A tale of 3 sausages….
Early 2016, I think, I had just been admitted to the BSR group and had been inspired by people’s accounts of their SK experiences when I attended the Southern Cross SK talks night. I had done the Holdsworth loop and could just about pull off a Block XVI loop in about 6 hours with cramps in my legs, written off for the rest of the day and cripple for two days afterwards. Having seen Iain and Chris set off from Roaring Stag on their S-K, I set myself the goal to do a valleys S-K myself, which would need a lot of training and hard work but was a more manageable initial goal than a main range.
So I started training, the Block XVI loop became my go-to “big run”, and recce’d of other sections of the valleys route, with only marginal improvement and mostly just getting injured again and again.
I stumbled across an article somewhere which talked about Low Carb High Fat diet and endurance sports and, long story short, I ended up consulting a nutritionist to seek advice on changing my way of eating. I did, and my performance and endurance improved steadily. And I had a significantly lesser injury rate.
As I started planning my SK Valleys mission in more detail, I had estimated it should take me around 19 hours, based on my own previous times and other SK Valleys runners whom I considered much better, faster and more experienced runners than myself.
My first attempt in November 2017 didn’t go well at all. I had had an extremely busy and stressful week at work, and was basically freaking out too much about the run. I barely slept the night before at Putara Base Camp.
I started off on the track but everything felt wrong. Greg, who had travelled up with me to do an SK as well, shot off like a rocket. My quads burning on the first climb, heart rate up, completely out of breath, I got to Roaring Stag Hut after 1hr 55minutes, 10 minutes past my conservatively estimated split time. Looking back, I’m glad I turned back that day, as hard a decision as it was since the tracks were mega dry, the river super low and the weather forecast fabulous, but it would not have been a fun mission and likely would have ended at Holdsworth. I was gutted.
So I resolved to try again at the end of the season and kept training while seeing reports flow in from others who were completing the Valleys route.
After a little break over the holidays, back to the routine of daily life, I started going for some longer missions (Neill Forks Hut, Baldy Kings Loop) again, and then found out Dave was doing an S-K recce, so I thought maybe we could combine transport once he was ready to go for the full mission, which I expected would be a few weeks later. But, he wanted to do it that very weekend already, on Saturday! Ideally I’d have wanted to do a few more big missions, but argued the days were getting shorter, the river might start filling up again soon, so maybe I should just get it over and done with. Basically I was just impatient!
The weather wasn’t looking too great for Saturday though, so I enquired with Karl and Marta to see if they’d be available to help me with a dropoff on Thursday night and pickup Friday, and dammit, they both were keen to help, so all of the sudden I was committed! No excuses!
Putara Base Camp
Karl and I drove up to Putara Base Camp together, had some good yarns and it was great to chat to someone who had done it before, to get some last minute tips, tricks and encouragement. Karl had a great way of putting me at ease.
I went to bed feeling a little less freaked out than last time, and managed about 3 solid hours of sleep plus 2.5hrs of lightly dozing on and off, which was plenty more than at my first attempt. At about 3.30am, sleep decided it was all finished with me. I was ready to get going.
Final bag check, forced some breakfast down, and off to the road end we went. I was feeling so much better than last time already.
So we took the usual photographs at the start, said our goodbye’s and off I ran into “The Darkness”
Putara to Roaring Stag
Literally! The Darkness. As I pressed shuffle play on my phone, “The Darkness” came on with their song “One way ticket to Hell”. Appropriate? You can’t make that shit up!
It was warm with a very light drizzle but the track felt pretty dry and solid though and there was a faint moonshine through the thin layer of clouds.
I prefer running with music on when I’m by myself in the bush in the dark. It kinda gives me company, confidence and also motivates me to get moving at the start. I was feeling full of energy, light on my feet, and I maintained a relaxed pace just between jogging and running.
As I crossed the second swing bridge, I grabbed my poles, “just for the climb” I thought at that stage, but ended up using them for the whole way to Kaitoke, apart from only a little bit just after Atiwhakatu Hut. They’re great!
Before long I descended again, and started crossing some streams. I knew the hut was close by but I was startled when all of the sudden it appeared in the light of my torch, tall and right in front of me. Quick glance at my watch. 10 minutes ahead of schedule. Way better start than last time!
There was dogs on the porch (contrary to my first attempt they were tied and didn’t run out to me and barked and growled at me!) so I just went straight across the bridge and onto the next chapter.
Roaring Stag to Cow Creek:
Soon I was on the river bed and crossing a side stream for the first time. I climbed back up the bank and made good progress following animal tracks in the bush. I was still using my head torch as it was heavily overcast by now and I was running ahead of my split estimate, so not as light as I thought it would be.
While the river was pretty low, the rocks were wet and slippery from the drizzle. After a few slips and near falls, fear came into my mind. A vision of hitting my head on rocks, knocking myself unconscious and subsequently not being able to set off my beacon. I knew no-one would be expecting a message from me until 1 or 2pm, so that’s a long time to be lying knocked out and face down in a river. So I slowed my pace down to a more cautious one and finally reached Cleft Creek 1h07mins after leaving Roaring Stag. I had only done two crossings at waist height. The rest was just knee deep.
Cleft Creek – don’t miss it!
The saddle track that I remembered running as a freshly cut one, now had more windfall, but still it was an uneventful climb to Cow Saddle. Saw a deer at the saddle, quickly made my way down and at the bottom crossed the river straight to Cow Creek Hut, rather than following the last bit of the track which climbs over the big slip and crossing the bridge. I think that would have saved me at least 10 mins. Checking my watch I could see I was gaining more time on my split estimates, which was a great morale boost. *fist pump + hand clap*
Cow Creek to Mitre Flats:
After a very short break, fuelling up at the hut, I was on my way again. I remembered this section as a short and quick one, with many flat, runnable sections. These flat bits were still there, but while there’s no big saddle to climb, there are plenty of ups and downs which I did not recall and there were many areas with windfall, some of which proved a bit challenging to find the track again on the other side. So I thought I’d certainly lose my advantage on my splits.
I also slipped hard out sideways on a tree root, fell down and bashed my right shin hard against a sharp rock. Small gauge, but quite deep. That shook me a bit. It hurt pretty bad and my leg and arm (which had caught my fall) started tingling with pins and needles. I tried to stand and my leg felt a bit wobbly. Dammit! It was too early for this kind of carnage, but told myself to harden up and put on my Rambo face and just continued. The Rambo face very soon disappeared when I ran through a patch of bastard grass with my fresh open wound!
Waignawa river (from top of a slip)
And then I remembered the small, slippery bridge right before Mitre flats, as I had slipped on it once before. Marta had also mentioned it in her report. Karl warned me about it the night before and I said I already knew about it. So I was fully focused and looking out for it, but guess what… I still didn’t see it coming, slipped on it and fell down the side of it.
No harm done though, if only to my ego, so I kept going and arrived at Mitre Flats hut, surprisingly faster than I had ever run it before and still gaining time on my splits. I was now thinking, actually I think I’ll be able to finish this SK, as I was still feeling quite strong, but I was still very worried about cramping up later that could slow me down to a grind.
Mitre Flats hut
Mitre Flats to Atiwhakatu:
Quick re-fuel at the hut. Shin still bleeding and legs full of bastard grass seeds, I carried on.
Having done this bit last weekend I knew what to expect. I had found it pretty easy going and actually quite enjoyable, contrary to the first times I had done it when I found it particularly hard. I knew there’s actually two climbs in it, but the first one is not very steep and the second one only steep for a small bit. Soon I reached Baldy turnoff, scooted down, crossed the bridge and was running alongside the Atiwhakatu river, the third one for the day. I was feeling pretty strong here, I knew I had made good progress and upon arriving at the hut had gained 54 minutes on my splits. I was looking forward to txting an update to people in Welly.
Atiwhakatu to Totara Flats:
Refuel at Atiwhakatu (down to 7mins, getting faster each time). Starting to feel a tad fatigued in the legs, but I had no doubt I was going to head up the river ridge track and most probably carry on to Totara Flats. Started off walking a few minutes and soon jogged happily along the well graded track, thinking back of the times I had tramped there with my family or run the Jumbo Holdsworth Race. I passed the first two people I saw this day. Filled up two bottles near the slip diversion, crossed the swing bridge and arrived at the turnoff.
Slip along Atiwhakatu
By now I felt like I could use a little nitrogen to power myself up the hill, so I ate a Gu chew, glancing at the stupid Holdsworth car park sign and laughing in its face, and started up the hill. I had only done this section once (last winter), and had forgotten it drags on for a bit. By the time I got to the top my legs were really tired and it was also getting pretty hot, as the sun had finally come out.
It was great to send my good progress to people back at home and receive messages of encouragement back. I kept walking and texting for 10 minutes or so. Great advice via txt from Marta: “EAT”. I was 9 hours into it and I hadn’t done that many runs longer than 9 hrs before. It’s easy when you get a bit tired to forget to drink and eat, it’s a classic mistake. From before starting the run, I was very conscious of this and made sure it wasn’t going to happen to me, so I ate.
Saw two trampers at the Totara Flats turnoff, but didn’t chat, I had a mission to get on with. They were the last people I saw on the track apart from Marta near the end.
On Karl’s advice, I took the officially closed new track down to the stream, which was in good nick, nice and open, well marked, but goes uphill a bit. Nice views from there too, but a bit bushy and grassy (bastard grassy) near the bottom, which opened up my shin wound again, which had finally stopped bleeding. The bridge is under construction but it’s no problem to cross the stream, and I got to Totara flats in full blasting sunshine. I had fallen back to only 42 minutes advance on my splits, I thought this is where I’m starting to slip back into my original estimate. I realise how long I still have to go and the fear of Cone saddle is sneaking in. At this point I still fully expect things to slow down significantly and still expecting to finish in around 19hrs. My big fear is cramping in the legs, which I’m sure would slow me right down and gobble up all my time.
View from new track between pig flat and Totara flats
Totara Flats to Cone:
I chuck my cap on and roll my t-shirt up to my chest, to get some cool airflow on my stomach. Pretty hot on the plains, but what a beautiful golden colour. I alternate running with fast walking and once I’m off the flats and back on the bush track I realise I forgot how long it still is until the climb. The climbs are getting a lot harder and slower at this point.
Then finally the saddle turnoff arrives. I pop a Gu chew and start a very slow ascent. I’m literally pulling myself up on my poles with all my upper body strength. The legs are toast but I just soldier on. I need to stop myself from looking at Viewranger too often and too soon, as it can only disappoint. I’m surprised my legs haven’t started seizing up yet, but am glad that they haven’t , fingers crossed, and take another big slug of nuun, just in case I’ve just jinxed it!
When I do check Viewranger after 45 mins climbing, as tired as I feel, I see I’ve made it to the cone saddle. Good climb, but still plenty of distance to go. I have a 5 min break, eat something, and put on a podcast, which gets my mind into a better space and gets me through the saddle track and down to Cone hut.
Cone hut euphoria
Cone Hut to Kaitoke:
Arriving at Cone hut I look at my watch. 5.30pm. Dang!!! It now sinks in to me that I’m actually doing pretty well for time, much quicker than I had ever could have dreamed. A surge of energy and euphoria rushes through my body. The home stretch! And almost 1.5hrs ahead of my splits. Sure, I’m feeling those upper legs, but my feet are not even hurting yet and mentally I’m buzzing.
With Slayer on the iPhone, I hit the track again and feel like I’m flying along, still light on my feet in my X-talon’s. I’m riding a tsunami of adrenaline and ticking off milestones on this track I know so well, remembering vividly having walked here many times before with crampy legs, struggling, but not now. I’m on fire. It’s like I’ve finally earned the respect of that track and it acknowledges the hard times I’ve done on it, and gives in to me.
I was also looking forward to running with Marta for the last few kms. She had agreed to drive me home from Kaitoke and offered to meet me somewhere on the track, which I had appreciated as I thought perhaps I might fall to pieces all alone on the last stretch, and it would give my partner at home some peace of mind that if I would collapse, someone was coming out to get me. After all, I had never run this long or this far, even on the road or urban tracks, before. Of course it was awesome to share the joy of the last few kms of the mission with her as well!
One more Gu chew for the puffer and I walk up as fast as I still can. Still no cramp! At the top of the steps, I marvel at the orange glow of the setting sun on the hill sides and over the Kaitoke plains. Timing couldn’t have been better! And it is such a mental boost, knowing that you will finish in daylight.
Down the final steps, past the YMCA ropes, through the gate, and I bring it home. Stop the watch! 16hrs 12mins.
I’ve finally done it and I’m sooo happy!
Great to see Kev made it out as well to see me finish. He doubled the welcome crowd singlehandedly!
Many thanks to:
- My family for putting up with my time-expensive hobby.
- Karl and Marta for being there for me, dropping me off and picking me up
- Kev for coming to see me finish at Kaitoke
- Everyone in the Wellington Big Sunday Running group for the inspiration, advice, tips, company, yarns, …
By no means is this what I think everyone should be doing. It’s just what works for me although can be a bit inconvenient sometimes and requires discipline.
I eat a low carb diet. No grains (pasta, rice, bread) and no sugar. Fruit within limitations, but heaps of (green leafy) veg, and a reasonable amount of meat and nuts and some fish. Minimal processed food. Approx 70g of carb per day.
I also try to do at least 2-3 fasted runs in the week.
All of this forces my metabolism to turn my body fat into ketones for energy instead of using glycogen stores. You can store tons more fat reserves than glycogen. But fat is like diesel, good for long distances and slow pace, but not great for high intensity bursts. You also need a minimal level of carbohydrate for your body to be able to convert fat into ketones. So normally, directly before and during any run up to 4hrs, I don’t eat anything. For the valleys SK (and other long runs) after about 3hrs, I start using UCAN, a so-called superstarch which provides a slow but steady trickle of carbohydrate, so it doesn’t cause sugar spikes and lows, allowing me to continue to burn fat but travel just a tad faster than what fat burning would normally allow. To keep my tummy full, I eat things like boiled eggs with lots of salt, BBQ pure pork sausages, salty cashew nuts and clean lean protein powder (mixed in with UCAN). For the last three climbs I popped a Gu Chew, to give me that burst of power I need for higher intensity efforts.
I usually drink NUUN electrolytes (low in carb).
Here’s what I ate:
- Roaring Stag: nothing
- Cleft Creek: started NUUN in all my water from here on in. 1 x UCAN bar
- Cow Saddle: 1 x Egg
- Cow Creek: 1 sausage, 1 scoop UCAN + MCTpowder
- Mitre Flats: a few salted cashews, 1 scoop UCAN + MCT powder, 1 x egg
- Atiwhakatu: a few salted cashews, 1 Scoop UCAN + MCT + Protein powder. 1 egg. 2 sq dark choc at slip. 1 x Gu chomp bottom of river ridge
- Pig Flat: 1 sausage, few cashew nuts. UCAN Bar
- Totara Flats: 1 sausage, 1 Scoop UCAN with MCT and Protein powder, few cashew nuts, 2 sq dark choc. Bottom of cone saddle climb: 1 gu chew
- Cone Saddle: 2 sq dark choc, few cashew nuts, 1 UCAN bar
- Cone to Kaitoke: 1 UCAN bar, few cashew nuts, 1 gu chew at bottom of puffer climb
|Ultimate Direction PB Vest||iPhone||4 x BBQ pure pork sausages|
|Inov8 cap||Skullcandy Ink’d wireless earphones||½ Hellers pepperoni (not used)|
|Arc’teryx t-shirt||PLB||3 eggs|
|Nike running compression shorts and Nike shorts||Spare batteries||Salt|
|Injinji toe socks||Black Diamond Icon 500 torch||Magnesium powder|
|Inov-8 X Talon precision fit shoes||1st aid kit||Chief Bar (not used)|
|MTB Gloves “Race Face”||Emergency blanket||Protein Bar (not used)|
|Nike long running tights||Compass||Cashew nuts|
|Arc’teryx long sleeve thermal top||3 x 500ml soft bottles||Jack Link’s Teryaki Steak bar (not used)|
|Ali express buff||Garmin eTrex20x GPS||10sq dark choc|
|Woollen gloves||6 x UCAN & MCT Powder pouches||Gu chews|
|Arc’teryx rain Jacket||4 x UCAN bars||Cramp stop (NOT USED, yay!)|
|SUUNTO Ambit 2S||10 NUUN tablets (used 9)|
|Black Diamond carbon Z-poles||Aquatabs|
Putara start – 4.25am
Roaring Stag – 6.00am
Cow Creek – 8.18am
Mitre Flats – 10.14am
Atiwhakatu – 12.11pm
Totara Flats – 2.48pm
Cone Hut – 5.30pm
Kaitoke – 8.37pm