Crater Rim Ultra 53km
Date:October 13, 2019
The Crater Rim Ultra is one of my favourite events. It’s very challenging but I enjoy running in the Port Hills – a popular ‘back yard’ for many Christchurch runners. Like most ultras, it is an early 4.20am alarm to catch an early bus. The bus trip this year to Lyttelton is remarkably lively for just after 5am. Typically bus rides for 100km ultras are deathly quiet. However, the shorter 53km distance affords more energy for socialising and banter. We then catch a ferry to Diamond Harbour which is a unique way to start any race. The journey in the dark is relaxed and easy going. It is then a short and leisurely stroll to the Diamond Harbour Rugby Club where the start line is. Whilst exploring the local rugby club, it brings back memories of when I was a carefree kid. I’d play imaginary games of rugby in my back yard for hours on end. Only stopping when chores dictated or if it was time to eat dinner. Over time, that barefoot kid has grown into a responsible shod adult. Although still young at heart, that carefreeness has been tampered somewhat by responsibility. However, being at start lines allows me to step back in time and play again. Today, the halfway mark of the rugby field is our start line and I’m joined by 180 others. Many like myself are nervous to play again. To the sound of the hooter, the inner child is released leaving the adult and doctor at the start line. I scoot around the rugby field and head towards the playground high up in the hills.
Going up Mt Herbert I am winding back the years. With each kilometre I am shedding responsibility and eventually I am that carefree kid again. The descent down Mt Herbert is when things start to get really wet and wild. The ground is sodden and my shoes sink into the mud. The path ahead transforms into a muddy slide. A by-product of all the kids before me. Before long, I am slipping and sliding and losing control. The drizzle, sweat, and mud coalesce into one. I skid and fall many times to meet it. Eventually trepidation gives way to laughter and you learn to let yourself go. I start to find my groove as I swerve past the Packhorse Hut. There are nooks and crannies in this back yard I’ve never explored before and I’m enjoying the experience. The play continues as I commando roll (accidental) through pine forest, swing across native bush, and dodge large steaming cow pats. Sometimes in life we forget to play. Running is an adult version of play which allows us to stay young in more ways than one. Our aerobic capacity declines by about 1% per year or 10% per decade from the age of 30. Those who continue to exercise can reduce this to about 0.5% per year or 5% per decade. Our peak muscle strength and muscle fibre size also decreases from our late 20s. If you’re over 30, you need to work harder with each passing year just to maintain (yet alone build) your strength and aerobic fitness. If you’re over 30 and you find being physically active hard, then it means you need to do it. If you find it really hard, then you really need to do it! You must find your own form of play. And once you find it, you must keep on playing! Only then can you ‘wind back the years’.
Play time continues as we move along the Crater Rim trail, through the Sign of the Bellbird, down and up Worsley Spur trail, and towards the Sign of the Kiwi. By the time I reach the 40km mark, all this play is starting to catch up with me. I know the end is approaching as I get closer to the sugar (Sugarloaf) and the muddy trails are replaced by more red and dry rock. There are a few more dizzying loops followed by a sprint down Rapaki track towards the finish. I’m lucky enough to see my four-year-old daughter, Millie, near the finish line. For the last 100 metres, the little kid joins the big kid and we play together. I love how children run free of reason, pressure, or expectation. Running for them is simply a natural expression of joy and overflow of excitement. We cross the finish line hand in hand whilst laughing and smiling. These are special moments. People think we stop running because we get old. I’m in the group that says we get old because we stop running. Running is play. Running is medicine. Join me at my next blog, the Valley Ultra 57km, at the start of November.