Gemma and I were about to go sky diving.
I said to Gemma "we should... You know... Before we jump out of a plane. Just in case we die".
"Nah, don't be silly" she reassured. "We are not going to die skydiving. We'll definitely do it before your race though".
It was Gemma who told me about this race. Only an hours drive from where we will be staying. Perfect, I signed up without looking at the details. I mean, how hard can it be if I have never heard of it? The details were quite sobering though, 100 miles and over 8000m of climbing. I had accidentally signed up to the UTMB, and I discovered this about 3 weeks beforehand.
I didn't know many things about New Zealand before I went.
It has two main islands
Lord of the Rings was filmed there
There are 17 sheep for every person
They don't like getting confused with Australians
Rolf Harris is their most famous person
Some things I wish I had known before going out there.
New Zealand has more mountains than London has bus stops
Kiwis love mountains
All sport in NZ involves mountains
The mountains are much bigger than any in the UK
The Northburn 100 is the first 100 mile race in NZ and is hardly a gentle introduction to 100 mile running, unless of course you are a Kiwi and your breakfast includes a mountain. I was expecting a hard race.
The registration the day before was an event in itself. There was a huge camp of runners and organisers at Northburn station. I rolled in after my skydive (where I didn't die), picked up my number, got weighed (marriage adds 5kg at least). I then heard the presentations. The race director was Terry Davis. He was clear that we were taking on a massive challenge and also warned us about "fraternising with the herbage". He retold his one running of the course and said he will never do it again. "don't think that when you are 10k from the end that you are close, you are still hours from the finish".
You may have heard of Lisa Tamati. She is the major sponsor of the race and was helping to register us. She has done a lots of crazy races in her time including Badwater, running across the Lybian Sahara unsupported and the length of New Zealand. She told us to expect the hardest thing we have ever attempted.
We then heard from the owner of the station; Tom. Unlike any landowner in the UK he seemed thrilled to have 100 people destroying themselves on his land. He gave us some advice on how to deal with the animals. This guy has more mountains than we have dinner mats. Can you imagine how popular he would be. "fancy coming round mine to play with my mountains?". Though apparently some girls from Invacargil use the same line with similar success.
And for good measure the medic came to talk to us about the dangers we would face. Hypothermia and Hyponytremia being the biggest risks. I had never had to carry so many layers as compulsary kit before and thought it was a bit over the top. Then he said last year 6 people got lost in an unforecast blizzard. We should be ok this year though as no blizzards were forecasted.
I woke up at 4am on saturday having slept little. However with these kind of things it is the night becore the night before that is most important and that went well. I was very sleepy though as I sat in the car to the start. I woke up a bit when Jon flattened a rabbit that was dazzled by the headlights. I think here I terms of erradicating pests you get 1 point for a rabbit, two for a possum and 5 for a kitten.
The start was sedate. 100 or so runners assembled ina tent, most running the 100 miles, some 100k and some 50k. Lisa was with the camera crew doing interviews. Gemma and I explained that this was my honeymoon race. In fact I just shut up and let Gemma do all the talking.
It was not a crowded start, the 100 runners set off on an easy 5k loop of some farm tracks before getting stick into some of the climbing. This race consists of three loops, a 50k followed by another 50k and then a 60k. It was going to be nice to break it down like that but I imagined it would be hard to set out on that last 60k loop knowing you could call it a day at a nice round 100k.
The loop was in the dark. There was no unnatural light around other than our torches. It didn't really get light until 730 by which time we were out of the vineyards and starting on the first climbs. The first climb was tough, up to the top of Mount Kinaki at about 1000m having started at 200m. This was in the first 20k. There were more climbs on rugged path littered with tussocks (a minor inconvenience) and Spaniards (a plant with leaves like shards of glass, very painful to brush upon).
As we got higher more and more clothes went on. I put a long sleeved top on but in an exposed area I was told by a medic near the top to put more clothes on as I was showing early signs of hypothermia, slurring speech and staggering. I was about to enter into a John Cleese tirade with something like "well of course I am staggering, I've just climbed 1000m through a minefield of pointy spaniards, what do you expect? Me to come strutting up here like Kate Moss? And if I could do this without slurring my speech I'll be winning". But I refrained, put on the clothes and then headed up further.
It was a good job I did put the clothes on as the wind set in and blew all the heat off my body in seconds. This was quite different from any mountain races I have done before such as the UTMB, The Lakes 10 peaks, Trans Gran Canaria. In those you go up and then down, spending little time up high and exposed. Here you get up high and then spend hours up there exposed to the elements. It took about 5 hours to get to 24k where a marshall directed us onto a path. This was the first bit of path we had seen for a while and we all started running along. I think I even managed to bang out some ten minute mileing. Sonic boooom.
Now my layers were an annoyance and took them off. The descent on the first loop was quite manageable and also quite beautiful, I felt like I was running in valleys in Arizona again. It got warm and the summer gear came out. I can see why there was a requirement for so much kit now, I was having more wardrobe changes than Lady Gaga.
I enjoyed the heat and the prospect of finishing a loop but not long before the end we were diverted onto another climb right before the end of the lap. I was hoping to get the first one done in about 8 hours but it worked out at around 830 which was not a big deal, still plenty to go. Gemma and my new in laws were there helping me with a Ferrari style pit stop. Bottles refilled, noodles cooked, sweets and nuts refilled and lots of "you are doing really well". I did not hang around too long and got up and left for the second loop. I despaired as I left at the sight of a burger van right outside the tent.
Why did Gemma not get me a burger? Lousy wife.