At PT in the Park we love watching and helping with our exercisers success - we're dedicating this page to stories of some of our PTITP stars!
James' story and journey is not something we can do justice to in a short 3 or even 4 paragraph post. So we have decided to deliver it in a two episode expose into PT in the Park's own 'Ultraman'.
Yes it's lengthy read but we promise you it's worth the time you will invest to read it.
We're sure those who attend sessions need no introduction to James.
You know, the quiet-ish bearded guy who absolutely smashes it at the sessions and brings along his very sociable newly 1 year old, Sophia, to use as a 'stand in' kettlebell or medicine ball at times? Read on to discover the real James Currie...
The story starts way back when James was young fella, his Dad asked him if he wanted to give the sport of Hockey a try. "Yeah ok, why not, I'll give it a go" was the typical kid reply. Well it turned out he enjoyed the sport and went on to play for another 18 years, without missing a season! That still wasn't enough though, he didn’t just play during the winter, but also joined more social teams and played during the summer as well! However at the end of the 2017 season he made a decision to hang up the turf shoes for various reasons. Starting to get an insight into James's amazing dedication? Read on....
In 2012 he started working as a software engineer, (with a company he is still with to this day). The first social event after joining the company was the JD Duathlon. With a choice of running or cycling and by being a hockey player it was a no brainer to select the run. As a result of the training & competing in the event he had caught the 'running bug'. Even though he had been a hockey player most of his life, he found it difficult to run more than 3km's at a time. He knew he had more in him so pushed himself to start doing longer and longer distances. Having worked himself from 3k, to 5k and eventually to 10k, he then made a decision to try a half marathon. James chose the 2015 Christchurch Marathon as his new challenge. He worked hard in training, resulting in a time of 2hrs 15mins. With the turf shoes now already rotting away in the cupboard he decided that he needed to cross train instead of just running. His partner had found 'this thing' called PT in the Park in 2017, (at that time being run by an one guy, a local independent gym owner). They went along and tried it out, and enjoyed it! It also turned out that his local gym ran a boxing class on a Wednesday. The timing was almost perfect and the gym became his second home.
Working on his running and using the gym as a cross train, James set a new goal of getting under 2 hours for the Christchurch half marathon. In 2018 he finished with an official time of 2 hours 4 seconds, he was so close! Annoyed at not reaching his goal he 'doubled down' on the training and went on to run the Hamilton half marathon, with a time of 1 hour 50 minutes later that year. Having nailed the under 2 hour goal felt great, but the Christchurch half in under 2 hours was still unticked in his mind. The success in Hamilton drove him to aim higher and start training for a full marathon of 42kms! He set his goal as the Christchurch marathon of 2019. See what I mean, man oh man this guy is motivated! Read on...
Training was hard, even more challenging was the introduction of race nutrition to be able to run for longer periods of time. Going from a half to a full marathon meant working on fueling the body well, before, during and after each run. James had to learn to fuel during a race, something he had never done before, and something he found difficult at first. Marathon day 2019 was a shocker of a day, wet, windy and wild! James completed the 42km distance in just under 5 hours. He was understandably proud of his achievement. No one could take away from the fact he had just completed a full marathon!
Post marathon he continued to attend the gym, and then his partner introduced him to to a new challenge in the form of an event called the Crater Rim, a 30k trail run across the Port hills of Christchurch. Still being in a good state of fitness he decided to give it a go. Well that was that he had now fallen in love with this new thing called 'trail running'.
Fast forward to 2020, COVID had now become become a thing - the gym that he was attending had been forced to close and James was left with little motivation, resulting in exercising falling by the wayside.
At this point he was approached by a Trustee for PT in the Park, looking to bring it back from it's COVID hiatus. As he was struggling with motivation to exercise choosing to join up with PT in the Park at this time was very fitting. James felt he had benefited from a ton of people over the years who had helped him by giving their time and support to help reach his goals, so he decided it was time to give back to the community. Through his involvement with PT in the Park he felt he was able to do this. The new look PT in the Park relaunch in September of 2020 was an awesome result, with previous regular attendees very happy and excited to see it back.
Whilst the current PT in the Park Trust were working on the relaunch he also decided it was time to look at joining a gym again. He joined a new gym, along with a close group from the gym that had been forced to close due to COVID. James had previously declared he wouldn't want to train under a personaI trainer, ('or coach'), as he felt it would take the enjoyment out of what he was doing and he'd have to take it more seriously. However, he quickly realised he was wrong! His current personal trainer, (Aaron Shaskey from Bodyfix), is amazing in his opinion. Aaron picked James up after COVID lockdown when he was really struggling with motivation and set him back on the right path. This coupled along with the community spirit and awesome people at PT in the Park James felt invigorated again.
James feels PT in the Park has been there for him through all the training, and that the trustees & trainers have given their utmost support and advice since coming on board with them and is very very grateful for everything they do.
We personally think James has amazed, inspired and motivated us all too and we owe him a debt of gratitude for all his efforts for PT in the Park. In his opinion there isn't a single thing he could pick that he loves about PT in the Park, as he loves every aspect!
James has been bringing his daughter Sophia along since she was 4 weeks old. He loves that we all have seen her grow from a baby into a toddler and loves that she gets to see the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, but not just for her Daddy but for everyone who attends.
He wanted to add.. If you're unsure about attending a PT in the Park session his advice is 'just pop along and give it a go, you will meet some awesome people in a supportive environment, as the only person you are competing against is yourself'
During 2021, James' Trainer Aaron encouraged him to push himself even harder than he had ever done before. They set out to nail the City2Surf and he achieved his best time ever. Onto the Christchurch half marathon again and nailing that in a time of 1 hour 53 minutes. James moved from strength to strength, setting goals & smashing them!
Then he landed on the most insane challenge he had ever attempted to date. Read on...
On Saturday 27/11/21, (so probably before you've even read this), James will be attempting the 54km Valley Ultra trail run. This will be his first attempt at an Ultra Marathon, he reports he is both excited and nervous about the challenge and he'll hopefully see us all on the other side.
The following words are his favourite quote and he applies it to all the races that he does,
'The marathon… Stay relaxed, don’t push the tempo 1st time you want to pick it up. DON’T. the second time. DON’T. and the third time… You won’t be able to!
We're sure you'll all wish James good luck in his new challenge of Valley Ultra.
Stay tuned for Episode 2 where we will bring you his report on the experience of doing the Valley Ultra. James Currie, our PT in the Park 'Ultraman'
FOOTNOTE: News just in, James completed the Ultra in a stunning 9 hours and 5 mins - congrats!
Episode Two - Valley Ultra 2021 – An event to remember
The year is 2021 and I’m continuing to move from strength to strength with my running under the careful guidance of Aaron Shaskey and training at BodyFix. The City2Surf and Christchurch Half Marathon were both nailed and behind me. It was time to set my sights on the next challenge…
As the most average runner I was aiming for an average run that I could do well in. I had previously completed the 30km Crater Rim trail run so I set my sights on that with the intention to better my time. Aaron had other plans in store for me, he pushed me to aim higher, much higher. After months of deliberation I finally made the decision to enter into the Valley Ultra Whole Hog trail event. The Valley Ultra is a tough course, and, it says right there on the event website that you should not attempt the Whole Hog as your first Ultra. With a warning like that it’s gotta be good right?
Let the training begin
Training for the Valley Ultra was no easy task. A typical week would see me running and working out at the gym 5 to 6 times a week. Adding this on top of work and home life was certainly a juggling act, almost a circus at times you could say. My partner was amazing throughout the long and hard months of training, she was behind me all the way even though it was tough on her holding down the fort at home and doing most of the parenting. I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today without her constant help and support.
In the lead up to the Valley Ultra, there were a few memorable training runs along the way.
1. Mt Peel Mission
My Personal Trainer (see how great this guy is…) organised a group of four of us to head up to Mt Peel. We expected snow, wind and tough conditions which Mt Peel certainly delivered. The day started out as good as could be hoped, mostly clear and still.
The climb up Mt Peel consisted of around 1400m of elevation in the first 4k or so. This was tough on the legs but so worth the climb. At the top of Little Mt Peel was spectacular, the day was clear albeit windy. From there we made our way to Middle Mt Peel, the wind had really started to pick up.
The trails turned into snow covered mountains and with the spikes on our trail shoes we were able to continue on. We reached a point about 1 – 2k from the top of Mt Peel itself. At this point the wind was getting quite strong and making my way around a particularly tricky area my anxiety spiked. I was certainly going to struggle to continue on, I made the decision that I had to turn back. I felt really bad for the others, they clearly wanted to continue on but I didn’t have the confidence that I would make it without completely freaking out. Aaron and I turned back and with further support and encouragement from Aaron I was able to hold myself enough to get back through that tricky section.
The other two guys that we were with carried on toward the top, they were determined to get there. We would learn later that they’d made their way along the top and hit a particularly tricky section, slid down off the top about 10 to 15m before catching themselves and then having to climb back up on their way to the peak. It was later said that in hindsight they shouldn’t have gone ahead. It could have ended like you see on those documentaries where the group splits and the people that turn back are being interviewed describing how bad the conditions were and wishing that their friends were still with us. It was quite a sobering thought, but we can look back on it now and talk about how we truly learned something from that experience.
he most important thing I learned on this day (other than turn back when things are starting to look bad) was the importance of proper nutrition. I was certainly under prepared for this mission, I didn’t carry enough proper food with me, be it roast potatoes, rice crackers, bumper bars and the like. From this point, I was armed with the experience of knowing that I needed to work on nutrition. I set to work trialling different foods over the following weeks to see what would work for me.
Mt Peel mission
2. Crater Rim that wasn’t Crater Rim
I was looking forward to running the 30k Crater Rim trail event in the lead up Valley Ultra. Unfortunately the Crater Rim was cancelled due to New Zealand Covid restrictions at the time. This didn’t stop Aaron from putting together an event of his own. With a ton of help from Aarons connections and lots of his own time and effort Aaron put together a replacement event. About 20 – 30 runners were keen to take part.
On the day of the run we all started at the Diamond Harbour rugby grounds. Those of us who were doing the 30k event would make our way up Mt Herbert, then head along to Packhorse hut, down to Gebbies Pass and finally head up to the start of the Crater Rim trail on to Sign of the Bellbird (or Sign of the Kiwi for those of us who wanted slightly more than 30k). Those doing the 52k would run the full Crater Rim course.
The climb up Mt Herbert was tough, but not quite as tough as Mt Peel. I took the day fairly easy to start with, and ended up talking with another runner that I had met for the first time that morning. We had some good discussions about running and life. At the 20k point when we reached the first aid station (ie the boot of a car). Aaron had certainly outdone himself, there were an assortment of goodies he’d put together from lollies to Coke and Pikelets with Jam and Cream. I refueled, refilled the water bladder and soldiered on.
I picked up a good pace making my way up from Gebbies Pass to the Crater Rim trail, I sadly had to leave the other guy behind. It was a fairly long climb up the road but I just took one step at a time at my own pace to get there. I made my way through to Sign of the Kiwi to finish.
I came away at the end of the day feeling great. My nutrition was certainly up to scratch and I had paced well. I was confident about this Valley Ultra now.
Unofficial Crater Rim (accidentally paused toward the end, oops)
3. Unofficial Piglet
Again this is another mission put together by Aaron. Slightly different group of four from Mt Peel heading out, this time to Castle Hill. Our goal was to run the 24k Valley Ultra course (known as the Piglet). It was great weather for a run, a light breeze, cool and mostly clear.
We took things fairly easy and made our way around the course. A couple of river crossings and stops for nutrition making good progress. One of the reasons for doing this course was to familiarise myself with some of the sections of the whole hog course. As part of the Valley Ultra Whole Hog you pretty much run the entirety of the piglet course.
There are a couple of tough climbs toward the end of the course. As we reached the first of the climbs I looked up and immediately thought, the hell have I got myself into? I’ll have to climb this after running like 40k on race day… There was only one thing to be done, just take my time one foot in front of the other to get to the top. Surprisingly the climb wasn’t as tough as it looked.
We continued on and eventually reached the Mt Cheeseman ski field access road. We made our way down the access road, myself and Chris made our way down the access road at a good pace and the other two fell back. We reached the bridge where we would make our way up the river bed and decided to get our feet wet in the river while we waited for the other two to catchup.
Once the group was back together we made our way up the river bed, it was slow going but we stuck together. We made our way up out of the river and back onto the track that runs alongside. We had definitely drifted off what would be the official course on the day, but that didn’t matter, we were having fun (well Jonathan might not have been at that point but we know he did once he’d recovered after a couple of days).
We happened across a section of track which had been washed out and it was far too wide to jump across. We had to make our way back down to the river bed. Again back in the river bed heading further upstream. After a few hundred metres we had to double back to a clearing we had gone passed to get back up above the river and onto some sort of track. It was a lot of fun exploring the area and trying to figure out where we were supposed to be going. At least if I got lost on race day I’d be able to recognise the area (hopefully).
We were somewhat back on track making our way to the last climb which is a 100m vertical climb over about 300m of distance (if you go straight up). I had heard a few things about this climb, “It’s brutal”, “It’s the worst part of the whole course”, “We like to design courses that have a sting in the tail”, “Yes, there’s a rope to help you get up the climb”. Well we didn’t have the rope to help as it wasn’t race day, plus we’d drifted way off course so we had to figure out where to go to head up this climb. We picked a spot, made our way across some swampy terrain and made our way up the climb. It was brutal and we had to crawl under a few bushes, but very much worth the experience. The last few kilometres were uneventful, after that climb it was all downhill back to Castle Hill village.
Leading up to Valley Ultra Race Day
I deliberated for a number of weeks whether I would enter the Valley Ultra Whole Hog. Aaron was fully on board and telling me that I should enter, he kept saying that I’d nail it. The amount of training that I had been doing was perfect for it. I wasn’t just contemplating whether I was capable of running the Ultra but also the logistics around race pack pickup which takes place the night before and the race start being 6am the following day. I checked out accommodation but as Castle Hill is a small village practically in the middle of nowhere it was mostly taken with the only accommodation left being insanely expensive for that Friday night. There was the option to stay in a lodge offered to Whole Hog participants as part of race registration. I had heard from people that I’ve met through various run groups that have stayed in the lodge that it’s very hard to sleep with so many people around, plus it’s at the top of a mountain where it gets very windy. I didn’t want to take that chance so I went with the last option, the campground.
I have pretty much only been camping in my life on one other occasion. I was in primary school and it was on a school camp.
I was quietly nervous and outwardly confident about camping overnight, it’s for one night, surely I could handle that. I borrowed a tent off my sister and her partner. I wanted to ensure that I was prepared for putting it up on the day so I decided to do a test run a couple of weeks beforehand. This turned out to be a great idea. The tent was a lot larger that I was expecting, we were able to fit both a double mattress and a port-a-cot inside. This meant that my partner and our daughter could join me for the whole experience.
Preparations for race day took about a week to get ready, everything from: my race pack, nutrition, to the tent and everything in between. Most of the prep was done on the Thursday night leading up to race day which made Friday morning much easier on all of us.
We left home just after lunch to make the 80km journey to Castle Hill. I was driving along admiring the good weather and hot conditions that we were experiencing. We had just made our way out of Christchurch when my partner asked me if I’d seen the last minute gear change. I had not. We were being told that we had to carry a second thermal top in a water proof bag along with everything else on the gear list. We changed course and made our way to the closest Warehouse to buy a thermal top. It must’ve been my lucky day as I was able to grab the last thermal top in my size that the store had, yes it was a Women’s top but I just needed one to tick that last gear requirement off (and if I needed it due to weather). With those shenanigans behind us we were back on the road.
We arrived at Castle Hill around 4pm and got to work putting up the tent. The campground was jut a large open field with a couple of port-a-loos for convenience. Sophia was able to run about and burn off some energy, she was good and didn’t stray too far from us. She did try making a couple of new friends with the people around us.
At 6pm we made our way to the race registration tent to collect my race pack and have my gear checked. It was at this point that I learned of a last minute course change. We had been emailed earlier in the week to say that due to the weather forecast that we’d be running their course C. The event organisers had made the tough decision to shorten the course and remove the exposed areas of Mt Cheeseman due to the weather forecast. I wasn’t too worried about the weather, I had all the gear that I would need and I have trained in all weathers. Plus all the experiences leading up to this point put me in a good standing for completing the Ultra. The last thing to do for the day was to have my traditional pre-race dinner of Chicken Parmigiana and mashed potato (I had prepared this in advance and we simply heated it using our camp stove. It was the first time we’ve ever used it so a quick thanks to Mum and Dad for buying it all those years ago for us).
I climbed into bed and put my phone and watch on charge (using an external battery pack that I had brought along of course). My partner put on some mindfulness meditation to help me calm the nerves and fall asleep. I got a good few hours of sleep, thankfully. The wind that was forecast overnight didn’t really come to fruition, so that was positive. I woke in the early hours and dozed on and off listening to the rain on the tent. I started to hear movement of others around the campground at about 4am. I decided to get out of bed and make a start on the day.
Race Day arrives
So here I was stepping out of bed just after 4:15am thinking about the biggest run of my life that I’m about to attempt. I was nervous but certainly no where near as much as before my first full marathon. My partner even mentioned to me that I didn’t seem as nervous either. The drizzle was fairly light and there was hardly a breath of wind. The conditions were certainly having a comforting effect for the start of the day, given that we were expecting the wind and the rain to get much worse.
Breakfast consisted of Chia Seeds, Yoghurt and Fruit (mango). This was and still is my go to staple. After years of trial and error with pre-race foods I had landed on this combination. It works well for me and does not upset my stomach. It also works in that if I’m feeling particularly nervous and don’t feel like eating, I can still force it down without it making a return. It’s very important to fuel properly before a race, even if you don’t feel like it. The last thing I wanted to happen was to run out of steam before I’d finished the first hill.
With breakfast done my next task was to wake the baby. Other parents can attest, if this is not done right, you will be doomed for the rest of the day. Surprisingly, it went well. This definitely helped keep me calm, knowing that my partner was not going to be left with a cranky, doomed and screaming baby for the day.
Before I knew it, we were at race village all ready to go. Due to Covid restrictions we were to be starting in groups of 100 people at a time, I had opted to get into the first wave of athletes as had Aaron. It was good to see him before the start of the race. I’m always amazed when I go and line up for a trail run, you can look around and pretty much all the athletes just look like your average normal everyday people. If you were to meet them on the street, you wouldn’t know they were Ultra Marathoners. I certainly feel very average even though I know how much training and preparation it takes to get to the start line of an Ultra Marathon. We all have to start somewhere and for me I pin it down to that JD Duathlon I did with my work colleagues back in 2012.
The seconds counted down to the start of the race, I went over the race plan in my head. It was a very simple and straight forward plan. Walk the ups, run where I can on the downs. Aim to be feeling great when hitting the second aid station about 15k in at Texas Flat. From there just continue walking up and running the downs. The final two climbs will be tough but don’t worry about those until I need to. Embrace the river crossings, it’s raining and you’ll already be wet anyway.
The race begins…
I had run the first section of the race a few weeks back with Aaron and a few others. I knew what I was in for for this section. I was able to apply my race plan well.
The first aid station was just over the 5k mark, it was on the other side of the first river crossing. Given that it was raining and had rained for most of the night I expected the river to be higher and moving faster than it was. I crossed the river without too much trouble. I grabbed a sweet as I passed the aid station, just because I could. I was expecting a lot more mud on that first section but the track held up very well.
The section between the first and second aid station was quite good too, not too muddy and was holding up well. I was able to put a bit of speed on for a couple of the downhills, I did have to remind myself that I needed to conserve a bit of energy so I shouldn’t push it too hard. I got to the top of a hill and could see the Texas Flat aid station in the distance. The section of track leading down to the aid station was certainly muddier than what I had experienced so far. I took the section carefully going slower and making sure my footing was good. The last thing I wanted was to be forced from the race due to injury.
I reach the Texas flat aid station. The legs were feeling good, body was holding up and my race plan was paying off. Chris (who had been part of the 3 races Aaron put together leading up to the Valley Ultra) had volunteered to help at the aid station. It was awesome to see a familiar face and have my race plan going well.
The next section of the course was to make my way up the Mt Cheeseman access road. I expected this to be the toughest climb of the day but in hindsight I shouldn’t have expected that, given vehicles drive up and down this road it was unlikely that it would be that steep. I stopped to put my rain jacket on part way up the climb, I was hoping that I wouldn’t really need it. The drizzle was starting to turn into some good rainfall now so I resigned myself to needing the extra layer. Before I knew it, I had reached the top of the climb on the course and we were to head downhill toward the Dracophyllum Flat track.
I was able to make some good time heading down with a stop partway down to refuel. Refuelling consisted of roast potato, a nutrition gel and water from the pack which had electrolyte powder mixed in. I was making good progress along the course.
I had told myself at the start of the race that I wouldn’t continually check the distance to see how far was left to go. I was making good on that promise, I did certainly check a few times but given how I normally check every 2 – 3k that was good for me. Normally through a training run I’d be giving my family group chat updates on distance and photos of the scenery around me. Given the conditions on race day it wasn’t really possible to be doing that. It was probably for the best too, as I could concentrate on the race itself and not be continually stopping on top of all the aid station and refuelling stops I was already doing.
I reached Dracophyllum flat still feeling pretty good. I was confident in my ability but I still had a long way to go. The Dracophyllum flat part of the course is an out and back track, this meant that athletes on the return leg would be on coming to me as I was heading out. I ran and walked a lot of this track, it was muddy in parts and difficult to run on the narrow track even though it was pretty flat. I kept going step by step, that was the only way I would reach the finish line.
I reached the Craigeburn forest park area. I thought to myself, it would be cool if I got to see Aaron coming through in the other direction. I didn’t have high hopes as I had no way of knowing where he was on the track plus I expected that he’d have already blasted through and be further along on the return leg. Chris had told me back at the Texas Flat aid station that Aaron was feeling good, he’d taken it quite conservatively through that first section. I knew that Aaron would be wanting to kick it up a gear, put the speed on and nail the race.
I started up a particularly steep climb in the forest area and it just kept going up and up and up. There were a couple of times that I was doubting my ability to complete the race. This section was tough, much tougher than what I was expecting it to be. I had learned in my Bell Hill challenge race, that when the negative talk and thoughts start to accumulate it’s usually because the body is lacking in water or nutrition. Every time I started to doubt myself I made sure to have a gel, eat some food and take in a good drink out of the pack. The effect of taking on the nutrition is almost instant. You feel better and it certainly changes the thought process from “I can’t do this” to “I’ve got this, I’ll get there and I’ll do it by continuing to put one foot in front of the other”.
I was coming up a particular steep part of the climb, not too far from the next aid station when around the corner Aaron comes flying down the track with a couple of others hot on his tail. We had about enough time to say “Hi, looking good” before we were passed each other. It was a great confidence boost to me. I knew that Aaron wasn’t as far ahead of me as I had thought, likely only 11-12km. Given this was my first Ultra, I expected to be much further behind where I was at this point anyway.
I reached the aid station at Craigeburn forest park. This particular aid station acts as two aid stations, before you head around the loop and also at the end of the loop. The aid station volunteers helped me refill the water, add some more electrolyte. I scoff down a banana, some potato and then make a start on the loop. The loop is about 11km with the first section being mostly uphill. I continued to power hike on the uphill and run on the down where I could.
There were a few marshals placed around the loop. I knew of a couple that had camped out overnight and were marshaling the race in that area. I was looking forward to saying hello to them as I hadn’t seen them in a while. They were in a downhill part of the course so it was a very quick “Hi, good to see you, bye” as I flew past them. It’s always a confidence boost when you see someone you know tell you you’re doing great. Thanks Keith and Sally.
Other than a few marshals here and there the loop felt long, it was only 11k but if you asked me to put a distance on it, I’d tell you it’s much longer than it actually is.
In the last 2-3km of this loop there’s a fairly steep climb which takes you up and in behind a hill that sits just off the state highway. I stopped a couple of times heading up to refuel and catch my breath. The negative self talk kept creeping in but I kept catching it making sure to keep eating and drinking.
I reached almost to the top of the climb and looked out to the hill across the valley between me and this hill. Something that I’ve never had happen on a run happened… The hill across from me was moving, it was floating away then back towards me. Of course I know that wasn’t really happening (unless there was an Earthquake, but the hill I was on wasn’t moving so that wasn’t the case). It was surreal. I made sure to take on some more food and water. I carried on knowing that feeling and what I experienced was something that I would take away from the race. It was frightening but at the same time kind of euphoric.
The remainder of the loop was largely uninteresting from that point. I made it back to the aid station. It was just the Dracopyllum Flat, the access road, a nasty climb and then down into the village left to go.
I was still feeling good as I made my way back through Dracophyllum Flat. I had nailed some nasty climbs, experienced a moving mountain and survived to tell the tale. The rest of the race seemed easy now. I continued along the course leap frogging with a couple of other competitors, which was good because it had been a while since I had seen anyone actually running on the course.
I found myself entering an area of the forest that I recognised, it was part of our Piglet mission a few weeks back. I knew that I was closing in on the access road and the final stretch of the race. That was when I looked up and saw a climb that I had forgotten about… Oops, I quickly threw down a caffeine gel and set to work climbing up this hill. I had caught up to another competitor. For this climb we were in it together. We both made our way up this hill, I said a few things and I hope they were encouraging for him as we made our way up. It was steep but quite a short climb. We made it to the top, I could see the other competitor was struggling a wee bit. I checked that he was good and I continued on, the gap between us widened pretty quickly.
On the other side of this hill is a fairly steep downhill, it’s pretty much as steep as the climb up. It wasn’t really something I could run down safely. I took it slow and crawled along on my bottom for a couple of times in the steeper bits to prevent myself from slipping too much. I reached the bottom and made my way to the access road. I was ticking off the parts of the course in my head as I finished each section.
I was surprised how good my legs were feeling after all that I had gone through. This course doesn’t just hammer the legs on the uphills but it hammers them quite hard on the downhills too. I ran most of the way down the access road (walked the one up hill section). The access road leads us to a bridge and the final aid station. I refuelled and started to make my way up the river bed, just like we had in that training run. The river wasn’t flowing nearly as bad as I was expecting. Given the nature of this particular river bed it’s quite easy to keep your feet dry most of the way up stream without actually walking in the water. I crossed the water a few times heading up, as was dictated by the course markers. Finally coming to the last water crossing where we were to head up onto the track that runs along side. The last water crossing was certainly one of the hardest, the water was quite fast moving and I knew it was about thigh deep when I stuck one of my poles in to check the depth. I took it slowly and carefully (If I screwed up there was a marshal there to help, one would hope). The cold water on my legs after all that I had been through was amazing. I wanted to stay in for a bit, but I couldn’t, I had to keep moving.
The focus was now on getting to the last climb of the day. The hardest parts of the day were done and it was just this climb between me and the finish line. The track was mostly flat along side the river with a few short sharp climbs mixed in for good measure. I made sure to take on plenty of nutrition, water and have a breather every now and again as I headed toward this last climb.
I reached the final climb.
This is it, this is the one they all talk about. The sting in the tail. There is no doubting that this is a steep climb, you can tell just by looking at it that it will be nasty. It was very very slow going as I headed up. The track was very muddy. The hill itself is only about 100m vertically over 300m of distance. The course; however, takes us up on more of a diagonal than straight up, but that doesn’t really change the nature of the climb. All distances except the 10k do this climb. That meant that around 400 other participants had climbed up here before I did, adding to the muddy conditions. The climb certainly was taking a while, but I had expected that. I really wanted to get the phone out and take a picture, but also didn’t want to lose it down the slope, never to be seen again. I had watched an interview with a few attendees who had done this race before and they’d talked about it being a rope climb. The way they’d talked about it, I though the rope was from the very bottom to the top. But no! The rope is on a small 20-25m section where the hill is at its steepest. On a dry day I would’ve been able to make my way up that part without the aid of the rope, but it was certainly needed. After what was a long and arduous climb, I could see the marshals at the top. I knew I had only meters to go. It was both a relief and huge sense of achievement once I had reached the top. I hadn’t finished the race yet, but at this point no one could deny that I wasn’t good enough.
It was all downhill to the finish line from that point. I was tired, but still feeling confident and motivated. I set off at a jog. I made myself a promise, I would run across that finish line no matter how tired or sore. I had to finish on a high.
The run down to the bottom was fairly easy going. There were a couple of tough muddy spots, but I navigated them pretty easily. I reached the bottom of the tree line and out onto the gravel footpath. I knew there wasn’t far to go now.
I was less than 1k from the finish line. Suddenly I had the passing feeling of cramp in my right hamstring. No! I can’t happen like this, I was determined to finish on a high. I took a few steps, some sips of water from the pack and set off at a run again. I was really hoping the cramp wouldn’t come back. I kept sipping on the water so that I could keep my thoughts on something other than that cramp feeling. Plus the electrolytes in the water would’ve helped.
I rounded the second to last corner, the marshal pointed me in the direction of the finish line. He told me to turn left at the next sign post. I could see the post coming closer and closer, I was still at a jogging pace and there was no sign of that cramp coming back (phew!). I reached the sign post and made the turn. The first thing I remember seeing is this little wee uphill, probably about 3 – 4 steps to get to the top of it. As I was admiring the irony of this little uphill, I heard a cowbell. I knew instantly, it was my partner and our wee girl cheering me on. I ran up and over this little wee climb and down into the finish chute.
It was at this point that I looked up at the clock, it was just after 3pm. I quickly did the math. I was going to cross the finish line in just over 9 hours. I was mere steps I could not help myself. I had a lump in my throat and I shed a tear or two as I crossed the finish line. I had nailed the Valley Ultra and smashed my goal time of 10 hours.
Post Race Recovery
Overall the Valley Ultra is an amazing course. The views are fantastic, the course is varied and has its challenging points. I very much enjoyed myself and my recovery went quite well. I wasn’t too sore the following days except for some teeth and mouth issues, but I put that down to drinking out of the bladder for such a long period of time. The course was very well marked out, there was little chance of going off course or getting lost. The volunteers at the aid stations were amazing. They helped top up my water, opened the electrolyte packets, peeled the bananas and above all else gave lots of encouragement. They added hugely to the experience, they were also out there in those same wet conditions making sure all us athletes were okay.
I took a couple of days off work post Valley Ultra so that I could focus on recovery. It wasn’t until Monday when the fatigue and tiredness really set in. I truly was on a high for the first couple of days after. I did make sure to get out and do some walking at the very least. The last thing I wanted was to seize up or anything like that. I know from past experience that being too sedentary after a big race makes it harder to get moving again.
The question on everyone's mind at this point
Would I do it again? I think you know the answer to that. I absolutely would!