If a man with a big orange beard and long hair suggests a run; it might be best to ignore him. If he is a man that thinks running the Hillary trail back to back to back; then you really shouldn’t go. If he’s planning to start at midnight, in the middle of winter, on a notoriously tough trail; hey that sounds like a great idea, I’m in.
It is with this logic that I found myself standing in a carpark, at the start of the Dome Valley walkway with about a dozen others, at 11:45pm on a Friday night. This was the 9th running of the Midnight Midwinter Madness group “run” organised by bearded one Shaun Collins. Normally held on the Hillary trail, the closures meant it was moved to Dome Valley, north of Auckland, for a section of the Te Araroa trail. There was a veritable smorgasbord of the craziest runners Auckland has to offer, I mean you had to be a bit odd to think this was a good idea.
Kicking off right on midnight, within the first (uphill) kilometre we’d split into a fast group and a slower group. My slower group consisted of Eriwn, Ferruccio, and Jentjie who would make small breaks, with Dane and myself bringing up the rear. I had the goal in mind of heading out for 15km or 3 – 3.5hrs before heading back. When we left the groomed Lookout trail it was immediate clear the warnings I’d been given should have been heeded. We dropped into some pretty technical trail made worse but the mud and dark.
I’d selected my “Angry Shoes” for this run, and I was so thankful I had when I kept seeing Dane slipping. The Angry Shoes, aka Icebug Spirits, are not a regular use shoe for me but the deep lugs and OLX carbide tipped studs made it the stand out for this adventure. However, my lack of miles in these guys became apparent about 10km in as I could feel blisters starting on my heels. Luckily only the right heel blistered, and then only a small one.
There is something so serene about running in the dark that I enjoy so much. You feel closed in; restricted to the pool of light you’re casting, but are still aware that the forest extends for kilometres around you. Your hearing is heightened, so you can easily pick out the few sounds out amongst the trees. We were treated to owl calls and other birds disturbed by our passage. Eriwn, out in front, had a stare down with a deer, which took off through the bush past us at the back. The sudden crashing sounds were so unexpected, we couldn’t help but let loose a string of expletives. Towards the end of the run as the sun rose, the normal chorus of bird song rose to welcome us home.
My goal of 3.5hrs long past we reached 15km and Govan Wilson rd, with a few km to a parked support car. A quick discussion and we decided that most of us didn’t need to go to the car, Dane however was not fairing well, so he decided to pull the plug and Ferruccio accompanied him onto the car. Erwin, Jentjie and I turned back to face the return trip back to Dome Valley.
Along the way I got to know Jentjie better, wow she is one badass runner. With a slew of 100km’s, triathlons, iron(wo)men and a miler to her name, she is currently training for the Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge in Feb 2019, which is 298 kilometres with over 14,500 meters of elevation gain on HK’s four main trails, all in under 60hrs. This race has been called Asia’s Barkley, and I can see why having read about it a bit now. Badass right? But Jentjie does need some help and maybe you know someone that can help; she needs a support crew in HK, with a car in particular, to take her from trail to trail. If you know someone, please let me know and I’ll pass it along.
On the last leg Eriwn stretched his legs leaving us behind, Jentjie hung back with me – while I’d like to think it was for the great conversation, it was probably just because with Dane heading home early I was her ride home. Having not stopped at the car to top up, I knew it would be pushing it to have enough of my Infinit Snail Food mix to last the whole way. I’d mixed up 2L worth, as had been sucking it down all morning. This mix I’d ordered with a bit of protein added which kept the hunger pangs at bay, and the smidge of caffeine fought off sleep. With about 3-4km to go I got the empty suck, it was time to switch to the two soft flasks of Napalm to bring it home. Highly caffeinated, Napalm was my secret weapon to ensure a finish while still awake, and it did the job.
Eventually we rolled into the carpark, at 7:45am having completed 31km. We grabbed a coffee in the warmth of the café and waited for the quick group. Well, turns out they also had a hard time with some of them hitchhiking back to the support car before bailing. It was madness.
But what was real madness was that I decided to get up at 5:30am the following day to run the Waiuku Xterra event. As soon as my feet touched the floor I decided/realized that I was only going to be capable of attempting the 19km Long version today. I knew it was going to be a big call, so I’d smashed back Infinit Repair and Nocturne he night before to try and make give myself the best hope. Waiuku is a special event on the Xterra series as a tribute to Steve Neary (see last year’s account), and again I broke out the Skeleman morphsuit.
There was no way this was going to be anything but a slow slog, so I took my place at the back of the field before the start with all the usual suspects. Pretty soon I’d fallen into a nice pace trucking along with Tony and Louise, chatting up a storm. It was a perfect day for running in the forest and I was really enjoying it, especially once my legs loosened up a bit.
At some point on the long road climb Louise and I lost Tony, but where then greeted with the returning speedsters. Including one chap who felt it necessary to barge into one of ladies we were travelling with. Sure, you were fourth or fifth, but there is no need to be a cock. But I guess you’re just lucky it wasn’t me you hit, because I’m a bit more wall like that she was. No sooner than I’d warned the ladies about returning runners flying over the top the sand dune, my team mate Rhys came leaping over. We snapped into action and nailed a mid-air high five before Rhys was off to jump in a big puddle.
Last year the course was shortened because of high wind, but this year the weather was fine, so we got to hit the beach. This is certainly a ruggedly beautiful section of coast and the soft sand of the dunes made for a challenging section. The breeze was welcome though as it provided some release from the heat of the morphsuit.
Before too long it was our turn for the infamous Waiuku mud puddle, and after last year where I took a swim, I was nervous not to repeat that trick. About halfway through I had a wee moment, but I managed a recovery to stay upright. Out of the puddle I looked back just in time to see someone we’d all been missing at events, the indestructible Vicki Woolley, at the start of the puddle. Only a few months after braking her neck in a bike crash, she was back to tail end the short course.
While trucking along a road section earlier on she had rolled up on us in her fancy new car. While it was great to have a quick chat, apparently though the lady behind didn’t appreciate the short delay judging by her honking. Now it appeared that Vicki was trying to decide to precede through or go around. Of course, everyone there yelled their encouragement to take the only real option of the mud. The smile of Steve Neary is legendary, but I would like to submit a contender to the title; the smile of Vicki Woolley in knee deep mud.
A bit more quick chatting and I headed off for the last few km down to the finish. Once again, the last small section of road provided a wee bit of amusement with people returning to their cars. With most people doing a double take as they worked out I was wearing a morphsuit. Crossing the line and seeing friends waiting finished off a great run. While I’d like to think they were waiting for me, the real star of the show walked in a few minutes later. Once again beaming Vicki crossed the line to the cheers of the crowd.
A quick wash at the beach, and it was off to end the day with the Waiuku tradition. With the rest of my normal crew piking (though Ben was recovering from heart surgery), I introduced Rich to Fitzy’s Takeaways. Stuffed full of burgers and chips it was home for a well-earned rest. Having not run more than 5km a week for a while, I’d racked up 50km over the weekend, and boy did I feel it for the next few days.