had no technique what so ever, but I plodded along, very hungry, very tired and when I rounded the corner for the last 200m I could see the clock had just ticked over the 4 hour mark. Horror and disappointment that I had missed that all important 4 hour mark by two minutes – what a loser. Very sore and hardly walking the next day, I booked into my next marathon determined to do better.
Several marathons later, I realised that I just wasn’t going to break the 3:45 (I put it down to those fast twitch muscles which I don’t possess any of) I got very close at 3:48 in Auckland Marathon so I looked around for something I may have more success with. Whilst standing at the start line of an xterra event in the Hunuas in 2008, I overhead people talking about getting into an ultra race in Te Anau. An “Ultra” I asked” What is that”. Quickly returning home I looked it up – The Kepler Challenge –this was more like it.
I spent hours on google looking at the race, and, realised that this may be the opportunity to run a race at my pace over a longer time where just finishing was the goal. That was my introduction to ultra running. And what an adventure that was. My children were at the finish line, so cute and little then, so was my husband and as I ran under the finish line got my medal I just burst into tears of exhilaration and exhaustion at what I had just done. Words cannot describe how I felt. I buzzed for weeks after that and never looked back.
People think I am nuts and I have to say – Yes I am nuts but it sets my belly on fire thinking about different races. Everything in life is achievable you just need to step outside your comfort zone and away you go. Sure, it hurts, there are lots of tears, things don’t always go as planned, your gear breaks or you break but there are also lots of laughs (usually afterward) and the sense of accomplishment is indescribable. Words often fail me when trying to explain the feeling.
From then on I was a Mountain Runner J. Well so I thought. Paul Charteris had just started the Tarawera Ultra earlier that year, so that was my next biggie. I think there were only 60 of us that year and I completed the 60k – failed at the 100k the following year. There was obviously more to this Ultra business than I realised. I have now run the Tarawera 3 times and I would have been more but I found little gem of a race – just a little more exciting – NORTHBURN 100. A 100 MILE race. WOW. Only serious people run races like that. I thought I fitted that category! How wrong was that assumption. A 100 mile race broken into 3 different loops of a mountain in Cromwell. There are lots of stories from those two attempts but being pulled off the mountain at 67ks with hypothermia on my first attempt was a very low moment for me but made me all the more determined to go back the following year. It bit me in the bum once again that following year – and that sticks in my craw a bit - so a little unfinished business to attend to there. You learn a lot about yourself when you run these sorts of races. I have learned that I may have been a bit of a whimp when I pulled the plug at 100k. I didn’t know how hard I could push myself. And the thoughts I had running through my head as I was crawling along the top of the mountain in a howling 110k wind in the dark and cold were not positive ones.
Ultra is all about the mental toughness. And I just didn’t have it then.
Knowledge is power to I learnt about my body, I asked tonnes of questions, studied the good, the bad and the ugly about nutrition and read about ultra racing. It is an ongoing education this sort of activity. Keeping up with the latest fad is not always the best option to choose.
During my search of other ultra races I stumbled across two events that made my eyes stand out on storks. The Barkley Marathon and the Jungle Marathon. Now I am not talking just any jungle, I am talking the AMAZON Jungle. And with a toss of a coin and, the fact I couldn’t work out how to enter the Barkley, the Jungle became the focus. Two years I followed that race. Negative thoughts flowed through my brain as to why this sort of event wasn’t for me. It is overseas of course and expensive, I have a family and a job, it’s a selfish thing to do I just can’t justify it. But putting all that aside for 10 seconds, temptation got the better of me and I informed my husband that I was going to Brazil – Oh and do you want to come? Surely, if I can survive teenage kids, then I can survive 6 days in the jungle. It can’t be that hard. 256k over 6 days is not really too far – is it? I may need a little help. Enter James Kuegler.
Wow did things change. James has the unenviable task of preparing me for my biggest goal yet – finishing the Jungle Marathon. Training began with up dating my pathetic running style from ultra shuffle to something a little less laughable. Upping my weekly mileage and weekend back to back tramp/runs through the trails. I have the luxury of owning our own business so running during the day was a good option that most people don’t have. Keeping strong through the legs, biking is also good but I don’t do much of that. Worry about getting run over. Night runs, wet feet runs, runs wearing plenty of layers. The temperatures are going to be anywhere between 28 and 40 degrees C with 100% humidity. What you can’t train for are the dangers of the jungle and jungle swamps.
Being a self sufficient race, I need to carry everything from my sleeping quarters (hammock) to my toothbrush plus all the compulsories including a knife. You may ask! I think it’s for killing the snakes or jaguars one meets along the way. I’m not sure really.
Planning, planning, planning. Where on my pack am I going to carry my knife? What am I going to attach it with? Do I label all my food in daily or hourly basis? Where do I put my snacks to eat along each stage? Is anything likely to fall off when I am swimming? Do I want to drink from a bottle that has been under water in a swamp? Not likely. Are the antiseptic wipes handy? Did I confirm that hotel booking? Is the dry bag I have all my gear in going to work? Have I done enough wet feet training? Did I pack my nail clippers? Shall I take a nail file? Have I got room for an extra pair of undies? How am I going to charge my phone or camera? Do I need a phone – no reception – No. Shall I just take a go pro instead? Who is going to look after my passport and money while I am in the Jungle? – oh this list goes on. What if my hammock breaks – should I bring a sewing kit? How the hell am I going to carry all this stuff?
See - lots of things to think about. I have been putting off the eventual day that I need to complete my pack – I am 95% there. I need to train with a full pack and that means carrying an extra 10 – 12kg. The bonus is that it will be getting lighter each day as I eat my way through my freeze dried shitty food.
Snakes – watch where you put your feet – are you kidding me. They go where they go one foot in front of the other. Get a load of this….Should a snake bite a person, as only if it is possible, to kill it without risking further attack, the head should be cut off and brought together with the patient (that will be you) to enable the medical team to identify the snake and the type of anti venom applicable. Perhaps that’s why they ask you to take a knife.
So snakes are on the list along with scorpions although stings are almost never fatal, ants, and you may well laugh, check out Fire Ants and the dreaded Bullet Ant. Stingrays – we should all be used to those at least. Jaguars now there is something new to worry about. They don’t really eat people but if you run they will chase you and guess what – they will win!
Sloths, monkeys parrots and the course, the Boto – pink rover dolphins.
Wild pigs – not an issue.
Ticks – now there is a worry.
Wasps. Caiman and Piranha – aplenty in the rivers and yes you will see them when you swim across the rivers. They will usually stick to the side of the rivers –where do you think we will be getting in? The middle?? Anyway, you can go caiman spotting at night in the rivers if you want to. So cute when they are this little.
I guess what everyone wants to know is - am I scared of anything?
Hell Yes. It wouldn’t be fun if it wasn’t now would it J Lets see:
But my biggest fear going into this race is being lost in the jungle on my own. Being lost with someone else doesn’t seem half as bad – but on your own it’s a bit scary. On day 5, the longest race day, we cover approx. 106k. We start together at 4.30am with a swim across the river (in the dark with the aforementioned caimans), then the sun comes out and then it gets dark again. At some point I am going to be alone, in the dark, by myself, with no body else around, picking my way through the swamps, looking for trail markings? Yes it’s a worry. I hope I have made the beach section before then.
Copyright © 2015 Sportzhub. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from Sportzhub