So, I went for a wee run recently.......it started at 6:00am and finished 11 hours and 46 minutes later. Ok, so not a wee run but the longest I've managed to date by a margin of ~25km's. At 85km's long and with more than 2600 metres of ascent the Old Ghost Ultra was one hell of a day and an unforgetable experience!
An ultra marathon might not be everyone's cup of tea but its honestly not as bad as it sounds. You really just have to put in a little graft before hand and then break it down into manageable stages. And as the oldest competitor commented at the prize giving the next day "its just one foot in front of the other, repeat".....a spritely 72 years old.
I'm probably one of the least stuctured runners out there when it comes to training. I like to put in 3 (hopefully🤞🏼) mid week figure eights round Hagley park (~9 - 10km's) and then throw in a longer run in the hills on the weekend (starting ~20km's and finishing up ~45km's). A key part of the weekend adventures is getting some elevation as well becuase that's going to be needed race day! I had great intentions early on when my entry was confirmed in October but I unfortunately missed a few more weekend runs than I'd have liked....life getting in the way and all that! October, November were ok, but December was largely a write off with the exception of a longer run around Mt Oxford and the Wharfdale track. January and early February training volume was pretty good until race taper and the event on the 20th. I did manage to get some short hill repeats in which I'll do a lot more of next time round.
And lets not discuss the event nearly being called off due to Auckland being in Lockdown level 3 (thanks Covid 19) and the rest of the country at level 2, other than to say I was VERY happy we all dropped down a level on Wednesday the 17th of February, just 3 days before the event!
The day starts early with an hour long bus ride from Westport to the start line near the Rough & Tumble Bush Lodge at 4am. With race kick off at 6am its time to register, deposit drop bag and just generally be a mess of anxiety/excitement/more anxiety and to reflect on poor life choices ......🤯 The only way I could handle the day was to just focus on each stage between the aid stations and not think about the whole elephant as a whole. So the course would look something like this:
- Specimen Point hut (17km)
- Stern Valley hut (42km)
- Ghost Lake hut (55km)
- Lyell Saddle hut (67km)
And then pass out at the finish line some 85km's away in total!
It turns out I made my first mistake of the day before we even started! Not one to be pushy I drifted down the back of the pack at the start line.... and as a result got stuck in a long line of runners all stuck together on a tight single strack in the dark. I'm certainly NOT fast but there really aren't a lot of opportunities to pass folk when you can't see more than a metre in front of you so paitence was required.
I do love running in the early hours but daylight was on us soon enough. And what a day it turned out to be, beautiful and clear if not a little on the hot side 🥵. I think we managed to get to 30 degrees up on the skyline ridge later on which was a bit of a challenge. Through the first aid station at Specimen point (forgot to stash my headlight in my pack) and into section two.
There are 21 bridges along the course with a good number being swing bridges like this one.....there's definately a knack to pacing on them and not bouncing all over the show!
It has to be said the scenery is just phenomenal, lush native bush, georgeous flowing rivers without even mentioning the stunning mountain ranges. We'd been warned about wasps at the briefing and here I experienced it for myself - about 23km's I was stung just above my right knee which made for uncomfortable running for about 30 minutes 🐝. To contrast with the native bush you have sections named "the Boneyard" and "the Hanging Judge" - these open areas have you running through an almost lunar rocky landscape dotted with idyllic lakes.
On to Stern Valley hut where I was happy to have finished my first marathon of the day! There was a bit of carnage at the aid stop with one unfortunate competator covered in blood and cuts being attended to. She refused the helicopter ride out and carried on, what a trooper! Out the aid station and into the big climb of the day, winding through switch backs that seem to go on forever but eventually lead to the Skyline steps, some 300 odd of them.
Having conquered the mighty steps you're greeted with stunning vistas of the Skyline ridge, it doesn't get much better than this. I was however at this point starting to struggle a little with hydration challenges - need to manage fluids better 😬
From here onto Ghost Lake hut - it really felt like it was all down hill from here but no, warning, there's still some climbing to "Heavens Door" before the down hill starts. Ghost lake hut was a welcome stop - I did however make another rookie mistake here 🙁.... feeling completely smashed by the heat I eagerly welcomed a friendly volunteer's jug of cold water over my head! It just felt sooo good....unfortunately, wet clothes means chafing and thats not something we needed over that last 30kms 😱
Feeling somewhat invigorated from the Ghost Lake aid station I charged on to knock off the last bit of ascent. The views once again were phenominal at this high point of the track, you really do feel ontop of the world.
Getting to the Lyell Saddle aid station I'd gone through a bit of a low but had managed to come out the other side of it in a good rhythm. I grabbed a red bull and some cramp stop (just incase) and shuffled on thankful of the gentle descent in front of me. With the field by this stage well and truely spread out I only saw two other runners for this last section of the race. It was slow going and a bit of a grind with the track markers and my watch seemed to be at odds as to how far I had to go 🤷🏼♂️....... One foot in front of the other, one bite at a time.....and finally I was heading over the last swing bridge to the finish line!
It was an absolute relief to be met by family at the finish line. My daughter Zoe, in-law's Jim and Julie, Justin and Sylvia (brother in-law and his wife) all took good care of me in my wrecked state. I can't speak highly enough of the Phil Rossiter and his team who built and maintain this amazing track, it truely is a treasure. The locals who volunteer year after year and make this one of the best events out there. The Old Ghost Road is primarily a track for cyclists and trampers who share this gem with us runners once a year. I would encourage anyone to make the effort to try it as I'm confident you'll enjoy it as much as I did. I know I'll certainly be back to have another go!