Danny Garrett/Sam McCutcheon Main Range S-K Report 2016 (Danny’s Report)
17th December 2016
Stage One: The Plan
I first heard about the Tararua S-K Traverse after Grant Guise and Matt Bixley set the Fastest Known Time (FKT) in 2014. It really captured my imagination of what is possible with just a pair of running shoes and a lot of sugar (shorts optional).
With a big race schedule coming up at the start of 2017 I knew that I had to have a crack before Christmas if I was going to have any chance of completing this monster in the current season. I mentioned my intentions to Sam McCutcheon who was keen to join in on the fun, so when a weather window opened up in the 10-day forecast for 17 December plans were put in place to make it happen.
I think it would be fair to say that both of us were a little apprehensive about the state that our bodies were in following recent endeavours. Sam had won the Kepler Challenge two weeks earlier, and I had also run Kepler and set a new FKT for the Southern Tararua Main Range Loop one week earlier.
Stage Two: The Dawning
After a quick goodbye to Mum, who selflessly dropped us at the Putara road end in the small hours of the morning, we were off. Bobbing through the bush with our headlights trying to find a nice rhythm there were a lot of thoughts going through my mind, with both excitement and fear of what was to come. Around 15min in, once I had warmed up, I had a quick drink from a side creek. This action would come back to haunt me in the coming days.
We reached Herepai Hut just as the first signs of dawn were greeting the horizon and filled up our water bottles and inbuilt bladder (stomach), which I think I overdid a little as I had about 6 urination stops over the next couple of hours.
A short time later we emerged out of the bush onto the glorious tops of the Tararuas, which would be our home for most of the day. We were treated to a bright red sunrise and a river of cloud flowing over the range to the north.
Stage Three: The People
On reaching the top of Herepai we could see a number of headlights bobbing their way along a little further up the ridge. As we passed by this team, who also intended to make it to Kaitoke, words of encouragement were exchanged.
Further on we could see the next group consisting of Dave, Paul, Al and Tom, who were planning to get to Holdsworth by the day’s end. Time to put the head down and try to catch them, which we did just as we passed through the East Peak West Peak saddle.
Stage Four: Full Immersion
The first glimpse of Mt Hector far in the distance is, to say the least, terrifying. I pointed it out to Sam and he said something along the lines of it not looking too far away. Really? Then we realised he was looking at the wrong peak, and with that cleared up the immensity of the challenge ahead sunk in.
The day was really starting to heat up at this point so reaching Arete and descending into the forested section along to Nichols was a nice reprieve from the beating sun. It was around this point that I also thought my ears were feeling pretty hot – It turned out that I hadn’t done a great job of sunscreening at 3am.
With a long way out to any road end on this part of the range you start to feel that you are really committed to the challenge.
View down the range
Stage Five: Lost for Words
On the approach to Andersons Hut Sam mentioned that he was hitting a low point and would need a few minutes to regroup. Over the next few hours, the conversation rate dropped to around one word per hour, as we both entered that stage where your thinking slows down due to the lack of glycogen.
We were treated to an encouraging note and a bag of chips at Maunganahuka Hut (cheers to Martin and Tom for the boost!). I choose to not partake in the chippies as I was sticking to my strict diet of sugar for the duration of the run. Over 18 hours and 15 minutes I consumed 40 gels, totaling around 1kg of sugar.
Sam on some lovely Tararua terrain
Stage Six: True Darkness
Every ultra runner has entered “the darkness” on a run. With a run like the S-K it is inevitable that you’re not going to be feeling great at some point. I was fortunate that this didn’t happen to me until we reached Mt Hector, so with a quick pep talk to myself to keep eating and drinking, and that it was all downhill to Kaitoke, I put the head down and pushed on. Thankfully it was a short-lived low point and I quickly perked back up.
Stage Seven: The Ridge
It seems that everyone has a horror story from the Marchant Ridge. There is a saying along the lines of, “How do you make the Marchant enjoyable? Run an S-K!”, but it turns out that this is not entirely correct. I think the saying should be, “How do you make the Marchant enjoyable? Run an S-K in terrible weather!”. I haven’t had the chance to test this theory (and don’t really want to), but it makes a lot of sense – You make your reference point for comparing the Marchant as miserable as possible, so that things on the Marchant seem rosier than they are!
We made good time through Hells Gate and along to the Block XVI turnoff. However, from this point on there was a lot of walking to be done. Dropping down the main ridge from highpoint 967 to the Smith Creek turnoff seemed to take ages, as the legs were reluctant to step over all of the roots on this section. Finally reaching some less rooty terrain meant we could stretch out the legs and that there was not far to go.
Stage Eight: Sweet Relief
As the familiar sight of the YMCA ropes course came into the view the legs seemed to gain a last burst of energy, and picked up the pace for the final meters. Never before has a dark empty carpark looked so appealing to me. After being picked up by Sam’s other half Sarah and friend Alana, with a greatly appreciated bottle of chocolate milk, we were on the road back to Wellington and home to bed to get some much needed sleep.
Stage Nine: The Runs
I had been informed prior to our run that it is compulsory to attend the Tuesday night Southern Cross run following an S-K attempt. On Monday I was pleasantly surprised with how the body had scrubbed up. Apart from the burnt ears I had no injuries, minimal pain and a desire to go for a run. Not wanting to get carried away I limited myself to a gentle run commute to and from work. Roll on Tuesday and I am still feeling great, until I am struck by a sudden urge to get to the bathroom. Quickly! I hoped that that it was just a one off but after watching my weight drop by 3kg over the same number of days I decided to visit a doctor, who informed me that my quick drink out of the stream had probably given me Giardia. Luckily though, armed with the correct meds, I was quickly on the mend and getting my appetite back just in time for Christmas!
Stage Ten: Analysis
Below are the splits for our outing:
Breaks Breaks are for the weak
Total Time 18hr15min