Endurance Racing: An Enthusiastic Beginner’s Perspective

Did the ‘Tussock Traverse’ recently with Mave, and really enjoyed it (*hello*, Tongariro National Park as a playground).

“TNP” totally stole our hearts during our Alpine Crossing experience last November, so the decision to return and have another endurance-related encounter with the place was never going to involve any question marks, for us.

By no means was it our first endurance race – we’ve done a handful of them now, but for me this rates as one of my favourites (*the other comprising an epic journey over the hills of my ancestral (*Māori) landscape in Mōhaka – more on that later).

I can’t say for certain, but I suspect when we both rocked-up we may have had a couple of interesting facial expressions on, because one of the volunteers approached and suggested we: “Put some smiles on those dials, girls – it’s not that bad”.


I wish there was a way I could’ve observed exactly what she did, in that moment.  She felt compelled to tell us she would be our “tail-end Charlie” for the duration, and so she’d be looking out for us all.

She visibly had experience – in both the race, and in life.


Somewhere along “The Traverse”…
Mount Ruapehu – as seen from the 13-km course.
Looking back along the Waihōhonu Track.

Personally-speaking, I acknowledge I’m no expert racer, and so I always like to spend a bit of time sussing where my start- and finish-line/s are, because let’s face it, they’re not always in the same place.

Once I have these down, I can relax a bit knowing I’ve just got to get from ‘A’ to ‘B’ in a time that works best for me.

And this tricky “time” concept, relative and philosophical as it is, is exactly what I’ve been pondering the most for this post.

I’m not an elite endurance racer – we’ve established that.  I’m a beginner, and I do it for leisure.  There is something so incredibly cool about blatting around the New Zealand countryside with a collective of like-minded, nature-loving, enthusiastically-moving souls, IMO.

I don’t time myself (*I haven’t yet succumbed to the current “digital tracker” trend), because my optimum focus is still on getting to know my body.  So, I’m far more interested in how I feel at the end of a race, compared to the last hit-out I’ve had.

Time, I find, is just too deceptive.  Not only does your perception of it change over time (ha, the irony), and completely organically, too.

But add-in the whole grief and loss factor (*and I speak here from my own recent life experience/s), then you quickly come to realize that in actual fact, this thing – time – is a lie.

What I mean here is that when you find yourself in the midst of some profound experience of grief and/or loss (and let’s use bereavement as an example, because it is profound), no matter the amount of time that passes it still tends to feel like the blink of an eye since their passing, and an eternity since you last saw them (or spoke to them, held them, touched them, heard them – you get the gist).

It really is all relative, and spectacularly illusory.

With all of this in mind then, I feel the need to acknowledge my reason/s for getting in to this whole endurance racing “scene”.

Some background info, if you like…

I had a bit of a play-around with it all in ’12 when a couple of my mates decided it’d be a great idea to be a part of the uniquely holistic ‘Iron Māori’ kaupapa-cum-movement (*it seriously is a movement, these days).  The 3 of us entered, and my job was the 21-km run, so I gathered some road-running experience throughout that year via a few other events that allowed me to build-up my distance towards my end-goal.

So I did that, and then I stopped until last year.  At the start of ’15 I saw the opportunity to enter the ‘Mega Mōhaka’ – a coastal trail-run and fundraiser for Mōhaka School, but also an incredibly cool opportunity to explore parts of the region that I hadn’t seen before (historically, I used to do a lot of walking around there with my Dad).

Mave and I entered the 10-km run-walk course (*as walkers), and it was hard, man.  In fact, a small group of people who had gone so far as to enter the half marathon distance pulled out of the race completely, rather than face their second circuit.

But the important and noteworthy thing was that it was Mother’s Day, and this was the beginning of an entirely new process for me of honouring anniversaries by testing my own physical endurance.

In truth, it was the most holistic “way” that I could think of passing the time for things like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, both their birthdays, Christmas, and all the other dates that remain despite them both being gone.

So far, it’s worked every time in terms of filling those emotional gap/s, and allowing my spirit some “soar-time”.

Still, at Mōhaka I realised my prep-process needed some work if I was going to keep doing these kinds of events.  My first mistake was trusting that there would be a water-station out on the course (*there was meant to be, but wasn’t – either that, or it was all gone by the time we got there), and so I couldn’t replenish my fluid/s supply.  This turned out to be quite catastrophic, and I ended up asking a volunteer for some water just so I could muster-up the strength to finish (*we were last).

Since then, I’ve done the most obvious thing and invested in a quality hydration bladder and a decent pack.  I always have snacks, I’ve discovered GU (salted caramel’s my favourite), and I use NUUN tablets to stay appropriately hydrated for the whole time (*at the excellent advice of an excellent mate – thanks ‘Ddhava).

I also dress accordingly (*and take extra layers), and I know my shoes really well as a by-product of all of the leisure hiking I do.

I don’t tend to finish last, any more.  In fact, I placed first in my age group at my next event immediately after Mōhaka, the ‘Mt Lowry Challenge’, and I reckon I can probably credit this to my decision to prioritise fluids and fuel after dehydrating so badly up in those East Coast hills.

You can see, I’ve evolved a lot since I started.  And admittedly I could still evolve into something of a time-keeper – there’s always room for that (there’s a lot of room for improvement here – I do know this).

But for now, I’m truly happy receiving and gathering all the holistic benefits (a learning process in itself), rather than simply just a series of start- and finish-times.  Because there are (and have been) literally heaps of benefits, for me – some of which I’ve touched-on here, and others I’ll leave for later.

One of our most brilliant and inspirational New Zealanders, Sir Edmund Hillary, famously said this about his beloved mountains:

It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.

And this is so incredibly true – true of mountains, hills, distance/s, endurance races, and all things challenging.

Of life too, eh.

We’re all in our own personal race, at the end of the day.  We all climb our own ‘mountains’ in life.  There’s absolutely no way to compromise, at times.

My advice?

Whatever you do, do it your own way and in the time (*and space) that works best for you.  Seize, own, savour, and smash the fucking tar out of that thing.  Blaze your trail, and don’t ever be afraid to evolve into some new-and-improved version of the ‘you’ that began the journey in the first instance.

You’ve so got this…

‘Haere pai atu, hoki ora mai nei’ – or, “Go well, and return safely”;



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