They say to really know a man, you should walk a mile in their shoes. I would like to revise this statement; To really know a man, run 21km in their morphsuit. Then you will truly know the measure of their crazy.
The Waiuku leg of the Auckland Xterra series was almost a non starter. Thanks to a forecast of high winds promising a sandblasting on the coast, and pinecone rain amongst the trees. But with the event in Steve Neary’s playground, I’d like to think there was no way he was going to let that happen. So he worked his magic, pulled some strings and cleared it just enough to let us run, but not too much because “It’s a trail run not a party” after all.
For nearly eight months I, along with couple of others, have been sitting on our own infamous skelesuit that Steve wore for the Tarawera 50k, Hillary and more. It’s been hard keeping it on the down low, while waiting for the most appropriate time to break them out. So with the blessings of Vicki Woolley and Total Sport team, Waiuku was definitely the right time. But as life so often does, it threw us a curve ball last minute and I would be braving the skin tight suit myself, with Graham was unable to attend.
It was a restless sleep, dreading the beep of a txt announcing a postponement. Thankfully when my alarm went off at 5am, word was out; Waiuku was on! Getting ready this was my last real chance to back out and grab my shorts, but in what would become a recurring question that day I asked WWSND? – What Would Steve Neary Do? (Thanks to Jenny Hurst for the term). The answer was, as it would be all day; Don’t wimp out, DO IT!!
Waiting at the event base was a nervous time, with friends commenting on my ‘tights’, but after Ben zipped the suit up there was no turning back, literally, I couldn’t reach the zip on the back. Walking to the pre race briefing people now realized it wasn’t just tights I was wearing. There was time for a grand reveal and hugs with Vicki and Kezia, plus some kind words to boost my confidence (did I mention it was skin tight?) before we had to take our places for the start.
Waiuku is a very runnable course, and I was able to do just that setting a pretty good pace for me. I’d underestimated how hot the suit was, and how it bunched in odd places. Pro tip: have at least one test run in your morphsuit prior to a race. Approaching where the mid turned around, I had to say I tossed up turning early or ditch the suit for the gear in my pack. Well WWSND? It sure as hell wouldn’t be to quit.
Just after here though I meet the lead runners returning from the loop, including team mates Rhys and James. The smiles and words of encouragement were very welcome, but I’m sure I surprised a few as they rounded bushes to see a skeleman coming the other way. I was pretty tempted to put the hood up and jump out of the bushes to really mess with them.
After starting on my loop, I didn’t see a soul for the next 7km, filling me with the feeling of the Tail End Charlie looming up behind me. With nothing other than my watch to judge my performance I struggled on how I was going, numbers said good. In this section I once again was questioning whether to take the easy way out and make the turn to the long course, but WWSND? The same answer and Mark Fordham’s lies that there where quite a few behind me spurred me to continue on.
Time for this years trip through the big mud
puddle lake, and a combo of finally seeing someone else after over an hour, merging with the back of the mid runners, and the sign saying to dive into it, I had a rush of blood to the head. So while others picked their way around the watery mess, I choose to charge in, and the predictable happened; I arsed over. At Riverhead it was mud to the knees, at Shakespear it was water to the waist, and at Waiuku it was mud to the neck. Surprisingly this wasn’t the upsetting part, that was surfacing and seeing the photographer walking away down the trail – that’s right no photo.
Now covered completely in mud and on a downhill run to the line I was feeling really good. Passing people returning to their cars gave me a real boost, with almost everyone cheering me onward and a few telling me that Steve would be proud. This caused me to carry a Steve sized smile all the rest of the way home and across the line. My time of 3 hrs 3min, earning me a new PR for 10 miles, 15 and 20km, but also second to last. Guess everyone had a good day.
If I thought the struggles were over, I had one more to face. Remember how I said I needed help getting zipped into the suit? Now standing knee deep in the freezing Manukau Harbour, I’m dancing around trying to get out, unable to reach the zipper. Thanks to a bit of drift wood I finally wrestle my way out and manage to wash away some of the mud. Once again the $6 two burger and chips combo from Fitzy’s went down a treat, and with a Strava suffer score of 502 I think I earned it.
A big thanks to the Total Sport team for the native tree gift and some Death From Above. I was stoked to get my favourite tree, a Lancewood, there is something about their no fills, don’t give a shit but will fuck you up nature that I really dig. Plus the beer made for great shower drinking as I completed the mud and sand removal.
Before the race I had made up my mind not to wear the hood of the suit up. There was certainly the practical reasons of being able to see and breathe, but mostly it was from something Vicki had said when we first told her we had the suits. My goal was to try and pay tribute to Steve, not to try and imitate or be Steve (not that anyone ever could). In my mind by leaving it off, it was obvious I was someone else, (in case being a good 50kg+ heavier didn’t do it).
Now having run 21km in Steve’s morphsuit, I now know the level of his crazy – and it’s next level.